Saint Nicholas of Metsovon
† May 16, 1617
1. His Homeland.
Everyone knows of the famous city of Metsovon.1 It was built at the foot of a great cliff on the southern slopes of the Pindos Mountains. It boasts of its magnificent location, for on one side lies a deep canyon where the Metsovon river flows, and on the other side, the snow-covered mountains of Katara and Prophet Elias. It is a beautiful city. When seen from a distance, it looks as if it stretches out in an effort to reach heaven so that it will live in its bosom even though for the greater part of the year it is adorned with its all white snow-covered apparel.
The white garment appears to be the characteristic identity of its citizens. Honest and simple people, radiant souls with sound ideals of country and faith. People that one could easily approach. That one could exchange a warm and sincere greeting. They are polite, courteous and hospitable.
In that town Nicholas was born, toward the end of the sixteenth century. The day of his birth is unknown. In none of the biographical notes is there such information or reference. One thing that we know for certain is that Nicholas was the son of pious parents. In the world his parents were simple and unimportant. But they were known and important before God. In their hearts their faith preserved alive the love toward God the Father. And their acts were an expression of that faith. And their main concern was to please Him to Whom they owed everything.
It is certain that they handed down that treasure to their offspring which God had given them. Many times both father and mother probably spoke to young Nicholas about the Almighty Who rules the world and mankind. Prime examples, the proud mountains which stand as champions and their massive size and awesome endurance. Above all things, my boy, is God. He is greater than these mountains. He is more white and bright than the snow, more stable in virtue than granite and all the proud peaks.
And the young Nicholas received the lessons of love towards God from his illiterate but faithful father and his respectful and simple mother. There they sat before the fireplace and the oil lamps with its trembling light and gazed to their son, the Light of the world, that is, Christ, the Light that enlightens every man and makes his life luminous and successful. They marked the road towards the heights of the true life and led him towards Him Who is the truth, the way, and the life.
Indeed, how wonderful becomes the training of the child by parents when it is based upon the whole truth! How certain it is that the seeds will bear forth fruit, and the fruit will hasten to come forth. Satisfaction and joy will follow the toils and burdens. This act does not become tiresome and joyless. It is joyous and lively. It has a certain meaning about it, and an inexhaustible freshness. It assumes a nature of creativity and progress.
The soul of Nicholas received all the knowledge. A receptive soul, it allowed the seed to fall on its interior world so that it would give forth sometimes thirty fold, other times seventy fold, and others, one hundred. It gathered in its treasure house not material treasures, but spiritual ones which cannot be changed or altered.
2. His Entry into the World.
Being reared with eternal truths, the boy blossomed forth. Quickly he became a young man. He was the pride of his parents and the pride of Metsovon. But as he came to know himself, he also became familiar with the world that he was forced to live in. He saw the poverty of his house. He noticed the tyranny of the conqueror who made everyone live as slaves and as bondsmen in chains.
He understood that he had to work very hard in order to live. He had to toil side by side with his father, and he had to support and comfort his mother. He never weakened. He never laid down his arms in the difficult struggle of life. He followed his father. When the father went to work, Nicholas went with him. Sometimes to the forest for firewood, and other times to the hillsides to make contour tracts and preserve what little soil there was for farming.
Sometimes they worked in town, and other times on the mountains, winter and summer. One day they were singed by the sun, and the other they were threatened by winter. Winter meant wind, snow, frost and stormy weather. All the elements of nature were against them. At times, one would think that they would be wiped off the face of the earth.
Nicholas endured all these things. The only thing that his youthful mind could not understand was the restrictions that they tyrants imposed upon their Christian Faith. When Sunday came along, they could not go to church and worship as their hearts wished. They spent the great feast days locked up in their homes. Only prayer and the lamp that trembled before their icons bore witness to the fact that they were Christians and believed in the holy religion of Christianity.
Oftentimes, he would ask his father, Why so many restrictions? In what manner does our Faith and life disrupt the Turks?
And he, with a simple mind, replied to his son, My boy, they cannot tolerate us because we have the true Faith. We have a true God. They hate us because theyre confused and they keep human and false beliefs.
Never-the-less, father and son never neglected to open the door of a church which was in the wilderness on their way home from work. At such an opportunity, Nicholas heard his father for the first time recite the Lords Prayer out loud kneeling before the icon of the Almighty. He also bent his head forward and heard his fathers heart as he praised God and two lips that recite with piety the best glory hymn of a humble heart of one laborer. A hymn which was heard by the birds, and they sang along. The wind carried it and dispersed it through all nature.
Therefore, every time they passed by the little church which was hidden in the dark forest, precisely at the turn of the road, Nicholas begged his father that they might stop and visit it so that they would enjoy the spiritual experience which was the result of their simple and humble prayer. And his father never disappointed him. Even though his son asked for favors. He asked to recite the Lords Prayer, and he too would add a few words of supplication.
Nicholas had no difficulty. He decided that he would act according to his deepest intuition. He always recited the Lords Prayer. After that he would never forget that prayer. On the contrary, that moment would serve as the guiding light in the future so that hed stay on the right path in the passage of life. And if he ever lost it, once more he would find it.
Today thy holy memory has arrived as a spiritual spring refreshing our souls, oh holy New-martyr Nicholas. Therefore we have assembled to honor and extol your struggles, and with exaltation we cry: Hail thou imitator of the ways of the old martyrs. Hail thou oh date palm newly sprouted and laden with fruit, and warm comforter of Trikkala. Hail thou drivest out the locusts with haste and the scourge of maladies and epidemics. As thou hast authority before Christ, intercede at all times for our souls.
3. Seeking Employment.
Thus passed the years of his early youth in Metsovon. Now he knew all his strengths. He realized he could do much more for himself and his parents. The limited environment at Metsovon did not benefit him any. He was ready to open his wings and fly. To seek for work and progress. For this reason he listened to stories told by other young men who had returned from the diaspora. How they departed, where they went, what type of work they did in their place of migration. Some had been successful. They returned with wealth and gave comfort to their elderly parents. Some of them had made acquaintances and a name for themselves in those distant and strange lands.
Little by little the thought that he should go to another land had become permanent. As everyone else, me too he thought. I shall take God and His Mother with me and I shall go.
Prudent as he was, he did not neglect to tell his father his thoughts and to get his opinion and advice. Dear father: I too shall go away to a strange place, so that I may work, prosper, and be able to give you rest.
And that father stood there and looked at his son. He could not imagine that so soon he would be separated from his son. Then he took him nigh, held his hand tightly and said to him, My boy, diaspora has many perils. It is not a utopia. Even though youll find a job and make a living, the dangers to your soul threaten you and they easily captivate young mens souls. My good boy, dont rush too much. Stay with us a little longer. We live in poverty here. But you are more secure and peaceful.
When he finished talking, there was a dead silence. Father and son were in each others grasp for a long time. Not a sound was heard. Youd think that nature itself respected the sanctity of that moment. The fathers sigh interrupted the silence. And a tear could be seen rolling down his cheek.
The boy gathered strength and answered to the request of his father. I will listen to you. Ill stay a little bit longer, but not very long. When everything is ready, then with your blessings Ill go.
And indeed, the moment came soon. Nicholas was to leave with other relatives and villagers for Trikkie. There he was told there were jobs. It was a big city. In the midst of a fertile valley, and it had a prosperous economy. There he would easily find a job.
When the time came, he took a few things. He took the blessing of his father and mother, and departed with his company. Some traveled on foot, and others on horseback. They started uphill towards the small auchena. They climbed a narrow path which seemed endless. Most of them were young. Some of them had gone away before. Nicholas was the only one who set his first steps on that distant land. That is why every so often he turned and looked at his village. In fact, one time he fell behind. He could not stop looking at his village as if he were trying to single out his house and parents.
His company continued upward to the ascent. They took the last turn, and the village was lost from their eyes. They were in the midst of the mountain. Sometimes ascending, sometimes descending. A continuous journey of many hours, their only companions were the mighty mountains and the trickle of the waters that ran happily and with force in the streams.
At last they arrived at the big auchena. There along the boundaries of Epiros and Thessaly. There towards the east, the great monoliths of the Meteora are visible to the eye. Towards the west, the ageless peaks of the historical Pindos. There, said someone out of the group, what appears before us is the Meteora. And Nicholas, who had heard stories from his father about the monasteries of Meteora, stretched out his ear so that he could hear the speaker. There arose in his heart the desire to visit them. How could the young man imagine that one day he would be one of the most valuable ornaments of those historical monasteries!
