Rescue by Stone
or The Salvation of Three Friends on the Waters
Three merchants were taking their goods to market by sea. The three were the only Christians on board the boat. In the night, the others, acting as pirates, plotted to throw the merchants overboard and take possession of their goods. As the men were tossed into the sea, they cried for help to Saint Nicholas.
Two began to swim. The other, who could not swim, quickly sank toward the bottom of the sea. As the two men were becoming exhausted from swimming, a big stone suddenly came up, floating on the waves. The two men climbed on and the stone quickly sailed on. As they sat, they grieved for their lost friend.
Early the next morning a huge whale swam up to the stone, opening its mouth. The men were terrified, expecting to be swallowed up. Instead, out stepped a man, carrying a heavy sack. It was their friend who they thought had drowned at the bottom of the sea.
Amazed, they asked what had happened. The merchant reported that as he was falling through the water, the whale had come and swallowed him. Inside the whale he found a complete ship, filled with cargo. When the whale opened its mouth, he’d grabbed one of the sacks and stepped out onto the stone. When they opened the sack, they found it filled with gold.
After two days sailing, the stone came to Byzantium. The three Christian merchants were taken to the prince and they told their story. Some time later the merchants spotted the men who had thrown them overboard. They reported this to the prince who invited all of them to dinner. The prince asked the merchants to serve the others and when the “victims” were recognized, the pirates were terrified.
The prince ordered the pirates thrown into the sea and their goods given to the three merchants. The merchants took only what was theirs and gave the rest to the poor.
This amazing account is set in the time of emperors Florianus and Probus (AD 276-282), during the time of Nicholas life. Naming Byzantium confirms a date before the city became known as Constantinople in AD 330, during the reign of Constantine the Great. The story was a favorite of Russian iconographers in the 16th century.
The vitae of St. Nicholas and His Hagiographical Icons in Russia, Vol. 2, doctoral dissertation by Alexander Boguslawski, University of Kansas, 1980, pp. 83-84.