Jun 11, 2024

Nicolai Velimirovic


Today’s prayer took me back to a 2023 Super Bowl ad. For real! A series of black and white photos of violent confrontations flashed on the screen, accompanied by the song “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man. At the end of this mysterious sixty-second ad, the words, “Jesus loves the people we hate,” appeared as its conclusion. If you can remember back that far, Super Bowl viewers ranked it the second most engaging ad of the 51 commercials shown during the Chiefs-Eagles game. The ad provoked lively conversation, pros and cons, about its message and the group that sponsored it.
In his sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbors’ and hate your enemies. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for them who persecute you” (Mt. 5.43-45). There is nothing about this teaching that is particularly hard to understand. What’s difficult is how hard it is to put into practice. We need Jesus’ help in loving people who have wronged or mistreated us.

Nicolai Velimirovic (1881-1956) was a Serbian Orthodox bishop arrested by the Nazis after they took control of the former Yugoslavia in World War II. They banished Nicolai and another Serbian priest to the Dachau concentration camp. He survived the ordeal and spent the remaining ten years of his life in America to support Serbian Orthodox churches. Earlier in his life, while Nicolai was living in a Serbian monastery overlooking Lake Ochrid, he composed a hundred prayers for devotional use. One of his prayers is about loving our enemies:

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 loosened 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 un-hunted 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…

Nicolai Velimirovic, Prayers by the Lake, published by the Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate of New Gracanica, 1999.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.