Icon of St Nikolai
Monastery in Lelich, Valjevo, Serbia where St Nikolais's relics are venerated.
In 2006 I had the blessing of visiting Lelich,Valjevo, Serbia and the monastery where the relics of St Nicholai Velimirovich are kept. The monastery was built on the land that belongs to the Velimirovich family. St Nikolai is no stranger to the path that we all must follow if we are to be transformed in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. The saint was purified in the crucible of suffering. And we are very blessed to have his writings. They are a road map that show us the way to the heart.
In the Prologue from Ochrid St Nikolai includes the following homily for September 4th;
Homily On The Changing of Water Into Wine
This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee (John 2:11).Our God is Almighty; and His power has no limit and is beyond description. He created all that was created by His Word: By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made (Psalm 33:6). By His Word, He created the body of man. By the Word of God, lifeless earth is transformed into the bodies of men, animals and plants. By the Word of God, flowing water is changed into vapor, and vapor into ice and snow. By this same Word, the water in a vine is changed into wine, wine that maketh glad the heart of man (Psalm 104:15). Therefore, how difficult a miracle was it for the Word of God Incarnate-Christ our Lord-to change water into wine in Cana? For us men, darkened by sin, this is a great miracle; for our nature, weakened by sin, it is an unattainable miracle. Yet, isn't the working of miracles the usual occupation of the Creator? When the servants filled the six large vessels with water, the Lord Christ said to them: Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast (John 2:8). He did not even say, ``Let the water become wine,'' he merely thought it. For God's thoughts have the same power as His words.Why is it said that this was the ``beginning of miracles,'' when it appears that, long before this miracle, the Lord worked other miracles? Because, brethren, the changing of water into wine is the fundamental miracle of Christ, and is the essence of all His miracles. Human nature was diluted with its own tears, and it was necessary to change it into wine. The divine spark in man was extinguished, and it was necessary to rekindle it. Infirmity is like water, health is like wine; the impurities of the evil spirits are like water, purity is like wine; death is like water, life is like wine; ignorance is like water, truth is like wine. Hence, whenever the Lord made the sick whole, the impure pure, the dead alive, and prodigals enlightened, He essentially turned water into wine.O Lord our God, Thou miraculous Transformer of water into wine: bring Thy divine flame to our extinguished hearth. Transform the water of our being into divine wine, that we may be like unto Thee-and that we may thus abide with Thee in Thine Immortal Kingdom, with Thy radiant angels.To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen."
And the Lord heard St.Nikolai's supplication.
The Healing Science of The Church Fathers
The spiritual life is not guesswork. The Orthodox Faith is a science which cures "it is clear that Christianity is principally a science which cures, that is to say, a psychotherapeutic method and treatment. Only those who have been cured and have attained communion with God are theologians, and they alone can show Christians, the true way to reach the 'place' of cure." Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos in Orthodox Psychotherapy p. 30-31.
In this post, we will examine the life and writings of St Nicholai Velimirovich as a guide and teacher of the way to the heart, the way to cure. Eventually we will also look at the lives of St John the Theologian, St Gregory the Theologian, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas and Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex who, though not glorified by the Church yet, is most certainly a Saint, as his life and writings demonstrate.
The Method of Cure
Metropolitan Hierotheos describes the method by which we can be healed;"The soul is referred to as the spiritual element of man's existence; the heart , as the essence of the soul, and the nous as the energy of the soul (Nous=mind, intellect or spiritual awareness in the heart, which is to be distinguished from reason or logic which is a function of the brain. In a healthy person the reason is under the control of the nous- emphasis mine). Thus when the nous enters the heart and acts therein, there exists a unity between the nous (energy), the heart (essence), and the soul. All asceticism in the Church aims at man's divinization, at his communion with God the Trinity. This is acomplished when the energy of the soul (nous) returns to its essence (heart) and ascends to God. The fact is that when a person lives the inner life- when his nous returns within his inner world from its previous dispersion( in sinful thoughts or logismoi, distractions of life and our surroundings, and the appetites of the body- emphasis mine); when he experiences mourning and in the deepest sense, repentance- he is then conscious of the existence of this centre, i.e. the existence of the heart. He feels therein pain and spiritual sorrow; he experiences the grace of God; there also he even hears the voice of God". Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Orthodox Spirituality, p.34-36.
Note: " Man has two centers of knowing: the nous which is the appropiate organ for receiving the revelation of God that is later put into words through the reason, and the reason which knows the sensible world around us" Metr. Hierotheos Vlachos, The Person in Orthodox Tradition, p.24
St Nikolai is qualified to teach us the way to God because he himself followed the therapeutic method of the Church, his body was sanctified, his nous purified from alien thoughts, his heart illumined. That is, his nous was purified from sinful thoughts and all his spiritual awareness was focused on the holy name of Jesus and the love of God. Through prayer and participation in the ascetical and sacramental life of the Church, he found his heart (the purified nous naturally enters the heart when it is healed and made whole) and like a Moses of modern times, beheld God and was united with Him. It is possible to follow many of the stages of the spiritual life in the life of the bishop of Ochrid, in his own words, through his writings. But first let us ask,
"St Nikolai, please show us the way. Give us understanding. Forgive us. We are aware that we are walking on holy ground. For the love of God that dwells in your heart, intercede to the Lord for the salvation of our souls"
1) Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Orthodox Church and Faith in God as the life giving foundation.
