Thursday, June 02, 2016
St. Nick and Old Nick: A Case of Arboricide
In one instance, a demon had resided in a huge cypress tree, killing any person who tried to cut the tree down. St Nicholas, called to exorcise the spirit, cuts the tree with his own hands and throws the demon out. Before leaving, the demon engages in a conversation with St Nicholas, lamenting his defeat, being rebuked by the Saint and warned by him never to dare to take up residence anywhere near Lycia again. In another instance St Nicholas exorcises a demon who had resided in a water source.111The reference is to Neophytus, Encomium of Nicholas, in Gustav Anrich, ed., Hagios Nikolaos. Die heilige Nikolaos in der griechischen Kirche, Bd. I: Die Texte (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1913), pp. 392-417 (chapter 13 on pp. 396-397, image below):
111 Panegyric 24, 396.18-398.4.
A similar story appears in Nicholas of Sion's Life of Nicholas, chapters 15-19 (tr. Ihor Ševčenko and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko):
 One day there came men from the village of Plakoma, who fell down before holy Nicholas and said: "O servant of God, on our land there is a sacred tree in which dwells the spirit of an unclean idol, that destroys both men and fields. It is also ... to the district and we are unable to go unhindered about our business [?] on account of it. May Your Holiness yield to our entreaties and deign to come with us and fell it, so that God, Lover of mankind, may through your prayers drive out the unclean spirit dwelling in that tree, and the fields and the district may be at peace and find respite.Here is the Greek text of the relevant chapters of Nicholas of Sion's Life of Nicholas, from Anrich, op. cit., pp. 12-16 (stiched together by me, with apologies for the ragged edges and gaps):
 Being so strongly urged by the inhabitants of the village of Plakoma, Nicholas, the servant of God, offered prayers, and came to the spot where the tree stood. Seeing the tree, holy Nicholas said: "Is this the sacred tree?" In response, the men of the aforementioned fields said to him: "Yes, Lord." And Nicholas, the servant of God said: "What are those gashes in the tree?" They said to him: "Some man of old came to fell the tree with two hatchets, and an axe. And as he began to fell it, the unclean spirit snatched away the blades, and slaughtered the man, so that his grave was found at the roots of the tree." Offering prayers, the servant of God Nicholas—there being a crowd of nearly three hundred men, women and children to watch the workings of God, for none believed that such a tree, being sacred, was about to be felled—then the servant of God Nicholas knelt and prayed for two hours. And rising, he enjoined the men around saying: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and of Holy Sion, come here, try and cut it down."
 A shiver ran through all those who were standing around holy Nicholas, and no one dared so much as to look at the tree. Then the servant of God Nicholas said: "Give me the blade and I will cut it down myself in the name of my Lord." Taking the blade, the servant of God Nicholas made the sign of the cross over it and struck the sacred tree seven times. The unclean spirit saw that the servant of God Nicholas had power from God, and when the tree was struck by Nicholas' holy hands, the unclean spirit cried out, saying: "Woe be unto me: I made for myself an ever-expanding dwelling in this cypress tree and have never been overcome by anyone; and now the servant of Nicholas is putting me to flight, and no longer will I be seen in this place. For not only has he expelled me from my dwelling in the tree, but he is driving me from the confines of Lycia, with the help of Holy Sion."
 When he was about to fell this sacred tree, the servant of God said: "Assemble with one accord up the slope on the North side." For it was expected that the tree would fall to the West. The unclean spirit thought at that moment to frighten the crowd. And he made the tree lean toward the North, up the slope where the crowd stood watching, so that they all screamed with fear in one voice, saying: "Servant of God, the tree is coming down on top of us, and we will perish." The servant of God Nicholas made the sign of the cross over the tree, pushed it back with his two hands, and said to the sacred tree: "In the name of my Lord Jesus Christ I command you: turn back [in the other direction] and go down where God has ordained you." Forthwith, the tree swayed back by the will of God and moved toward the West, where it crashed. From that time on, the unclean spirit was no longer seen within those parts. And they all glorified God, saying: "One is God, who gave power to his servant against the unclean spirits."
 The sacred tree having been felled, the servant of God gave instructions in the metropolis of Myra that workmen be found to saw up the tree. When the workmen heard of the size of the tree, that not only was its stump the thickness of three and a half cubits but that its height was forty cubits, they were afraid, saying: "We will not be able to cope with such a tree." So the servant of God Nicholas made it known that he was seeking workmen from any city. And finding none, he was forced to make his announcement in the village of Karkabo. And workmen were found, five in number, and by the power of God and the prayers of holy Nicholas, they sawed up the tree. When the whole surrounding district of Arneai and Myra saw that the tree had been sawed up by the prayers of holy Nicholas, they obtained his permission [?] and came to drag it away. It was dragged to the holy and glorious shrine of Holy Sion, and all glorified God, who had given such power unto His servant Nicholas.