A Candle for St. Nicholas
by Merri-Todd Webster (24 May 1999)
I don't know why I still do it. Habit, I guess. Or superstition--I wouldn't presume to call it religion. It's like a lucky rabbit's foot, just not one I carry with me. While my business takes me all over the globe, it's rare that I'm in a city that doesn't have an Orthodox church, and even rarer that an Orthodox church doesn't have an icon of St. Nicholas.
My parents were not religious. They weren't exactly party-line Communists, either--my father's parents left Russia during the Revolution--but they were rationalists, humanists. Man is perfectible on his own power, history is progress, and all that shit. They really believed that, but then, they didn't have good reasons not to. After what I've seen--things Mom and Dad didn't live to see, and I almost want to say, Thank God for that--I believe nobody can fuck up their own destiny like human beings can. What's coming to us is mostly what we've brought on ourselves. Resist or serve, like I told Mulder. Maybe that's why I still do something my Busha taught me, my father's mother. I light a candle to St. Nicholas every once in a while.
Catholics and Protestants call him Santa Claus and forget that he was ever a saint, a holy person, but to Orthodox Christians like my Busha, St. Nicholas is a big deal. He was a holy bishop who performed many miracles; he protects children, marriageable women, and sailors. Oh yeah, and thieves, too. He gave three nobleman's daughters dowry money so they could marry respectably and wouldn't have to become prostitutes. He brought three little boys back to life after they'd been ground up into sausages by the local equivalent of Sweeney Todd. Russian sailors still pray to him when the weather turns bad--I'veheard them do it. And I can't tell you how many times I've been on a boat--or in a car somebody else was driving, or on a train or in an airplane-- when something went wrong, and thought, ìThis is it, this is where it all ends, Alyosha,î and recited the old prayer to St. Nicholas. My parents wanted to look American, so they made a big deal of Christmas like Americans do, but my father's parents kept up the old customs and gave gifts at St. Nicholas' day, in early December, and at Epiphany in January,when the Magi brought gifts to the Christ Child. That was nice--pretty much two months of candy and presents. My father was okay with it because he was kind of like Chekhov in the old _Star Trek_ series--everything worthwhile had been invented in Russia, and if it was invented in Russia, it was worthwhile. Religion might be a crock of shit, the opium of the people, etc. etc., but get some schnapps into him and hey, if it was Russian religion, then it was okay. Not a bad guy, my father, all things considered.
So when do I light these candles? The last time was when I found out my employer, the Englishman, was dead. The old man would have understood; he was Church of England, of course. He was a choirboy in Wales sixty years ago and could still quote from the Bible at the drop of a hat. I guess Matins and Evensong every day for six years will do that to a person. In fact, he still went to church regularly, which you can't say about most Brits nowadays. Even took me with him a few times. I behaved myself and enjoyed the music. Who wouldn't, at King's College, Cambridge?
When I heard Scully had been sent back from--wherever they took her, and believe me when I tell you I'm still not sure--I lit a candle for her, for her recovery. She hung on in a coma or something for weeks before she finally woke up. Funny to think I was doing the same thing her good Catholic family was probably doing, when I was the one who made it possible for her to be abducted. But I happened to be in Baltimore, not that far from the hospital where she was, and I went to the Orthodox cathedral there and lit a candle. You light the candle, say the prayer, and then kiss the icon. Orthodox Christians kiss theiricons more than their families, I think. I kiss icons more than human beings, these days.
When I heard Mulder had killed himself.... I lit a lot of candles. I was traveling around a lot at that point, and everywhere I went--I left a trail of candles across central Europe. That was a bad time. I wanted to come back and do... something, something to help, yeah, right, Alex Krycek help out Scully and Skinner. More candles for Scully, too--I heard through the grapevine that she was dying. And then, I was so mad at the bastard when I found out they'd faked it. I was ready to go back to Alexandria and kill him for real. I guess St. Nicholas wouldn't have approved.
When I shot Augustus Cole--that was when I started doing it again, after forgetting about it mostly while I was studying at Quantico. Believe it or not, I *was* a real FBI agent--graduated Quantico with honors--and believe it or not, I'd never killed a man before. Cole wasn't the last, no, but he was the first. I actually dreamed about him one night, about eight months later. I dreamt I was in some all-night convenience store, buying soda and junk food, standing there in those sick fluorescentlights with my arms full of Pepsi and Doritos, and Cole came up behind me in the line, carrying two cartons of cigarettes, and put his hand on my shoulder. I turned around, surprised, and he said, ìDon't worry, son. I wanted you to shoot me. You put me out of my misery, and I'm grateful to you.î
I don't dream about them any more, the people I have to kill. But I still light candles to St. Nicholas. Sometimes I think that's why I'm still around, why I've lost an arm but not my life, why people keep trying to kill me and failing spectacularly. Why I can let Mulder beat up on me and still walk away from him. St. Nick is looking out for his wayward son. And sometimes I think I'm a fucking asshole if I really believe that. There are aliens out there, races a hell of a lot more powerful than we are--and a hell of a lot less merciful--but there's nothing beyond them. No Higher Power, no Greater Plan that makes sense of all this. The Consortium, the conspiracy, the Project--that all boils down to a desperate struggle to *create* a Greater Plan, to force the universe to make sense. Well, it doesn't. It can't. I think we'd be happier, saner, kinder, even, if we'd all just accept that. Better no god than those lipless bug-eyed greys. Better no god than a god who acts like the smoker.
Still, I've got to go see the fucking smoker, visit the boys in New York and talk business, lie and swagger and tell the truth but tell it slant, and I know that before I go into that meeting and neglect to tell them about taping Mulder and Scully's office chats with Skinner, I'll light another candle to St. Nicholas. One for Skinner, who's alive these days because I say so. I have to say so, or else--well, the consequences would be much worse for all of us. One for Scully, who's alive for no reason I can determine, except sheer pit-bull stubbornness. You gotta admire that. And one for Mulder, who might be proof of the existence of God, if he weren't such a looney. They wouldn't believe it if I told them, but Alex Krycek is looking out for them, and as for Alex Krycek, well--it looks like St. Nicholas is looking out for him.
"By the truth of thy dealings thou wast set forth to thy flock for the rule of their faith, ensample of meekness, a teacher of abstinence. Thus by thy lowliness thou didst attain to the heights, by poverty unto riches. Plead, Father Nicholas, our great high priest, before Christ our God, for the salvation of our souls."