Wednesday, December 19, 2007

St Nicholas Day

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Holy Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

Troparion (4th Tone)

Many of you, my faithful readers, are familiar with the life and deeds of this most beloved of saints. Visitors who are not acquainted with the story of St Nicholas of Myra may find out more at this post from two years back: The Man Behind the Legend.

The tales of St Nicholas' exploits are well-known - in his most famous deed, he threw purses of gold into the home of a poor man with three daughters under the cover of night over a period of three nights (or years, depending where you hear it from), and in doing so, saved the three girls from prostitution. The second finds him at the Council of Nicaea, as a participant, where so incensed he became upon hearing Arius' heresy that he struck him down.

In addition, there are numerous folk tales that include St Nicholas as a central character - most of these come from the land of Russia, where St Nicholas is particularly well-loved; his image often appearing on triptychs with Jesus and the Mother of God. Numerous Russian cathedrals, monasteries, and churches have been dedicated to St Nicholas.

Here is one such tale:

Once upon a time, Ss Nicholas and Cassian were sent down from Heaven to visit the earth. It was fall when they came to Russia, where much of the country had turned into a quagmire of mud. The two saints, however, were dressed in white robes and floated just above the ground (and the mud).

As they walked—or floated—about, they met a farmer with a heavily loaded wagon. The load was so big that the wagon wheels had sunk deep into the mud. Horses pulled and men pushed, trying to get the wagon out.

St Nicholas said, "Let us help this poor man." St Cassian, looking at his white robe, said, "Oh, no. I couldn't possibly get into the mud — it would ruin my robe."

So St Nicholas, by himself, plunged in to give aid. With his help, the wagon was pushed right out of the mud. Everything was covered in mud: the horses, the wagon, the men, and St Nicholas, too.

The two saints went on their way, returning to Paradise with St Nicholas still covered in mud. St Peter met them at the pearly gates. He took one look at St Nicholas, asking, "Nicholas, what in heaven's name has happened to you?" St Nicholas explained about the man and the wagon.

Turning to St Cassian, St Peter asked, "Were you with Nicholas when this happened, Cassian? If so, why are you so clean?"

"Oh," Cassian replied, "I thought of Paradise and my beautiful robe and I didn't want to ruin it. Besides, I don't meddle in things that don't concern me."

"I see," said St Peter, "you, Nicholas, care deeply about the earth and helping a neighbor, while, you, Cassian, are only concerned with heaven. Is that right?" "Yes," said St Cassian.

"Ah, Nicholas," said St Peter, "you will be greatly loved by all Russia and shall have two feast days each year. And you, Cassian, will be remembered once a year, on the 29th of February."

And so it came to pass.

CAVEAT: The aforementioned story has no theological basis (being the creative product of pious Russians) and is not to be taken seriously.

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