RECYCLED BOYS

This very well-painted icon depicts one of the miracles traditionally attributed to St. Nikolai/Nicholas of Myra:

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

The title inscription at the base identifies it:

It reads:

S[V]YATUIY NIKOLAE CHUDOTVORETZ IZBABI AGRIKOVA SUINA OT SARATSUIN’
“HOLY NICHOLAS [the] WONDERWORKER SAVES AGRIK’S SON FROM [the] SARACENS”

The story relates that in the region of Antioch there lived a pious man named Agrik/Agkrikos.  Every year on the day of commemoration of St. Nicholas, he would go to the church consecrated to St. Nicholas and pray, then return to his home and have a big dinner for his friends, relatives, and beggars.

It happened that one year, when the day to honor Nicholas came, he told his son Vasiliy/Basileios/Basil — who was aged 16 — to go to the church and pray to Nicholas and attend the liturgical services, while the father stayed home to prepare for the customary dinner.

While the son was at Matins at the church, it was attacked by Saracens, who captured the son and took him to the island of Crete.  There, because he was an extremely beautiful lad, he was made the cupbearer of the Muslim Prince.

The parents were grief-stricken, so sorrowful with weeping that they neither attended church nor commemorated Nicholas for two years.  Even into the third year they kept this up, until finally in the third year, on the day before St. Nicholas was to be commemorated,  the father said to his wife that it was no use to weep; they should go to the church with oil and candles and pray to St. Nicholas for their son.  So again they attended on St. Nicholas Day, prayed fervently to Nicholas, and came home to have the customary guests for the special annual dinner.

While everyone was seated at the meal, the dogs in the yard began to bark loudly.  Agrik sent his servants out to see what was happening.  When they returned, they said they saw no one, and nothing at all.  But the barking not only continued, but got worse, so Agrik himself went to investigate.  He was surprised to see a handsome young man in saracen clothes standing outside, holding a container of wine in his hands.  Agrik, walking toward him, recognized his own son.  The puzzled boy told him he did not know what had happened.  He had just been pouring wine into the cup of the Muslim Prince on Crete,  when suddenly the lad felt someone grab his hand, and he was carried off by St. Nicholas as though in a whirlwind, and then found himself outside his own home.

Now if you are a regular reader here, you will know it is not unusual in Eastern Orthodox hagiography for stories or parts of stories to be recycled from saint to saint.  So perhaps you immediately recognized that the tale of the boy carried off to become a cupbearer, and saved and brought home by a Saint, is essentially the very same “rescued boy” motif that we find in the hagiography of St. George.  You will find it in this previous posting:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/st-george-the-enigmatic/

And here, again, is the iconographic image of the boy being rescued by St. George, with the wine pitcher still in his hand.

We can look back even farther for the more ancient origin of this tale.  In Book 20 of Homer’s Iliad, we find these lines (233-235):

Τρωὸς δ᾿ αὖ τρεῖς παῖδες ἀμύμονες ἐξεγένοντο, Ἶλός τ᾿ Ἀσσάρακός τε καὶ ἀντίθεος Γανυμήδης, ὃς δὴ κάλλιστος γένετο θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων· τὸν καὶ ἀνηρείψαντο θεοὶ Διὶ οἰνοχοεύειν 235κάλλεος εἵνεκα οἷο, ἵν᾿ ἀθανάτοισι μετείη.

And from Tros again three matchless sons were born, Ilus, and Assaracus, and godlike Ganymedes, who was born the most beautiful of mortal men; wherefore the gods caught him up on high to be cupbearer to Zeus by reason of his beauty, that he might live with the immortals.”

Yes, the abduction, in ancient Greek mythology, of the youth Ganymede, who because of his great beauty was made cupbearer to Zeus.

Here is a closer look at the father (and mother) seeing their son standing outside with St. Nicholas:

 

Here are the dinner guests, and a barking dog out in the yard:

 

 

 

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