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December 11 Saints of the Day – Nicon the Dry and Pope Damasus I

On this day in 1844, nitrous oxide was first used in a dental procedure, in Hartford, CT. Practitioners worried the first patient on “laughing gas” might never stop laughing, but their fears were relieved when he got the bill for the procedure.

Nikon the DryNicon the Dry (d. ca. 1101) was a nobleman from Kiev (Kyiv) who monastitized at the Monastery of the Caves. He and St. Eustratius of the Caves were kidnapped for ransom by the Cumans (Polovtsy). A compassionate Kievan with some spare change went down to Cumanland to spring them, but Nicon said, “Nah, I’m good.” The rich man shrugged, sprang Eustratius, and headed back to Kiev. Nicon’s family came to Polovtsiland, but he shooed them away, saying, “Save your money. If God wants me free, he’ll free me.” Shaking their beards and muttering in their heads, they returned to Kiev full-handed.

After this, Nicon’s captors got downright nasty, starving him for days at a time, and leaving him exposed to the blazing winter sun and freezing summer snow, resulting in the skin condition that gives him his name (this was before Nivea). Through it all, Nicon was uncomplaining, praying unceasingly to God in thanks for all things. After three years of this, Nicon told his captors that Eustratius had informed him (vision? dream? monkgram? we aren’t told how) that he would be leaving in three days. Thinking he was going to try to escape, his captors cut the tendons in his legs. At noon on the third day, he was surrounded by his captors when suddenly he wasn’t. Which is to say, he disappeared, leaving behind only the words ringing in the air, “Praise the Lord from the Heavens!”

Nicon was transported to Kiev and set down in the Church of the Most Pure Theotokos. He tried not to draw attention to himself, but the sudden appearance of a leather-hided man with iron shackles and unhealed wounds was not something the monks saw every day. At first he demurred at having his fetters removed, but the abbot said, “If God wanted you to keep wearing these, you’d still be back in Cumanovtsia.” Nicon couldn’t argue with that.

After a while the Cumans made peace with the Rus’, and some of them visited the Caves. Among them was Nicon’s former master. He told the abbot and the brothers about how Nicon had healed him from a nasty disease, and was (finally) moved to repentance. He was baptized, tonsured a monk, and became the apprentice and servant of his former prisoner.

DamasusPope Damasus I (ca. 305 – 384) was born in Lusitania, which was a province in Roman Iberia and not yet a watery conveyance. His father was a priest in Rome, and there Damasus was deaconified. (Actually very near Rome, in the Church of St. Lawrence Outside-the-Walls. Which is why when he commissioned frescos, he always paid for an extra mural.) (Let the reader understand.) Upon the death of Pope Liberius, both Damasus and one Ursinus were elected to replace him. The supporters of Ursinus were outraged, and started a riot in which 137 people were killed. The emperor had to actually step in (well, he sent guards in — prudent leaders lead from the rear) to quell the disorder.

Thus thwarted, Ursinus’ supporters accused Damasus of adultery (although he wasn’t married) and murder. After an investigation, Ursinus was banished to Gaul, which quelled the disorderliness, until he came back again, whereupon it once again reared its ugly head (we’re talking Medusa here). Finally a synod in 378 condemned Ursinus and declared Damasus pope.

Once in office, Damasus proceeded to hire Jerome to translate the Vulgate (Latin Bible), restore the catacombs, speak out against Arianism, encourage veneration of martyrs, and coordinate pilgrim bus routes to reduce congestion at traffic choke points. It was during his pontificate that the Empire became officially Christian. Among the many epitaphs he wrote for the graves of the martyrs, he included one for himself, saying, “I want to be buried here but not at the risk of offending the martyrs.” He was buried somewhere else. He is the patron saint of archaeologists.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography
This Day in History for 11th December
The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Vol. 4: December (book on paper) – Main source
Venerable Nikon the Dry, of the Kiev Near Caves (OCA)
Nikon the Dry (Wikipedia)
Cuman people (Wikipedia)
Photo of dry Nikon from aliexpress.com
Pope Saint Damasus I (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Pope Damasus I (Wikipedia)
Pope Saint Damasus I (SQPN)
Reproduction of Litho (detail) of Damasus by Pedro Augusto Guglielmi, 1840, in the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, via Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule).

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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