4. At Trikkie.
After a journey of two or three days, they arrived before the mighty meteorite monoliths. Nicholas gazed at them with awe and amazement as if they were suspended between earth and heaven. They could not imagine the sanctity of the monks whose only preoccupation was vigilance and prayer. The time was not appropriate, however, for a visit. So they headed straight towards the great city of Trikkie, i.e. the modern Trikkala of Thesally.
When they approached the city, they stopped before its gates. There were the giant maple trees, and the philyres which were planted by the banks of the Lethaeos River, and they cast a great shadow. They stopped there in order to rest from the long journey. Nicholas recovered from his weariness, and began to enjoy the beauty of nature. His eyes boyishly gazed at the river which divides the great city in two, other times at the great maple trees and at the majestic hill which overlooks the business section.
He did not forget, however, that he came to work. He asked for help from certain Christians, and after a long search, he found a job at the bakery of a local Moslem.
It is unknown where Nicholas lived, and what type of difficulty he encountered in his first steps. One fact that is certain is that he didnt know when it was night or day. He became a servant in a strenuous job, and of a harsh and inhuman employer. But he was not daunted by the hardship. He was well put together, and vigorous, and he stood the first steps of this harsh life.
He even found a way to escape more than once and avoid the eye of his employer to a certain place where he stood in prayer and spoke with his God. He found great comfort in these moments. He came back to life and breathed the clean and life-giving air of the Faith in Christ, that of heroes and martyrs.
He sensed a greater joy when he met other Christians or one of his own countrymen who brought him news from home or from his relatives. His soul jumped for joy when he heard about his parents. He glorified God because he received happiness at the news that his parents were alive and sound. When, dear Lord, will you make me worthy he prayed to return and give them rest and care for them?
Sometimes he entered the church, but with a thousand precautions. When he went for a certain reason, he found the time to stand before Christ and His Mother in order to ask them for their support and enlightenment. That was one of the choicest moments of his spiritual life. His Christian soul which desired the free air of the Faith, found the chance to be joyful under the loving and caring eye of the Heavenly Father.
5. His Temptations.
The clouds gave way to a storm. A storm that would never subside. A storm so violent that it might wash away whatever sacred and holy treasure Nicholas possessed in his heart. One that would drag him down stream and make him disappear. It would wash away the treasure as well as the young Nicholas, it would capture him and enslave him.
A line of fire was organized against him. And the target was also chosen. The conquest of his youthful, innocent and good soul. On one side was his employer. On the other side was the little Turk who worked in the store next door. And a Turkish aristocrat who passed by there every day on his horse to buy bread.
In the person of Nicholas they all saw an easy victim. His basic kindness, his flexibility, his eagerness to work, and serve others, his sincerity, his simplicity and the innocence of his youthful soul, caught their attention, and they joined hands to take him with them in their fold and with their false god.
I cannot bear to see him as a Christian effendi said the baker. I will change him. Ill do whatever I can to change him!
Meanwhile, the little Turk worked systematically. He always spoke to Nicholas about Mohamed. If you believe in him you will become free. You will do whatever you wish. You will never be threatened by anyone. Everyone will watch out for you, and help you. You will establish a fortune and will be popular and famous.
The wealthy aristocrat also spoke to Nicholas sometimes from atop his horse, other times inside the bakery about the great change. You have so much to gain. Everyone will love you. You will also become an aristocrat just like me. You will eat sweet bread. You will be liberated from fear and from the danger to your life.
If these temptations were momentary and transient, his boss was the greatest temptation. He could not escape from his presence. He had to listen to him every day. From sunrise till sunset. When they awoke in the morning to make dough, and when they stayed together at night to complete the job.
Oh what a pity Nicholas, a fine boy like you an infidel. What a pity for a boy like you not to enjoy your freedom. Not to be able to move about as you please.
And the bottom line of this conversation was: You must change. You must become a Mohamedan. You must change. Not a Christian. It is not to your best interest.
Hard times for Nicholas. A terrible struggle fomented within him. He was shaken from top to bottom. He was born a Christian and a Greek. He could not understand why he had to cast away all these things so that his life might change, so that he might prosper. He could not understand why they were trying to make him shake off all those things he considered as treasures.
In the beginning, he gathered strength, tried to fortify himself so that he would not cast the precious pearl to the swine.
He reacted according to the circumstances.
Sometimes he worked with all his might, so that he didnt have time to talk. Other times he chose a place in the workshop where he couldnt hear them talk. Sometimes again he dared ask questions which were certain to cause verbal abuse on the part of his boss and even beatings.
Time and again he remembered his father who had talked to him about the bitter far away land and its troubles. He thought: How right my father was! How correct was his advice! Behold, everything has come to pass!
As time passed away, the more difficult things became. A terrible strain for his young inner world! He resembled a flower which no later than it blossomed, a strong wind blew and killed it. A north wind was blowing every day, and they tried persistently to change his Faith and scatter all his treasure.
6. The defeat.
It wasnt long before the evil happened. Being unaware and subconsciously, a change took place within him. And a long time elapsed since the attack began. Two years in all. For two years, he was struck by fiery arrows of temptations which chiseled away at his life and standards. He was without any help. The only help might have come from his parents, but they were far away. They were not there to watch after him, to support him, and to renew his spiritual life.
He did not cease to be the pure and polite youth who was always eager to help. That did not change within.
However, he listened to his boss who talked with him about the great prophet Mohamed. He listened to him without contradiction as he had before. He made company with the little Turks, he picked up their habits, and he learned their morals and customs. He was told about their period of fasting, ramazan, their prayers, and he stood in the form of prayer at the time when the hodja called from the minaret. It was clear he had accepted the first influence upon his beliefs and life.
His boss observed this, and felt personal satisfaction. He saw it as a victory, as his own personal accomplishment. He witnessed his evil scheme become a reality. He had changed the faith of the Christian Greek who found happiness in the false paradise of the deceiver, Mohamed.
The boss did not waste any time in changing his attitude towards him. He bought him clothes just like his. Shoes and the fez. And when the right time came, he sent him to the mosque. It was his first public appearance that stigmatized him with such shame which he never forgot it as long as he lived.
The stigma and the lechery were exterior. His garments, and the fez. Within his soul, he retained something yet. He hadnt lost every trace of Hellenism and Christian Faith. Therefore, great was the struggle that rose up inside of him.
Whenever he saw one of his countrymen, or some Christian, he was ashamed. He recognized and accepted his fault. And many times was resolved to correct it. But meanwhile, he listened to all the congratulations of the enemies of Christ, and at the bakery the sweet words of his boss that prevented him from protesting and correcting himself.
Little by little, he was subjected and enslaved. He became a true little Turk. He surrendered within, and conformed without. And he was finally recognized as a follower of the prophet. He lived like all the Turks. He was free to live joyously without restrictions and threats.
The one who was most pleased by this change was his employer, the baker. He told everyone. And to his customers, he pointed as at a trophy the change of Nicholas. He invited the hojah to his store in order to introduce the boy. And he praised him. He congratulated him. He told him that he would prosper now that he had the help of allah. He invited him to go to the mosque in order to pray and to ask him whatever help he needed.
Nicholas was not aware, at first, of the great harm that he suffered in his life. For a while, he thought that he had gained something. And appeared to be happy, even though he was not happy altogether. In the recesses of his heart, he must have retained something. It seems that an invisible, mighty hand prevented him not to accept altogether that which seemed as the new treasure of his life.
7. In recognition of his mistake.
Thus, a short period of time elapsed. How long? No one knows. It is certain, however, that not more than one year passed by.
During that time, Nicholas, who was tested in the struggle of life, tried to justify the gains he made by the change. Little by little, he managed to isolate the good points as well as the weaknesses of the new religion. He met many people, saw many things, and experienced a lot. He listened to their prayers, and he saw firsthand all the opportunities of this religion. He learned that they celebrate their successes and what the future rewards will be for them that follow the prophet.
The more he learned, the more confused he was. And as the days passed by, his doubts worsened. He was never satisfied. His spiritual world was tormented by one great vacuum. They did not accord the opportunities they promised him. And the void within became greater as the days passed by.
