Thursday, August 25, 2016

Exclusive, and Inclusive

These two writings of the modern Church Father Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča, should be read and appreciated together. I have reposted these many times before, but some things just cannot be heard enough. Truth is truth, but our ears and minds fall asleep between feedings of this heavenly food…


The primitive Church was very puritanic concerning the Christian spirit. She was not particular as to the vessels in which to pour the new wine, but she was extremely particular as to the wine itself. She borrowed the vessels in Judæa, Alexandria, Athens, Rome, but she never borrowed wine. The Christian spirit and the pagan spirit were just like two opposite poles, like white and black, or day and night. The Church was conscious of it, and jealously watchful that no drop of any foreign spirit should be mixed with the precious spirit of the New Gospel. There existed no thought of compromise, and no idea of inclusiveness whatever regarding the spirit. The terrific conflict of Christianity and Paganism through centuries sprang from the irreconcilability of two different spirits. Were the Church as inclusive as to the spirit as she was to forms, doctrines, customs and worships, conflicts never would arise—but then neither would Christianity arise.

The modern Church is particular as to its institutions, but not particular at all as to its spirit. The Roman Emperors never would persecute the modern Church, for they would easily recognise their own spirit included in her. Nor would the Pharaohs from Egypt persecute modern Christianity. Nor would Areopagus or Akropolis be puzzled so much had St Paul preached to them the modern European Christianity with its complicated spirit of all kinds of compromises with Heaven and Hell, compromise with the State, Plutocracy, Nationalism, Imperialism, Conquest, War, Diplomacy, Secular Philosophy, Secular Science, Agnostic Parliaments, Tribal Chauvinism, Education, Officialism, Bureaucracy, etc., etc. All these things have their own spirit, and every such spirit is partly or wholly included in the spirit of the Church, i.e. of modern Christianity. None of the Christian Churches of our time makes an exception as to this inclusiveness of all kinds of spirits. Even Protestantism, which claims the simplicity of its Christian ritual and administration, represents a lamentable mosaic of spirits gathered from all the pagan corners of secular Europe and mixed up with the Christian wine in the same barrel.

The Church of the East excommunicated thousands of those who crossed themselves with two fingers instead of using three fingers. The Church of the West burnt thousands of those who did not recognise the papal organisation of the Church as the only ark of salvation. Yet there is rarely to be found in the Church annals an excommunication on the ground of chauvinism or brutal egoism. No one of the world conquerors—neither Napoleon nor Kaiser William—have been excommunicated by the Church. It signifies an extreme decadence of the Church. And this decadence penetrates and dominates our own time. Speaking on the reunion of the Churches the peoples of the East are anxious to know, not whether the Church of the West has preserved the unmixed Christian spirit in its integrity, but whether this Church still keeps Filioque as a dogma, and whether she has ikons, and whether she allows eggs and milk in Lent. And the people of the West are anxious to know whether the Eastern Church has a screen quite different from their own screen at the altar, and whether she has been always tenaciously exclusive in teaching, worship and organisation. Who of us and of you asks about the integrity of the Christian spirit? If St Paul were amongst us he would ridicule our controversies on Filioque and all the trifles concerning Church organisation and the external expressions of Christianity. He would ask: What happened with the spirit he preached? What happened with this spirit which excommunicated de facto the Jewish narrow Patriotism and the Roman Imperialism? Have we still this exclusive spirit which moved the world effecting the greatest revolution in History? I am sure he would have to repeat with good reasons to every Church and to everyone of us: ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’

Well, we must come again to this source of Christian strength and greatness, which is Christ’s spirit. A new revival, yea, regeneration of Christianity, could be possible only in a united Christian Church; and the union of the Church is possible only upon the ground of the primitive Church, which was inclusive in teaching, worship and organisation, but exclusive in spirit. On the day when we all exclude from ourselves the Jewish and Greek and Roman spirit, and retain only the pure Christian spirit, we shall be at once ready to include each other’s Church into one body, into one Christianity. We must be clear about it, and we must confess that the divisions of the church are due to the invasion of a foreign spirit, an unclean spirit, into the Church. When the Church cleanses herself from this foreign unclean spirit she will be victorious over herself, and from this victory to the ultimate victory of Christianity over our planet will be a very short distance.


