Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Ohrid, “the Serbian Chrysostom” , a man of Prayer
Commemorated March 5/18 (+1956)
Prayer was Bishop Nikolai’s constant companion in life.Most of all he enlightened his soul with the Divine light, nourishing it with the Holy Scriptures and prayer.
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. To this end, Vladika prayed everywhere: in church, at home, on the road, in prison, and in the shadow of German bayonets.
Prayer is the basic means not only for purifying the heart but also for enlightening the mind. It is no wonder that the great masters of prayer in the Orthodox Church and her great visionaries are endowed with the gift of prophecy. This was certainly true of Vladika Nikolai.
Besides writing, Vladika Nikolaj was given the blessing by the patriarch and the Holy Synod to take up the responsibility of leading the popular religious movement, later affectionately called “ Bogomoljacki Pokret ” (“Movement of the God-Pray-ers”). This movement had spontaneously arisen amongst pious, faithful people in reaction to the rise of secularism, humanism and the encroaching of communism, and it focussed in particular on what the people perceived as a “lack of faith” amongst the priests and bishops of the time.
The once-maligned Serbian Christians experienced in Vladika Nikolaj an evangelical freshness which renewed their spirits after the war, and which allowed them once again to be fully immersed in the love of Jesus Christ. By praying to the Lord in the vernacular Serbian, these Serbs desirous of a fuller Christian life were able to be built up into a people of God as they followed Vladika Nikolaj. This led to a general renewal and revitalisation of the Serbian Church. Through this prayer movement, monasticism was revitalised, as was the study of theology.
And all the songs begin, I repeat it, with the verse:
“Dear God, we are thankful to Thee for all.”
But not only the songs begin with prayer, every work and every pleasure begins with prayer as well, every day and every night, every feast, every rest and every journey. This custom has been partly broken and abandoned only in the towns under the influence of the central European materialistic civilisation. In the villages unbelief is unknown. In our green fields, under our dark-blue heaven, in our little white houses and wooden cottages, on the banks of our murmuring brooks and magnificent rivers, atheism is unknown. Every family in a house is regarded as a little religious community. The head of the family presides over this community and prays with it. When I tell you that, I tell you my personal experience. I was born in a village, in a family of forty-five members. We prayed together every Saturday, after the weekly work was over. In the evening my grandfather, the head of the family, called us to prayer. We had no chapel in the house. In bad weather we prayed in the house, in fine weather out of doors, in the yard. The starry heaven served as our temple, the moon as our guardian, the silent breath of the surrounding nature as our inspiration. My grandfather took a chalice with fire and incense, and sprinkled every one of us. Then he came forward, stood before us and bowed deeply, and his example was followed by us all. Then began a silent prayer, interrupted only here and there by a sighing or by some whispering voice. We crossed ourselves and prayed, looking to the earth and looking to the stars. The prayer ended again with deep bowing and with a loud Amen.
When I recall this prayer in my memory, I feel more piety, more humility and more comfort than I ever felt in any of the big cathedrals in either hemisphere where I have had the opportunity of praying. This prayer of the Serbian peasants, beautiful in its simplicity and touching in its sincerity, survived generation after generation, and has been victorious over all crimes that the strangers of the Asiatic or of the European faith have committed on us. Our tenacious and incessant prayer is an evident sign of our tenacious and unbroken hope. We pray because we hope; we hope still more after we have prayed.
“Serbia in Light and Darkness” (1916), St. Nikolai Velimirovic
Tropar Saint Nikolai Velimirovich (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.