Friday, January 8, 2010

St. Nikolai Velimirovich on Faith/Works


Prayers by the Lake LXXXIII

People carry on foolish conversations as soon as they move away from Your presence, my Wisdom. Those without faith speak about works, and those without works speak about faith.

Each disparages what he does not have, and what he does have he proclaims throughout the marketplace.

While You, O Lord, are filling my home with Your life-creating breath, I always forget to ask which is more important -- faith or works? As soon as I offend You and feel abandoned by You, I angrily enter into people's discussions, and support one side or the other.

For without You I am like a weather vane on a chimney that rattles in the direction of the wind. When the wind of faith rises in my soul, I stand with those who have abandoned works and championed faith; when the wind of activity rises in my soul, I support the side of those who have abandoned faith and championed works.

But in Your all-calming presence there is no wind, no swaying, no "doing things." I neither feel faith nor see works; instead I feel and see only You, the living God. In truth, You are not my faith but my vision. And You are not my doing, but I am Your doing. And again I say: You are not my faith but I am Your faith, and Your trust.

And so I teach those around me who are carrying on the debate: whoever has true faith in the Living God prefers to remain silent. And whoever performs a true work of God, prefers to remain silent. But whoever shuts up his faith with his mind, gladly squabbles about faith. And whoever does his own work and not God's gladly boasts of his works.

Deep is the tranquility of the soul in a man of faith, deeper than the tranquility at the bottom of the sea. For God's Wisdom is born and resides in deep tranquility.

Deep is the tranquility in the tongue of one who does God's work, deeper than the tranquility of the iron in the heart of a mountain. For whoever does the work of another listens to instructions and carries them out, moreover he listens, and has no time to speak.

I speak believing in works: Is not my prayer a working and reworking of my very self? Is not the whole world within me, from beginning to end, together with all the world's poverty and impurity? Truly I am not without works, when I sweat and weep in prayer, but am immersed in the weighty task of helping the poor in my soul -- healing the sick and casting out the unclean spirits from my soul.

I speak believing in faith: Do I not awaken faith in my neighbors through the good works that I do?

Is not my work in the world the song of my faith, the psalm of one saved among the unsaved? Who would stop the song in the throat of a brimming soul? Who would stop a brimming spring from flowing? Would the nymphs who guard the spring quarrel with the nymphs in the spring's stream over which water is more beneficial? Truly, if there were no spring, there would be no stream.

O my Lord, do not go far away from me, lest my soul succumb to meaningless quarrels. Silence in Your presence expands my soul; discussions in Your absence shrink her and expend her to the thinness of a boon of flax.

I listened last time to the people squabbling, and You waved your hands and went far away. Indeed, those who truly have faith do not squabble with those who are true doers of Your work. This is the quarrel of servants with little faith and much ill will. Those who are of little faith squabble with the errand boys of the world. They are a dried-up spring quarrelling with a dried-out stream.

While they were full, they both used to sing a true song of joy, and joyfully used to hail each other.

But this is a malicious believer quarrelling with a malicious doer. What do I have in common with them? What ties me to them except compassion, which flows forth from Your radiance?

Fill the house of my soul, O Life-Creating Spirit, so that I may become blind and not see angry squabbling people, and so that I may be deaf to their foolish discussion.

They have slipped away from You, my Joy, therefore they engage in foolish discussions.

I bow down and beseech You, tie my soul across the thousands of sunbeams to You, lest she slip away from You, and plunge into the cold abyss.


1. A fierce debate arose in Western Christendom at the time of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century regarding faith vs. works and their relative role in the justification and salvation of man. Martin Luther held that justification (the act whereby God, in virtue of the Sacrifice of Christ, acquits a man of punishment due to his sins and in His mercy treats him as though he were righteous) was granted to men in response to the disposition of faith alone and that it brought with it the imputation to the sinner of the merits of Christ. This was in contradistinction to the emphasis by the Roman catholic Church on the role of one's own good works and personal sanctification in his justification and salvation by God. Bishop Nikolai, like the Orthodox Church in general, regards this debate between Catholicism and Protestantism as nugatory hair-splitting although he would agree with the apostle James that "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:18) and that faith is evidenced by works, and works by faith (cf. James 2:14-26).


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