Inseparable from the liturgical tradition, religious art is seen by Orthodox Christians as a form of pictorial confession of faith and a channel of religious experience. Because the icons provide direct personal contact with the holy persons represented on them, these images were objects of veneration, in either a public or private setting, and were even believed to have the ability to heal.
St. Nicholas, who lived in the 4th Century, is the patron saint of Russia, as well as children, scholars, virgins, sailors, and merchants. The accounts of his life are confused and historically unconfirmed. According to tradition, he was a native of Patara, formerly a city in the ancient district of Lycia, Asia Minor. Nicholas entered the nearby monastery of Sion and subsequently became archbishop of the metropolitan church in Myra, Lycia. At the end of the 11th century some Italian merchants transported his remains from Myra to Bari, Italy, where his tomb is now a shrine. Legend tells of his surreptitious gifts to the three daughters of a poor man, who, unable to give them dowries, was about to abandon them to prostitution. From this tale has grown the custom of secret gifts on the Eve of Saint Nicholas. Today, he is traditionally associated with modern Christmas celebrations.