November 1, 2014

Did St. Nikolai Velimirovich Write Against Halloween?

St. Nikolai Velimirovich

By John Sanidopoulos

This question brings up many issues, so I'm going to explain the process of how I arrived at the answer in order to clarify some of these issues.

As every Halloween for the past five years, I received quite a bit of Halloween-hate mail from Halloween-haters due to what I have written and posted on Halloween, in which I expose the falsehoods many Orthodox Christians and non-Orthodox love to circulate around this holiday. Though I have a tendency to just ignore it all, this year something different happened. This year my annual Halloween-hate mail came with an attachment from an alleged essay written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich (sometimes spelled "Nikolaj Velimirovic") on the topic of Halloween. When I first saw it, I wondered, how could this possibly slip by me in my research? But as I began to read it, I noticed something very peculiar.

Five years ago I wrote an introductory essay regarding my views on Halloween, titled "Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact from Fiction". Since then I have expanded on this article in many posts. This is a subject I first wrote about in the seventh grade when I was 12 years old, and ever since then I have collected and read everything I possibly can on the subject. When I wrote my article five years ago, by then I had researched everything I could possibly find on the subject written by Orthodox Christians. I even looked on Serbian, Russian, Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian websites. Despite all my research, I had never come across anything written by an Orthodox saint on the subject, let alone St. Nikolai.

The closest I ever came across Halloween being even mentioned is an often circulated story relating to St. John Maximovitch, but this story has NOTHING to do with Halloween, despite the author of the story trying to make it like it does. Rather, it is clearly a story of St. John's justified disappointment in the people of his church for not attending the vigil of the first feast of the glorification of St. John of Kronstadt (according to the Julian Calendar). Halloween is attached to this story only because the members of his church were attending a Halloween dance instead, even in the same church as where the vigil was taking place. People treat this story as if St. John would not have been disappointed if the members of his church skipped out on the vigil for any other reason. This is hardly a critique of Halloween, and until today I never even bothered wasting my time responding to this and treating it as anything to do with Halloween in particular. If St. John did have an opinion about Halloween, we do not know what it was, nor should it even matter. Halloween as it is celebrated today has its origins in America, not Russia or Shanghai or even Western Europe, and if you didn't grow up with it then it is as meaningless as any other national or cultural holiday around the world you aren't attached to. The same could be said if St. Nikolai wrote the essay on Halloween, as many allege. But did he?

As I said, while reading the supposed essay by St. Nikolai, I noticed something peculiar. It basically rehashed everything taught about the holiday by modern day pagans, fundamentalist Protestant literature, and Catholic and Orthodox conservatives and extremists, whether they are written out of ignorance or not. And most of this literature was written after St. Nikolai's time, let alone the fact that it bore a close resemblance to other Orthodox literature on the subject.

Anyone who follows my website Mystagogy ( knows that I love St. Nikolai and have posted many things by him. Being aware of the liberal movement in Serbia against St. Nikolai and his canonization, I even posted something in St. Nikolai's defense titled "Response To Slanders Against St. Nikolai Velimirovich and St. Justin Popovich". St. Nikolai is often accused of being well treated while at Dachau concentration camp, but in reality just to be in a concentration camp is hard enough. My grandfather was also a prisoner at Dachau concentration camp, but he had certain privileges, perhaps like St. Nikolai whom he may have known, because when he was taken by Germans in Greece, it was for the sake of being an experienced electrician that he was brought to Dachau, which was a rare find those days by the Nazi's among their prisoners. But this experience at the concentration camp scarred my grandfather for life and he would even steal from the kitchen to feed less privileged prisoners and also helped a few prisoners escape from Dachau. Yet I am also aware of the unfortunate fact that after St. Nikolai left Dachau, he became more conservative in his views on certain matters, some things for the better, some things not for the better. For example, concerning the latter, he was intrigued with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Sometimes I joke and ask: "What do Adolf Hitler and St. Nikolai Velimirovich have in common? They both encouraged the reading of the Protocols." I know its a Debbie downer punchline, but the "joke" is meant to accentuate the fact how evil this text is, despite many sanctified Orthodox recommending it, yet they did so and continue to do so out of ignorance, which is why I don't believe it affects anyone's holiness, unless they are presented with the truth of its forgery and they continue to deny the truth about this text. Then it only reveals an adherence to an ideology foreign to Orthodoxy. I don't believe St. Nikolai was exposed to any literature proving the forgery of this text.