In the beginning of his struggle, seldom if at all, and later more often his old life came to mind. That is, his roots. His home. His father and mother. His town. The occupations. And as he walked outside on the lofty peaks, by the invisible presence of his father, he remembered Prophet Elias. He recalled the first Our Father. He remembered the tears of joy his father shed when for the first time, he recited the Lords Prayer. He remembered the hug that he gave him, and those words of his. God, my boy, the great God may He protect you from all evil. Be cautious, my boy, for thy soul. He recalled, and how much did Nicholas not remember? Not only on that sole moment, but at all times. Every day and hour.
And that continuous memory brought back in his life the advice and admonition of his father and mother.
The beautiful world of the spirit began to awaken within him. A new dawn, the spiritual day, began to appear in the horizon of his soul. And Nicholas noticed this experience and appeared as if in a trance.
This change in Nicholas did not go unnoticed for long by his boss, the baker. He perceived that at times he was lost, and distant. He also noticed a certain anxiety and perplexity in him. The discussions about the new religion did not impress him anymore, as in the beginning. He always found an excuse to avoid them. And he was puzzled, not knowing exactly what was happening to him.
One day, he asked him, Nicholas, what is happening with you? I see that you are worried. What is wrong? Is there anything that you need? Did I not tell you to let me know, and I will do whatever I can for you?
Nicholas did not reveal the anxiety of his soul, but he told him of his desire to visit his parents.
Here, efendi, I miss my parents and my home. It has been so many years now, and I havent visited them even once. If youd be so kind as to give me permission for a few days to go and visit them.
The boss became irked. He understood not only the change in the boys life, but also the dangers of losing his victim and his great success. So he said:
You dont need to make such visits. We have plenty of work here. If you dont work, how are you going to make a living? You have no reason to go back to Metsovon. Right here you have all the things you need. And after he raised his voice a little, he said, Go now to the marketplace to shop, and stop by the store. And I want you to come back right away. You hear?
Nicholas answered nothing. He went out at once and headed to the marketplace. His mind, however, climbed the trails that led to the mountain peaks. His soul which went through hardship all those years received the aura of the spirit. As he traveled with his mind to the place that gave him birth, that made him a Christian, and Greek.
8. The return to his homeland.
Nicholas had realized his great mistake. It is not right to abandon the Light and go into darkness. It is not just to call the Light darkness, and the darkness Light. A great delusion it is to be lured from Christianity by the false teachings of one demagogue as Mohamed who put together his own religion.
By now, Nicholas knew his mistake, and when his conscience was clear, he did not remain for one moment in that delusion. He did not play with deception. He was outraged with him. His soul became rebellious. When he was alone at night immersed in thought, he shed many tears with a sigh of repentance. And thus his conscience gave him rest. And each time, he was resolved to correct his great mistake.
But he had to rediscover himself again, to regain his spiritual powers, and then try to correct himself. In the place where he was, he could not accomplish anything. The environment was not conducive. He had to change residence. To change the spiritual climate. And he could not find such a climate better than that of his home. Only with the comfort of his parents, and the Christian environment, he would be able to breathe the air of the spirit and he could shake off every evil that he had received and which polluted his heart.
Every time he thought of returning to his country and to his home, he could not wait. He felt a spiritual certainty that this was the best thing for him to do. So he set forth to put into practice his plan of departure. He would ask permission from his boss. But if he would not give him such, then he would escape, leaving on his own. Without company.
The boss was adverse again. Not only did he refuse this, but he even threatened him. And then Nicholas remembered how he treated him in the beginning, when he shouted at him and abused him. He called him giahour one day, and infidel the next. But he did not lose his courage. He had made his decision. He would escape. One night he would flee.
He allowed a few days to pass, and when it appeared that all was forgotten, he collected his few garments in a bundle and with much caution he fled into the night. He used a narrow alley, and then found himself on the road that would bring him to his sweet country, and in the arms of his father and mother which he had so missed.
In the beginning, he walked rapidly. And when he felt more secure, he paused for a while in that cold and dark night. He stopped to give glory not to Mohamed, but to the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The God of his fathers.
My Lord, what a beautiful doxastikon that was! How sweet were his words! Why, my God, did you allow me to lose that beauty!
And then as he finished his prayer, he stood in attention and made a confession of Faith. He didnt care if his act remained unknown in the eyes of men. It meant a lot to him that the eyes of his father saw him, those of Gods, whom he loved so much and had forgotten.
Oh Lord, I love you. And in order to prove my love, here! And Nicholas took the Turkish fez that he wore and threw it far away. He took off his other garments that reminded him of his evil experience and ill fortune and threw them far away. As far away as he could and dawned other clothes that reminded him of something new, something beautiful, everlasting. That which he had lost, that which had caused him to run into the darkness of the night toward the great peaks. The peaks of his country, but also the peaks of the true Faith.
Doxisticon at the Litia.
Let us all who are gathered in the church
honor Nicholas who as glistening gold was tested by the fire,
who appeared genuine, the lover of piety, saying:
Hail oh citizen of heaven, a mighty soul solid as a diamond.
As thou standest next to the Trinity, cease not interceding for our souls.
9. Again in Metsovon.
Before he was aware of it, he arrived across from the hills near his homeland. He did not feel tired in the least. He was light and strong. A sense of optimism and hope circulated through his free soul.
He stood there in the heights in order to rest. Then he would follow the narrow path which would soon take him to his village, to his house. He paused to think. Through his mind all the years that he was absent passed by at once.
He remembered how he had truly passed that narrow path on his way to Trikkie! What hopes! What dreams! But even so, his return was necessary. He had no money, nor did he make a name for himself there. Albeit, he almost lost his treasure.
Thank you, oh Lord, he said, because You helped me find my way back. This road, my return to serenity. He stood up. He did his cross. And quickly he began to roll down the winding path.
The more he approached, his heart beat quicker. The thought that he would see his father and his beloved mother made him a volcano of feelings which was ready to erupt. Now and again, a warm tear ran down his face, especially when he thought that soon he would be forced to admit his mistake made him bitter because he would have saddened his good parents. His only consolation was that he had escaped danger, and now he is going to the safety of his family.
As he approached Metsovon on his way up, near the creek that ran by the monastery of the Lords Mother, it was afternoon. The villagers, his countrymen, were returning from their farms dragging with them their beasts of burden.
Nicholas didnt wish to meet anyone. He passed by quickly, trying to elude their glances. And when he made the turn, he noticed the humble church in his neighborhood. He cast a quick glance to the right and to the left, and after he noticed that no one saw him, he did his cross. And quickly he slipped through the gate of the front yard of his house. The sun had set on the mountain, and the beauty and serenity of the sunset had spread a quiet and mystical radiance on his impoverished home.
From within, his mother saw him. She jumped out and opened the door of the house. She also opened her arms and welcomed him. She kissed him warmly on his forehead and said to him,
Welcome, my boy. You did well, very well, that you came back. Ive been waiting for you so many years. I thought of you all the time. Morning and night, my thoughts were always with you.
And he bowed and kissed the hand of his mother. A pleasant and warm kiss. He felt so secure now, as he held his mothers hand. He did not want to let go. He said almost nothing, because in his attempt to express his joy at finding her well, tears that rolled down from his eyes intervened. Something similar happened again when shortly his father came home.
Now his house seemed very joyous. Only Nicholas had something to say. But he couldnt that night. He did not want to embitter them. They were all elated as they ate together. And then his father said a prayer. He recited a prayer of thanks because they met after so many years. They did their cross, and laid down to sleep.
10. Their poverty.
The next day, Nicholas called his parents near, and with sincerity admitted all that had happened. He concealed nothing. It matters not if I embitter you. You must learn the truth, and you must rejoice, because like the prodigal son, I have found myself and returned to you, and to your love. Here I will find rest, and I will become better than before.
His parents listened attentively. They grieved for his misfortune, but they did not underestimate him. They knew that he had found his way again, and they supported him and comforted his soul.
My boy, give glory to God that He kept you sound. Glorify Him, because He guarded your treasure. You must find a spiritual father so that you may confess and receive forgiveness. Dont be afraid. You will start your life again. And God will bless you.
The very next day, Nicholas met with a spiritual father. The reverend priest listened in silence. He did not talk of the mistake long. He persisted in his correction, encouraging him to stand firm with his decision. He also put him on a program of spiritual life in order to help him surge forward.
