St. Nicholas

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Two Feasts and a Leap Day

adapted from Mykhayl Dzula

This Ukrainian tale tells how feast days were allocated for Saints Nicholas of Myra (Bari) and John Cassian.


St Nicholas icon, standing figure
Russian icon, 19th century
St Nicholas Center Collection
When the time came to develop a calendar of saints, Saint Peter was given the task. He began by interviewing all the saints. The first, a father deacon robed in a crisp dark wool cloak over pristine bleached linen, was John Cassian. Next in line was a vagabond Bishop named Nicholas from Myra.

Holy Father Peter spoke in a sing-song manner, "Frère Jacques, Fèere Jacques, Dormez vous? Dormez vous?" ( Brother John, Brother John, are you sleeping, are you sleeping?) Continuing, he asked how John kept his robes so crisp and clean.

"Well, Holy Father, unlike Bishop Nicholas there whose escapades include worldly trifles, I fight heretics with my pen. In all humility I must admit my pen is mightier than the sword."

"So, my son, you revisit the land of humankind?" asked Saint Peter.

"Oh no, Holy Father, we, in heaven, must maintain our distinguished position from this our high place, keeping our robes immaculate. I, as a persona grata, depend upon the scribes in the scriptoriums to be my pawns on the chessboard of earthly life."

As they talked, Saint Peter asked Bishop Nicholas why his robes were so tattered. Nicholas replied, "Holy Father, I am constantly going to and fro in the world of humankind. I struggle with one problem after another. In the earthly world these garments simply fray like nerves, unlike our steadfast friar's."

After interviewing all the saints, Saint Peter announced, "Saint Nicholas, for your many wonders personally attended to on earth, you will be honored in the cold on December 6th and again, when it is warm, on the 9th of May. Saint John Cassian, for your immovable stance you will be honored on February 29th, Leap Day."

Saint John interrupted, "Holy Father! I, whose name in Hebrew means graciously celestial, fight heretics in libraries all over the world, while Nicholas, which in Greek means to conquer, wipes the noses of orphans, protects prostitutes, and is the patron of pirates. Now it is as if I were a persona non grata while tattered Nicholas is multiply honored with eight feasts to my one. How can this be?"

Saint Peter replied, "Yes, my son, while Nicholas runs himself ragged like a good shepherd, daily leading lost sheep and lambs to green pastures and rest beside still waters, you, in turn, tenaciously wage the wars of radical orthodoxy. As the intellectual elite, you argue in esoteric script written on pages found high on the shelves of hermitage scriptoriums. Ah yes, we do believe it is balanced."

Peter had spoken . . . and Augustine smiled a knowing smile.


Adapted from Michael Jula, Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Used by permission.

More about Saint John Cassian

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