Nikolaј (Velimirović) (Serbian Cyrillic: Николај (Велимировић)) (December 23 1880 - March 5 1956 (Old Style); January 5 1881 - March 18 1956 (New Style)) was a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an influential theological writer (and political emigrant after the Communist takeover of Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia). He strongly supported the unity of all Orthodox churches and established particularly good relations with the Anglican and Episcopal Church.
As stated by the Archbishop John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco and the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, Nikolai Velimirović is one "of the great theological writers," and "for all the people of Orthodox religion he is an epitome for the Orthodox spiritual quality." Bishop Nikolaj (pronounced and often written Nikolai in English) is also a saint of the Orthodox Church, and considered by Orthodox Christians in America to be a North American saint because of his role in establishing Orthodox Christianity there.
Nikolaj Velimirović was born in the small village of Lelić in Western Serbia. He attended the Seminary of St. Sava in Belgrade and graduated in 1905. He obtained doctorates from the University of Berne (1908), while the thesis was published in German in 1910, whereas the doctor's degree in philosophy was prepared at Oxford and defended in Geneva (Filozofija Berklija - Berkeley's Philosophy, in French) in 1909. At the end of 1909 he entered a monastic order. In 1919, then Archimandrite Nikolai was consecrated Bishop of the Monastery Žiča of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
In April 1915 (during World War I) he was delegated to England and America by the Serbian Church, where he held numerous lectures, fighting for the union of the Serbs and South Slavic peoples. At the beginning of 1919 he returned to Serbia, and in 1920 was posted to the Ohrid archbishopric in Macedonia, where in 1935, in Bitola he reconstructed the cemetery of the fallen German soldiers from WWI.
During World War II in 1941 Bishop Nikolai was arrested by the Nazis in the Monastery of Žiča, after which he was confined in the Monastery of Ljubostinja. Later he was transferred to the Monastery of Vojlovica (near Pančevo) in which he was confined together with the Serbian patriarch, Gavrilo Dožić until the end of 1944.
On September 15, 1944 he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, together with Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo. Dachau was, at the time, the main concentration camp for priests arrested by the Nazis. Most of these (about 2500) were held in blocks 26 and 28. Both Velimirovic and Dozic were as 'special prisoners' (Ehrenhafling) given better treatment in the so-called Ehrenbunker. They were released by the Germans in December 1944. Together with Milan Nedic, the Serbian collaborationist PM, and German general Hermann Neubacher, the first Nazi mayor of Vienna (1938-1939), they travelled to Slovenia. From there, Velimirovic moved to Austria and then to UK from where he emigrated to the United States.
After the war he left Communist Yugoslavia and immigrated as a refugee to the United States in 1946 where he taught at several Orthodox Christian seminaries such as St. Sava's Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois and St. Tikhon's Seminary and Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania (where he was rector and also where he died) and St. Vladimir's Seminary now in Crestwood, New York (associated with Columbia University). He died on March 18, 1956.
On May 19, 2003, the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church recognized Bishop Nikolai (Velimirović) of Ohrid and Zicha as a saint and decided to enter him into the calendar of saints of Holy Orthodox Church (March 18 and May 13).
Although recently canonized as a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church, some of his writings are viewed as anti-semitic. In his "Through the Prison Window", he claimed that "democracy, strikes, socialism, atheism, tolerance to other faiths, pacifism, revolution, capitalism and communism" were all "brought on" by the Jews, or which is the same thing, "their father the Devil". He was puzzled why the Europeans showed so much tolerance to them and could not see through their "ploys". He also criticized European scientific achievements in the field of particle physics for being anti-Chrtistian and possibly introduced by Jews. Further, he criticized the "mania for cleanliness" as being introduced by the Jews. (Here he used an archaic pejorative term 'Civutin'). (Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic: Addresses to the Serbian People--Through the Prison Window. Himmelsthur, Germany: Serbian Orthodox Eparchy for Western Europe, 1985, pp. 161-162). Similar, although less violent remarks can be found in New Speeches under the Mountain, The Ohrid Prologue or Indian Letters.