Fear not, he said, God received a thief. He receives every soul that asks for His mercy and blessing. By the side of your parents, you will become a new man, a good Christian. Surely God, Who permitted such a trial, will give you much good in your life.
Thus, the young man of Metsovon, the good Christian and Greek, rediscovered himself. He became calm. His soul found rest. He started to assist his parents as before. His fathers company gave him rest and consolation. They worked together to make a living, together in prayer, they loved each other as one soul.
With great difficulty, however, they met their necessities. They worked for one piece of bread. At times, they went without bread at all. If they ever made wheat bread, that was a luxury. Sometimes they lacked even their very bobota (corn bread). When they had it, they were glad. And when they went without it, they glorified God because in Him they placed their hopes.
Little by little, in time, Nicholas looked elsewhere. He started to go into the forest. There, with other fellows, they cut firewood with resin (torch-wood). They brought it to town and sold it. Some of them made stacks, and sent them to the bigger and smaller towns.
With this occupation, Nicholas began to make an easier living. He took his father along with him. They piled up this torch-wood on their front yard. And one day, when returning from the forest, he dared ask permission to go and sell it in the city where he had his great misfortune because he knew it very well.
Without much difficulty, his father agreed. He was certain about Nicholas. He knew that he would not undergo any ethical danger anymore. During the entire year, he had tested him very well.
They readied the firewood. They loaded it on donkeys. And one morning (along with company), he headed in the direction of Trikkie. But not to stay there. He went, and he would return at once. He went to do his fathers wishes. A trip that was necessary for their lives.
11. Again at Trikkie.
The entire company arrived in good time at their destination. In the marketplace of the city, there were many people. Nicholas unloaded his cargo at one end, along with the others. He had no desire to walk around the marketplace which he knew so well, nor to visit the stores in which so many times he shopped.
He adhered to his original plan. Shoppers would pass by along there. They would buy his load, and when it was exhausted, they would leave immediately. From the outset, it looked as if the plan would go very well. He sold most of his cargo. A little more, and they would come to the end. He reckoned, Ill buy a little bobota for my house, and whatever else my mother ordered me, and at once I shall return.
One more load remained, and he was about to sell it. It was a sixty year old Turk from the city. When Nicholas saw him, he recognized him. He was the barber in the neighborhood where he lived before. One time, in fact, he had cut his hair at his shop. He pretended as if he didnt know him. But the latter looked at him with curiosity. He wanted to say something, but could not easily remember. It appeared as if his memory was not good.
He stopped whatever he was doing, and in a moment said to Nicholas, Are you not the little Turk who worked at the bakery in the neighborhood? So you changed now, hey? You became a Christian? Dont you know that that is the biggest insult and blaspheme for our great Prophet Mohamed? How did you do such a thing? Do you want me to publicize it? Do you want me to tell everyone so that you may see what punishment awaits you?
Nicholas did not expect such an assault. The words of that Turk fell upon his head like thunder. He was shaken. He became fearful. Many bad things went through his mind. But he didnt speak at all. He stood there and looked him in the eye.
Why do you stare at me? the barber said with a strong voice. Im not mistaken. Its you. I remember very well. You changed. I see your garments. I see your company.
Nicholas remained calm in the face of the temptation. He reckoned that he must get rid of this dangerous man any way possible. And then he must disappear. In order to make one more sale, and at the same time avoid danger, he said to the Turk:
If you wish, he showed him the wood, take it. I dont want any money. He suggested that he take it for nothing so as to get rid of him.
But the latter would not cease. He tried to extort Nicholas subtly. After he got that load, he wanted to be sure that he would have more in the future.
That is not enough, he said. I am ready to turn you in. Ill shout one time, and the entire marketplace will pounce upon you and beat you. In order to escape this, you must make a promise. And youd better keep it. Otherwise, I will torment you. Slowly and loudly he said, You will promise me that every year you will bring me one load of firewood. You hear? Understand what I want?
Yes. I understand, said Nicholas. And without knowing exactly what he said, answered the Turk. You may rest assured, once a year I will bring you one load of torch-wood.
Fine, said the Turk. We agree. I will not say anything to anyone.
He picked up the wood and disappeared in the street. When the Turk was gone, Nicholas, without any delay, headed for the way back home. His mind was dim. He could not recollect his thoughts. He only walked quickly, wanting to get away from danger which once more he encountered in that city.
12. The thought of martyrdom.
In a short while, he found himself outside the city. He began to discover himself again. The sense of security that he felt made him calm once more. And the calmness that he felt within helped him to think everything all over again. Then he thought about the promise that he had made. Accordingly, he would have to bring one load of firewood to the infidel every year. That means he would have to toil in the forest, to play with life and death, in order to prepare a load for an infidel with whom he had no ties and no obligation. And why all this? Because he would betray him, that he changed his faith, and from a Turk became a Christian.
Nicholas was shaken up again. When in a position such as this, there is no greater accusation for me than that. I never became a Turk. And if one time I put on the fez and the clothes, and passed under the gates of a mosque, but never did I do that from my heart. My heart always remained Christian. My blood was always Christian. The candle of the Faith in the true God always burned inside of me.
This is so tragic. I cannot endure it. I must bring the firewood as a tribute so that I can believe freely in what I am.
Nicholas stood for a while in the middle of the road. He walked all that distance hurriedly, and now he was not afraid in the least to keep company with the clean air and the birds that flew in the mountains. He could think. He could think a lot. He could even allow his voice to say whatever he wished so that God would listen to him, He Who listens to His own and answers to their needs.
He could not stand upright. He stood by the side at the turn of the road and knelt down. And even though his body was bent downward, his mind and heart made a trip to the throne of God.
He took a deep breath and with one voice that seemed like that of many people, a voice from the depths of his heart, he said to God:
Thou, Lord, knoweth my heart! You know all the hearts of men and their reasonings. You know, therefore, if my heart ever denied you. Why should I bear such a shameful stain? Why should I be a prisoner of my careless, childish actions? I cannot bear this. Dear Lord, I wish to be liberated. I wish to prove that I have nothing to do with this matter. Im your man, and shall remain your man.
How long he stayed on his knees in that spot he was not aware. But when he stood up, he began to walk with new strength. He felt like a new man, and he noticed something new growing inside of him. One sweet and beautiful, heavenly feeling. If you asked him to describe it, he couldnt. He did not have the power to portray it. He would say one thing. I forgot everything. All has been extinguished within me. Something else was awakened which I prefer very much to live with.
He continued to walk, and he was eager to get to his village because the sun was about to set and soon it would be dark. But Nicholas was not afraid. He knew all the roads and the trails. He sensed a great triumph. As soon as his new feeling became noticeable and stable.
In a little while he would be in the village. He passed by the Church of Saint Demetrios. He hid behind a wall. With precaution, he made his cross. And when he tried to say, Saint Demetrios, guard me and clear my mind. he discovered something which was pleasant and kept him company throughout the trip. He reasoned that Demetrios became great because he was martyred for Christ. Demetrios was a martyr for Christ. Thats it! said Nicholas inadvertently. A martyr for Christ. How beautiful! How grand! No one can scare you there, or threaten you. He opened the door to his house, and he entered as if in a safe haven.
13. The great decision.
The decision towards martyrdom did not take long to mature. It became a granite. Nicholas lived with it. Henceforth, this was the strong desire of his heart. Persistently in his prayer, he supplicated the first Martyr, Christ, to give him this invaluable gift and honor. For him, it was the best solution to the big problem he was entangled in. He did it with all his heart. He saw in it an unspeakable beauty and grandeur.
How could he proceed forward, however, without the opinion of his parents? How could he ignore them? And how could he leave them alone in the world, especially now when their age was advanced and they needed him more than ever?
After he had well reasoned on his own that the gigantic decision could not be changed for anything, he decided to tell his parents. One evening, when his parents walked alone in the dusk under the trembling lights of the lamps, he found time and told them.
I never ceased to be a Christian. But I had that misfortune that made me experience this temptation for many years. It is never possible to tolerate others calling me an infidel. A certain voice inside of me tells me that I must wash away that evil with a courageous confession of my Faith publicly. I must go there where it all happened, and I must say that I believe in the truth, in the Light, in Christ. And if they seize me as the maniacs that they are, and wish to take my life, I will give it. There is no difficulty for me. I wish to give it. I made that decision. And I believe that with the help of God, I will succeed. I beg of you that you will not disagree with me.