The spiritual treatment begins in the Church, the Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ, the Ark of salvation. Jesus Christ is the only way. He says; "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" John 14:6.
"O Lord Jesus, the Holy Head of the Holy Church, make us worthy to be members forever of Thy Most-pure Body" St. Nikolai in the homily on the Head of the Church and the Body of Christ Nov 6, Prologue of Ochrid vol.2 p. 490
"Can man be saved outside the Church? No. For the Church is the depository of God's Grace, without which no man can be saved, as an arm cut off the body"St Nikolai, The Faith of the Saints, p. 48
The Orthodox Church - The Spiritual Hospital
The Orthodox Church is not a mere philosophical or ideological system. It is a living organism, a spiritual hospital, where man can be restored not only to the adamic state but even to a higher state in union with the life of the holy Trinity.
"Our religion is not a book religion, not even a learned religion. It is a dramatic mystery. The Bible contains the words, but in this dramatic mystery there is something higher and deeper than words. Slav Christianity is something greater than the Bible.
Looking at an ikon, a Russian mujik perceives the Bible incarnated in a saint's life-drama. Mystery of sin, mystery of atonement, mystery of heroic suffering, mystery of the daily presence of Christ among us in holy wine, in holy bread, in holy water, in holy word, in holy deed, in every sanctified substance, even in matter as in spirit, mystery of communion of sins and of virtues--all are recorded once in the Bible, and all are recorded and repeated also in our daily life--that is what we call our Slav Orthodoxy.
From “The Religious Spirit of the Slavs’ p.7 by St Nikolai Velimirovich, at Gutenberg Project http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13388
"We, as the members of our ancient church of the East, ...are strictly forbidden to compromise our inherited God-revealed Truth with man-made religions or philosophies. By what means shall we fight against such a tendency to level? First, by profound knowledge of our own Orthodox faith, by practicing it in daily life and by sticking to it." St Nikolai, The Faith of the Saints, p. 15
Faith in God
"Now faith is the subsistence of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen" Hebrews 11:1 from the Orthodox New Testament p.399. Note no.127: Blessed Theophilact: 'proof' is the manifestation of unseen things" ibid p.426. According to St Isaac the Syrian, there are two kinds of faith, the faith that comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom.10:17), and the faith that is "that light which by Grace dawns in the soul and which fortifies the heart by the testimony of the mind (nous), making it undoubting through the assurance of hope that is remote from all conceit. This faith manifests itself not by aural ( perceived by hearing) tradition, but with spiritual eyes it beholds the mysteries concealed in the soul, and the secret and divine riches that are hidden away from the eyes of the sons of the flesh, but are unveiled by the Spirit to those who abide at Christ's table..". Homily 52 of 'The Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian'p.262. In other words this is the perfected Faith of the saints who have seen God, our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, in the uncreated Light. We shall see later that St Nikolai, possesed this kind of living faith.
At the most basic level faith is the true living belief and Orthodox understanding of Who God is and what He has accomplished for us. St Nikolai Velimirovich, in his "Akathist To Jesus Conqueror of Death", Translated into English from the original Serbian by St Paisius Monastery, Safford Arizona, 2009, Ikos Three p.18 says "Dulled by sin, the people supposed that Thou were fighting against them, so they rejoiced when they raised Thee on the cross, rejoicing as victors over their enemy. But Thy battle was not against man, O Lover of mankind, but against the prince of this world and his myriad of legions who hold mankind in their chains, who play a foolish game with every human body, immorally pouring poison into human souls...Thou didst Thyself descend onto the battlefield; to reveal the weakness of the evil spirits Thou didst choose death as a weapon in the battle against them. Having gained the victory over evil spirits Thou didst destroy sin, having destroyed sin Thou didst trample down death, having trampled down death Thou didst dispel fear, and that prison of slaves, the world, Thou has proclaimed to be the home of freedom, O Jesus my Freedom, Jesus my Courage, Jesus my Light, Jesus my Friend, Jesus my Saviour, Jesus my Conqueror, have mercy on me".
Father Justin Popovich (he was a disciple of St Nikolai) state that it is "by the ascesis of faith that the treatment and cure of a soul which is sick with the passions is begun. Once faith begins to live in man, the passions begin to be uprooted from his soul" Fr. Justin Popovich, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, p.123.
