I said last time that World War I was most of all a symptom of the dead or dying character of the Christian church in Europe. The U.S. brand of Christianity is similar–and was similar in 1917 when we foolishly entered World War I. As a race, we learned nothing from World War I, because we refused to face the basic truth that our Christianity was somehow practically flawed. But at least one man understood what was going on–no doubt there were others, although they may have been few–and said so clearly during World War I. Nikolaj Velimirovic, a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church, spoke out clearly in 1917, in England. His lectures were collected in a short book entitled The Agony of the Church.
While few of us have heard of Velimirovic–I heard of him only in the last few years–he was highly respected in his own communion. In 2003, 47 years after his death in 1956, Velimirovic was declared a saint in the Serbian Orthodox Church. Today we will give a few of Velimirovic’s quotes regarding the church and the world war. The church, he said, is still living. Again, I will put my comments in brackets.
‘Yes, she is still living, although she looks dead. She is only sleeping. But Christ is standing beside her now, calling: “Rise, ye daughter! Talitha Cumi!”‘ [Mark 5:41]
“The first Christians were persecuted most fiercely by the exclusive Jewish patriots, as all good Christians always have been persecuted by exclusive patriots. For it is an essential characteristic of a true Christian not to be an exclusive patriot, exalting his own nation and despising all others.”
“Another enemy of the Church from the beginning was Imperialism.”
“The present cataclysm of Europe may show the world that no earthly king is destined for dominion over our planet, but Christ, the Heavenly King of souls.”
‘”The present time should be one of self-criticism. The European race now needs this self-criticism more than any other race, and the Christian Church needs it more than any other religion in the world, for before this War the European race set itself up as the critic of the defects and insufficiencies of all other races, and the Christian Church exalted herself over all other religions “as high as the heaven is exalted over the earth.”‘
“Europe is sick, and her Church is sick too. How can a wounded man be healed unless his wounds are unveiled? Europe’s soul is sick, therefore her body is so sorely suffering and bleeding. Well, Europe’s soul is nothing else than Europe’s religion, but the religion of Europe to-day is not Europe’s guide and lord, it is Europe’s most obedient servant.”
Velimirovic pointed out that the churches of Austria, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, France, Italy, Rumania, Belgium, Bulgaria, and his own Serbia, simply fell into line with the government line, never lifting a word of protest.
“The Churches are only the tools of Patriotism or Imperialism. Not one of the Churches has stated her standpoint as a different one from the standpoint of its respective Government. The Churches have simply adopted the standpoint of the Government. They seemed to have no standpoint of their own concerning this War between nations. As if the War were quite a surprisingly new event in history!”
“The Churches were not prepared to protest, they were prepared only to surrender to any temporal power. Therefore, they surrendered altogether, without making any effort, to Patriotism and Imperialism.”
“The present war is the result of the de-christianisation of Europe, and de-christianisation of Europe’s Church. The Church only is conscious of this fact and keeps silent. She has no courage to accuse because she has no courage to self-accuse.” [This may be too optimistic, however. One doubts that the church as a whole was conscious of the fact that the war was a result of de-christianisation. A few–Velimirovic and no doubt a handful of others, understood. But the church as a whole did not understand–and still does not. He is correct that the church has lacked the courage to self-accuse.]
“The poverty of European civilisation has been revealed by this war. The ugly nakedness of Europe has brought to shame all those who used to bow before Europe’s mask. It was a silken shining mask hiding the inner ugliness and poverty of Europe. The mask was called: culture, civilisation, progress, modernism. All was only vanitas vanitatum and povertas povertatum. When the soul fled away, what remained was empty, ugly and dangerous. When religion plunged into impotence, then:
“Science became a mask of pride. Art–a mask of vanity. Politics–a mask of selfishness. Laws–a mask of greediness. Theology–a mask of scepticism. Technical knowledge–a poor surrogate for spirituality. Journalism–a desperate surrogate for literature. Literature–a sick nostalgy and a nonsense, a dwarf-acrobacy. Civilisation–a pretext for imperialism. Fight for right–an atavistic formula of the primitive creeds. Morals–the most controversial matter. Individualism–the second name for egoism and egotism.
“Christ–a banished beggar looking for a shelter, while in the royal and pharisaic palaces lived: Machiavelli, the atheist; Napoleon, the atheist; Marx, the atheist; and Nietsche, the atheist, imperially ruling Europe’s rulers.”
“Europe had to live with Christianity, or to die in barbaric materialism and superstition without it. The way to death was chosen.”
“Being de-christianised, Europe still thought to be civilised. In reality, she was a poor valley full of dry bones.”
“The Church must first awaken out of her sleep and her European emptiness, and then Europe will come again to life. The Church has failed, not because she was not Europeanised, but just because she was too much Europeanised. Instead of inspiring Europe she was inspired by Europe, i.e. emptied by the empty Europe. The soul obeyed the body and became the body itself.”
“Europe has tried all the ways but the way of the Church, the European Church has tried all the ways but the way of Christ. Well, then, Europe must try the only way left, which is saintliness. The Church must give an example to Europe.”
“But which of the Churches ought to give this example for the salvation of Europe and of the world? Yours, if you like. Why not just your Anglican Church? But whichever undertakes to lead the way will be the most glorious Church. For she will lead the whole Church and through the Church Europe and through Europe the whole world to holiness and victory, to God and His Kingdom.”
A hundred and one years after Nikolaj Velimirovic gave his lectures in England, Europe has not learned. The U.S. has not learned. The church has not learned. Velimirovic spoke truths which seem clear and obvious, but almost no one has listened. Europe, and the de-Christianized West in general, seem bent on suicide. Must it be so? Another Serbian by birth, current political commentator Srdja Trifkovic, has said one or several times, that it will take a miracle for our civilization to be rescued and rejuvenated. Perhaps he is correct. But God can and sometimes does miracles. We can pray for a miracle, and we can, as Velimirovic told us last week, become the “divine wine” which a thirsty world so desperately needs.
Thank you, Nikolaj Velimirovic, for speaking important truths to us. Rest in peace.