When Leontius was emperor, a man named Theophanus lived in Constantinople. St. Nicholas appeared to Theophanus in a dream, saying, “Commission three icons, one of the Christ, one of the Theotokos, and one of the Wonderworker. When they are finished, give the icons as a gift to the Patriarch.”
Theophanus ordered the icons to be written. When they were ready, he invited Patriarch Athanasios to a feast to receive and bless the icons.
When the Patriarch saw the icons, he was angry, saying, “This saint shouldn’t be put on icons because his parents, Nonna and Theophanes, were mere peasants.”
Theophanus sadly took the icon of Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, and put it up in his own house, asking a monk to pray and glorify the God and the saint. The Patriarch and his council finished the feast.
The next morning the Patriarch was asked to visit a man’s sick daughter. He and his entourage boarded several ships and set out, for the man lived on an island.
A great storm came up and blew the ships over. The other clergy prayed and were rescued, but the Patriarch was drowning. He cried out, “O great Saint, save me from disaster!” St. Nicholas appeared, saying, “You are asking for this peasant’s help?” The Patriarch replied, “Forgive me, O Great Saint Nicholas, from this day forward I shall celebrate you as a swift helper to all that are in need.”
St. Nicholas plucked him from the water, saying, “It is the Lord God who is saving you from drowning through me. Go in peace and tend the flock of Christ.”
As soon as the Patriarch returned to Constantinople, he asked Theophanus to bring the icon of St. Nicholas to him. He apologized for rejecting the icon and built a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas. When it was finished the icon was given a place of honor.
This story survived only in Slavic manuscripts and has only occasionally been depicted in hagiographic icons.
The vitae of St. Nicholas and His Hagiographical Icons in Russia, Vol. 2, doctoral dissertation by Alexander Boguslawski, University of Kansas, 1980, pp. 84-85.
The Life and Miracles of Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, by Count Michael Tolstoy, Publishing House of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, translated from Serbian by Petar V. Sherovich.