The Turkish Saint Nicholas
Part of the Saint Nicholas Page honoring Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker
One of the five ancient Christian Patriarchates was - and remains - in the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire ("Byzantine Empire", from the earlier name of the city, Byzantium). Eastern Orthodox Christianity flourished from the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity until the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. The Western Roman empire had long since fallen and splintered into many states (and its Christian Patriarch, the Pope of Rome, into theological and doctrinal separation -- schism -- from the other Patriarchates). Constantinople, the last of the ancient Orthodox Patriarchates to fall under Muslim control -- after Alexandria (Egypt), Jerusalem (Israel/Palestine) and Antioch (Syria) -- became Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
The Republic of Turkey is the successor to the Ottoman Empire in the area composed principally of Asia Minor (Anatolia). Neither the Ottoman Empire nor nominally secular Turkey has treated Christians well (nor have non-Turkish Muslims been treated particularly well.) In the first two decades of the twentieth century, there were massacres of Orthodox Greeks, Slavs, and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, culminating in the 1915 genocide of the Armenians in Anatolia and the near-destruction of the ancient Assyrian Christian community in Iraq. Similar treatment of Christians continued after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I and the emergence of the Turkish Republic. In 1922, a great slaughter of of Orthodox Greeks occurred in Smyrna (Izmir, Anatolia, Turkey,) in which hundreds of thousands of Greeks were killed. In 1923, as part of a treaty settlement, virtually the entire Orthodox population of Asia Minor was forced to leave their homes and to relocate primarily in Greece ("ethnic cleansing"), bringing to a close a numerically significant Christian presence after almost two millenia. A few thousand Greek Orthodox Christians remain in the ancient Christian seat of the Byzantine Empire, but they are harassed even today by the more radical Muslim elements, who consider it their duty to eradicate Christianity, contrary to the teachings of the prophet Mohammad himself.
The secular Republic of Turkey (or Turkiye) is lately recognizing the commercial importance of some of its old Christian sites, and is promoting tourism highly to encourage visits to the ancient holy sites. Some sites have undergone some renovation.
Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, and served as bishop of Myra in Lycia. Both of these are now in modern Turkey, in the south-western portion of Asia Minor. Myra is now known as Demre or Kale. The Turkish versions of the stories of Saint Nicholas -- "Noel Baba" -- can be found in these pages.
Asia Minor, or Anatolia, was invaded in the 11th century by the Saracens, who brought great devastation to the area. The successors of these invaders, the now-defunct Ottoman Empire and the modern state of Turkey, are connected to the history of St. Nicholas primarily as possessors of the ancient land, not as descendents of the participants in the events surrounding the life of Saint Nicholas, most of whom have been driven away or killed.
Holy Saint Nicholas, as ever, pray to the Lord for us and for the people in Lycia and all of Anatolia.
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Last modified December 31, 2009, Saint Melania, Nun of Rome
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