When Vladimir the Great brought Christianity to Russia in AD 988, stories of Saint Nicholas came along, too. Nicholas is greatly revered in Russia as the protector of the weak from the strong, the oppressed from the oppressor, and the poor from the rich— he is the Russian champion of the disadvantaged.
Saint Nicholas is the Orthodox tradition's Wonder or Miracle Worker. As such he is Russia's most beloved saint; his icon often appearing on triptychs with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Numerous Russian cathedrals, monasteries, and churches have been dedicated to St. Nicholas. In villagees, St. Nicholas churches revered him as merciful intercessor for working people. Merchants and others revere St. Nicholas the Miracle-worker as the patron of all who travel on land or sea, and have dedicated marketplace churches to him. Ship captains carry St. Nicholas icons on board ship. His icons have been prized gifts for weddings and birthdays. The beloved saint's name is also very popular for Russian boys.
Archbishop giving icon to ship captain
Photo: Linda Garrison About.com Cruises
Proverbs like these reveal Nicholas' great popularity in Russia:
"If anything happens to God, we've always got St. Nicholas."
"There is no icon like Nicholas."
As patron of farming and cattle and master of water, St. Nikola the Wonder-Worker is in many sayings. For example, "The winter Nikola will bring the horse to the stable. The spring Nikola will feed the horse." St. Nikola's winter day, December 6th or 19th, was believed to be the beginning of winter matchmaking.
In the name of St. Nicholas, more than 6,000 pilgrims make a three-day walk following an icon of St. Nicholas, from Kirov to the holy village of Velikoretsky. This June pilgrimage has taken place for the past six centuries, though during the Soviet era the numbers fell to a trickle. Since the Soviet Union's collapse, the Festival of St. Nicholas is again very popular. About 3,000 pilgrims completed the 50-mile walk within the designated three days. Others take longer to finish. A service of thanksgiving for the works of St. Nicholas the Miracle-maker is held at the end of the pilgrimage.
3.2 meter bronze Saint Nicholas by sculptor Sergey Isakov on Tanfilyev
Photo: source unknown
The Foundation of St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker is installing monuments to him at various places along Russia's frontiers, because Saint Nicholas is patron of all travellers and, also, border guards. Bronze sculptures have already been placed in Anadyr, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Omsk, Batajsk, Elista, and Maikop.
The latest one was installed in July 2007, on the Kurils' Tanfilyev island. The consecration service was led by a priest from Moscow, with officers and soldiers of the Coast Guard Federal Security Service, and representatives of the St. Nicholas Foundation. In 2005 an Orthodox chapel was built for border guards stationed on the otherwise uninhabited island.