St Nikolai, in the homily on the steadfastness of faith, Prologue of Ochrid vol.2, p. 58 says; "Let us also protect the head of our spiritual life, which is faith. Nothing in this world can replace faith in God...The devil knows this, and thus he especially attacks our faith, instilling doubt in us, causing us to waver, confusing our thoughts, and disturbing our hearts". "We can neither strengthen nor increase our faith except through suffering". "Those who are one in faith are also one in afflictions" ibid p.59
2) Participation in the sacraments or Mysteries of the Church
All the mysteries of the Church are essential for the therapeutic method of the Fathers to be effective in healing us spiritually.
"What is a Holy Mystery? It is a visible ritual performance, through which the invisible saving power, called God's Grace, bestows a wonderful gift upon the recipients.
Baptism: Mystery by which the person is cleansed from all sins, both the original and personal and as a newborn child of God, is incorporated into the Church of Christ.
Christmation: Mystery through which a baptized person is armed by the Holy Spirit with strength and wisdom and other gifts to keep the right faith and live a holy life.
Communion or Eucharist: Mystery in which faithful Christians take the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the visible form of bread and wine. We are taking the living Christ into ourselves, and thus being united with him, we have life everlasting, according to His words 'He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him'John 6:56.
Repentance or Confession: Mystery through which our sins, when confessed, are forgiven and our reconciliation with God is restored.
Priesthood: Mystery in which the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of hands of bishops, gives grace and authority to the ordained bishop, or priest, to perform other mysteries and to conduct the religious life of the people.
Matrimony: Mystery in which the Holy Spirit unites into one, a Christian man and a woman, who pledge before the priest a life long bond of mutual love and fidelity, and receive the blessing for bearing and educating children.
Unction: Mystery that consists of the priest's prayers and anointing of a sick person with blessed oil, through which God's Grace effects the recovery of the sufferer" please read
The Faith of The Saints by St Nikolai Velimirovich pp.56-71
St Nikolai participated in all of the sacraments of the Church, except of course, in holy Matrimony , because of his calling as monk and bishop.
"Our holy and God-bearing Father, Bishop Nikolai of blessed memory, was born at dawn on December 23, 1880, on the feast of St. Naum of Ochrid, to pious Serbian Orthodox parents, Dragomir and Katarina Velimirovich, in the small village of Lelich, only five miles southwest of Valjevo, a city located in the valley of the Povlen Mountains of western Serbia. Because he was born physically weak, this divine child of God was baptized soon after his birth". The Orthodox Word no.171, 1993, p.162. St Nikolai was brought up in an atmosphere of prayer.
“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”.
From “Serbia in Light and Darkness” p.25 by St Nikolai Velimirovich, at Gutenberg Projecthttp://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19871
continues in Part 2
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- Akathist To Jesus Conqueror of Death, by St Nikolai Velimirovich, Trans. by Interklima, Copyright 2009, English Edition, by St Paisius Monastery, Safford, AZ
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- Nil SorskyTrans. and Edited by George A. Maloney, ISBN: 0-8091-9810-7
- Not of This World,Compiled and Edited by James S. Cutsinger, ISBN: 0-941532-41-0
- On Prayer by Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov Trans.by Rosemar Edmonds, ISBN 0-88141-194-9
- On The Apostolic Preaching by St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Trans. by John Behr, ISBN: 0-88141-174-4
- On The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ by St Maximus The Confessor, Trans. by Paul M. Blowers & Robert Louis Wilken, ISBN: 0-88141-249-x
- On The Human Condition by St Basil The GreatTrans. by Nonna Verna Harrison, ISBN: 0-88141-294-5
- On The Incarnation by St. Athanasius, ISBN: 0-913836-40-0
- On The Mother of God by Jacob of Serug, ISBN: 0-88141-184-1
- Once Delivered to The Saints by Fr. Michael Azkoul, ISBN: 0-913026-84-0
- Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ by Father Justin Popovich Trans. by Asterios Gerosterios, ISBN: 1-884729-02-9
- Orthodox Psychotherapy by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Trans. by Esther Williams, ISBN: 960-7070-27-5
- Orthodox Spiritual Life According to Saint Silouan The Athonite by Harry Boosalis, ISBN: 1-878997-60-2
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- Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy by John McGuckin, ISBN: 0-88141-259-7
- Santa Biblia Antigua Version de Casiodoro De Reina Revisada por Cipriano de Valera(1602) Revision de 1960, Holman Publishers 2008
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- St. Symeon The New Theologian, On The Mystical Life, The Ethical Discourses, Trans. by Alexander Golitzin 3 vols. ISBN: 0-88141-142-6 and - 143-4, and 144-2
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- The Mind of the Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Trans. by Esther Williams, ISBN: 960-7070-39-9
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- The Philokalia, The Complete Text compiled by St Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and St Makarios of Corinth, Trans. by G.E.H. Palmer, Phillip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware Vol2 ISBN: 0-571-15466-2
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