There lived in Constantinople a craftsman who had a special love and veneration for Saint Nicholas. Every year he celebrated his Feast day. Having lived to a great age and having lost his ability to work, he fell into poverty.
Once, shortly before the Feast of Saint Nicholas, this poverty-stricken old man said to his wife, "Well, dear, the day of the beloved protector and man of prayer, Saint Nicholas, is approaching, and we have no means to celebrate this great day,"
"We don't have much longer left to live on this earth," responded his wife, "and we don't have children. We don't have anybody to whom to leave our belongings. Let's sell the remainder to please God and His great wonder-worker. We have one cow left. Go and sell it and buy all the necessary things for tomorrow's feast."
And so the old man did. He took the cow and went to sell it. At the marketplace, not far from the column of Constantine the Great, Saint Nicholas himself met him in the form of a venerable old man and asked,
"Where are you going, my dear friend?"
"I'm going to the auction to sell my cow," answered the craftsman.
"And how much will you charge for it?" the venerable old man asked.
"It used to be worth eight gold coins," replied the poor man, "but now I will take whatever is given." The holy man gave him six large gold coins and, taking the cow, went away.
The people at the marketplace surrounded the old craftsman and began to question him, "With whom were you talking just now? We didn't see anybody near you, but we heard you speaking with somebody, although we didn't hear the person's voice."
The old craftsman answered that he had conversed with a certain venerable old man who bought his cow from him and left.
Meanwhile, Saint Nicholas appeared to the old man's wife. Returning the cow to her, he said, "I have known your husband for a long time; he is my very old friend. Today I met him at the auction, and he asked me to bring you this cow. Take and harness it!" Having said this, the holy man departed.
The craftsman's wife became annoyed with her husband, thinking that he had been too soft-hearted to sell the cow. As soon as the old man returned, she heaped reproaches on him.
"You scoundrel!" she exclaimed. "You lied to Saint Nicholas! It would have been better for you not to have promised anything than to have broken your promise. Take your cow. You won't see me again," declared the old woman, flushed with indignation. "I am going to leave you. With this lie, you blackened all your previous honest life, and I can't live with a dishonest man."
The old man, bewildered by the old woman's outburst, didn't know what to say. He looked speechlessly at his wife and at the cow, his eyes wide with surprise. Finally, he asked who had brought the cow to her and when.
The old woman related the events of the cow's return in detail and also described the appearance of the man who had brought the cow. On hearing the story, the craftsman guessed who it was that had brought the cow and he exclaimed joyfully, "God is alive and has mercy on His servants! Surely, Saint Nicholas himself bought the cow from me and returned it to our poverty-stricken cottage."
The elderly couple, kneeling down, praised God and the holy wonder-worker Nicholas, who is quick to help those who venerate his memory. News of the miracle spread to Constantinople and reached the Patriarch. After finding out the particulars of what had happened, the Patriarch arranged for the craftsman and his wife to be supported by income from the Cathedral of Hagia Sofia for the rest of their lives.
Translated by Paula Lahdernaki, from Orthodox America, Issues 147-148, Vol. XVI No. 7-8, March - June 1997.