How Greek-Americans Rescued St. Nikolaos' Identity

Saint Nikolaos St. Nikolaos

Nikolaos is an ancient Greek name meaning "victory of the people" (Niki meaning victory and Laos meaning people in Greek). The legendary Saint Nikolaos was born in the 3rd century to a wealthy family in the village of Patara, Lycia in Asia Minor.

At the time, the area was Greek. He died Dec 6, AD 343 - well-before any Seljuk Turkish presence was in that region.

He was one of the youngest men to become a Christian priest and later a Christian Bishop. He was one of the key participants of the First Council of Nicaea. He distributed his inheritance in accordance to Jesus's teachings to "...sell what you own and give your money to the poor...."

Saint Nikolaos would provide funds for dowries to poor young women who otherwise could not be wed, to the sick and to the suffering. He is revered as The Protector and Patron Saint of Seafarers, and of many others.

In December 2000, The History Channel in the US aired a Christmas program which described Saint Nikolaos as an "austere Turkish Bishop."

When members of the American Greek community learned of the wrongful identification of the beloved Christian Saint, they immediately mobilised. Many wrote letters to the channel complaining about the false title but the channel ignored them.

It was then that a lady by the name of Sofia Kontogeorge-Kostos (who incidentally has edited a book on the Greek Genocide titled Before the Silence) became involved.

She along with 72 scholars from around the world including Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians wrote and signed a letter and sent it to History Channel CEO, Nicholas Davatzes.

Another 175 signatures were collected from parishioners at the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral. A Greek school principal also offered to collect signatures. Letters were also sent to the channel by a notable historian of Byzantine, Ottoman and Balkan history, a priest and a poet.

This intensive letter writing campaign lasted 4 months after which the History Channel's CEO offered an apology and corrected the mistake.

A corrected copy of the program was sent to the signatories which included the program describing Saint Nikolaos as a "Greek Orthodox Bishop." The corrected program aired on Dec 2001.

Greek Genocide Resource Center.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor