Why was it considered so important then to give poor girls dowries? Simply because they were among the most vulnerable of the paupers, likely to sink into prostitution. Securing dowries for them was the best way of helping them avoid that grim fate.St. Nicholas is an Advent guide, leading us to the Christ Child. According to Fr. Mark:
So Nicholas became the patron saint of children, of mariners, of young people wishing to marry, of newlyweds, of prisoners (whether fairly or unjustly accused) and yes, of lawyers. The veneration for his memory was such that his bones were stolen by adventurous sailors from his original tomb in the Church of Myra in 1087 and brought to Bari, in Italy, where they rest to this day in the Basilica that bears his name. His popularity extends well beyond Italy, to Eastern France, to Brittany, to Germany, to the Netherlands, to Russia...
To my mind, the most important thing to remember about Saint Nicholas is the spirit of godly fear and adoration with which he stood before the Holy Altar at the moment of the Divine Liturgy. Everything else in his life — including the countless miracles attributed to him — flowed from the Holy Mysteries. The Divine Liturgy served by Saint Nicholas must have been like the Mass of Padre Pio. While the holy gifts were being carried in procession to the altar, the people sang of Our Lord’s Eucharistic advent among them: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts. alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Saint Nicholas and the other saints of Advent surround the Eucharistic Advent of the Lord just as they will surround Him with the angels in the glory of His Advent at the end of time. How important it is to acknowledge the saints of Advent, to seek their intercession, to rejoice in their lives. Those who would banish the saints from the celebration of the Advent liturgy are misled and mistaken. The mission of the saints of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christ: for His final advent as King and Judge, yes, but also for His humble daily advent hidden under the species of bread and wine. In no way do the saints detract from the intensity of the Advent season. Each of them is given us as a companion and intercessor, charged with making ready our hearts for the advent of the Bridegroom-King. (Read more.)
The picture above by Russian artist Ilya Repin shows St. Nicholas delivering an innocent man from execution.