My paternal great-grandfather was a sailor. During World War II, my great-grandfather outfitted his boat with a cannon and rode around the Aegean as the captain of his own ship. When he retired years later, he built himself a country house an hour and a half way from Sofia with name “Captain Nemo.” Of course, the family doesn’t call it that anymore. My grandfather just calls it “the country house” or we refer to it by the village in which it is located Pobit Kamuk (The Broken Rock).
As a child, I spent a lot of time at that country house. It had a very large yard with grape vine that grew over head. My great-grandmother had lovingly tended all kinds of different flowers in the garden. We even had a gazebo where we could eat lunch. It was a place where one could get away from the noise and heat of the city. In the countryside, life took on a different kind of rhythm. A simpler rhythm.
One summer many years ago, I was looking through the windows of a shack that had once been the original country house. Inside, I could see bare walls, table, and a bed with a bedspread. In the corner above the bed was an icon of St. Nicholas and next to it a kerosene lamp. I asked my grandfather whose bedroom that was. He told me that it had belonged to my great-grandfather who had died before I could have a conscious memory of him.
Every December 6th, St. Nicholas’s Day, I think about my great-grandfather. Although many people may not know this, St. Nicholas of Myra is considered the patron saint of sailors.
The story goes that St. Nicholas was going in a rickety boat to another part of the Mediterranean Basin. The sea was not good to the sailors that day. In fact, the weather was awful. The wind was blowing every which way and the men were afraid for their lives. Seeing their distress, St. Nicholas grabbed hold of the ship’s mast and rebuked the wind sternly. Instantly, the sky cleared and the wind died down. The ship continued its voyage to its destination. The lives of the sailors were saved.
Life is very much a voyage on a stormy sea. The days when the sun shines and the wind is calm are few, but most are overcast and dreary. More often than not, we just ride along on the sea looking out over its colors and not noticing its beauty. Not even realizing that our ship is on a one way trip to eternity. Yet that is where we are going.
We are pilgrims going on a journey to heaven. All of us face down storms every day. Whether it be minor showers or gloomy thunderstorms, we are all in need of help. There are many helpers for us on that sea. Some of them are people who have lived righteous lives and whom we know by reputation. There are others who have passed on and who constantly intercede for us before the most august throne of God. Finally, there is Our Lady and Our Lord Himself waiting for us to call on them in our hour of need.
Like the sailors on the boat with St. Nicholas, we are terrified that one storm could very well be our last. The ship will go down and so will we. But that is not always in the Providence of God. Rather, those storms are lessons for us. Lessons in how we ought to live and what we need to change.
I have said it over and over on this blog that suffering is not senseless and it isn’t. It is a tool that God uses to fine tune us to His plans. It is something that God allows in order to make us stronger and to test our trust in Him. The sailors on that boat trusted in God, St. Nicholas saw that trust, and worked his miracle. What about us, then, do we trust in God? Do we believe in our hearts that all things are possible?
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Nicholas of Myra, pray for us!