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October 15, 2012

The Repetitious Character of Orthodoxy

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

In no other Churches are there so many repetitions, in no other so many symbols, as in the Orthodox Church. The whole worship is a continual repetition for thousands of years. In Byzantium was fixed the image of Christ, His mission, His worship. The whole system of belief and worship came, fixed and accomplished, over to us Slavs. To keep that system intact forever was the first duty taught us by those who brought it. Its tendency was to impress the image of Christ in the imagination and heart of the generations as much as possible and always in the same way.

We are living in a world of evil; Christ is leader of the struggle against this evil. Men lived thousands of years wavering between good and evil, worshiping good and evil. Now they must be for good. They are educated and accustomed to weighing things for themselves. Therefore it has become necessary to ask them every day, every hour even, to confess that they are with Christ. They must repeat it again and again, in prayers, in signs, in symbols, until it becomes a new custom, a new education, a new blood and spirit, a new man, a new earth. They must be reminded in every place and at all times that they are soldiers of Christ and not of Perun. Churches, shrines, chapels, icons, candles, processions, priests, bells, monasteries, travelling preachers, every day's saints, fast seasons — everything is the repetition of the same idea, namely, that Christ is the ruler of life and we are His followers. Christ must be expressed everywhere, indoors and outdoors.

Many Englishmen have remarked that the Bible is read very seldom in the home in Russia and Serbia. That is true. People read the Bible more in symbols, pictures and signs, in music and prayers, than in the Book. Our religion is not a book religion, not even a learned religion. It is a dramatic mystery. The Bible contains the words, but in this dramatic mystery there is something higher and deeper than words. Slav Christianity is something greater than the Bible. Looking at an icon, a Russian mujik perceives the Bible incarnated in a saint's life-drama. Mystery of sin, mystery of atonement, mystery of heroic suffering, mystery of the daily presence of Christ among us in holy wine, in holy bread, in holy water, in holy word, in holy deed, in every sanctified substance, even in matter as in spirit, mystery of communion of sins and of virtues — all are recorded once in the Bible, and all are recorded and repeated also in our daily life — that is what we call our Slav Orthodoxy. We take the mystic outlines of the Bible and do not care about the details. In those mystic outlines we put our daily life, with its details of sins and sufferings. We conceive the Christian religion neither so juristic as the Roman Catholics, nor so scientific as the Protestants, nor even so reasonable and practical as the Anglicans, but we conceive it rather as dramatic.

From The Religious Spirit of the Slavs (1916)