I asked Saint Nicholas to be my father.
It wasn’t really necessary. All saints are our holy Fathers and Mothers without being asked; that’s how the Communion of Saints work. But I am, in many ways, an orphan, and I have a fear of abandonment, so I asked him.
I was lying in bed in the dark, worrying. My daughter had one of those sudden, terrifying high fevers that preschoolers randomly catch at the least convenient time. After hours of snuggling next to me, she’d finally drifted off, but I didn’t trust that she wouldn’t wake up in five minutes. So I laid in bed in the dark, worrying.
Mentally, I went to the iconostasis at my church.
I shuffled shyly up to the icon of Saint Nicholas, a stern-looking gentleman in an elaborate gold vestment. “Will you be my father?” I asked.
Of course the icon spoke back– icons always do, a torrent of speech and meaning all bound up in stylized color. But it didn’t say anything as intelligible as “yes” or “no.”
In a Russian folktale I’d heard growing up, the princess Vasilisa was said to be the daughter of four different Tsars at once. I am not a beautiful and wise Russian princess. I have nothing going for me. I would need at least half a dozen fathers. I drew my mind to another icon. “Saint Basil, will you be my father?”Eternity always sings back, wherever the saints are venerated, but it was hard to hear what Eternity was singing. So often, the songs of eternity land on the ear as silence. It’s easy to confuse the silence with absence of an answer.
“Saint John Chrysostom, will you be my father?”
That agonizing silence, the silence before the birds begin to sing at dawn.
“Saints Cyril and Methodius, will you be my fathers?”
I was away from the iconostasis and in front of a stained glass window, now. “Saint John the Baptist, will you be my father?”
I didn’t know any grand or poetic prayers to say. I’m new to the Eastern rite. All the prayers to be said before icons are beautifully foreign to me.
I hummed the song that my daughter was learning for Saint Nicholas Day.
“All who love Nicholas the Saintly
all who serve Nicholas the Saintly,
him will Nicholas receive,
and give help in time of need,
Holy Father Nicholas!”
At some point I dozed off. At another, Rose woke up shivering and wet the bed. I stripped off the thrift store sheets and threw them in a pile. We were all out of bedding with no quick way to dry more. Everything in the house was in a reeking pile for the wash.
“I really want some new bed sheets for Christmas, Father,” I reminded Saint Nicholas. I’d been praying for bed sheets for some time.