Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins

St Nicholas book coverby Jim Forest
Illustrator: Vladislav Andrejev

The figure of Saint Nicholas stands apart from nearly every other Christian saint  his fame spread across empires and generations to make him one of the most recognizable Christian saints in history. But the popular perception of Saint Nicholas today diverges greatly from his original veneration as a compassionate almsgiver, defender of the poor and rescuer of the defenseless. Saint Nicholas has been reduced to the pop culture figure of Santa Claus, a jolly old man who brings presents to good little boys and girls. This book introduces its readers to the authentic Nicholas.

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text from the book’s first few pages:

Once upon a time there was a boy named Nicholas. Today we call him Saint Nicholas, but when he was growing up everyone called him Nick.

Nick lived in a town called Patara where ships came and went every day. You should have seen them! They were made of brightly painted wood with tall masts that seemed to touch the sky and had sails of every color.

The men who made up the crews had an endless supply of tales to tell of their close encounters with fabulous creatures, from sea monsters big as islands to mermaids whose voices could pull a sailor beneath the waves.

The sailors also filled Nick’s imagination with visions of distant ports and great cities — Alexandria, Antioch, Sidon, Tripoli, Carthage, Rome, Syracuse, Ravenna…. Such beautiful names, so many places, all so far away, but at the same time as close as any ship floating in Patara’s harbor.

It was Nick’s dream to become a sailor and travel to all the far-away ports that were beyond the horizon yet shared the same sea in which he and his friends so often swam. In the meantime, he asked every sailor he met, “Where have you been? What was it like?”

Nick’s uncle was an important man in Patara — the bishop — but for Nick he was also both father and mother as Nick’s own parents had died early in his life. It was his uncle who had taught him to read and write…

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Saint Nicholas was born in Patara about 270 years after Christ’s birth and died not far away, in the port city of Myra, on the 6th of December in the year 343. Both Patara and Myra are on the southern coast of what is today Turkey. In Nicholas’s time, the region was part of the Greek-speaking world known as Lycia. Nicholas’s parents died in an epidemic when their son was still a child. Nicholas’s uncle, also named Nicholas, was Patara’s bishop. It was he who took charge of his nephew’s upbringing and education.

As no biography of Nicholas was written until centuries after he died, much of Nicholas’s life is known more from legend than from contemporary sources. What is certain is that he became Bishop of Myra and that, after his death, he was recognized as a saint. Thousands of churches have been named in his memory. He is seen as a model of gift giving and also of pastoral care.

The most popular story about him — the one told in this book — concerns his secret help to a family that had no dowry for their three daughters.

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Well-told story of St Nicholas and the dowry gold seamlessly includes some background and Jesus’ teachings. It is beautifully illustrated with rich, full-color Byzantine-style iconographic art. A short accessible section at the end fills out more detail about St. Nicholas for those who want to know more. — Carol Myers

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Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and associate editor of its journal and website, In Communion. He is a recipient of the Peacemaker Award from Notre Dame University’s Institute for International Peace Studies, a prolific writer of inspirational, historical, and biographical books, and is also the author of two other children’s books available from St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: St George and the Dragon and Silent as a Stone.

Vladislav Andrejev was born in St Petersburg, Russia and received a formal education in fine art book illustration. His search for deeper meaning in art led him to study icon painting. Andrejev is an accomplished iconographer, teacher of iconography, and illustrator of award-winning books manifesting his unique continuation of the ancient Byzantine-Russian tradition. He is also illustrator of St George and the Dragon.

St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, $24

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St Nicholas & The Nine Gold Coins
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