There was a dead silence. Not even their breathing was heard. Only the small lamp sent forth its trembling light upon their tired faces and now and then a small echo reached their ears from the lanterns wick.
The father looked the son in the eye. His wife also looked. She bent her face downward and leaned against the palms of her hands as she thought. And then he seriously opened his mouth and said, A great thing, my son, that one be martyred for Christ. A great honor for our house. It is not in me to tell you no. My heart cannot bear it. To tell you Go ahead. I cant do that, either. To become a martyr, it is a gift and a bestowal of heaven. One thing alone I advise you. Find a spiritual father. Tell him your thoughts, and he will take the responsibility. He will tell you what you should do.
Again they were silent. His mother was immersed in deep thought. And Nicholas dared to ask her, And you, mother, what do you think? No answer. When he asked her again, again there was no answer.
They were silent. When it seemed that that blessed silence must cease, the voice of his mother was heard saying, My boy, you have my blessing. Do as your father says.
The lamp was about to go out, and its light became brighter, as if it was trying to tell them that it was midnight, and it was time for them to rest. They rose and prepared to turn in. Nicholas went to a corner and fell to his knees.
I thank you my Lord. It is easier now to come near you. The road is open. Bring expediency now, because Im impatient. I must wash away this shame.
14. The spiritual father.
If Nicholas passed by the obstacle of his parents, he would not find such understanding from his spiritual father, for a spiritual father bears responsibility for the directions of every soul. Therefore, before he says something, he thinks about it. He looks at all sides, and sees far ahead. Thus it happened in the case of Nicholas. His spiritual father listened to him. He listened to him carefully. He asked many details. He tried to search into the bottom of his heart, to weigh his decision, to determine his motives. Frightening was the possibility that he might change. Even though a great time had lapsed, since then, the danger that he might weaken at the last moment might become a reality.
When he formed an opinion about Nicholas, it was not the first time that he heard his confession. Then, with a voice that showed how aware he was of his responsibility, he said:
My boy, I admire you for your decision. There is no greater honor for man than to give his blood for the Faith of Christ. Eons will honor him, and the faithful throughout Christendom will appreciate him. I admire you, and Im glad because of your decision. It is difficult for me to say yes, though. Im afraid. Im afraid that at the last moment you might weaken. Im afraid that you might give in, that you might cower. It is possible that you might not remain steadfast to the end on the glorious road to martyrdom.
Nicholas was shaken up. He did not allow the spiritual father to proceed. Interrupting, he said, No, father. My decision is sound. Ive thought it over many times. I will not bend.
Agreed, said the spiritual father as he raised his hand lightly trying to tell him that he should be listening and not talking. Agreed. But you do not know that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. That is not my saying. It is the very word of God. And it is always true. And that word means: it is easy for one to make a decision. But it is hard to carry it out. One recognizes with ease what is good and wishes to make it a reality of life. But is not easily done. It is a hard thing. We are all glued, unfortunately, to this earthly world. Do you hear me?
Yes father, I hear. I listened to all those things you say. But I have made a decision. Im not afraid.
Suppose that for a moment you might weaken. Can you imagine the shame? Do you realize that you will put the true God to shame for a second time?
Yes father, I realize it, said Nicholas, and Im certain that I will bring it to pass. I dont depend on my own strength. But in the power of God. He is mighty, and He will help me to win. To overcome my human weaknesses and give my blood to my Christ Who was sacrificed for me on the cross.
When someone relies on the power of God, he is certain, said his spiritual father.
Before he finished his word, Nicholas thought that his objection was weakening, and fell to his knees and began to thank him and beg him for his blessing.
Bless me, oh father, he said. I shall not deny Him. I want to die for Christ.
The biographer of the saint adds: When the spiritual father saw the desire he had for martyrdom, he strengthened him with many exhortations and blessings, and let him go.
What a holy confession. You have made a new martyr who would shed his blood upon the Epeirotic and Thessaliotic earth. You have fashioned a new martyr in order to adorn the Church of our Christ.
15. The way to martyrdom.
Not many days elapsed, and everything was ready for his new trip to Trikkala. It was not the preparation of the bundles that concerned Nicholas. His thoughts and cares were focused elsewhere. He pondered upon the burden of sin. The abasement and shame of his denial. More than anything, he wished to shake off that burden. He recited the words, Lift, oh Lord, the heavy burden of sin from me. And accept my repentance as the harlot and the woman with hemorrhage.
He thought these things continuously. He always found opportunities to withdraw and communicate with God to seek His help and His encouragement. Be Ye my helper, and abandon me not, he repeated. And he said it loudly so that his heart and hearing would be content with the thought that God was on his side. He Who is in everything is near him, and within him, and wishes to be ready to help him.
Later, he knelt again. He knelt quietly with a warm faith in the presence of God. Before the almighty God and Father. There is no greater moment in the life of man from those moments that he lived in the presence of God and speaks with Him. Nicholas lived those moments vividly. When he was at the zenith of contentment, he let out a deep sigh from out of his soul. What value did these moments of bliss have compared to the experience of living together with God and witnessing the grandeur of His face!
Immersed in these thoughts, he believed whole-heartedly in the presence of God. In such times, you do not live in the world. Mountains, forests, animals, voices and noise were blotted out by the mystical union of his soul with God. A mysterious service went on within him. It was a spiritual preparation for the great event that his soul desired.
Then again he came to his senses. And remembered the hardships that he would encounter. And the strict advice of his spiritual father and the danger that he would go through. With humility he recognized that the road that he must follow was long, uphill and arduous.
At times he recited the Psalms of David. And completed his conversation with God. You have become my aid and protector towards my salvation. You are my God, and I shall glorify Him.
Thus Nicholas ended his prayer. As he contemplated the glory of God, he shuddered. Because for him, the glory of God was not something without meaning or as we think of it today. It was something incomparable. It was the martyrdom which he had prepared himself for. He wanted to become the recipient of the glory of God. To offer a spiritual sacrifice so that through him God would receive glory.
For this reason, again he felt the need for prayer. Thus prepared, he set out at one May day at the break of dawn. Before nature was awakened and the flocks of sheep were not dispersed on the mountainside, and the music of the nightingales did not reach the streams yet. Nicholas set out for his great journey, resolved not to return again. With him he had two loaves. His donkeys with the firewood, and sins. The first he would give to the people. The other he would lay down at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. And if he was called, he would give a good witness. In this manner, he wanted to set a good example for the people. What is the meaning of faults! Their meaning is to find the road to correction and to return. You must find the road to heaven and follow it at any cost. That is what Nicholas believed in. Thus armed, he followed the road to meet the enemy and wrestle with him.
16. In the hands of the infidels.
For the first time, Nicholas did not notice how difficult the road was. When from a distance he noticed Trikkie, it seemed to him that he had just started. Rested and strong, he was all eager and enlightened.
When he entered the city, he was moved as he remembered those moments when he lived in it. How he came there as a Christian. How he departed. How he returned, and everything, but everything with details.
Now, though, he felt different. He himself could not describe that which he felt. It is something refreshing, powerful, and protecting. As an invisible personage that stood by his side. And when he attempts to interpret what it is, he stops. No, it is not anything else&.It is my God&.Thus, his soul found comfort and rest.
He took the road that led to the market place. It was already filled with shoppers and merchants. On the same spot where others brought their loads of wood and firewood he unloaded. He sought the aid of God within him so that he would finish quickly. Then he greeted all those who stood nearby. He thought it was strange because he didnt know anyone of them. It turned out that they were all Turks. He noticed them from their attire and their speech. It was an easy day for him that day. He only needed to sell a little more torchwood. If he gave that, too, he would be able to finish his work. That is to shop and take the road back. For a moment, a certain shopper approached him. He was ready to buy his torchwood. Nicholas stooped down in order to tie the bundle, and then he would offer it to him. But that moment, he noticed a cold hand seizing him by the neck with a tight grip. It was that barber who had forced Nicholas to bring him firewood for free so that he wouldnt make it known that he changed his faith. As he held him, at the same time he growled, Why didnt you bring me the wood? he said. Infidel, I will strangle you.