Judaism was destined for the people of Israel only. The Christian Church was destined for the people of Israel too, but not for them only. She included Greeks as well.

The Greek polytheism of Olympus was destined for the Hellenic race only. The Christian Church was destined for the Hellenic race too, but not for it only. She included Indians as well.

Buddha’s wisdom was offered to the monks and vegetarians. Monks and vegetarians the Christian Church included in her lap, but also married and social people too.

Pythagoras founded a religious society of intellectual aristocrats. The Christian Church from the beginning included intellectual aristocrats side by side with the ignorant and unlettered.

The Persian prophet, Zoroaster, recruited soldiers of the god of light among the best men to fight against the god of darkness. His religious institution was like a military barracks. The Christian Church included both the best and the worst, the righteous and the sinners, the healthy and the sick. It was a barracks and a hospital at the same time. It was an institution both for spiritual fighting and spiritual healing.

The Chinese sage, Confucius, preached a wonderful ethical pragmatism, and the profound thinker, Lao Tse, preached an all-embracing spiritualism. Christian wisdom included both of them, opening Heaven for the first and showing the dramatic importance of the physical world for the second.

Islam—yes, Islam—had in some sense a Christian ambition: to win the whole world. The difference was: Islam wished world-conquest; the Church, the world’s salvation. Islam intended to subdue all men and bring them before God as His servants: The Church intended to educate all men, to purify and elevate them, and to bring them before God as His children.

And all others: star-worshippers, and fire, and wood, and water, and stone, and animal-worshippers had a touching sense of the immediate divine presence in nature. The Church came not to extinguish this sense but to explain and to subordinate it; to put God in the place of demons and hope instead of fear.

The Church came not to destroy, but to purify, to aid and to assimilate. The destination of the Church was neither national nor racial, but cosmic. No exclusive power was ever destined to be a world-power.

The ultimate failure of Islam to become a world-power lies in its exclusiveness. It was with religion as with politics. Every exclusive policy is foredoomed to failure: the German as well as the Turkish and the Napoleonic.

The policy of the Church was designed by her Divine Founder: “He that is not against us is for us.” Well, there is no human race on earth wholly against Christ and wholly unprepared to receive Him. The wisdom of the Christian missionaries therefore is to see first in what ways Providence has prepared a soil for Christian seed; to see which of the Christian elements a race, or a religion, already possesses, and how to utilise these elements and weld them into Christianity. All that, in order to make Christianity grow organically, instead of pushing it mechanically.

In conclusion let me repeat again: the wisdom of the Church has been inclusive.

Inclusive was the wisdom of her Founder, inclusive the wisdom of her organisation and of her destination. Exclusiveness was the very sickness and weakness of the Church. That is why we in the East in the time of sickness of the Church looked neither towards Peter, nor Paul, nor John, but towards the Holy Wisdom, the all-healing and all-illuminating. For Aghia Sophia in Constantinople, the temple dedicated to Christ the Eternal, includes in itself the sanctuaries of Peter, Paul and John; moreover, it is supported even by some pillars of Diana’s temple from Ephesus and has many other things, in style or material, which belonged to the Paganism of old. Indeed, Aghia Sophia has room and heart even for Islam. The Mohamedans have been praising it as the best of their sanctuaries!

Look to the Holy Wisdom! Look beyond Peter, and Paul, and John—through them and still beyond them! Every Church has her prophet, her apostle, her angel. Look now over them all to the very top of the pyramid, where all the lines meet!

Either Christianity is one, or there is no Christianity.
Either the Church is universal, or there is no Church.

Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

No comments: