The Greek Miracle of *Nikolaos (bishop of Myra under Constantine, S00520) recounts two episodes from the life of its hero, focusing on the rescuing of people unjustly condemned to death; it includes a prayer invoking God through the intercession of the saint. Written, probably at Myra (south-west Asia Minor) during the late 5th or early 6th centuries.
Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts
Miracle of Nikolaos, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (Praxis de Stratelatis) (BHG 1349-1350a-f)
The Taifals cause unrest in Phrygia and the emperor Constantine sends against them troops under the generals (stratelatai) Nepotianos, Ourson, and Herpylion. They sail off from Constantinople, and call at the port of Myra, Andriake. Some soldiers disembark in order to acquire provisions, but they engage in trouble with the locals, which leads to a riot at the site of Plakoma. The news reaches Myra and bishop Nikolaos comes to Andriake in order to stop the violence. He is received with respect by the soldiers, and offers to provide them with all the necessary supplies.
Some people come from the city and report to Nikolaos that three men have been unjustly arrested and condemned to death by the governor. Joined by the three generals, Nikolaos hastens to Myra. On his way to the city, he arrives at a site called Leon and is informed that the convicts are still alive and kept at the so-called square/highway (plateia) of the Dioscuri. Arriving at the shrine (martyrion) of the martyrs *Kriskes and *Dioskourides, he is told that the convicts are about to be taken out of the city gate. At the gate of Myra, he hears that they are being taken to the site of executions, which is called Verras. Nikolaos arrives at the scene, while the executioner is about to strike the convicts with the sword. He stops the execution, and takes the convicts to the city, declaring that he is willing to die in the place of these innocent men. He storms into the praetorium of the governor (hegemon), Eustathios, who prostrates himself before him. The bishop, supported by the three generals, reproaches the governor for having condemned innocent men after being bribed by two magistrates, Eudoxios and Simonides. He threatens to report Eustathios behaviour to the emperor. Finally, he forgives the governor and cancels his decision.
The three generals dine with the bishop and, having received his blessing and provisions, they sail away. They arrive in Phrygia and succeed in restoring peace, after which they are received with great honours in Constantinople. Jealousy drives certain generals (stratelatai) in Constantinople to slander the three generals to the praetorian prefect Ablabios for secretly plotting against the emperor. They also promise to give Ablabios 1700 pounds of gold. He reports the accusation to the emperor, and the three generals are arrested and imprisoned without trial. After some time, the accusers bring the agreed bribery money to Ablabios, demanding that the three generals be put to death as soon as possible. The emperor orders that the three men be executed that same night. In great distress, the guard Hilarion announces the decision to the three convicts who bewail their misfortune. Nepotianos remembers how Nikolaos rescued the condemned convicts in Myra, and prays with the following words:
‘Κύριε ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ δούλου σου Νικολάου, οἰκτείρησον ἡμᾶς διὰ τὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν σου καὶ διὰ τὴν πρεσβείαν τοῦ ἀξίου σου θεράποντος Νικολάου. Καὶ ὡς ἐποίησας δι’αὐτοῦ ἔλεος εἰς τοὺς τρεῖς ἐκείνους τοὺς ἀναιτίως κατακριθέντας καὶ ἐρρύσω ἐκ θανάτου, οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἡμᾶς ἀνακάλεσαι, δυσωπηθεὶς ταῖς πρεσβείαις τοῦ ἁγίου σου τούτου ἱερέως. Πιστεύομεν γὰρ ὅτι, εἰ καὶ τῷ σὠματι οὐ πάρεστιν, ἀλλὰ τῷ πνεύματι πάρεστι καί, βλέπων ἡμῶν τὴν θλῖψιν καὶ ὀδύνην τῆς ψυχῆς, αὐτὸς παρακαλέσει τὴν ἀγαθότητάν σου ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν.’ Καὶ ἐβόησαν ἅμα λέγοντες· ‘Ἅγιε Νικόλαε, εἰ καὶ πόρρωθεν ἡμῶν εἰ, ἀλλ’ ἐγγὺς γένηται ἡ δέησις ἡμῶν, καὶ πρὸς τὸν φιλάνθρωπον θεὸν βόησον ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν· θέλημα γὰρ τῶν φοβουμένων αὐτὸν ποιήσει καὶ τῆς δεήσεως αὐτῶν εἰσακούσεται. ἵνα, διὰ τῆς πρεσβείας σου ῥησθέντες τοῦ ἐπικειμένου ἡμῖν κινδύνου, καταξιωθῶμεν αὐτοπροσώπως ἐλθεῖν καὶ προσκυνῆσαι τὴν σὴν ἁγιωσύνην, πάτερ δεδοξασμένε.’
‘Lord God of your servant Nikolaos, have mercy upon us for the sake of your mercy and the intercession of your worthy servant Nikolaos. And, as you granted mercy through him to those three men who had been condemned for no reason, and as you rescued them from death, even so now deliver us, being propitiated by the prayers of this holy priest of yours. For we are confident that, although he is not physically present, yet he is here in spirit and can see the distress and agony of our souls, and that he will beseech Your Goodness on our behalf.’ And they cried together saying: ‘Holy Nikolaos, although you are away from us, may our supplication come close to you. Cry unto the merciful God for our sake. For He will fulfil the will of those who fear Him, and will hear their prayer. [We ask this], so that we may be saved through your intercession from the danger which is lying before us, and that we may be granted to come in person and venerate your holiness, oh glorious father.’
During that night, Nikolaos appears in a vision to the emperor Constantine, and orders him to free the three generals, threatening to cause a war against him at Dyrrachium. He also appears to Ablabios, threatening to cause him a terrible illness and the destruction of his house, in punishment for his greed and corruption. To both he states that he is Nikolaos, the bishop of Myra.
Next morning, the three generals are summoned before the emperor and the whole senate, and interrogated about the magic they have used to cause the dreams. They deny their involvement in magic, but when asked about Nikolaos, they recount the story of the bishop. Constantine releases them and orders them to go to Myra in order to thank their benefactor. They bring with them a letter from the emperor, a golden gospel book, golden candle-sticks, and a bejewelled vessel. At Myra, they offer alms to the poor, and they cut the hair they grew during their incarceration. Nikolaos gives them his blessing, letters and gifts, and releases them.
Recension II (BHG 1350) finishes by reporting that the three generals repeated their pilgrimage to Myra several times.
Recension III (BHG 1350a) finishes by reporting that the three generals returned to Myra one year later and found that the bishop had died. They prayed at his tomb and had a vision of him. They built a colonnaded street (embolos), one mile long, which connected the city with the shrine of Nikolaos, flanked by houses for the poor.
Text: Anrich 1913.
Summary and translation: E. Rizos.
Cult building - independent (church) Non Liturgical Activity
Burial site of a saint - unspecified
Martyr shrine (martyrion, bet sāhedwātā, etc.)
Cult building - secondary installation (fountain, pilgrims’ hostel)
Distribution of alms
Visiting graves and shrines
Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings
Composing and translating saint-related texts
Miracle during lifetimeRelics
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Invisibility, bilocation, miraculous travels
Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves
Miraculous protection - of people and their property
Bodily relic - entire bodyProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
Ecclesiastics - bishops
Foreigners (including Barbarians)
Monarchs and their family
SourceThis text is the earliest surviving piece of the hagiography of Nikolaos, bishop of Myra in Lycia. It was produced between the mid 5th century and the 580s, quite probably under Justinian (see below). The text survives in five recensions, three of which are the most important, and were included in the texts published by Gustav Anrich. Their narrative has no substantive differences, except for the more extensive and detailed final parts of Recension III.
Recension I survives in nine manuscripts, dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries.
Recension II survives in three manuscripts of the 11th and 13th centuries.
Recension III is known from three manuscripts, dating from the 10th to the 12th/13th centuries.
