January 14 – Nino of Georgia; Felix of Nola

Icon of Nino of Georgia from St Paul's Orthodox Church, Dayton, OhioNino, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia (ca. 296–ca. 338/340) (ნინო) had a dream in which the Theotokos handed her a cross entwined with grape vines and told her to go to Georgia. When she awoke, lo! there was the cross, and a print-out from Georgle Maps[1] [sic] with a squiggly purple line leading you-know-whither. Along the way, in a moment of doubt, she saw an angel with a bullet list[2] of Bible verses convincing her that (a) yes, women can preach the gospel, and (b) she’d best get on with it. Nino girded up her ladyloins and trod on.

Arriving in the capital city of Mtskheta[3], she was caught up in a crowd making its way to the top of a high hill, where pagan priests were sacrificing to three very tall god-shaped lightning rods[4]. “Ack!” she prayed, “This won’t do.” Immediately the gods were struck by lightning (go figure) and destroyed. Unfazed, Nino sauntered into town and was greeted by a woman named Anastasia, who in short order installed her in a hut in the corner of the garden which she got her husband to build. In thanks Nino cured her of barrenness, and she became the first Christian convert in Georgia. “Whoa, that worked!” said Nino, and from that time she began to teach the locals about the Christian faith. We still have the names of her earliest converts, and they were women to a man. Woman. Whatever.

Nino healed many people, up to and including the queen, who converted and implored her husband to join her in her new faith. He held out until Nino personally saved him from another terrible storm (one begins to think Georgia doesn’t have the world’s friendliest weather). He fell down before Nino and asked her to make him worthy to become a Christian. She burst into tears of joy, which did the trick.

And the rest, as they say, is hagiography. Nino performed many more miracles, and in due time the country was converted to Christianity. After her death her viney cross wandered around eastern Europe for some 1500 years, finally to be returned to Georgia by Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Even throughout the communist period, Nino remained the number one name for Georgian girls, which goes to show, if Nino’s life story hasn’t already, that you can’t keep a good woman down.

Manuscript illumination of Felix of Nola, 14th centuryFelix of Nola (d. ca. 250) was a Roman priest about whom little is known. Also commemorated today is another St. Felix described by one source as, “A Roman priest of whom nothing is known[5].” Our Felix was the son of a Roman soldier, upon whose death he went off to become a priest under (St.) Maximus, Bishop of Nola. When persecution came, Maximus left Nola (and Felix), and fled to the hills. Felix was captured and beaten and imprisoned (a couple of my sources have a rather shocking illustration of him being flogged in his BVDs[6]), but he was set free by an angel. He found Maximus near death, and nursed him back to health with fresh-squeezed grape juice[5].

Once, when the two were being pursued by soldiers, they ducked into a ruined building, and a cluster of spiders spun insta-webs™ across the open doorway, tricking the soldiers into thinking it hadn’t been used in a long time. After Maximus died, Felix spent the rest of his life taking care of the poor. He was martyred under either Valerian or Decius. My sources beg us not to confuse him with another St. Felix of Nola whose feast day is November 15. I know I can trust you.

[1] Well, a map anyways.
[2] I paraphrase. But literally a list.
[3] If you can pronounce this, you’re a better Georgian than I am.
[4] Or electrically conducive god statues, take your pick. Nikola Tesla might have some choice words for people who install tall metal gods on tops of hills. Those words might be, “Ha ha ha!”
[5] I kid you not.
[6] Actually I’m not certain about the brand.