Prayers by the Lake
St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Bishop of Ochrid
Poem LXXXVII (87)
God-bearers, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.1 If you lose your flavor and become dark, the world will be a shell of life, a snake’s slough, which a serpent sheds amid the thorns.2
You contain the heavenly flame amid the ashes.3 If you allow yourselves to die out, the world will be a pile of ashes beyond the gates of life.
Death-bearers babble about your life, because they have no life of their own.
Perjurers swear by your God, because they have no God of their own.
A liar justifies himself with your truth, because he has none of his own.
The world’s wise men seek wisdom by a roundabout way and return to your wisdom, because there is no other.
Weaklings persecute you, because they fear your strength, and they themselves cannot take it away.
Cowards envy you for your courage, for there is nothing to encourage them.
Behold, the rich all beg from you, yet no one can give you anything. You are rich, for you have God. You are wealthy, for you are God-bearers.
Your soul is the cradle of the Living God. Your heart is His throne. Your mind is Mount Sinai, where He alone gives tablets of stone and speaks.4
Journey freely with God within you; you will not lose the way, and you will not be left without shelter. Enter with Him freely through the gates of the day, and the day will be yours. Enter with Him freely through the gates of the night, and the night will cringe with its specters, and will show you its wonders.
Do not sell your treasure, for the world cannot pay for it.5
Do not trade with the universe, for the universe can give nothing except itself. And its entirety is like paper compared to gold. It will burn up one day, and will be reduced to a handful of ashes.6 Will it die? It is already dead, and has nothing without your spiritual treasure.
Space from one end to the other, cannot store your treasure.
Time, from one end to the other, cannot calculate your treasure.
The world persecutes you,7 because you have peace, and it has none.
The world envies you, because you have wealth, and it is impoverished.
The world fears you, because you have power, and it is powerless.
The world hates you, because you have blessedness, and it is wretched.8
Do not spite the world, and do not add oil to the fire. For the whole world is ablaze with the flames of malice.
You have been isolated, you say? Are sepulchers really any kind of fellowship? One person alive in a cemetery is less alone than all the graves of the dead.
You are few in number, you say? But you are armed. Your adversaries are bound sepulchers.
The world is lifeless without you. You are the channels through which life pours into the world.
The world is joyless without you. Through you laughter is entering a prison.
Do not fatten your bodies, for to fatten is to fester. Do not pack mud onto your bones, for your bones will become sluggish and your souls will become thin.
Zealously keep the divine Bridegroom9 within you, and beware lest you frighten Him away. He is truly as timorous as a bird, and will not impose Himself. At a single unseemly thought He flees from the mind. At a single filthy desire He flees from the heart.
Remember: if He abandons you, His last dug-out, the world will be a shell of life, a snake’s slough, which a serpent sheds amid the thorns.
1. Cf. Matt. 5:13-14.
2. Cf. Matt. 5:15-16 and 6:22-23.
3. Cf. Mark 9:49-50, Luke 3:16 and 12:49.
4. Cf. Ex. 19 and 20.
5. Cf. Matt. 13:44-46.
6. Cf. 2 Pet. 3:10-12.
7. Cf. Matt. 5:10-12 and John 15:20.
8. Cf. Matt. 10:22 and John 15:18-25.
9. Bridegroom Christ (Cf. Matt. 9:15 and 25:1-13, John 3:29).
.. 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