Nicholas did not need to see him. He understood immediately. With his own eyes he saw that man as a personification of satan. He was provocative, egotistic, self-serving, and immoral. He took advantage of an incident that involved an immature young man, and he manipulated it without shame and discretion. And he insisted. He insisted to take the wood. He made the faith a bargain. He turned the faith into his own personal, material gain.
Nicholas was stunned. He stood upright and looked at the Turk in the eye. In disdain, he said, I have no business with you. I havent harmed you at all, so I dont feel guilty. Please do not bother me.
Before he finished, the cowardly Turk pounced upon him. You do not speak to me in that way, he growled. I will turn you in. I will report you. Ya hear? And with his hands he seized him by the neck again.
But Nicholas did not lose his calm. With readiness and simple words, replied, I dont owe you anything. Understand? I have no obligation. And that which I did in the past was a mistake. Because I never changed my Faith. My heart was always Christian, and only my clothes were soiled.
The Turk noticed that something had changed in Nicholas. He noticed that now he was steadfast, strong and courageous. It made an impression on him. He was impressed that he confessed his Faith before everybody. He was not the weak Metsovite that he thought he could take advantage of forever. He knew that he had lost the wood, his booty. He became enraged and persistent instead of being glad. Ignited with rage, he did not hesitate to plan his slanderous scheme. He lunges toward Nicholas and at the same time growled loudly, Grab him! He changed his faith and insulted the great Prophet Mohamed!
Suddenly there was commotion and noise in the marketplace. Fanatic turks which knew nothing about the matter became demonized. They seized the well-built Metsovite Nicholas and held him in their hands as if they had caught the biggest enemy of their religion. Pushing him and shoving him, they led him to their kadi.
As an innocent lamb, Nicholas was silent on his way to the judge. He reckoned that the blessed moment had come. The thought of his father and mother passed through him as lightening. He made a silent prayer to God, Lord, give me your aid. And whispered, Lord, the blessed moment has arrived. Give me strength to confess Thine holy name.
17. Before the lawless judge.
When they arrived at the house of the kadi, which was also the court, they found a crowd of outrageous turks. Many of them heard the shouts of the barber. But others did not know what was happening. They just saw an infidel being pushed and abused who was led to the judge. That was enough for them to spew their poison which nested in their hearts. So they also yelled. So when they arrived at the kadis, they were all mad, growling and seeking revenge.
The crowd stood below the house. Above passed the barber dragging Nicholas. Not because he resisted. On the contrary. Nicholas walked to the judge with joy because he knew that that judgment was the best proof for the next Judgment, the divine one which will take place at the end of time and of which the Judge will be the all-knowing God.
The barber was provocative, angry and loud. He had taken the matter personally. As is obvious, he lost his bonus, and his profit.
The accusation was ready. What an accusation! Slander! He was a Turk who believed in the great prophet, but now changed and became a Christian. That charge was very powerful for the court. He did not need any other arguments. The only solution was that the accused must renounce Christ and His teachings, and confess faith in Mohamed.
The kadi at the time was unprepared. It was still morning, and he was surrounded by pandemonium. He gathered his senses and he tried to learn what happened. He looked at Nicholas and at the Turkish barber. He analyzed them both. In the face of Nicholas he saw calm, serenity, and assurance. He saw a Nicholas that was well put together, in the flower of his youth, and he saw the characteristics of an honest man. He countenance was covered with beauty and grace.
Then he cast his eyes at the Turk. His face was angry and wroth. There was a nervousness and impatience. All this was a reflection of the hatred and hostility that controlled his psyche within. He couldnt stand still. He made neurotic motions. And he uttered words of abuse. He allowed His inner lower self to become evident.
The judge knew what was going on. It was not the first time that he had such a case. He made a sign to the Turk to quiet down. Then he asked Nicholas:
So you denied our prophet? And then he added before Nicholas opened his mouth:
I want you to answer straight and sincerely. Ya hear?
Nicholas raised his head and looked at him in the eye. There was a spark in his eye. His heart jumped, and his mind flew to the heavens. He embraced God in the Spirit, and asked Him to put words in his mouth. How long have I waited, oh Lord, for this hour? Help me, I beg You, to confess Your name, he prayed.
And then he answered, telling the judge:
I was never a Turk. I never believed in Mohamed. I was born a Christian. My heart was always Christian. I wish to live as a Christian. Christ is my only concern.
The barber exploded. He did not allow him to finish. He made one or two steps toward Nicholas. He stretched his hand, and without the judges permission, growled, He was a Turk! He used to go to the mosque. I remember.
Nicholas remained calm.
Yes, he answered, It was a time when I was influenced. It was a time when my boss confused me. He changed my mind. What a disgrace for me, my God. Forgive me for that! But I was never a Turk. My heart was always Greek and Christian. Yes, Im a Christian. I believe in Christ with all the power of my soul.
Quiet fell in the crowd. Nicholas looked impressive in his confession. He was convincing and sound, causing everyone to gaze with perplexity. They were all amazed at Nicholas inner soul. But they could not admit their defeat. Their spite and hatred did not allow them to do so.
The judge thought for a while and asked Nicholas, So this man here is lying?
Surely hes not telling the truth, added Nicholas soundly. The truth is what I have told you.
The judge had no doubt that Nicholas was true. But how could he satisfy the Turks? What should he say before the angry mob that waited below? How could he tolerate the courage and confession of the honest Metsovite? How could he accept the insult to the great prophet?
All these things made him reach a decision.
Throw him in jail. There he will find himself and will appear again, and well see if he has the courage to say that he is a Christian.
Two well-built servants pounced on him and pushed him toward the exit. When the crowd saw him, they began jeering and taunting at him.
Lock the dog in jail. The infidel! they shouted. Some of them followed behind him. They accompanied him to the jail. And they didnt quiet down until they saw the heavy door close in the jails bosom the young Greek.
18. Nicholas in jail.
It did not take a long time for Nicholas to recollect his thoughts and realize what type of situation he was in. The dark environment of the jail, the loneliness, the abandonment, and disdain made him understand all those things that his spiritual father had described to him in such detail. He remembered one by one, and he tried to put them into practice accordingly.
When they lock you up in jail, he told him, you will remember that God created you a free man so that you will always live near Him and in His kingdom.
When the darkness in jail prevails upon you, then you will remember the light of the kingdom of God. The light which is eternal, which will never be extinguished, for there is no end to the kingdom of God.
When they abuse you verbally, remember and pray for your abusers.
When they beat you, you must remember that they also beat Christ. They crucified Him. And He was sinless and suffered for our own sins, whereas you will suffer for your own sins.
When they leave you hungry, and without nourishment, do not be disturbed. Your mind then will live much easier with God.
Nicholas remembered all these things, and many more, when he sat on the floor of the gloomy and dark jail. All these things brought to mind the promise that he gave before God to his spiritual father.
I will not bend. I will not weaken. I will stay faithful to Christ. I shall confess His holy name. I will die for my Saviour.
And then he began to pray. How long his prayer lasted, he did not know. That which he noticed was an inner, pleasant, reassurance that gave comfort to his body, and also to his soul. He was very serene. He had a certainty that everything would go well. He saw himself on a secure path which led to his own goal. Therefore, time and again, he said, Help me oh Lord until the very end.
He closed his eyes and was overcome by a gentle and light sleep which gave him rest. I shall slumber and recline. The Lord hath laid hold of me.
I can picture the soldier of Christ lying down in jail, in the hands of God, overcome by sleep. And I recall that image that the Prophet described about Jesus, He had reclined and slept like a lion. Who dares awaken you, O King? Thus did the courageous offspring of Metsovon. Strong and dauntless as a mountain of his country, he fought the first battle, and now he lies to rest. He rests so that he will reawaken and continue the struggle so that he will win new laurels and victories.
At about midnight, Nicholas was roused. He was alarmed because he needed more time to face harsh reality. Ah yes, he said, Im in jail at Trikkala. I thank you, my God, because Im here for you. He stayed there and pondered, sometimes one thing, sometimes another, until a sound sleep closed his eyes again.
19. Again before the judge.
For two days, Nicholas remained locked in the stony jail. No one thought of him. Alone, abandoned by people. Even his parents and spiritual father did not know that he made the first step toward his great goal.
