“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….
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.
I will not be able to commemorate the Feast of Theophany in the usual way this year,
but I want to remember the importance of the event and the celebration,
with the help of St. Nikolai.
Most of the Prologue of Ohrid for this day:
THE EPIPHANY [THEOPHANY] OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
When our Lord reached thirty years from His physical birth, He began His teaching and salvific work. He Himself signified this “beginning of the beginning” by His baptism in the Jordan river. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “The beginning of the world – water; the beginning of the Good News – Jordan.” At the time of the baptism of the Lord in water, that mystery was declared to the world: that mystery which was prophesied in the Old Testament; the mystery about which in ancient Egypt and India was only fabled; i.e., the mystery of the Divine Holy Trinity.
The Father was revealed to the sense of hearing; the Spirit was revealed to the sense of sight, and in addition to these, the Son was revealed to the sense of touch. The Father uttered His witness about the Son, the Son was baptized in the water, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovered above the water. When John the Baptist witnessed and said about Christ, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.”
(St. John 1:29) And when John immersed and baptized the Lord in the Jordan, the mission of Christ in the world and the path of our salvation was shown. That is to say: The Lord took upon Himself the sins of mankind and died under them [immersion] and became alive again [the coming out of the water]; and we must die as the old sinful man and become alive again as cleansed, renewed and regenerated. This is the Savior and this is the path of salvation.
The Feast of the Epiphany [Theophany in Greek] is also called the Feast of Illumination. For us, the event in the Jordan river illuminates, by manifesting to us God as Trinity, consubstantial and undivided. That is one way. And the second: every one of us through baptism in water is illumined by this, that we become adopted by the Father of Lights through the merits of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE HOLY TRINITY
O, Holy Lord, holy in creating,
All that You create by Your Word, by Your Spirit You consecrate.
O, Mighty Lord, mighty in suffering,
For the world You walk to Your death; for the world, You resurrect.
Immortal Lord, in voice, we praise You;
Father, Son, Holy Spirit – God, have mercy on us!
The Father, Who appeared over Jordan as a Voice,
The Spirit, Who as a White Dove hovered,
The Son, Who by the Prophet John was baptized,
Three rays of light, one light shown,
The Trinity manifested, we praise You in voice:
Father, Son, Holy Spirit – God, have mercy on us!
At one time, the fables of the heretics plagued the Church of God and now the Church is plagued by the fables of the apostates from God. By perseverance in the Faith, by diligence in prayer, by confession of the Faith and even martyrdom for the Faith, the Church remained undefeated until now. Only by these methods will these neo-plagues be defeated. The Church of God, the Vessel of Divine Truth will triumph in the end, “The enemies are ruined completely forever” (Psalm 9:7).
Blessed Clement of Alexandria said about heretics who left the Church, “He who has fallen into heresy travels through an arid desert, abandoning the One True God. Alienated from God, he seeks water in dry places, he gathers barren fruit with his hands and enters into an uninhabited and thirsty land.” This also can be said today about the many hypothecators and theoreticians who are led by their imaginations and not by the truth of God.
About the mystery of [Heavenly] Divine Trinity:
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit and the water and the blood: and these three are together”(I John 5: 7-8).
When we read Holy Scripture, we should be alert to keep an eye on every word. To the rapid reader, for example, this distinction which the Evangelist draws between the Heavenly Trinity and the earthly trinity will not become apparent. Concerning the Heavenly Trinity, he says, “And these three are one;” and concerning the earthly trinity, he says, “And these three are together.”
There is an enormous difference between “being one” and “being together.” The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are One, whereas the spirit, water and blood are only together and are not one. Even enemies could be together as one, but are not one. All the people on earth are together, but they are not one.
Water and blood constitute the body and the spirit is the spirit. “For the flesh has desires against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17). However, they are not one, but they are still together. When man dies the union is broken apart and ceases to exist. Blood and water go to one side and the spirit goes to another side. Whereas the [Heavenly] Divine Trinity in the heavens not only are they together but they are also one.
There is also another trinity in the inner heaven of man which should be, not only a unity, but a oneness so that man could be blessed in this world and in the other world. That is the union of the mind, heart and will. As long as these three are only in togetherness, man will be at war with himself and with the Heavenly Trinity.
However, when these three become one, so that neither one rules and that neither one is enslaved, then man becomes filled with “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), man’s every word, every explanation, every fear and every sorrow. Then the small heaven in man begins to resemble that great heaven of God, and the “image and likeness of God” becomes apparent in man.
O Triune God, help us to resemble, at least, those who resemble You.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).
If someone knew the number of stars in the heavens and the names of the fish in the sea and the amount of the grass in the field and the habits of the beasts in the forest, but did not have the fear of God, his knowledge would be as water in a sieve. And his knowledge would make him a greater coward in the face of death than the completely ignorant.
If someone could guess all the thoughts of mankind and foretell the fate of mankind and reveal every mystery that the earth conceals in its depths, but did not have the fear of God, his knowledge would be as milk poured into an unclean container, by which all the milk would be spoiled. And, in the hour of his death, his wisdom would not shine even as much as a piece of charcoal without a flame, but would make the night of his death even darker.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….
….The fear of God is the salt of all piety. If there is no such salt then all of our piety is insipid and lax. The fear of God girds the loins, girdles the stomach, makes the heart sober, restrains the mind, and flogs self-will. Where is repentance without the fear of God? Where is humility? Where is restraint? Where is chastity? Where is patience? Where is service and obedience?
O my brethren, let us embrace this word as the holy truth: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. O Lord Almighty, implant Your fear in our hearts.