St. Nikolai Velimirovich
How can St. Nikolai intercede for us?
St. Nikolai is known for his profound writings, poems, and excellence in academia. Also, he is known for his struggles in Dachau. St. Nikolai can be asked for guidance during life struggles and for academic success, especially during turbulent times. College students may especially find his intercessions helpful.
The Life of St. Nikolai
St. Nikolai Velimirovich was born on December 23, 1880, in the small village of Lelich in Serbia. He was born with the name Nikola, after his family’s saint, St. Nicholas of Myra and Lycea. He was the eldest of nine children, all of whom perished during World War II. His parents were farmers. Often his mother, Katarina, was seen walking Nikola three miles to Chelije Monastery for prayer and Holy Communion. Bishop Nikolai recalled these walks with his mother as being some of the most spiritually influential moments of his life. After finishing grammar school, St. Nikolai applied to attend the Military Academy of Serbia, but he could not pass the physical exam. Instead, St. Nikolai applied and was accepted to the Seminary of St. Sava in Belgrade.
After his graduation, Nikola was chosen to study in Switzerland, Germany, England, and Russia. In 1908, St. Nikolai received his Doctorate in Theology in Berne, Switzerland. His dissertation, entitled “Faith”, was written in German, published in Switzerland, and later translated into Serbian. A year later, in 1909, at age twenty-nine, St. Nikolai prepared his Doctorate in Philosophy at Oxford, and during the summer of that same year, in Geneva, St. Nikolai wrote his second doctoral dissertation, titled “The Philosophy of Berkeley” in French.
In the fall of 1909, St. Nikolai returned home and was ill with dysentery for two months. It was during this time that he vowed that if he were returned to health he would become a monk and serve God’s people. Thus, as a Doctor in Theology and Philosophy, St. Nikolai became a humble monk. He was ordained to the priesthood that same day on December 20, 1909, and he was later elevated to the rank of Archimandrite and immediately chosen to be a teacher of the Seminary of St. Sava in Belgrade. Yet, before he even began teaching, Archimandrite Nikolai was sent to Russia, where he wrote his first great work, The Religion of Njegosh.
In 1912, St. Nikolai returned to Belgrade as a seminary professor and published Sermons at the Foot of the Mount, and Beyond Sin and Death. Thus, besides teaching philosophy, logic, history, and foreign languages, he was becoming a great literary figure, beloved, pastor, and soon an international figure. With the outbreak of World War I, Archimandrite Nikolai embarked on a diplomatic mission to
England in order to obtain support from the British government. He gave several lectures and homilies in England, which invoked concern for the oppressed Serbs and addressed world peace. St. Nikolai received British support for Serbia and also was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge University.
In the summer of 1925, Archimandrite Nikolai traveled to New York City and rallied the emigrant Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes against the Austrian government. America sent over 20,000 Slavic volunteers and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of aid to the suffering people in their homeland. St. Nikolai received a dream from an angel who revealed to him that he would return to America to organize an American Serbian diocese united with the diocese of Serbia.
Throughout the rest of World War I, St. Nikolai stayed in England, where he continued to write several articles and books. As a result of this period of academic excellence, St. Nikolai received another Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
Afterwards, he returned to Belgrade and was involved in the formation of the new Yugoslav state. On March 12, 1919, St. Nikolai was selected as the new Bishop of Zhicha, the historic seat of the first Archbishop of Serbia.
In 1921, Bishop Nikolai was transferred to the Diocese of Ochrid and Bitola. It was this year that he traveled throughout Eastern Europe in uniting the people of these regions. During this time he wrote two more books: Orations on the Universal Man and Prayers by the Lake. Prayers by the Lake was written in poetic-style, incredibly deep and profound, and is one of his most notable works. Later that year St. Nikolai traveled again to America and delivered approximately 150 lectures over three months. In America he collected thousands of dollars to organize Orthodox orphanages all over Serbia that cared for over 600 children whose parents had died in the war.
