It's been snowing heavily since noon in Gardner; the roads were in terrible condition. Tired, physically and mentally (8 hours of teaching), I hardly could see the man at the roadside behind the pile of snow. I stopped; he was going to Heywood Hospital. Not far, but at such speed would take a while.
I turned the heat on full blast, and the man leaned forward, towards the flow of hot air. He looked neither young nor healthy. I wonder how long he'd been waiting for a ride.
– Are you Catholic? – asked he, looking at a tiny icon on the dashboard.
I was totally disinclined to a serious road conversation.
– No, – said I simply, although many Orthodox would say "Yes, Catholic, but not Roman-Catholic", which is quite accurate.
Then he started his story. It was a long and complicated one, about his relatives of different persuasion, what they would say, and how they would do something totally different, and how it all ended in nothing. I nodded and said "Yea", "Sure", "Unbelievable" at the right moments, but then the story came to the end, and it was clearly my turn to speak. I had no clue what to say, pretending to be fully involved in pushing through the piles of snow around the hospitals' entrance.
Finally I turned off the ignition. He was silent. I looked at the icon.
– Do you know Santa Claus? – said I.
– No, not that clown who works for retail sales. The real one.
– What do you mean, "real"?
– Yes, the real one. The one on this icon.
– Is this Santa Claus??
– Yes. St. Nicholas, Sanctus Nicolaus, became Santa Claus. He was a bishop in a small town, in what is now Turkey, over fifteen hundred years ago. Never made a big deal of himself. But his secret kindness and generosity made him famous all over Christian Europe, and his name became linked with the charity to the poor and gift giving. However, when it was about the defense of the Christian faith against imposters and "reformers" of all sorts, he was totally different. Through the efforts and struggle of people like him, today we have the true, incorrupt faith of Christ. That's why we remember them and stay in communion with them, like a good family does.
The man was looking at the icon. I turned the dome light on.
– May I look at it? – he asked hesitantly.
I took the icon off the dashboard.
– Take it, – said I, – It's your gift, for Christmas.
He nodded thankfully, said good-bye and opened the door. It was dark outside, but I noticed him touching the icon with his lips before hiding it in the pocket.
Hierodeacon Macarios Ivanovo
Read the original in Russian: http://world.pravda.ru/world/2002/5/16/43/4717_icon.html
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