The Agony of the Church (1917)
by Nikolaj Velimirovic
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As you cannot imagine Arabic civilisation in Spain without Islam, or India's civilisation without Hinduism, or Rome without the Roman Pantheon, so you cannot imagine Europe's civilisation without Christ. Yet some people thought that Christ was not so essentially needed for Europe, and behaved accordingly without Him or against Him. Christ was Europe's God. When this God was banished (from politics, art, science, social life, business, education), everybody consequently asked for a God, and everybody thought himself to be a god, and in truth there it failed, not on theories in Europe proclaiming, openly or disguisedly, everyone a god. So the godless Europe became full of gods!

Being de-christianised, Europe still thought to be civilised. In reality she was a poor valley full of dry bones. The only thing she had to boast of was her material power. By material power only she impressed and frightened the unchristian (but not antichristian) countries of Central and Eastern Asia, and depraved the rustic tribes in Africa and elsewhere. She went to conquer not by God or for God, but by material power and for material pleasure. Her spirituality did not astonish any of the peoples on earth. Her materialism astonished all of them. Her inner poverty was seen by India, China, Japan, and partly by Russia. What an amazing poverty! She gained the whole world, and when she looked inside herself she could not find her soul. Where has fled Europe's soul? The present war will give the answer. It is not a war to destroy the world but to show Europe's poverty and to bring back her soul. It will last—this war—as long as Europe remains soulless, Godless, Christless. It will stop when Europe gets the vision of her soul, her only God, her only wealth.


The Church must first awaken out of her sleep and her European emptiness, and then Europe will come again to life. The Church has failed, not because she was not Europeanised, but just because she was too much Europeanised. Instead of inspiring Europe she was inspired by Europe, i.e. emptied by the empty Europe. The soul obeyed the body and became the body itself. All the secular watchwords entered the Church and the Church watchwords were eclipsed. Liberalism, conservatism, ceremonialism, right, nationalism, imperialism, law, democracy, autocracy, republicanism, socialism, scientific criticism, and similar things have filled the Christian theology, Christian service, Christian pulpits as the Christian Gospel. In reality the Christian gospel has been as different from all these worldly ideas and temporal forms as heaven is different from earth. For all these ideas or forms were earthly, bodily, dustly—a convulsive attempt to change unhappiness for happiness through the changing of institutions. The Church ought to have been indifferent towards them, pointing always her principal idea, embodied in Christ. And her principal idea meant never a change of external things, of institutions, but a change of spirit. All the ideas named were secular precepts to cure the world's evil, the very poor drugs to heal the sick Europe outside of the Church and without the Church.

Yet the Church only possessed the true remedy, although she became forgetful of it, because she herself got sick, and instead of giving the world the necessary remedy she looked about to take it from the world. Weakened in her position in the world and forgetful of her external value, the Church, or some parts or parties of the Church, made even coquetry with the current and transitory potencies in order to make her position stronger. Yet the fact stood in history as big as a mountain that the Church always failed when making concessions of her spirit to any temporary power, and when not making concessions as to the visible forms and transitory shapes of human societies.

Neither Ritualism nor Liberalism helps anything without the true Christian spirit. The modern Ritualism and Liberalism are absolutely equally worthless from the Christian point of view, being so hostile to each other as they are, filled with the unclean spirit of hatred, unforgiveness, despising and even persecuting each other. They are equally unchristian and even antichristian. Measured by the mildest measure they are a new edition of the Judaistic Pharisaism and Sadduceeism. The Ritualists cling to their ritual, the Liberals cling to their protest against the Ritualists. But the true spirit by which both of them move and act and write and speak is the unclean spirit of hatred and despite of each other, the very spirit which excludes them both from communion with Christ and the saints. The Church has been equally de-christianised by Ritualists and Liberals, by Conservatives and Modernists, by bowers and by talkers. The Church must be now re-christianised amongst all of them and through all of them.