But abandonment did not tire him. He was comforted by the true to life presence of God. He remembered and believed the promises of God. I shall not forget you nor abandon you. I am the aid of orphans. His faith made the presence of God very vivid during those dark moments of his life. That is why after his first experience in jail he was able to find spiritual tranquility and to feel fortunate in the midst of the abandonment and hatred of the enemies of his Faith which was more tormenting than the darkness of jail.
On the second day, he underwent a new trial. Hunger. It, too, was added to the list of problems that he had to encounter. In the beginning, it afflicted him severely. But he made one thought, Nourishment enables the body to live. And the body is the temple of the spirit. It is an instrument of the spirit. When the latter returns to God, it doesnt need the body. The body will return to the earth from whence it came. Why should I think about my body when soon I shall surrender my soul to my God, my Father? Courage, therefore, a little longer. The desire for God must erase, put to rest, and obliterate the needs of the body. A little while later, I will not be thirsty, nor hungry, for I will be fulfilled with the heavenly Bread, the Nourishment of all the world, my Lord and my Saviour.
One more thing worried him. The fear that the judge might postpone the trial, or that he might not lead him to martyrdom. That he might leave him to languish in that gloomy jail. Therefore, he was in a hurry. He could not wait. He was afire because he wanted to be in the company of Christ. However, he overcame this problem. He said, Im ready, and I will remain ready. Whenever God wishes, He shall take me with Him. Then he rested.
When the third day dawned, he was awakened by a loud noise. It wasnt only the footsteps of a multitude that was approaching, nor loud voices of angry people, but a threat that was aimed directly at him. He stood up. He tried to distinguish peoples faces through the opening in the door, but it was too late. The characteristic clamor of the bolt was heard at once. The heavy door opened. The servants, dazed by the light, tried to find the prisoner in the dark. At once he was with him.
Were going to the kadi, said one of the servants, and he stretched his hand to grab him and take him out.
Nicholas followed quietly.
Lets see if you say the same things now, added one voice.
It was the barber, the accuser who stood on the wayside. A large group was formed, and shortly they arrived before the kadi. Two worlds met in that court. The world of the Spirit, and the world of power. The world of Christ, and the world of Mohamed.
The first was visible in the countenance of Nicholas. He was calm, sweet, and sympathetic. A great hope improved his appearance.
The other world was neurotic, harsh, spazoid, and dastardly, looked as if it supported a premise which was a lie. Which was condemned to be wiped out in a short while.
20. The second inquiry.
The Turkish judge hoped that the convict Nicholas gave in by now. The jail, the abandonment, and hunger must have terrorized him. So he assumed that todays job would be easy for him. He would have convinced him with ease. And this would be his victory, his personal triumph which would place him high in the opinion of his own people.
Indeed, he was not far from wrong. By his outer appearance, Nicholas appeared just so. He looked tired, exhausted. His clothes were soiled after he laid on the slab of the jail. He appeared as a broken man. If he truly had lost his courage, and his spiritual orientation, then he would bend him with ease.
But he underestimated him. He did not have the power to search the depths of his heart. If he could, he would have discovered the heart of a lion which was decided to proceed unto death. He appeared as a lion which sits in a corner quietly, but once provoked, he realized that it is not dead, sick, or indifferent. Then you notice its strength. My strength is manifested in weakness, said the great Apostle, as he, too, stood many times before judges and courts. When he tried to express sympathy for the condition Nicholas was in, then he knew that that condition was for Nicholas an honor and a blessing.
I understand your suffering, began the judge. I see your condition. Truly, the jail must have brought you to your senses. Admit your mistake, and immediately your life will change. I will set you free. You will enjoy your life. I will honor you, and you will become once more a man with all your pride.
Nicholas surmised the great trap. He was terrified by the words of the turk. He gathered his strength. His thoughts went to God. He sought His inspiration. He closed his ears to the words of the Turkish judge, and when he finished, he said loudly and without restraint, in a characteristic Metsovitic accent:
I dont desire anything of those things that you promised me, or what the whole world enjoys. I have a treasure. It is my Christ. I will not exchange that treasure for anything.
The judge was irked. He pounded his fist, raised his voice and said:
I dont have time to play with you. Either you will change, or I will light a fire and burn you alive.
My decision is final. You will never convince me to commit such a great sin. I believe in Christ. He will assist me. He is more powerful than you. His might is mightier than all the world.
These moments were mind-bending, one would say. In them, you discern the power of the spirit and the weakness of matter. And the weakness of matter on the part of the regime. In these, one sees that the spirit governs the world, the heart, society, and the eons. It puts a stamp on the identity of mankind. And the power and authority of a giant who stands on wooden feet. Thus here too, the unarmed and illiterate Nicholas, fired-up by the zest of the spirit, made the power of the judge powerless, and almost non-existent.
That is why the judge lost his calm. He knew not what more to say, what more to do, what arguments he should use.
He burst out in threats, shouting, threatening, pounding his fists on the table. He looked right and left. His heart was aflame. His hatred and hostility ignited against the crucified Triumphant of the world, and his mouth began to spit out abuses.
And who is that Christ? Soon, they will grab you, and will throw you in the fire. Will Christ take you out? Are you that stupid? Dont forget, Christ stood on the cross as a criminal! He was ready to say more things of this type, but Nicholas interrupted him.
Christ is the true God. He was sacrificed for us. He will save me. I believe in Him with all my soul.
As he said these words, his face became radiant from heavenly grace. He appeared in the eyes of all those who watched him to assume a certain beauty that was unknown. A phenomenon which they saw for the first time in their life.
The judge jumped to his feet. He stretched his back and his hands as if he wanted to seized him. In this coercive manner, he tried to win him over and to subdue him.
I will burn you. You hear?
I hear. But your words do not convince me. Your voice is falsehood. The Truth is one. It is luminate and enlightens all the world. Christ is the light of the world. He is the light of my life. I will never exchange the light of Christ for your own darkness.
Oh Nicholas, how you have taught me with your confession, with your boldness. What victory is this, oh Nicholas? What refreshment for our souls which have withered from the curse of indifference in the only free Orthodox Christian land! The biographer adds with an epigram: The judge, seeing that he could not change his mind, ordered that a great fire be lit around the center of the marketplace, and that they cast him in it.
The judge left the courtroom. Those who observed cheered through religious fanaticism.
The servants scurried about to light the fire. And others seized the victim so as to lead him to the place of execution. Thus ended the scene in the courtroom, in order to open soon in the central marketplace of the great city.
21. The martyrdom.
When the great fire was lit in the center of the marketplace, the news circulated everywhere. Fanatic Turks from throughout the city were assembled. They all talked loudly, shook their hands, and now and again, one would hear verbal abuse.
Their hearts were dismal from hatred and religious fanaticism. They looked for an excuse to retaliate with madness and fury against the Christians who without protection were led to martyrdom.
When the servants brought Nicholas, they tried fear tactics to test him. Into the fire! Quickly! Dont hesitate! His Christ will save him! Thus they growled for a while. If the servants had not laid hands on him, they were ready to pounce on him and to ridicule him, and mock him as a cat does to a mouse, and then to take his most valuable gift which belonged to the authority of the life-giving God life itself.
Nicholas saw nothing. He heard nothing. He had shut down the receptacles of his senses. The earthly signals, the human threats and fears had no affect on him. Now he sees nothing else but the lit fire. Just as the fire purifies gold and makes it one hundred percent solid, thus he saw in that fire the means by which the love of God will use to absolve him from the last vestige of sin and, as a holy angel, would bring him to the bosom of God. That is why Nicholas jumped for joy at that moment. Controlling himself and from the bottom of his existence he allowed his soul to ignite from the fire of divine love and he turned to fervent prayer. My Lord, said he. Im on my way. I come toward Thee! Only a few footsteps, a few moments separate me. My God, I beg Thee, accept me!
He was no longer on earth. With his will power, or with his heart. He already lived near God. His face changed. It shone with a brightness that appeared supernatural as the fire was reflected upon his face.
With sturdy steps he came to within two meters of the fire. There they untied his hands. And the executioner, a wild Turk, said to him with a voice that resembled that of a beast:
Do you see the fire? It will consume you. Change so that you will be saved. Nicholas was already in heaven.
For me, said he, that fire is the greatest benefit. Soon I will be with my Lord Jesus!
