The Russian winter of 1910 was the severest in memory. It was so cold that it was known as the ‘Iron Winter’.
Because of its location, a prosperous and popular hotel some twenty kilometres from Moscow, suffered particular loss of business. No one had stayed there for weeks and the owner had laid off most of his staff.
One evening, he was surprised to hear a knock on his front door. Upon opening it, he was confronted by a grey bearded, raggedy old man. The old man said that he had been out in the snow for several days. He was freezing cold and starving hungry. Could the hotelier give him a meal and a bed for the night?
“I can certainly do that”, said the hotelier, “For one night’s accommodation plus a meal, the charge is three roubles. Can you pay?” The old man confessed that he had no money, but if he was sent away, he would surely die in the cold.
The hotelier felt sorry for the old man and told him to come inside. He took him to the kitchen where, bubbling away on the stove was a pot of borsch (beetroot soup). The hotelier ladled out a large portion of the borsch, added a twist of sour cream and for good measure, gave his visitor half a loaf of rye bread. The raggedy old man was obviously very hungry and soon disposed of the bread and the soup. The hotelier laughed to see a great beetroot stain along the bottom of the old man’s moustache
The raggedy old man thanked the hotelier for the food and said, “You won’t see the going of me in the morning, but although I have no money now, I will pay you the three roubles when I have it”. The hotelier said nothing but did not expect to see either the three roubles or the old man ever again.
The snow eventually cleared and business began to pick up. In fact the hotel became busier than it had ever been.
In the spring, being a devoutly religious man, the hotelier decided to go to the great cathedral in the city to give thanks to God for the hotel’s recovery and continued success.
Upon arrival in the capital he made straight for the cathedral. Once inside, he gazed around the interior of the ancient church. His eyes fell upon the many icons that adorned the walls. He was drawn in particular to one image in a far corner.
It was painted in the likeness of an old man with a grey beard and seemed vaguely familiar. As he drew closer, he noticed a dark, beetroot like stain upon the moustache. He looked at the name inscribed beneath the image. It read, “Saint Nicholas”
He reached for a candle to place in front of the icon and as he moved the loose earth into which he would fix the candle, his hand touched something small and hard. It was a coin, a rouble. Beside it were two more. He picked them up and looked again at the icon.
The beetroot stain was gone and the face was smiling.