What we can learn from Nikolai the Serb

God raises up prophetic voices from time to time, and it’s our loss when we miss their appearance. One such prophetic voice was Nikolai Velimirovich of Ochrid and Zhicha. Many of us missed him because he was born in Eastern Europe and, though he ended his life in the United States, died more than half a century ago.

Thankfully, there is a wonderful documentary about his life, Saint Nikolai the Serb. It captures some of his presence and importance, particularly to his native people but even to us in the West today.

As the documentary shows, he spoke forcefully in his day against spiritual and cultural trends that would pull people away from their devotion to Christ. For his eloquent and prophetic leadership he was known as a new Chrysostom.

One of his many books, Prayers by the Lake, is a spiritual treasure store. It reads like a contemporary Psalter, capturing all the loose strands of human fears and joys and placing them before the altar of God. Read this example from prayer No. 75:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

[. . .]

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.

Undoubtedly, there is some culture shock in watching a documentary like the one above. Nikolai’s experience of the faith looks much different than does ours in present-day America. In humility we should be willing to find the deficiencies on our side of the divide and see what there is to learn on his.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.


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