The executioner growled: For sure you want to be ruined. Your mind doesnt change. Go ahead then! And with force pushed Nicholas and threw him into the middle of the great fire.
The turks cheered wildly.
The few Christians who watched at a distance closed their eyes and ears with caution.
One saint was added to the myriads of saints.
On new martyr with all his youthful years.
One city adopted a new guardian.
Nicholas will no longer be an unknown Metsovite. But the Holy New-martyr Nicholas of Metsovon, who was martyred in Trikkala of Thessaly by fire on the morn of the 16th of May, in 1617 AD.
22. After the Martyrdom.
The barbaric Turkish mob, after they took revenge upon the Christians in the face of Nicholas, in the most inhuman way they started to disperse satisfied over their victory. In reality they were put to shame before the glory of the kingdom of God, which made one man to defy death itself.
The few Christians hid themselves. After such an incident, a relentless uprising against the Christian element was very possible. The tempers which had risen as a result of passions must be quieted. Before the sun went down, silence fell over the central square. The fire was extinguished. The body of the saint covered with ashes. Two or three servants stayed there to guard the holy relics. And they conversed quietly as if they were trying not to disturb the eternal blessedness of the New-martyr Nicholas.
Then darkness came. It looked as if the night would bring quiet to the city. As if nothing had happened. The servants themselves found a sheltered corner in order to protect themselves from the chill of the May night. That moment, a shadow appeared in the northern alley. It approached carefully toward the fire. It signaled the servants. He was showing them something. And then approached closer. They did not try to prevent him. Not even their curiosity disturbed them. The man came up close and put money in their hands. They understood. Without uttering a word, they showed him the fire.
It was a Christian. A potter by profession. He was so moved by the martyrdom of the Saint that he wished to take something with him as a protection. He gave a substantial amount of money to the servants, and now he alone searches in the fire to find one remnant of his treasure. His eyes fell on the skull of the new martyr. He stooped down, picked it up, and disappeared in the night. He sensed a great accomplishment, that he was worthy to bring it to himself as his own treasure, the sacred skull of the Saint. His gratification was greater because he had observed from close up the courageous confession of Faith before the Turkish judge, the fire, and his martyrdom. And he thanked God because he made him worthy of such an honor.
He went to his house, did not disturb anyone, and before it was daybreak, he decided to safeguard his treasure. He thought for a bit and then proceeded to carry out his plan.
He dug a hole in the wall of his front lawn an unlikely place and there enclosed the skull of the Saint. Thus, it would remain with him as a blessing and grace, at the same time it would be safe from destruction or loss.
The other bones of the Saint which did not perish in the fire were scattered, except for a few remnants, concerning which we will speak later. His skull remained at Trikkala to bless the city in which he received the grace of martyrdom so they would be a source of sanctity to the people of God who had to live there among the ranks of barbaric hagarines.
23. At the monastery of Barlaam.
A long time did not elapse, and the pious potter left this world and went to the heavenly realm. But his treasure, the sacred skull of the new-martyr remained concealed in the same place where he had secured it. No one knew the spot. He hadnt told any of his relatives. They lived for many years near the treasure, and it kept them from harm, but they didnt even know it until the day when things changed.
The entire house, along with the courtyard, was sold to someone else. By Divine will, the buyer was a Christian, and a devout one at that. His name was Melandros. This, too, was Gods plan, so that the precious inheritance which was bequeathed by the Martyr would remain safe. Melandros knew nothing about what had occurred. He never knew that he would become an instrument of God.
It was the eve of May 16th, the day of our Saints martyrdom. It seems that Trikkie had forgotten the great event which will never be repeated. The bitter servitude caused the Christian Greeks to sigh under the tyranny of an uncouth and uncivilized overlord. Melandros decided that afternoon to work on his lawn. He watered the flowers, cleared them of all the weeds that grew up in their midst. Thus he passed the afternoon. The sun had set and he was tired. Ready to stop whatever he was doing in order to rest from the days work, he picked up his tools. He passed a glance at the gate, noticing that it was closed, and retired to his little kitchen.
At that time, it seemed to him that he saw a light in the midst of the courtyard wall. He was dumbfounded. He thought he made a mistake. But behold, it was no mistake. He saw it very clearly. It was a light that shone from the wall in his yard.
My God! he said, What is that light! I saw it! It was not an apparition. It remained there quite a while. He closed the door to his house, recited his prayers, and without mentioning it to anyone, reclined to sleep.
In the morning, when he opened his eyes and said good morning to his Creator, he recalled the light. He could not get out of his mind that sweet light which emitted from his courtyard wall. He was living in a dream, but couldnt tell anyone.
Thus passed the 16th of May, the day of the martyrdom of Nicholas of Metsovon.
At night, he performed all his Christian duties. He prayed, thanked God for all his gifts and beneficence. He surrendered to Gods providence and lay down to sleep.
As he slumbered, once again he saw the light as it appeared to emanate from his mandra2. How magnificent it was! As he watched it, it gave him a great and heavenly delight.
Suddenly, that heavenly scene was interrupted by a young person who wore a Metsovitic costume.
Melander, he said, approach the light. The fruit of my martyrdom is hidden within. It is a testimony that I loved the God of our fathers and for His love I offered my life in the flower of my youth. Melander, said the sweet voice again in the midst of his sleep, it is my skull which is hidden therein. It is in your hands from this time on.
Melander jumped up. He opened his eyes. It was midnight. He did not utter a word to anyone. He was elated by the revelation. But he was sad, for the magnificent appearance of the New-martyr was so short. He began to pray.
When daylight broke, there he was in the yard. He took his tools, and with much caution, began to search on the spot where the light appeared. What amazement he experienced when he saw the sacred skull of the New martyr buried in the wall! Tears came to his eyes. He did not consider himself worthy of such a treasure. With great reverence, he took it in his hands, he kissed it with contrition, and even though chills ran up and down his back from his astonishment, he placed it securely in his house.
He couldnt rest quietly, however. He knew that the skull of the Saint was not safe there. He must do something else. The sacred relic must rest in a holy place. It must be put in hands that would honor and cherish it for the sake of pious and devout Christians.
He came in contact with the Monastery of Barlaam at Meteora. There, one of his family members was a monk. And the monks placed the holy cara3 of Saint Nicholas near the other most valuable relics and treasures.
When God deems you worthy, my dear reader, to visit the Monastery of Barlaam at Meteora, ask that you may venerate the sacred cara of Saint Nicholas. Your soul will be astonished by the fragrance that for centuries it now emits to those who show reverence.
You have worshipped one of the most important and most sacred ornaments of the Monastery, and also of our Faith. A treasure that remains as a testimony that the Lord our God lives unto all ages.
The end, and glory be to God!
1. Metsovon owes its development to the goodwill of a Turkish governor. In the old days the
Sultans made treaties in order to keep the rebellious mountainous regions under control. The
Divan was supposed to keep the Turks out of the villages and the village people were to pay
tribute as a show of obedience. Thus on Pindos autonomous regions were created. That of Syrakos
with 42 Wallachian villages, that of Zagoriou with 40 villages and that of Agrapha with 100
As for Metsovon, there is another reason for its progress. In 1655 Achmet IV, the great Vesier of the Sultan was accused of treason and was sentenced to death. But he escaped execution and fled to the inapproachable areas of Metsovon. The mayor of the town Kyriacos Phlokas had pity on him and gave him hospitality for three years. Meanwhile the Vezier was proven to be innocent and he was reinstalled (to his position) in the government. He therefore sought to reward his benefactor. But the Mayor Phlokas did not wish anything for himself. He only sought rights for Metsovon which were granted by a Firman in 1659. Thus Metsovon enjoyed peace and prosperity.
C. P. Zalokostas “The garden of God” Athens 1944 / p. 97.
2. Mandra, i.e. a wall built up of mud brick, used instead of a fence, it encloses the front lawn of some homes in Greece and it is built about four feet high. No wonder the pious potter was able to bury the Saint’s skull in that wall. He was digging into mud brick. If it had been a rock wall, it would have been another story.
3. Cara, i.e., skull.
Translated by Dormition Skete from the Original Text in Greek:
The Holy New-martyr Nicholas of Metsovon
Symeon G. Katsimbras, Theologian
Note: Other sources say that Saint Nicholas was beaten with rods for many hours, and that he was but twenty-six years old when he suffered for our beloved Lord Jesus Christ.
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