INTRODUCTION

 

Immured by the flesh and blood of a nation, the soul or our people has for centuries been stuttering and struggling as she searched for a tongue to express her pains, her sorrows, her aspirations and her prayers. And she has found her tongue, she has found it in Bishop Nikolai. Through him our stuttering soul has transformed herself into sobbing, such as our eye has never seen, into eloquent prayers, such as our ear has never heard. He is the God-sent fiery tongue, which stands over our soul, and she fervently and passionately confesses to "the Triradiate Master of worlds." He is the style, the grace-filled sumptuous style of our soul. He speaks - as no one among us has ever spoken. He prays — more eloquently than anyone among us has ever prayed. He has the gift of words, for he has the gift of total feeling, the gift of compassion, the gift of total love, the gift of prayer. Up until the time that he appeared — we were desperate: our soul's yearning for Christ was becoming numb, was withering, and was beginning to die. From the moment he appeared - we trembled with joy: our soul's yearning for Christ came back to life in him, it was resurrected and rejuvenated. Rastko's fervent yearning for Christ has taken up its abode in him and has blazed up into a colossal conflagration: and he bums in this conflagration, he burns as a sacrificial holocaust for all mankind. Therefore he has become our optimism, our optimism in the dark days of our own desperate present. We are witnessing a great and rare miracle, a wondrous and holy sign of the times: the blessed Eternity of the Holy Trinity cast anchor the first time on Rastko, and from the Christ-craving Rastko It created the Christ-bearing Sava; that same Eternity has cast anchor a second time, onto Bishop Nikolai, and from the Christ-craving Nikolai It is creating before our eyes the Christ-bearing Nikolai.

 

These favorites of Eternity know the mystery of our Orthodox soul, they know how the rebellious and Christ-fighting Slavic soul can be molded into a Christlike soul. From Saint Sava up to the present day our Orthodoxy has not had a more eloquent and powerful confessor than Bishop Nikolai. Our optimistic descendants will be captivated with a prayerful awe of him, just as we are in awe of Saint Sava. Our descendants will marvel, and will lament that they will never see what we are seeing with our own eyes, and will never hear what we are hearing with our own ears. For them, as also for many of us, he will be: the hearth where those who have been frostbitten by scepticism and lack of faith will come to thaw and warm themselves.

 

I read and reread Prayers by the Lake, but all their sweet allurement swims into my soul only when I read and reread them prayerfully. He, a wonderworker of prayerful rhythms, has power over my soul. I tell myself: "I am locked in the senses, I think by means of the senses, but when his wonderworking prayer flows through my repentant soul, at once the senses, these shackles of the soul, are unshackled, and my soul, my wounded bird, regains her wings and flies off, diving into the sweet depths of Eternity." And my paralyzed heart tells me: "He breaks out of the cocoon of time and space, which engulfs and suffocates your soul, and he drives the butterfly of your soul out into the blue expanses of infinite Eternity." In truth, he is the channel by which Eternity comes forth into my soul and by which my soul enters into Eternity.   He strengthens my feeling of personal immortality along with personal eternity, and I feel like a stranger in the world, but like a master of a mansion in Eternity.

 

He thinks through prayer, he philosophizes through prayer. One senses that the luminous souls of the great Orthodox ascetics, especially the mystical soul of St. Simeon the New Theologian, are speaking through him. Through prayer he senses God, and through prayer he senses all creation. He is in a prayerful relationship with everything. Orthodoxy, and only Orthodoxy, leads to this. The whole soul collects itself into prayer, for prayer is the only sharp-eyed guide of the mind, the heart and the will.

 

He speaks about Christ because he lives by means of Him. He expands his mysterious personality to divine-human proportions; he experiences a personal, empirical divine in­carnation and birth of Christ in his soul. This is reminiscent of the grace-filled empirical Christology of Saint Macarius the Great. Man's purpose is: to give birth to Christ within oneself, to become God, for it is for this reason that God became nourishment for men.

 

When he turns his soul, moved by prayer, toward creation, he seethes with sadness and starts sobbing with stirring cries. For all creation is sick, wounded, and melancholy. Truly, in his tears "the sadness of all creatures seethes." Truly, in his weeping all human eyes and all human hearts weep. He is afflicted with the pains of all creation; he grieves with the laments of all creatures. Lo, God has sent us a Job who has suffered the sufferings of all mankind and all creation. And yet he is also our Isaiah, who clairvoyantly and inspiringly contemplates suffering in general, and vindicates divine-human suffering in particular.

 

This world is a sick man, whom sin has made sick, for sin is a sickness, and to scorn sinners is to scorn the sick. With prayer our healer walks around the grievously sick patient, with prayer he walks and with prayer he heals and makes whole. Do not scorn sinners, but pray for them. Feel pity and

compassion for every creature, but do not condemn. Expand and deepen your soul with prayer, and you will begin to cry over the mystery of the world bitterly and vehemently. Make your heart prayerful, together with your soul and your mind, and they will become inexhaustible fountainheads of tears for all mankind. The most reverend man of prayer has made his whole soul prayerful, together with his spirit and mind: and he feels the sins of all sinners as though they were his own, and he repents for all sins as though they were his own, as he weeps and sighs.

 

Prayer expands the boundaries of man to [those of] the Ultimate Man; it makes one sensitive to all pains and sins; it enables one to cry with the eye of all the tearstained and to mourn with the sorrow of all who mourn. Through the wondrous prayers of our psalmist flows the soul of the Ultimate Man. The boundaries of time and space vanish; the prayers have the fragrance of a universal soul: it is not man, the slave of time and space, who speaks, but the Ultimate Man.

 

Though his Christ-craving soul we have fallen in love with Christ, and while the slaves of time and space slaughter one another over the frail wealth of the earth, our fearless fighter for Eternity stands on the deserted watchtower of our soul. There he kneels, prostrates himself, sobbing and praying for all mankind.

 

O Lord, who lovest mankind, make me prayerful with the prayerfulness of the Most Reverend Bishop Nikolai.

 

Father Justin (Popovich) (1922)

 

Translators Notes to the Introduction

1. Cf. Acts 2:2-4 which relates how on the feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit rushed down from heaven and tongues of fire appeared above the apostles' heads: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

Also, the word Vladika translated here as "Master" is identical to the word translated as "Bishop" above.

2. "Rastko" was St. Sava's name as a youth in his father's palace, before he ran away to the monasteries of the holy mountain of Athos in his seventeenth year, at which time he was given his monastic name of "Sava."

The last part of this sentence is in Church Slavonic, vsesozhenija za vsjeh i vsja, and echoes wording found in the Divine Liturgy.

3. St. Simeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was the greatest of Byzantine mystical writers. In his teaching he assigned a central place to the vision of Divine Light, while being at the same time strongly Christocentric.

4. St. Macarius the Great was an Egyptian monk and priest (c. 300 -c. 390).

5. In place of "Bishop," the original Serbian test reads "Father" (otac), probably because this term of address appears in the troparion to his namesake, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra.

 

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