Let the Church be the Church, i.e. the community of the saints. Let the world know that the Church's mission on earth is not to accumulate wealth, or to gain political power or knowledge, or to cling to this institution or to that, but to cleanse mankind from its unclean, evil spirits, and to fill it with the spirit of saintliness. Let the Church first change her spirit and then urge the whole of mankind to change theirs.

Let the Ritualists know that however devout they might be, still they can call the Protestants their brothers. The most devout have been often killers of their neighbours and killers of Christ.

Let the learned doctors of Protestantism think that however learned they might be, still they are foolish and ignorant enough to be self-satisfied. It is doubtful whether the most elaborate sermon of a Protestant doctor smells more beautifully than incense. The most learned theologians in Germany and elsewhere have whole-heartedly supported the criminal enterprise of the warlike and criminal scientia militans. The deepest learning and the meanest spirit have often shown in history a very brotherly alliance. Christianity is not that.

Let the Pope be congratulated for his tenacious keeping of the idea of Theocracy. But let him consider this idea only as the starting-point in the social science of the Church. His Theocracy has been refused because it was not at the same time Christocracy and Sanctocracy. The saints in Christ are alone infallible. Let the Vatican be filled with saints, and infallibility then will not need to be preached and ordered but only to be silently shown. Nobody believes infallibility upon authority, but everyone will accept it upon Saintliness.

The way of authority is a fallible way.

The way of knowledge is quite as fallible.

But the way of saintliness is infallible.

Every spirit is fallible but the spirit of saintless. The Church is infallible not by any talisman but by her saintliness. The Bishop of Rome or of Canterbury will be infallible only if they are saints. The saints are detached from everything and attached to Christ, so that Christ incarnates His spirit in them. Not we, but Christ in us, is infallible.

Let the people of the Eastern Church stick to their Christian ideal of saintliness. Their interpretation of the Christian spirit may be the best and truest. Yet the ideal must become flesh. Let them not be proud of their not having pride, and exclusive because God chose them to understand the bottomless deepness of the esoteric Christianity. By pride towards the proud and by exclusiveness they may spoil and darken their ideals and remain in the dark.

Let all the Churches feel their unity in the ideal spirit of saintliness. But if that is difficult for them, let them first feel their unity in sinfulness, in committed sins and crimes, in their nakedness and poverty. Just to start with, this first step seems absolutely necessary. Never any great saint became saintly unless he first thought himself equal in impurity and sinfulness with all other human beings. The Churches must go the way of the saints. Their way is the only infallible one.


When you deeply search in history about the causes of the strength of the primitive Church and of the weakness and decay of the modern Church, you will come to a very clear and simple conclusion.

1. The primitive Church was inclusive as to its forms, but exclusive as to its spirit.

2. The modern Church has been exclusive as to its forms, but inclusive as to its spirit.

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 Judaea, 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.


How can the church get her past strength again and triumph over the evil inside and outside her walls?

If she were united she could get it by waiting for the ruin of Europe—i.e. of a house which is divided in itself—which is not very far off. But she the Church—is divided too. She is fighting with and for the European parties, and against herself. Consequently, in waiting for the ruin of Europe she is waiting for her own ruin. Therefore she must make up her mind lest it is too late. Horribile dictu—she must start a dramatic movement in order to get her soul back.

