St. Nicholas vs. St Cassian: A Folk Tale

There is a folk tale from Russia, also found in the Ukraine, and across the Balkan lands about a friendly rivalry between St. John Cassian and St. Nicholas.

What follows is from the Greek version that I heard in my youth.

Agios-Nikolaos-2St. John Cassian once appeared before God in heaven and dared to complain. “How is it,” he said, “that my feast day is only once every four years, on 29th February, each leap year? Yet, your servant, Nicholas, not only has two feast days a year, the 6th of December and the 9th of May, but the faithful of the Church remember him in their hymns every single Thursday? And with the Apostles, no less!”

“Tell me,” the Lord replied knowingly, “how is it that you keep your clothes so clean and your robes unsullied?”

“Well,  I don’t get my clothes dirty like St. Nicholas, because I don’t get involved in worldly matters. I fight heretics with my pen. In all humility,  I must admit the pen is mightier than the sword.”

“What would you say, if I was to send you back down to earth?”

“Hmm… I don’t know. I thought that those of us in heaven must keep our robes immaculate. I have said enough through my writings, I think.”

Then God said, “Let’s call Nicholas, and find out what he has to say.”

“Oh Nicholas! Oh Nicholas!”

No answer

“Nicholas!” God boomed.

Eventually, St. Nicholas appears before God. He is soaking wet, covered in seaweed, shellfish gripping to his body, his robes in tatters!

“Nicholas, where have you been?   Why are you in such a state?”

“I’m sorry, Lord,” Nicholas replied, ” I was just at the bottom of the ocean saving a sailor from drowning! He’s the third one I saved today.  As you know,  I am constantly going to and fro in the world saving one person after another and helping where I can.”

“You see,” said God, “Nicholas, cares deeply about the earth and helping a neighbour, while, you, Cassian, are only concerned with heaven. Is that right?”

“Well, yes, I suppose” said St. Cassian.

Then God said, “This is why Nicholas is honoured in the cold on December 6th and again, when it is warm, on the 9th of May.  This is why the faithful call upon him continually, when they call, he answers and comes to their aid. This is why he is remembered in weekly hymns.  Whereas John Cassian, with your immovable stance you are only honoured on February 29th,  a Leap Day.”

The tale is quite harsh and unfair on St. John Cassian, whose writings I highly recommend, nevertheless, the story serves to explain the warm and heartfelt love for St. Nicholas across traditionally Orthodox lands.

Another Russian version here “Getting our Robes Dirty”


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