Tag Archives: St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Through Athanasius wisdom shone.

athanasius_frescoAthanasius of Alexandria has been highly regarded throughout Christian history, East and West. Today is one of his feast days In the Orthodox Church. I first heard of Athanasius when I was a Protestant, because his treatise On the Incarnation was recommended to me many times. I finally read it a few years ago at Christmastime, and found it very encouraging. I notice lots of discussion of Athanasius still going on in the blogosphere in this century.

Athanasius was born about 297 and was present as a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325. It was he who suggested the word “consubstantial” (homoousion) to describe Christ’s relationship to the Father, in opposition to the Arians who believed Christ to be a creature. The word was immediately adopted and became an important point of sound doctrine from then on.

When Bishop Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius reluctantly consented to take the bishopric, and he remained bishop for 43 years, though he spent a total of 17 of those years in exile at the command of four different emperors, and was many times forced to leave the city under threats to his life. These incidents led to the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world.”

I don’t need to repeat what I have written before, or tell you things about St. Athanasius that you can easily discover online, but I wanted to remember this important saint here. Here is are some excerpts from St. Nicolai in his Prologue for today:

Only for a while before his death did he live peacefully, as a good shepherd among his good flock, who truly loved him. Few are the saints who were so mercilessly slandered and so criminally persecuted as was St. Athanasius. His great soul patiently endured all for the love of Christ and, in the end, emerged victorious from this entire terrible and long-lasting struggle.

For counsel, for comfort and for moral support, Athanasius often visited St. Anthony the Great, whom he respected as his spiritual father. A man who formulated the greatest truth, Athanasius had much to suffer for that truth–until the Lord gave him repose in His kingdom as His faithful servant, in the year 373 A.D.

Through Athanasius, wisdom shone,
And the truth of God enlightened men.
The people recognized that wisdom is not bitter,
But, to all who drink it to the bottom, it is sweet;
To all who suffer for it, it is dear.

All of his riches are within.

On Sept 25th we are remembering St. Sergius of Radonezh, a Russian of the 14th century who “filled the wilderness with ceaseless prayer, and transformed the forest into a holy place of God.” From The Prologue of Ohrid I give you this sweet story:

A saint does not shine outwardly. All of his riches are within, in his soul. A peasant came from afar to the monastery to see St. Sergius. When he asked the monks for the abbot, they told him he was working in the garden. The peasant went to the garden, and there saw a man in poor, ragged clothes, digging like any other peasant on a farm. The peasant returned to the monastery dissatisfied, thinking that the monks had made fun of him. So, to make things clear, he asked again for the glorious holy father, Sergius. Just then, Sergius returned to the monastery, and welcomed the peasant, serving him at the table. The saint saw into the heart of his guest, and knew the low opinion he had of his appearance. He consoled him by promising that he would see Sergius in a little while.

A prince and his boyars then arrived at the monastery, and they all bowed low to St. Sergius, and asked his blessing. The monks then removed the peasant from the room in order to make room for the new guests. In amazement the peasant looked on from a distance, to see that the one he had sought had been nearby all the time. The peasant rebuked himself for his ignorance, and was greatly ashamed. When the prince departed, the peasant quickly approached the saint, fell at his feet and began to beg his forgiveness. The great saint embraced him and said to him: “Do not grieve, my son, for you are the only one who knew the truth about me, considering me to be nothing–while others were deluded, taking me for something great.”

sergius-of-radonezh-1899-mikhail-nesterov

painting by Mikhail Nesterov

Jonah is glorified forever.

I remember as a Protestant gl-jonah-prophet-dome-edit-crplaughing at the prophet Jonah, because he seems to make himself ridiculous in his pouting conversation with God. Essentially, his emotions are all over the place, which I can relate to. Jonah is unhappy when God spares the people of Nineveh, because that means his prophecy of their destruction doesn’t come to pass, and it makes him look bad. Then he is “exceedingly glad” when God makes a gourd grow up to give him a little shade. When the gourd dies he is very displeased again. And God chastises him for having more pity on a gourd than on a whole city full of humans.

In the Orthodox Church we read the entire book of Jonah in church every Holy Saturday, along with a dozen other Old Testament passages. No one ever chuckles when we get to this part of the story; Jonah has a lot to teach us about our salvation, and we revere him for the fact that God made his life a picture of Christ’s death and Resurrection.

For the Prologue of Ohrid St. Nikolai has written a Hymn of Praise to God for how He worked in and through Jonah’s life, and for His forgiveness. I imagine that much of the poetry got lost in the translation from the Serbian language, but I appreciate the attitude toward the Holy Prophet Jonah, whom we commemorate on this day.

THE HOLY PROPHET JONAH

Nineveh! Nineveh resounds with sin,
And God sends Jonah to heal Nineveh.
Jonah does not want to, and flees from God!
Oh, where will you go, Jonah, to hide from the Most High?
Jonah sleeps; he sleeps and the tempest rises.
God moves slowly, but He will find you in time.
Hurled into the waves, swallowed by the whale,
“From whom did I flee?” Jonah asks himself.
“I fled from Him, from Whom one cannot hide!”
God chastises Jonah and yet delivers him,
And, by His providence, glorifies him forever.
Jonah, you do not want to speak to the Ninevites,
But through your punishment you will prophesy the immortal Christ.
You do not want to by words? Then you must, by deeds,
Prophesy Christ and the death and resurrection of the body!
Your deeds, Jonah, will not fade away,
And Christ the Lord will speak of you to men,
That, through you, the mercy of the Living God might be revealed,
By which you will be saved, as well as Nineveh.
Through you, the power of repentance shall be revealed–
The power of repentance and God’s forgiveness.
You pitied the gourd, and God pitied men.
Help us to repent, O God, and save us from condemnation.

Zoë

On Bright Friday, that is, the Friday after Pascha, the Orthodox Church commemorates The Life-Giving Spring of the Most Holy Theotokos. Though I had heard of the monastery by that name, it seems I had never paid attention on Bright Friday before to get the backstory; this year I heard about it twice. The story of a miraculous pool of water and how it was rediscovered is well told here.

I also learned that women with the name Zoë might have been named for this feast of the Theotokos. Zoë means life in Greek. In his Prologue of Ohrid St. Nikolai Velimirovich relates the story of a St. Zoë and her family, who were slaves in the second century. On the same day’s entry St. Nikolai’s homily is on this pertinent scripture from Jeremiah:

Be amazed at this, O heavens, and shudder with sheer horror, says the Lord. Two evils have my people done: they have forsaken Me, the source of living waters. They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that hold no water.

From the homily:

The Source of living water is the Lord Himself: inexhaustible, copious and sweet. The cistern is every man’s work which is performed in opposition to God and God’s law, and from which men expect progress, happiness and satisfaction for their hungeTheotokos lifegivingfountr and thirst….

….O Lord, Immortal Source of every good that the heart of man can desire and the mind of man can imagine, have mercy on us sinners and unworthy ones. With Thy powerful right hand, turn us away from our godless and vain works and quench our thirst with Thy sweet and living water.

Whether in her womb, or in a pool of healing waters, or in her example and exhortation to “Do whatever He tells you,” it is the life of the Lord Himself that His mother offers us.

This concludes my alphabetical posts. As in the first I acknowledged that Christ is Alpha and Omega, the first and last — according to the Greek alphabet — so here at “Z”, the last letter of our alphabet, we find that He is Zoë, Life itself.