The bureaucrats charged with turning Russia into a godless utopia had a December dilemma and a big part of their problem was St. Nicholas.
The early Communists needed to purge Christmas of its Savior, sacraments and beloved symbols, including this patron saint of widows and children. What they needed was a faith-free icon for a safe, secular New Year’s season. Digging into pre-Christian Slavic legends they found their superman — Father Frost.
“It’s so ironic,” said the Rev. James Parker III of Louisville, Ky. In order to wrest control of Christmas, “one of the things the Communists had to do was to get people to forget the real St. Nicholas. … Here in America we’ve forgotten all about the real St. Nicholas because he has turned into this Santa Claus guy. It’s like we’re taking a different route to the same place.”
It would not be unusual to hear Eastern Orthodox, Catholic or Anglican clergy voice these sentiments in the days leading to Dec. 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. Parker, however, is associate dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Still, he is convinced it’s time for more churches — even Southern Baptist churches — to embrace the real St. Nicholas.
…Little solid historical information is known about Nicholas, except that he was born into a wealthy family and, after the early death of his pious parents, he entered a monastery and became a bishop. Some early writers claim he participated in the Council of Nicea and, when theological debate failed, that he punched a heretic who argued that Jesus was not fully divine.
“The mental image of Santa Claus punching out Arius … has to fundamentally change the way one would ever see Santa Claus again,” said Parker. “While I might not agree with his methods, I certainly admire his passion for Christological orthodoxy.”