Having said this, I would not have been very surprised if I found St. Nikolai being negative towards Halloween, so I decided to look on Serbian websites to find out if this was a Serbian text I had never noticed before. Indeed, I found the text on many Serbian websites, but it was clear that they were translations of the English text I had, and none of them gave a source. Usually they were posted on sites negative towards the secularization and Americanization of Serbia, and Halloween is one of those holidays slowly becoming more popular there. I can understand when Orthodox are negative towards Halloween in other countries, because outside of the American context it hardly fits, and in reality all it becomes is an excuse to have a costume party at a local club or something along those lines, which is hardly what Halloween is about. Yet these Orthodox websites in Eastern Europe and Russia still use false propaganda to make their point, which is unfortunate and not the right way in approaching either Halloween or any other topic.

After coming up with no source to the article in either Serbian or English, I decided to find every website in English that posted this essay. There were only a few, but in my search I discovered something interesting which is what I initially found peculiar. A Serbian Orthodox Church in Hermitage, Pennsylvania decided to post not only this essay allegedly written by St. Nikolai, but also an old essay on Halloween by Archpriest Victor Potapov from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Washington D.C. When I wrote my original article in 2009 on Halloween, one of the main articles I was responding to was this article, and I even quote it in my article. And this is why St. Nikolai's alleged essay sounded so familiar. If you compare the two articles, they are almost verbatim identical. The main difference is that St. Nikolai's is written specifically for a Serbian American audience, while Fr. Victor's essay is written primarily for a Russian American audience. It became pretty clear at this point what happened: someone reworked the essay by Fr. Victor and Serbianized it, and they made it a forged document of St. Nikolai Velimirovich.

To prove my theory, I decided to email Fr. Victor last night about this confusion. Here is what I wrote:

Greetings Father Victor:

Yesterday I was sent an article supposedly written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich on the topic of Halloween. However, in researching its origins, I could not find a source, but I did notice that your article on Halloween is practically verbatim from the same article, yet you make no reference to St Nikolai. Personally I find it odd that you would not back up your article with the authority of a Saint, which makes me wonder as to its authenticity. So I was wondering if you could help clarify for me the following:

1. Did you borrow from St. Nikolai?

2. Did someone summarize and Serbanize your article and make it as if St Nikolai wrote it?

3. If St Nikolai did write it, do you know the source of origin?

Here is the link to St Nikolai's article:

Thank you very much for your help,

John Sanidopoulos

Early this morning, Fr. Victor kindly and promptly responded to my email, saying:

Dear John,

This was written by me over twenty years ago. Mystifies me how the great saint got involved. Not even sure he wrote on Halloween. Doesn't fit his style. This particular article has also been attributed to Archbishop Kirill of San Francisco.

These things happen. I worked at the Voice of America for many years doing religious broadcasting and often carried Archbishop John Shakhovskoy's wonderful little talk on the importance of doing little good works (don't remember verbatim the title). After a while I noticed that the exact same piece in Russia was attributed to the elder John Krestiankin. Go figure how that happened.

So I leave you with that.

A blessed St. John of Kronstadt day to you.

In XC,

Fr. Victor

Need I say more on this subject. The document allegedly written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich on the topic of Halloween is a forgery.

But how did this forgery begin. Was there ill intention, or was there confusion? In my research last night I think I discovered the answer. Towards the bottom of this link from the website of the St. Luke's Serbian Orthodox Mission in Toronto, Canada there is an article titled "HALLOWEEN". You will see that though the article is not given an author, on the page with the list of articles it appears that St. Nikolai of Zhicha could be its author if you don't look carefully at the structure of the page. This is where I believe the confusion originated.

If you see this article circulating anywhere that is falsely attributed to St. Nikolai Velimirovich, please inform whoever is distributing it about this confusion, and feel free to send them a copy of this article. And remember, when you share any text, make sure its author is in fact who it is attributed to.