Tag Archives: St. Nikolai Velimirovich

There is no lesson plan for it.

The desire to be beautiful seems to be common to mankind, but the very atmosphere of this age is toxic with something that feeds a disease, making us obsessed with our image. One part of the toxic mix is the overwhelming abundance of pictures of faces and bodies in magazines and on every electronic device, forming a kind of lesson plan on How to Look. I was happy for a respite this morning when I read St. Nikolai’s homily for the day in The Prologue of Ohrid.

HOMILY
on the beauty of Christ above all other beauty
Thou art fairer than the sons of men (Psalm 45:2).
 

Holy Scripture does not ascribe any particular value to physical beauty, and in general to anything transient. That is why everyone who reads Holy Scripture should take care to be sufficiently attentive and wise to transfer the praise of physical beauty to the soul and to spiritual values. Without a doubt, spiritual beauty gives a wondrous attractiveness to the most unattractive body, just as an ugly soul makes even the most attractive body repulsive. The Prophet David, pouring forth good words (Psalm 45:1), says to his King, the Lord Jesus Christ: Thou art fairer than the sons of men. 

The Lord Himself created His bodily cloak as He wanted. Had He wanted to appear in the world as the physically fairest of men, He could have done so. But there is nothing in the Gospel to indicate that He drew followers to Himself or influenced men by His appearance. He Himself said: the flesh profiteth nothing (John 6:63). Therefore, it is clear that David was not speaking of the physical beauty of Christ, but of His spiritual, divine beauty. This is clearly seen in the following words of the Psalmist: Grace is poured forth upon thy lips (Psalm 45:2). So it is that the unsurpassed beauty of the Son of God is not in the form and shape of His lips, but rather in the stream of grace that flows from His mouth. 

Again, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of Christ: He had no form or comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2-3). Do Isaiah and David agree? Perfectly well. David speaks of Christ’s inward beauty, and Isaiah speaks of Christ’s external abasement. Isaiah said that He would not be seen as a king or a rich man, but as a servant and sufferer.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou art fairer to us than all men and angels: glory to Thine immortal and unending beauty. O gracious Lord, correct the ugliness of our souls, which are disfigured by sin, we pray Thee.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From the archives

We have needed just such a drink.

…the grace of the Spirit takes possession of the quiet soul, and gives it a taste of the unspeakable good things to come, which no passionate and negligent eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of such a man (cf. I Cor. 2:9). This taste is the earnest of these good things, and the heart which accepts these pledges becomes spiritual and receives assurance of its salvation.   -St. Gregory Palamas

Today we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas. Frequently I am so scattered that I forget to look at any calendar: my wall calendars or my everyday planning calendar or the church calendar. But today I did, so I noticed. Last year I attended the most enriching retreat during which we were taught much about the spiritual life, understanding and practices that are our inheritance from St. Gregory, but I never managed to process it in a way that I could share here.

Nor could I look it up in my notes, because of not being able to find them in the remodeling upheaval. So I read what St. Nicolai has to say about him in his Prologue. Here is a bit of it:

St. Gregory Palamas learned much through heavenly revelations. After he had spent three years in stillness in a cell of the Great Lavra, it was necessary for him to go out among men and benefit them with his accumulated knowledge and experience. God revealed this necessity to him through an extraordinary vision: One day, as though in a light sleep, Gregory saw himself holding a vessel in his hand full to overflowing with milk. Gradually, the milk turned into wine which likewise spilled over the rim, and drenched his hands and garments.

Then a radiant youth appeared and said: “Why would you not give others of this wonderful drink that you are wasting so carelessly, or are you not aware that this is the gift of God’s grace?” To this Gregory replied: “But if there is no one in our time who feels the need for such a drink, to whom shall I give it?” Then the youth said: “Whether there are some or whether there are none thirsty for such a drink, you are obligated to fulfill your debt and not neglect the gift of God.” Gregory interpreted the milk as the common knowledge (of the masses) of moral life and conduct, and the wine as dogmatic teaching.

Also I mused on quotes from him that I found online, such as the one at top. Here are three more that give me courage:

Life of the soul is union with God, as life of the body is union with the soul. As the soul was separated from God and died in consequence of the violation of the commandment, so by obedience to the commandment it is again united to God and is quickened. This is why the Lord says in the Gospels, ‘The words I speak to you are spirit and life’ (John 6:63).

Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful’ (Psalm 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.

Given that we desire long life, should we not take eternal life into account? If we long for a kingdom which, however enduring, has an end, and glory and joy which, great as they are, will fade, and wealth that will perish with this present life, and we labour for the sake of such things; ought we not to seek the kingdom, glory, joy and riches which, as well as being all-surpassing, are unfading and endless, and ought we not to endure a little constraint in order to inherit it?

-St. Gregory Palamas

The moral is short — one word.

“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….

Lake Ohrid in Macedonia

time happiness

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I don’t know what “time happiness” means exactly, but I have an inkling about the longed-for place that St. Nikolai talks about:

Moments of happiness are given to you only in order to leave you longing
for time happiness in the bosom of the ever happy Lord;
and ages of unhappiness are given to you
to waken you out of the drowsy dream of illusions.

O Lord, Lord, my only happiness, will You provide shelter for Your injured pilgrim?

– St Nikolai Velimirovich

And I don’t know anything about “ages of unhappiness.” My sad times can’t by any stretch be called ages, though it’s true, when one is in the midst of intense sorrow, time warps.

Today has been sweet and kind of dreamy. I stopped on the bridge over the creek and thought about how beloved this little patch of suburbia has grown, especially in the last three years. This is the season when the creek bed is so packed with plants, you can’t see the little water that is down there. It was quiet and warm. The warm part of the day is short now.

I was passing by the yard with roses, lilies and other plants that are wilted and ugly from drought, insects, and disease. No one cares enough about them to pick off a dead leaf. And then what caught my eye and made me stop? A weed growing next to the fire hydrant.

“Weeds grasp their own essence and express its truth.”
– Santoka Taneda

It occurs to me just now that I may have posted a picture of this weed once before, recently… if so, it is deserving enough for a repeat showing.  It has been neglected just as much as the cultivated plants, which for a weed means it was not killed or pulled out. That has let its essential health and hardiness shine forth and produce tiny and flowers all over, decorating the wasteland beautifully.