St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The New Chrysostom, Bishop of Ochrid and Zhicha
Every creature frightened me when I was a child; but since the time I grew up I have felt compassion for every creature.
Every creature seemed to me to be stronger than me while I was a child. Now I feel stronger than everything, and I feel compassion for everything.
For I learned to stand beside You, my Lord, who are surrounded by immortal hosts like a mountain covered with pines. And I have been growing out of You, like a tree out of a mountain.
While I was a child, I took each creature to be my teacher and spent some time with each of them. And I learned about infirmity and death and crying out to You.
I searched for the strongest creature, so that I could grab hold of it and save myself from change and fluctuation. But my eyes never did see it, nor did my ears ever hear it, nor did my feet ever stumble upon it. Time raises all its children in order to wrestle with them, and in order to bend them as a joke and to snap them in two and tear them out by the roots as it laughs at the horror and terror of mortals.
I grabbed hold of a flower and said: “In beauty it is stronger than I am.” But when autumn arrived, the flower died before my eyes, and I could do nothing to help it. So I turned away with tears and grabbed hold of tall trees.
But with the passage of time, the trees were torn out by the roots, and fell to the ground like vanquished soldiers, and I turned away with tears, and grabbed hold of stone. “It is stronger than me,” I said, “with it I am secure.”
But with the passage of time the stone crumbled to dust before my eyes, and the wind carried it off and I turned away with tears and latched onto the stars. “The stars are stronger than anything,” I said, “I shall cling to them and shall not fall.”
But after I embraced the stars and began to converse with them in secret whispers, I heard the moaning of the dying, and I turned away with tears and latched onto people. “People strut erectly and freely,” I said, “there is strength in them; I shall cling to them lest I fall.”
But with the passage of time I saw even the strongest among men helplessly skidding on the ice of time into the soundless abyss, and they left me solitary.
In an anxious sweat I contemplated the universe in its entirety and said: “You are stronger than everything. I shall cling to you. Keep me from skidding into the soundless abyss.” And I obtained this response: “This evening I too am sinking into the soundless abyss, and tomorrow there will be another universe in my place. In vain do you tie yourself to me, for I am your feeble fellow wayfarer.”
Again I turned to people, to the wisest among the sons of men, and I asked for their counsel. But they quarreled as they gave me answers, until death waved its hand and brought stillness into the midst of the squabblers.
Again I turned to people, to the happiest among the sons of men, and asked for their opinion. (As though any opinion could be given by those who think by means of flesh!) But they took me as a joke for their amusement, until death raised its staff and covered their tongues with mold.
Again I turned to people, to those who begot me and brought me among creatures, and I asked them. Their wrinkled faces began to turn pale; their eyes filled with tears; and they started to stammer: “In ignorance we were begotten, in ignorance we begot you, and our ignorance we share with you.”
Again I turned to people, to my friends and I said: “What do you think, my friends?” But they kept a long silence, until with shame and without lifting their eyes they began to mutter: “For a long time we have been preparing to ask you what you think.”
And when I knocked on the very last door to ask my question, the door opened and I saw a dead man being carried out.
When there were no more doors to knock on, even my tears ceased, and a searing fear stuck its claws into my bones.
One last tear was still to be found, and it rolled its way down to the bottom of my soul. And behold, some unknown door, which that final tear struck, opened, and then You appeared, my King and my Father, all surrounded by immortal hosts like a pine-covered mountain engulfed in unscorching flame.
And light began to dance like the many sounds of a harp, and I heard a voice saying: “I am the One whom you seek. Cling to Me. My name is: I AM.”
Prayers by the Lake, XCVI, by St. Nikolai Velimirovic
Written at Lake Ohrid 1921-1922.
.. Like the Old Testament Psalmist, our holy Vladika poured out his soul in his works and in prayer. This is especially evident in his “Prayers by the Lake,” “The Spiritual Lyre,” and “Prayerful Songs.” From his poetic inspiration and fervor arose prayers on the level of the Psalms, like the most beautiful flowers of paradise. Vladika Nikolai’s spirit of prayer was so powerful that it often threw him to his knees. He was often seen weeping. He was inflamed by divine eros.* His thirst for God was unquenchable; it could be satisfied only with complete union with God.
A view of Lake Ochrid (Ohrid), where St. Nikolai composed these prayers.
The 13th century monastery is dedicated to St. John the Theologian at Kaneo, Ohrid
Troparion — Tone 8
O golden-tongued preacher proclaiming the risen Christ, / Everlasting guide of the cross-bearing Serbian people, / Resounding harp of the Holy Spirit, and dear to monastics who rejoice in you, / Pride and boast of the priesthood, teacher of repentance, master for all nations, / Guide of those in the army of Christ as they pray to God, / Holy Nicholas teacher in America and pride of the Serbian people, / With all the saints, implore the only Lover of mankind / To grant us peace and joy in his heavenly kingdom!