Saint Nicholas, The Saint Nicholas! My family saint. His spirt is everywhere. He feels when you feel. He helps when you are ready to receive. He continue to donate secretly, like he has done to the people in Myra, Lycia, Asia Minor which is near modern town of Demre, Turkey.
Legend says many things and you can find out by yourself as I did!
I will just share a couple of stories that has to do with me.
Namely, Saint Nicholas is my family Saint. There where I come from, we as Orthodox Christians do not celebrate our name days but instead family Saints. The tradition of celebrating Saint Nikolas, as I know it from my ancestors is rooted in my family for several hundred years. Just came on mind. It is possible that Saint Nicholas was so widely spread as the protector of families because of poverty that prevailed in those times, when deep believe and hard work bear fruits and helped in surviving the harsh conditions.
Saint Nicholas was always bringing presents! That is where Santa Claus short of Santa Nicholaus (Saint Nicholas) comes from!
I remember that in 1988 was the first year when I was celebrating Saint Nicholas. It was 19th of December as we follow the old calendar. Nearly the year passed from the death of my father and I decided to celebrate Saint Nicholas as it is the inheritance that passes from father to son. So, I bought a fresh water fish, Carp, traditional wheat with walnuts and cream and some salad. I lit up the candle and had a dinner dedicated to the Saint Nicholas and my family tradition. I was alone. I wanted to be alone.
19th of December passed and I continued my every day life, working and studying. Busy days, as the life without parents especially when you are in your early twenties is not easy, not economically, as that can always be fixed, but emotionally. Emotionally as the parents are always the most trustable persons with whom you can share all your thoughts and worries as well as the most secret of the dreams. That place now was “taken” by Saint Nicholas(secretly) and my girlfriend in those days. I must say that I had luck, or could be that it was again the work of the protector Saint, to have deep emotional connection with both girlfriends I had when my mother died when I was 14 years old and when my father died when I was approaching 22. Just to make my self clear. My first love when I was 14 years old was platonic, peppered with kisses only. French kisses!
So, life went on, nice moments, carrier planning and really a hard work. From 7.30 am till 18.00 or even more as in those days the company I was working at, called Generalexport was the pioneer in using the computer systems. I remember a huge computer center of then IBM as well as Honeywell monitors. Friendships made then are still alive and deep!
Being busy, we forget to stop! To reflect, to take a deep breath as we think that the time is running out! But it is not! The time has its magic! It has the schedule prepared for each of us waiting for our understanding and specially for our soul to be at the right place! You remember saying “being in the right place at the right time?”
Well it looks from this perspective, when some 35 years have passed, that I was in the right place at the right times!
So, one Monday, the day we were working till late, my dear friend the secretary of the director of my division called me and asked me to come to visit her. She was at the other side of the corridor where the office of the director was. I went and she greeted me with the wide smile and gave me the telex(in those days we were communicating with telex and faxes) to read. I read it first time and I did not understand what I read! I said OK! She said to me: “Are you sure? Read it again!” she demanded still having that genuine smile! So, I read it again! It said: We kindly request from the Director of Personnel to allow the worker Darko K. due to the increase amount of work we have with our representation division, to come to our daughter company in Cyprus for help. The duration of his stay will be minimum three and maximum twelve months. He will be receiving two salaries. One with you and one with us. The cost of his stay will also be covered by us.” Signature of the director of our Cypriot company followed.
It was mid of September 1989. I needed to be in Nicosia Cyprus by 10th of October 1989.
At first, I did not think about Saint Nicholas and even happy I got worried if I would live up to the expectations of the director in Nicosia. I immediately went to the bookshop and took some extra books about reexport and foreign trade! I still have them! Exited as I was with this new opportunity that arised I concentrated with reading the files of the work that has been done between Belgrade and Nicosia, staying longer at work and sneaking around the sector where the transactions were executed reading all the files that were there! Still no Saint Nicholas on my mind! But he was all the time with me! All the time!
So, I came to Cyprus in October 1989 on the same plane with then General Secretary of Akel (labor party of Cyprus) and future President of Cyprus late Mr. Demetris Christofias( that story will be told in my upcoming book “THE CYPRUS YOU WILL GET IN LOVE WITH”). I was approaching 24.
I stayed for one year and manage to get in love with Niki(Niki is the Greek name for victory and it is a derivate of Nicholas).After engagement in Cyprus, we went to Belgrade where we got married in April of 1991 and then decided to move back to Cyprus in July of the same year. First connection with Saint Nicholas appeared in front of me as the future mother of my three children!
To make his presence even more noticed, I found out that just 10 meters from the house we lived in the old part of Nicosia were the ruins of the old monastery. Guess the name! It was the monastery of Saint Nicholas and it had a tiny chapel of 2 meters x 2 meters that is known to a very few, still standing! Some of the mornings I was going there just for the few moments. I even today do not know why!
Then, Saint Nicholas showed himself once more. Namely on 7th of December 1992 our first child was born. It was a son and since 6th of December is Saint Nicholas by the new calendar, we decided to give him the name Nicholas!