Contrary to popular perception of Velimirovic as somebody who was actively engaged in saving Jews from Nazi-occupied Serbia, only one such action has any basis in history. Ela Trifunovic, born Neuheus, wrote to the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2001, claiming that she had spent 18 months hiding in Ljubostinja monastery where she was smuggled by Velimirovic, guarded and later helped move on with false papers.
In a speech in 1939, Velimirovic claimed that Serbs were of Arian race "by blood". In the same speech he talked of tribes of "poorer race and lower faith".(Speech for 550th Vidovdan, 28 June 1939 in Ravanica Monastery).
In a treatise on Saint Sava, he expressed his admiration for Hitler by comparing him to Saint Sava. He said that Saint Sava had already done for the Serbs what Hitler was doing for the Germans. (See "Nationalism of Saint Sava", in Collected Works of Nikolaj Velimirovic (Vladimir Maksimovic: Belgrade 1996), page 36.
Adolf Hitler decorated Nikolaj Velimirovic in 1935 for his contributions to the restoration of German military cemetery in Bitola in 1926. Contrary to some claims that the order was returned in protest at German aggression in 1941 (see letter 'Poveli ste se za mišljenjem Filipa Koena' in Danas, 27 July 2002), some of Velimirovic's supporters mentioned it as a way of pacifying Germans after Velimirovic's arrest.
In an interview given in the United States in 1953, Velimirovic claimed that he was the spiritual gray eminence behind the nationalist and collaborating extreme-right Zbor organization. The military arm of that organization (SDK - Srpski Dobrovoljacki Korpus - Serbian Volunteers' Corps) was fighting against both Partisans and Chetniks in WWII and was responsible for numerous civilian executions in Serbia of both Serbs and other nationals (Jews, Roma, etc.) When the leader of Zbor, Dimitrije Ljotic, got arrested in 1940 by old Yuogoslav government, Velimirovic wrote a letter to the PM, Dragisa Cvetkovic, protesting this. Velimirovic attended Ljotic's funeral in 1945 and spoke very positively of him even though it was already known that Ljotic was collaborating with the Germans. He spoke of Ljotic as of "ideologue of Serbian nationalism".
In spite of this, Velimirovic's other actions were more clearly directed against the Germans who got suspicious of him when he supported the coup in April 1941. They then suspected him of collaborating with the Chetniks and formally arrested him and kept him first in Ljubostinja Monastery and then in 1944 in Dachau concentration camp. It was here that the controversial "Through the Prison Window" was written. Contrary to claims that Velimirovic was under pressure, he had a privileged treatment, being located in Ehrenbunker, being allowed to wear his own religious clothes, having access to officer's canteen and not being subject to regular regime which other prisoners had to endure. Particularly important in this respect is the fact that he was never tortured and had access to officer's medical services. All of this was confirmed by witnesses whose testimonies were published by Serbian Orthodox Church in 1946. Contrary to the reports that Velimirovic was liberated when American 36th American division reached Dachau, both he and Patriarch Dozic were actually released in 1944. (Glasnik Srpske pravoslavne crkve - Serbian Orthodox Church Official Gazette, July 1946, p. 66-67). From Dachau, this venerated Serbian priest endorsed the Holocaust: “Europe is presently the main battlefield of the Jew and his father, the devil, against the heavenly Father and his only begotten Son… (Jews) first need to become legally equal with Christians in order to repress Christianity next, turn Christians into atheist, and step on their necks. All the modern European slogans have been made up by Jews, the crucifiers of Christ: democracy, strikes, socialism atheism, tolerance of all religions, pacifism, universal revolution, capitalism and communism… All this has been done with the intention to eliminate Christ… You should think about this, my Serbian brethren, and correspondingly correct your thoughts, desires and acts. (Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic: Addresses to the Serbian People–Through the Prison Window. Himmelsthur, Germany: Serbian Orthodox Eparchy for Western Europe, 1985, pp. 161-162).”