First of all she must become again a heresy towards Europe and European secular, antidivine civilisation, just as she was a heresy towards the theocratic Israel and semi-theocratic Greece and Rome. Theoretically, she must stick to Theocracy, historically, to Christocracy, and practically to Sanctocracy. She must loose herself from all the chains binding her either to the chariot of any dynasty or of any oligarch or president, or whatever political denomination it may be, and insist upon the Holy Wisdom to lead humanity. It ought to be absolutely indifferent to the Church what political denomination, or social creed, or institutional shape a human society shall have as long as this is founded upon any other ideal but saintliness. The Church ought to know only two denominations—politics and social life, inter-human as well as international and inter racial-racial relations in trade and business, in education and family life—i.e. saintliness and unsaintliness. If you ask what saintliness ought to mean, Christianity has not to argue but to show you the saintliness in the flesh. Christ the saintly Lord, St Paul and St John, Polycarp and Leo, Patrick and Francis, Sergius and Zosim, St Theresa and hundreds of other saints. And if somebody thinks still that a few thousands of Christian saints are not a sufficient argument to show that saintliness is practicable, then the Church has still not to give her ideal up and to take as her ideal thousands of great and small Napoleons and Bismarcks, and Goethes and Spencers, or Medics and Cromwells or Kaisers and Kings—no, in the latter case it would be much nicer for the Church to point out the saintly men outside of Christian walls, like St Hermes and St Pythagoras, or St Krishna and St Buddha, or St Lao-Tse and St Confucius, or St Zoroaster and St Abu-Bekr. Better even is unbaptised saintliness than baptised earthliness.

Saintliness includes goodness and sacrifice, and excludes all the earthly impure spirits of selfishness, pride, quarrels and conquests. Therefore, when the Church returns to her fundamental ideal, she will return to her elementary simplicity in which she was so powerful as to move mountains and empires and hearts at the beginning of her history. That is what the world needs now just as much as it needs air and light, i.e. an elementary spiritual power by which it could be moved, cleared up, purified and brought out of its chaos to a solid and beautiful construction.


Europe has been eclipsed because her Church—her soul—has been eclipsed; the Church has been eclipsed because her principal ideal has been eclipsed. The principal ideal of the Church is saintliness. This ideal, plunged down into darkness like a sun into ashes, must come out again to illuminate the Church and Europe. Europe has tried all the ways but the way of the Church, the European Church has tried all the ways but the way of Christ. Well, then, Europe must try the only way left, which is saintliness. The Church must give an example to Europe.

Europe has been materialistic, heroic, scientific, imperialistic, technical, secular. At last she has to be holy. Whatever she has been, she has been unhappy and restless, and brutal and criminal, unjust and gluttonous. Soldiers and traders, despots and robbers, popes and kings, gluttons and harlots, have ruled Europe, but not yet the saints, the holy wizards. The Church's duty has been to provide Europe with such holy wizards. She has failed because she has been obscured by Europe, as a fine soul often is obscured by a heavy and greedy body. The body, one thought, the soul, another, until their thought became one and the same, i.e. the bodily thought. Now, after a bitter experience, the soul must come to its rights. Europe and Europe's Church have not henceforth to think two different thoughts, but one and the same, and this one thought has not to be a bodily one but a spiritual one. The aim of the Church as well as of Europe has to be God, Christ, saintliness. If this thing is given to the Church and Europe, everything else will be easily given. A Holy Church in Holy Europe!

A holy Europe only can be a missionary Europe. No other mission has Europe on other continents but a Christian one. It was an illusion to speak about Europe's mission in the wide world without Christ. Well, but only a Christlike people can be a missionary of Christ. How could an unholy Europe preach the Holy One?

Do you think that the Arabs, who gave Europe knowledge, are expecting from Europe knowledge? No, they expect Europe's goodwill.

Or do you think that India, whose history is a history of saints, is anxious to accept German materialistic science, individual philosophy, and a destructive and shallow theology? No, they expect from Europe more saintliness than they have had in their history. And that is just very difficult for Europe to give them.

Or do you think that Chino-Japanese civilisation has anything worth mentioning to borrow from Europe but Christian ideals? No, nothing that could make them happier than they have been.

Well then, let Europe kill her pride and self-conceit in this war and become humble and meek. The Church ought to give an example to secular Europe: an example of humility, goodness, sacrifice—saintliness.

But which of the Churches ought to give this example for the salvation of Europe and of the world? Yours, if you like. Why not just your Anglican Church? But whichever undertakes to lead the way will be the most glorious Church. For she will lead the whole Church and through the Church Europe and through Europe the whole world to holiness and victory, to God and His Kingdom.


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