After this time and before World War II, St. Nikolai traveled again to American and throughout the world giving lectures and homilies. He also continued to write and published four more books. It is said that during this time St. Nikolai was known as the “Voice of Orthodoxy”.
In 1941, with the German occupation of Yugoslavia, Bishop Nikolai and Patriarch Gabriel Dozich were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment in the infamous Dachau Prison Camp in Germany. He spent two years in Dachau, where he witnessed and suffered tremendous torture. St. Nikolai attributed his survival to the Theotokos. During his suffering he wrote Petitionary Canon and Prayers to the Most
Holy Mother of God and Three Prayers in the Shadow of the German Bayonets.
On May 8, 1945, St. Nikolai and Patriarch Gabriel were released from prison and sought sanctuary in England. After this, Bishop Nikolai moved to American for the final time. He began lecturing again at universities. In 1946, he was awarded for his academic excellence and received his fifth and final Honorary Doctorate of Theology from Columbia University.
From 1946 to 1949, Bishop Nikolai taught at St. Sava Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois. As a professor there, he wrote four more books on the lives of saints, Orthodox mysticism, and Orthodox catechism.
In 1951, Bishop Nikolai moved to St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery in Pennsylvania. Here he spent the last five years of his life as a professor, dean, and rector of the seminary. He also lectured at St. Vladimir’s seminary and the Russian Orthodox Seminary of the Holy Trinity in New York. Always actively writing, he wrote Conversations, The Harvests of the Lord, and Cassiana, and he published multiple articles in Russian. St. Nikolai wrote, read, and was fluent in seven different languages.
In 1958, his final book, The Only Love of Mankind, was published posthumously. Father, Archimandrite, Bishop, and Saint Nikolai Velimirovich fell asleep in the lord on the 18th of March, 1956 in his cell at St. Tikhon’s Seminary while he was on his knees in prayer. He was 76 years old. St. Nikolai was originally buried at St. Sava Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois. Later he body was moved behind the main church of Chelije Monastery in his home village. St. Nikolai, often referred as the “Serbian Chrysostom”, was one of the greatest hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in the twentieth century.
Adapted from “Life of St. Nikolai Velimirovich” and “Repose of St. Nikolai of Zhicha”
- St. Nikolai witnessed and experienced some of the most gruesome and destructive
moments of humanity— wars, concentration camps, etc.— yet, he wrote about God’s love for mankind, the Theotokos, saints, and more. How do we clear our lens to see the beauty of this world as he did?
- Although St. Nikolai was a native of Serbia, he still felt compelled to transfer to America to lecture at universities on the teachings of Christ. How is OCF’s mission the
same? How is your mission the same? How can you make your mission more like St. Nikolai’s?
- St. Nikolai saw the importance of meeting young people where they were in life. He preached to university students who would be no different than our OCFers today. What do you think he would say about our struggles to be Orthodox in today’s world?
- St. Nikolai took to prayer during his greatest sufferings and wrote the beautiful Prayers by the Lake. If you were to write about book about your own life, what would it be called? What would it be about?
Learn his Troparion
“In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith, an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence; your humility exalted you; your poverty enriched you. Hierarch Father Nikolai, entreat Christ our God that our souls may be saved.” (Mode 4)
Pray to him
Born at Lelich in Serbia, you served as archpastor at the church of Saint Nahum in Ochrid. You presided on the throne of Saint Sava at Zhicha, teaching the people of God and enlightening them with the Gospel, bringing them to repentance and love for Christ. And for His sake you endured suffering at Dachau. Therefore, Nicholai, we glorify you as one newly well pleasing to God.
Pray with him
“Bless My Enemies O Lord”
A prayer from Prayers by the Lake by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
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.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just
as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by
enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where
neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.
Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to You may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
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.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.
St. Maria of Paris
St. John Maximovitch