In the meantime, we got another two beautiful children Alexandra and Stefan. Alexandra was born on the 9th of July while my mother was born on 6th of the same month and Stefan was born 10th of January while the Saint Stefan is celebrated in my country by the old calendar on 9th of January.
That brings me to today!
I visited Istanbul many times and even once brought my son Stefan to feel the atmosphere of this magnificent city where three religions live for centuries. Where people see each other in the eyes! Good or not but in the eyes! Here the eyes are the doors of the soul! I saw that here many times and felt the genuine hospitality and warmth human being gives to another every time I visited Istanbul.
Before going to the Saint Nicholas let me tell you that he weaves his net slowly but steadily with the plan to clean the searching soul, both by tears and by confession. When I say confession, does not need to be with the priest. It can be with self. Confess and ask for forgiveness! Its easy and it does not take much time of your life!
So, my encounters here were “planed” by my, by our Saint Nicholas! Before deciding to steal some days of my busy schedule and the struggle for surviving I was looking what to see in Istanbul that I have not seen before! The idea came to Fener and Balat area as I visited it only once and briefly. It was a rainy day of the 6th of January 2020, Epiphany Day, and I attended the liturgy held by His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. It was a memorable experience and I then knew that this was just the beginning! There at the entrance I had a beautiful encounter with an amazing Turkish policeman who greeted me with a huge smile when he saw me approaching and asked me where do I come from. When I answered he hugged me and wish me a great stay in Istanbul! That can never be forgotten.
I decided to make my “port” of stay in Balat and found the hotel overlooking the Golden Horn called TROYA!
I will say more about it later by I could not stand still and not to warmly and genuinely wholeheartedly recommend it for your stay in Istanbul!
I came in the morning using the ferryboats from Kadikoy, Beshiktash, Karakoy to reach Fener through Kazimpasha. Another subconscious connection with Saint Nikolas the Saint of Sailors! You can see some photos above.
I was welcomed with the wise, curious, clever, memorable eyes of Mrs. Semiha the owner. They say that the first impression is the most important one. If that is the case, I can say that this one was absolutely amazing and truthful! I felt human warmth and the wish to assist me with anything I might need to have a pleasant stay.
That same day I went around Balat area with amazing places to see and many new information to learn. One encounter made my day and I can say my stay! But that was, as the time will show, just the appetizer!
At the stunning Demetrie Cantemir Antik Café, you can see the pictures of here, I met two boys who were serving there. As we introduced ourselves I learned that they both are 18 years old and working! I was overwhelmed with positive feelings and spoke to them about life about opportunities, about how I respect very mush that they work from such a young age and we exchanged our whereabouts on Instagram. It was a memorable encounter, that I told them that they should and must find the book of Hakan Menguc I read in English with the title “No Encounter Is By Chance.” Our Encounter was not, as any other encounter is never by chance! I am sure that you will realize it by yourself!
I left that beautiful and inspirational place following the lead of Count Demetrie Cantemir who was an amazing character, the man of letters, and I found out that he endowed the land where the Phanar Greek Orthodox College is built and it still has students! Cantemir was also the student of the same college as from 1454 there is a decree of Sultan Mehmed II which allows for the Orthodox people to have their education in their own language. We do not know for sure if this was influenced by his step mother Mara Brankovic, who thought him from the young age, apart from other things also the Greek and Serbian languages. Just the college is not opened to visitors as the interest was so huge when they opened it that there was a cue of several thousand people who wanted to go in and see it. It is a beautiful edifice built by an Architect Konstantin Dimadis in 1881.
While I was walking the narrow streets of beautiful Balat area I saw the message that it came to my Instagram from Hamza, one of the two boys I met at the Antik Café. It said: “Hello dad Darko. You can count us as your children in Turkey. We are very glad to meet you.”
It made me tremble from the overwhelming human emotions! This world has future! I was thinking how little is needed to be human, especially when one decides that to be human is first to learn to protect the others from yourself! After that everything else is easy!
Saint Nicholas, I felt, was around, closely monitoring and I really can say, influencing my steps.
The first day passed with volcano of thoughts, feelings, information to be digested. Sleep was deep and calm as in Troya Hotel Balat you have amazingly comfortable beds in the most romantic rooms one can imagine. Here you can see some photos. Hope you can enjoy as I enjoyed!
Next morning brought to me another surprise! While I was at the very tasty breakfast I heard one person singing. To be honest there were no words just melody that was radiating calmness. I saw the man in his early sixties with white hair in the great shape and the remarkably alive eyes that were accompanied by the disarming smile. Later I would find out who he is. Again, the Saint Nicholas did his work. This is really not a joke or superstition; it is a fact! I decided to visit Ecumenical Patriarchate early in the morning and listen for a while to liturgy. While I was going out of the church to lite the candles for both dead and alive, I saw the same man from the breakfast, now in the priest robe! He greeted me with another disarming smile as he noticed that I was very surprised! I stayed in the church for a quarter of an hour listening to the liturgy and taking pictures, reminiscing nostalgically that 6th of January 2020 when I had the privilege to attend the liturgy served by His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. I went out and approached the shop to buy some presents for my Cypriot friends whom I respect and love a lot.
