St. Nicholas of South Canaan
(St. Nicholas of Ochrid & Zicha)
Nikola Velimirovich was born into a large peasant family in Lelich, Serbia, on December 23, 1880. After completing studies at the local schools, he went on to attend the St. Sava Theological Seminary in Belgrade, graduating in 1902. He received the first of many doctoral degrees in 1909 from the Theological Faculty in Bern, Switzerland. That year, he returned to Serbia and was tonsured a monk at the Monastery of Rakovica, receiving the name Nicholas. Shortly thereafter, he was ordained a priest and joined the faculty at the St. Sava Seminary. Fr. Nicholas went to England during World War I, where he lectured at Oxford University and received a doctorate in philosophy. Returning to Serbia in 1919, he was elected bishop of the dioceses of Zica and Ochrid.
Bishop Nicholas came to America in 1921 and spent two years as a missionary, traveling extensively, establishing and administrating the Serbian Orthodox Diocese in the United States and Canada. He then returned to Serbia to care for the flocks of his own dioceses.
During World War II, the Nazis occupied Yugoslavia. They tortured and massacred hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians. Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo and Bishop Nicholas were sent to the infamous Dachau concentration camp. Bishop Nicholas, who was a spiritual man of prayer, remarked years later, “I tried the visualization of God’s presence. And as little as I succeeded, it helped me enormously to prevent me from sinning in freedom and from despairing in prison. If we kept the vision of the invisible God, we would be happier, wiser, and stronger in every walk of life.” Having survived the war, Bishop Nicholas was prevented from returning to Yugoslavia by the communists.
Bishop Nicholas returned to America in 1946 as a refugee. He settled down at St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. He taught courses and soon became head of the Seminary, while also earning three more doctorates. He taught his courses in English, a bold step at the time, which earned him the resentment of some of the other faculty members; but he insisted. When someone complained, he would reply, “You have learned and heard enough. It is time for the seminarians to learn something.” Bishop Nicholas also received and corresponded with many spiritual children. He was loved and respected, and people eagerly sought his wise and insightful spiritual counsel. He knew each one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Bishop Nicholas fell asleep in the Lord on March 18, 1956. The local diocese glorified him as a saint in 1987.
(Commemoration Date: March 18th)