On the manuscript tradition, see Anrich 1917, 30-63, and:
DiscussionThe cult of Nikolaos at the provincial capital of Lycia, Myra, is explicitly mentioned in the late 6th century Life of Nikolaos of Sion (E04955), but his hagiographical legend does not seem to have been compiled into a continuous life account before the 8th or 9th century. Up to that point, it appears that the story of the saint was recounted in independent miracle accounts (praxeis or acta), the earliest and most important of which is our text. It is the only text of Nicholas’ hagiographical dossier which is attested in Late Antiquity, since it is quoted by Eustratius of Constantinople in the 580s (E04192), and remained the most important document of the saint’s legend in the Greek tradition. Its reference to Lycia as an independent province governed by a hegemon suggests that the text was written no earlier than the reign of Theodosius II (408-450), since the foundation of a separate province of Lycia is ascribed to his administrative reforms (Malalas Chron. 14. 24).
The story of Nikolaos is placed in the time of the emperor Constantine. Several elements of the story are inspired by historical figures and events, such as the Praetorian Prefect Ablabius (close associate of Constantine and Praetorian Prefect of the East 329-337; see PLRE I, 'Fl. Ablabius 4'), and consuls Virius Nepotianus (cos. 336; PLRE I, 'Virius Nepotianus 7') and Flavius Ursus (cos. 338; PLRE I, 'Fl. Vrsus 4'). The reference to the uprising of the Taifals in Phrygia may echo a historical reality related to the Gothic communities settled in central Anatolia by Theodosius I in the 380s.
The bishop is portrayed as the defender of a populace oppressed by the greed and corruption of the provincial administration. Although bishops had been invested with judicial authority since the time of Constantine, the range of power ascribed to Nikolaos corresponds to the reality of the times of Justinian, as reflected in legislation. Novel 8 of 535 assigned to the bishops responsibility for identifying and reporting cases of corruption and malpractice in provincial administration, while Novel 86 of 539 strengthened their judicial powers, appointing them as appeal judges with authority above the provincial governors. This could suggest that the text dates from the period of Justinian (Anrich 1917, 368-377).
The account culminates in the miraculous intervention of the saint for the deliverance of the three officers, whom he rescues from execution, by appearing in the dreams of the emperor Constantine and the prefect Ablabius. The whole account focuses on the theme of justice, and it appears that justice-related miracles remained a central specialisation in Nikolaos’ miracle working post mortem. The late 8th or 9th century Life by the Archimandrite Michael (BHG 1348) states that the saint provided special protection to people afflicted by misfortunes and confiscation of property (§ 41).
The text contains several valuable references to the cult of Nikolaos, including the practice of pilgrimage (the generals’ visit to Myra after the miracle), the dedication of precious objects and of the hair of the three men, symbolising their deliverance from tribulation, and finally the building of an embolos (colonnaded street) connecting the city with the saint’s shrine. The prayer of the three generals, which we quote and translate, may indeed reflect a formula used for praying to the saint. The prayer and the subsequent miracle of Nikolaos’ apparitions to Constantine and Ablabius put special emphasis on the contrast between the saint’s physical absence from, and spiritual closeness to, his devotees. This passage, which implies that the soul of a man still alive in his body can bring about miracles far away, is quoted by Eustratius of Constantinople in his arguments regarding the presence of the souls of the saints in miracles and visions (E04192).
Anrich, G., Hagios Nikolaos, der heilige Nikolaos in der griechischen Kirche, Texte und Untersuchungen. Vol. 1. (Leipzig, Berlin, 1913), 66-96.
Anrich, G., Hagios Nikolaos, der heilige Nikolaos in der griechischen Kirche, Texte und Untersuchungen. Vol. 2. (Leipzig, Berlin, 1917), 368-377.
Bacci, M., San Nicola. Il grande taumaturgo (Bari: Laterza, 2009).
|Name in Source
|Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Lycia, under Constantine
|Kriskes, martyr of Myra
|Dioskorides, martyr or Myra, south Anatolia
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