St. Nicholas

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Dirty Robes

by Paul Schroeder

This is a legend about St. Nicholas and St. John Cassian that explains why it is that St. John has a feast day only once every four years while there are two feast days a year for St. Nicholas.

St Nicholas icon
San Nicola
Maria Pascal, iconographer
Romania, 2008
St Nicholas Center Collection

It is said that centuries ago St. Nicholas and St. John Cassian came down from heaven to earth to see how everything was going and report back to the Lord. Having finished their inspection, they were preparing to return to heaven when they noticed a farmer struggling to pull his cart out of the mud. St. Nicholas immediately said, "We should go help him out," but St. John Cassian looked down at their sparkling white robes and said, "I don’t think we should get our robes dirty." St. Nicholas, however, was already up to his knees in the mud, helping the poor farmer.

When they got back to heaven, the Lord looked at them both and sighed, but there was a smile in his eyes. He turned to St. Nicholas and said, "Nicholas, because you have returned to heaven with your robes stained with the soil of such a good deed, your feast day will be celebrated not once, but two times each year." And to this day we celebrate St. Nicholas, not only on December 6, but also on May 9. Then the Lord turned to St. John Cassian and said, "John, because you have returned with your robes devoid of any such stain, your feast day will fall only once every four years, on February 29."

What was most amazing of all was that, as St. Nicholas and St. John Cassian looked intently at the Lord, they recognized in his face the face of the man whose wagon had been stuck in the mud.


By Paul Schroeder, director of St. Nicholas Ranch Conference and Retreat Center near Fresno, California. From In Communion, Spring 2004. Permission pending.

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