I repeated my visit to Patriarchate in two days and had a conversation with another clever person I will call him “Costis” that is in charge of the shop. I noticed that there are leaflets about Patriarchate in many languages but not in Serbian and Spanish as Costis told me. So I asked what will be necessary to do to have those leaflets in the two languages? He told me: “Just translate it and send it here!” That is what I will do! And IMMEDIATELY!
In the mean time I visited Uskundar on the Asian side of Istanbul and the Palace of Beylerbey the last harborage of the Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the man who ruled Ottoman Empire for 33 years and was its last Sultan. Another spiritual place. You can feel it, just clean and open the antennas of the soul.
After I found out that Sultan Abdul Hamid II was influenced by Libyan Shadhill Madani Sheikh, Muhammad Zafir al Madani and was following traditional Sufism. To make understand easier the great poet Rumi was Sufi mystic. That confirmed the feelings I had while visiting this place. Again, I was surrounded with immeasurable hospitality and positive energy!
Istanbul is full of spiritual places not many are visiting. One more is definitely the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque situated close to Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. I always visit this unique place as it is gives calmness and peace to the visitor who is seeking the connection with his soul and through it with the God. I came early in the morning and was waiting for the Mosque to open. Those minutes were very important to once more confirm that everything in life needs time and patience! Patience first! Armed with patience my mind was going to young Bajica Sokolovic who instead to become an Orthodox priest became an Ottoman Statesman serving three Sultans as their Grand Vizier. I wrote about him in my book Quarantine Diaries and Beyond, as I also wrote about Mara Despina Hatun or just Mara Sultana, the step mother of the Sultan Mehmed II. I highly recommend this place for visit. I think that the family celebration of Sokolovic family was Saint Nicholas! The brother of Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Makarije was the first Patriarch of the renewed Serbian Orthodox Church. You can see some photos of the Mosque here and read more in my Ebook Quarantine Diaries and Beyond
For the day to be memorable there is always some small detail that shows the attitude of the place you visit! Namely, my son gave me the address of one café his fiancée suggested me to visit. As it was very near Niazim Hikmet Kultur Merkezi in Kadikoy I visited I decided to go there as well! It was Cinili Café and Bar! Immediately from the entrance I understood that I am in the place reminiscing the world revolution! I felt like Alexander Helphand Pravus who stayed in Istanbul before organizing the train with Lenin and his comrades to pass Germany with one stop in Berlin, to reach the Saint Petersburg before Trotsky and to take the leadership in the upcoming October Revolution in Russia. You can read more IN HERE. I lived at this very interesting place another gesture that shows once again the genuine hospitality in Istanbul! The waiter came to take the order and I asked him about the wifi. So when he saw that wifi did not work he took my phone and fixed it. But when I saw which provider it was it said “Iphone Murat!” He gave me his hotspot to help me connect with my son in UK and share the photos of this special place!
The next day Mrs. Semiha replied to my curious question about who the man from the breakfast and the Patriarchate is, by presenting me with his name. He is Mr. John Chryssavgis an Orthodox Christian theologian serving as an advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues. Another point in his Wikipedia page confirmed why he was singing the spiritual melodies. He received a Diploma in Byzantine Music in 1979! Old love always comes back, I though!
Genuinely hospitable Mrs. Semiha of Troya Hotel Balat informed me that Mr. John Chryssavgis will be going back to the USA next day early morning. I thought that I lost the opportunity to exchange a few words with this remarkable men with so positive, wise, curious, highly human eyes and face!
Before coming here I saw that just nearby the hotel Troya Balat there is a Church of Saint Nicholas and that it is difficult to organize someone to open it so I asked Mrs. Semiha and she said that she will try to organize it for me. That has happened and, in the morning, I went to visit my Saint Nicholas Church. But before going another surprise was waiting for me! Mr. John Chryssoavgis did not go to the USA as there were no available seats in the plane! So he stayed for another day and I got the utmost pleasure to excitedly exchange a couple of sentences with him mentioning a quote from his unique book “ In the Heart of the Desert.” The quote is: “ Prayer is learning to live, without expecting to see results; it is learning to love without hoping to see return, it is learning to be, without demanding to have. We can not live and simply be, unless we are consumed by a total commitment to detachment.”
Having this quote in mind and inspired by a few words with Mr. Chryssavgis I went to see Saint Nicholas, my Saint church!
Lady with an angelic face was there and opened the entrance to the court yard for me. I deeply thanked her and she let me go into the church. It was dark. I felt goosebumps. I was with the lady angel alone in the church that hosts many spirits of Saints, one definitely being Saint Nicholas! How do I know, you might ask?
Then the lights went on! Light showed all of them looking at me! Who is he? Why is he here? Is he worthy to be here?
I decided to be myself as being yourself is the best message you can send to all interested to know you! I went in front of the large icon of Saint Nicholas look at it when the tears started to flow! My soul is cleansed! My all being is prepared to convey love to all who want to receive it! I thank from the bottom of my heart all that made this visit to the magnificent city of Istanbul so memorable.
We will be meeting again great city with great people.