Oil and Water

Woman bringing jug
Throwing jug overboard
Detail: The Life & Miracles of Saint Nicholas
Artist: Alexander Boguslawski
St. Nicholas Center Collection

On the north shore of the Black Sea several God-fearing men prepared to go on pilgrimage to venerate the relics of St. Nicholas at the shrine in Myra. As they worked, a woman approached, asking,"Please carry this jug of oil to the saint's tomb, as I am very afraid of a sea journey. It is dangerous for a woman who is weak and sick to sail on the sea. So I beg you, take this oil, carry it to the tomb of the saint, and burn it in the lamp."

Wishing to be of help, the men accepted the container. When preparations were complete, they set out. The first day's sailing was smooth and they looked forward to the rest of the journey.

The next morning a strong wind came up, blowing them off course, and making further progress impossible. Days passed with no improvement. The frustrated pilgrims gave up in despair and turned the ship to go back home.

St. Nicholas then appeared, saying, "Why are you turning back? You may calm the sea and continue on your way. The oil was given you by a demon,1 impersonating a woman, who wished you ill on your voyage. Throw the jug overboard and all shall be well!

The pilgrims tossed the jog into the water. It landed in a great explosion of flame and smoke; the sea all around bubbling and boiling. Sparks like flame shot up into the air. The terrified pilgrims cowered with fright. "Be not afraid," said the saint, who blessed them, sending them on their way. St. Nicholas disappeared as the sea calmed.

Safe at last, favorable winds blew and carried the pilgrims to their destination on the coast of Lycia. Coming to the shrine, they gave thanks to God and Saint Nicholas for their deliverance from impending disaster. After venerating the tomb, they returned home, telling everyone of their amazing experiences.

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Accounts locate the episode at the mouth of one of several rivers, emptying into the Black Sea. One, Tanais, is in a region with Greek settlements, and the other, the River Don, flows down through Russia.

1. The demon was angry he'd been driven out when St. Nicholas destroyed the temple of Diana. Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, is often associated with the Greek goddess Artemis, who had been the most prominent deity in Lycia.

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