“Turn your cares into prayers and you will change ice to flowing water.”
This is my paraphrase of a quote from St. Nikolai that we heard in church this morning. His feast day is March 18. St. Nikolai Velimiroviç was born in Serbia in 1880. He graduated from seminary in Belgrade in 1905, and then got two doctorate degrees. The doctoral thesis in theology was presented in German; his thesis in philosophy was prepared at Oxford and defended in Geneva, in French. I am amazed at the academic intensity represented by these facts.
At about the same time he was also entering a monastery and advancing from monk to priest to archimandrite, and becoming a professor at St. Sava Seminary in Belgrade. St. Nikolai was ordained Bishop of Žiča in Serbia in 1919. The Nazis arrested him in 1941 and he was confined and possibly tortured until the end of the war, when he came to the United States and taught at Orthodox seminaries. He has often been referred to as Serbia’s “New Chrysostom.”
Many times I have quoted from his Prologue of Ohrid, but today I offer in his honor a portion of one of his Prayers by the Lake (Lake Ohrid). This is from Number 13:
Stories are long, too long; the moral is short — one word. You are that word, O Word of God. You are the moral of all stories.
What the stars write across heaven, the grass whispers on earth. What the water gurgles in the sea, fire rumbles beneath the sea. What an angel says with his eyes, the imam shouts from his minaret. What the past has said and fled, the present is saying and fleeing.
There is one essence for all things; there is one moral for all stories. Things are tales of heaven. You are the meaning of all tales. Stories are Your length and breadth. You are the brevity of all stories. You are a nugget of gold in a knoll of stone.
When I say Your name, I have said everything and more than everything….
Today — or yesterday if you want to be strict about liturgical time — is the commemoration of the repose of St. Seraphim of Sarov, a beloved holy father in the Orthodox Church and beyond. And while I was in church remembering him with hymns and prayers, this icon was waiting in a package on my front porch, painted and sent by my goddaughter Rosemary. It says right on the package: “Expected delivery date: January 4.” But it would be rude to make him sit in a truck or depot on his memorial day. Perhaps it was an angel who sped him along to my house two days early; it fulfilled my joy to have his icon with me and to be able to see through this particular “window into heaven,” on his very feast day.
“On January 2 , Father Paul, the saint’s cell-attendant, left his own cell at six in the morning to attend the early Liturgy. He noticed the smell of smoke coming from the Elder’s cell. Saint Seraphim would often leave candles burning in his cell, and Father Paul was concerned that they could start a fire.
“’While I am alive,’ he once said, ‘there will be no fire, but when I die, my death shall be revealed by a fire.’ When they opened the door, it appeared that books and other things were smoldering. Saint Seraphim was found kneeling before an icon of the Mother of God with his arms crossed on his chest. His pure soul was taken by the angels at the time of prayer, and had flown off to the Throne of the Almighty God, Whose faithful servant Saint Seraphim had been all his life.”
At Great Vespers this Saturday [last night], we praise the glorious men from before and during the Old Covenant law. We honor Adam, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Samson, Barak, Jephthah, Nathan, Eleazar, Josiah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha and all the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, “and all the rest,” especially Daniel and the three holy youths, Zachariah, John the Baptist, and all those who proclaimed Christ.
Likewise we sing praises to the holy women who were made “strong in the days of old by the might of Thy strength, O Lord: Hannah, Judith, Deborah, Huldah, Jael, Esther, Sarah, Miriam, Rachel, Rebecca, and Ruth.” Orthodox Christians faithfully preserve the awareness of where we come from.
We not only remember that we are from the dust of the earth, but we also remember those who have preceded us, and are joined to us, in holiness, and in faith, and in the spiritual struggle. History is chronological, but the Kingdom of God is ever-present, and we commune with all the righteous who were before us and await us. As brothers and sisters in Christ, they are our forefathers too!
-Father Thaddaeus Hardenbrook
Through faith You justified the Forefathers, betrothing through them the Church of the gentiles. These saints exult in glory, for from their seed came forth a glorious fruit: She who bore You without seed. So by their prayers, O Christ God, have mercy on us!
-Hymn for the Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of Christ
To be at St. Nicholas Church for their patronal feast day, or altar feast, was heavenly. I rode down with friends and it took quite a while to get through the early morning commuter traffic. We ended up coming in a little late, but as soon as I entered I could feel that I was in a temple full of joy, the fullness of Christ and His Church.
Many people were wearing red and green clothing for the celebration, and plenty of poinsettias and red vestments and altar cloths filled the space. I had only been to this church once before, and I loved looking around at their icons, thinking about the significance of the different groupings of holy ones. Through a southern window the sunlight beamed down in a wide swath, which must have made the position of the choir director critical. It was very dramatic.
After Liturgy we enjoyed a concert of bells, and a feast of earthly food. A raffle is traditional for this parish’s feast day, and today the funds raised were to go to the victims of the Camp Fire in northern California. They raised a record amount, about $1500, and everyone was thrilled about that.
One of my last images of the blessed day was of three little girls all in red and white dresses, shyly singing a song in honor of the saint. You will have to form your own picture of that, because I had used up my phone’s battery by then. Holy Father Nicholas, we rejoice with you!