Covered in Mud!
A Russian folk tale, retold
Once upon a time Saint Nicholas and Saint 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 wearing 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’s 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 every four years, on the 29th of February.”
Saint John Cassian (ca 360-433), a monk in Egypt and Marseilles, studied with Saint John Chrysostom and defended Chrysostom in Rome. He founded the abbey of Saint Victor and a convent in Marseilles. Though living in a different part of the world, he and Saint Nicholas were contemporaries. His feast day is 29 February in the Russian Orthodox calendar, though it is 23 July in the Roman Catholic calendar.
Getting Robes Dirty: another version
Two Feasts and a Leap Day: a Ukrainian version