Thursday, June 07, 2007

St. Nikolai Velimirovitch

Last night my church showed a video on the life of St. Nikolai Velimirovitch. (I posted his life here.) The video, entitled "St. Nikolai the Serb," showed St. Nikolai's life from his birth past his death and canonization. I knew St. Nikolai's life in a general way, but I had not realized what a great preacher he was, nor his involvement with the youth of Serbia. The video was very instructive, but beyond that it warmed my heart, not in the worldly warm-fuzzy way, but in a very real spiritual sense. St. Nikolai, who lived and died in our century, in our country, ought to be an inspiration for all of us Orthodox Christians.

He was a very intelligent and highly educated man. He knew Western thought and philosophy and held two doctorates from Western universities. He appreciated at least some of what he learned. For instance, on the anniversary of Shakespeare's death he gave a wonderful speech which the video excerpted. He was an eloquent and fiery preacher (some have called him the "Serbian Chrysostom."). But his heart and soul, and indeed his mind, were Orthodox.

During World War I the Serbian government sent him abroad to try to raise support for the Serbian army which was almost completely overwhelmed. Everywhere he went crowds came to hear him. He preached in the major cathedrals of Britain. He was there when the Treaty of Versailles, which created the false state of Yugoslavia, was signed and in his sermon he called Britain to repent because they had not asked God's approval on this treaty. He called on them to fall to their knees and ask for forgiveness and as he did so the thousands who were listening obeyed.

All of this was certainly impressive. But no less important was his work in Serbia, building up the churches, establishing groups of youth throughout the country. One person was quoted as saying that the survival of Serbian Orthodoxy during the Communist period was probably due to the youth that St. Nikolai encouraged and strengthened.

He and Patriarch Gavrilo suffered terribly during the German occupation of Serbia in World War II. They were kept under house arrest and then sent to Dachau. After they were freed and the war ended St. Nikolai went to America while Patriarch Gavrilo returned to Serbia. Communism had already begun. For the rest of his life St. Nikolai lived in exile. He taught at St. Tikhon Seminary in Pennsylvania and also at St. Sava Seminary in Illinois. He died at St. Tikhon's in March 1956. He was buried at St. Sava's where he remained until 1991 when his body was finally returned to his homeland.

I was truly touched and inspired by the life of this Godly man. We may not be St. Nikolai, but let us try all the same to emulate him and to carry on his example.

Holy St. Nikolai, pray to God for us!

Links about St. Nikolai:
Prayers by the Lake. Written while he was bishop of Zicha and Ochrid.
Life of St. Nikolai.
Online Prologue from Ochrid.
Prologue in book form.

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