My father of blessed memory loved to lift up the lives of the saints with my mother, my two brothers, and me. Dad brought them to life by challenging us to imitate the Christian virtues their lives expressed. He guided our understanding that if we are to live as part of the Body of Christ, we too, could witness Christ’s teachings by putting them to practice each day… at school, at home, and at church. He had great enthusiasm and awe for teaching about the faithful in the Old and New Testaments, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Theologians, the Clergy, and the Laity. It seemed like his appetite was insatiable; as evidence, our home seemed filled with books about their witness. Looking back, I thank him and my mother for teaching us to love and respect our fellow witnesses, and seek to assure our future families to do so as well.
In turn, I want to share about the life of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Ochrid and Zica. He was born in 1881, just 17 years before my father’s birth in 1898. St. Nikolai fell asleep in the Lord in 1956, the year I was baptized. Although I never learned about him until my theological studies in the early 1990’s, his life continues to inspire countless Christians today.
For me, two facts about his life testify to his faithful devotion as a Bishop, theologian, and gifted orator in his ministry in God’s Vineyard. First, he came close to dying of dysentery when he was a young man. After surviving, he chose to dedicate the rest of his life to God in thanksgiving. He was tonsured a monk and ordained and served in the Clergy. Second, during World War 2, when the Germans occupied Yugoslavia, he was imprisoned at Dachau concentration camp in Germany. After the Allied forces liberated him at the end of the war, he moved to the United States in 1946 where he lived until his death. My father was right… there were saints struggling for Christ before us, there are saints serving Him among us today, and there will be saints sacrificing for Him until Christ Jesus’ Second and Glorious Coming!
For your next Sunday Lunch with family and friends, perhaps you might share aspects of our faith you hold dear within God’s Holy Church… your favorite Scripture passage or verse, the life of a saint who has inspired you, or a miracle that God has granted His people. Truly, you are giving a priceless gift to those you love. In so doing, you are teaching and inspiring them to grow spiritually and to share and help others.
This past week, I had the privilege of witnessing a brave window washer who climbed to the top of our three-story domed glass skylight at the Metropolis Office. He literally walked on top of the glass to access all points. His faith and courage reminded me that we too, are called by God to go above and beyond if we are to assist everyone in our grasp. The window cleaner gave me another important insight – he observed that in looking at the domed skylight from the floor, the glass barely looked dirty. However, viewed from above, the glass was almost black; he literally had to scrap off the years of residue and dirt that had accumulated.
This awareness reminded me of a beautiful reflection written by St. Nikolai as he viewed Lake Ochrid from a 13th century monastery dedicated to St. John the Theologian. Perhaps you could share his message with your family at Sunday Lunch. His thoughts challenge us to reflect that sometimes we don’t realize our faith has become weak; we have strayed from our journey towards God. Are we unable to see God’s countless wonders and infinite love for each one of us? It is then that we ask the questions St. Nikolai addresses in his prayer that follows.
People have become bad, and so they say: “What does the Lord do for us?”
The Lord gives life to everybody; the Lord gives a face to every creature. The Lord is as tenderhearted as a child, and selfishness and gloominess are unknown to Him.
The Lord gives to everyone whatever one asks of Him.1 The Lord fills His eternity with giving, and yet you say: “What does the Lord give to us?” You would not even have been able to pose this question, if the Lord had not given you the power to do so.
The Lord collects the tears of those who mourn in the palms of His hands. The Lord visits captives. The Lord sits at the bedside of the sick.
The Lord keeps vigil over perilous paths, and keeps watch over the depths of the sea, and yet you say: “What does the Lord do for us?”
Whatever you ask of the Lord, He also gives you. But because you began to seek more from the world than from the Lord, you feel deluded in your hopes, and so you say: “What does the Lord do for us?”
Like a good host, the Lord sets His table and awaits His guests. The Lord listens attentively for knocking, and is quick to open the door to every guest.2 Around His table are clustered undreamed-of mansions; at His table are many seats. Whoever strikes His door and knocks, will not be turned away, and yet you say: “Why did the Lord not open when we knocked?” Because you knocked at the door of the Lord with doubt, but at the door of the world with faith.3
The Lord stands at the door of your soul with a broom, ready, at your invitation, to clean the horrendous filth out of your soul, to make your newly-cleaned soul fragrant with incense and fragrance, and to adorn her with virginal jewelry – the Lord is standing and waiting for your invitation.4
At the edge of your heart the Lord is standing with a tall candle that burns without smoking or melting. The Lord is standing and waiting at your invitation, to bring the candle into your heart and enlighten it, to burn up all the fear in your heart, all its selfish passions and all its ugly desires, and to drive out of your heart all the smoke and foul stench.
At the edge of your mind the Lord is standing with His wisdom and with His tongue, ready, at your invitation, to enter into it and drive out all its foolish thoughts, all its filthy fancies, and all its mistaken notions, and to erase from your mind all nonexistent images – the Lord is standing and waiting to introduce His reason, His seals, and His words.
Yet you say: “Where is the Lord?” At the edge of your life. Therefore your life has become hunchbacked. If the Lord were in the center, where He was in the beginning and where His rightful place is, your life would be upright and you would see the Lord, and you would not be asking: “Where is the Lord?”
You have become bad, therefore you ask: “Where is the Lord?”
The Lord is too good, therefore the bad do not recognize Him.
The Lord is too translucent, therefore the dusty do not see Him.
The Lord is too holy, therefore the unholy do not perceive Him.
If there are not enough people, who will confess the name of the Lord, the Lord will manifest Himself through objects.
If even the stars of heaven forget the name of the Lord, it will not be forgotten by the countless hosts of angels in heaven.
The weaker the confession of the Lord’s name in one realm, the stronger it is in another. Neither can the uttering of the name of God be decreased, nor can it be increased. If one brook dries up, another will begin to rise, and thus – the sea maintains the same level.
*Prayers by the Lake, by Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Ochrid and Zica. The above is Prayer LXXIX. The photos were taken by Fr. George Tsahakis at the Metropolis of Atlanta Office. ________________________________________________________
- Cf. Matt. 7:7-12.
- Cf. Luke 11:9-13.
- Cf. James 1:5-8, Matt. 21:20-22 and Mark 11:23-24.
- Cf. Rev. 3:20.