St. Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra (in present-day Turkey), was one of the most venerated saints in Russia. Considered almost a "national" saint, he was second only to the Mother of God as a protector and intercessor with God. The small figures in the icon's upper corners refer to the legend in which Christ and the Virgin appeared to Nicholas before he was elected bishop. The saint holds a Gospel book open to the passage read on his feast day, December 6: "At that time Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast" (Luke 6:17).

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