In a special statement issued on May 19, 2003 during the annual Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the hierarchs issued a statement announcing the canonization of the late Bishop Nicholai [Velimirovic] of Ochrid and Zicha.
“News of the impending canonization was received by the Orthodox Church in America with joy, as Bishop Nicholai had served as Dean of Saint Tikhon Seminary, South Canaan, PA while he lived and ministered in the US,” according to the Very Rev. John Matusiak, OCA Communications Director.
The complete text of the statement reads as follows.
“The Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church today, May 19, with one heart and one voice unanimously decided to enter Bishop Nicholai [Velimirovic] of Ohrid and Zicha into the calendar of saints of our Holy Orthodox Church. By this canonization the Holy Assembly in fact joyously confirms the widespread and generally agreed upon consciousness of his holiness among the people of God, not only in our own local church, but in all the other local churches as well.”
“The dates for the liturgical commemoration and feast days of this Holy Hierarch are set as the day of his blessed falling asleep in the Lord, March 5/18, and the day of the translation of his holy relics from America to Serbia, April 20/May 3.”
“The festal Hierarchical Liturgy with all the members of the Holy Assembly participating in honor of the newly-proclaimed Saint Nicholai of Ohrid and Zicha will be held on the feast of the Holy Equals to the Apostles Cyril and Methodius, the Enlighteners of the Slavs, on May 11/23, 2003 in the Memorial Church of Saint Sava on Vracar in Belgrade.”
Saint Nicholai was born in 1881, one of nine children of Dragomir and Katarina Velimirovic, in the small village of Lelic. After completing his theological studies, he received a scholarship to study at the University in Bern, Switzerland, from which he received a doctorate. After graduation, he continued his studies at Oxford University.
After he returned to Serbia, he entered the Rakovica Monastery near Belgrade in December 1909 and received the monastic tonsure with the name Nicholai. Shortly thereafter, he pursued further studies at the Petersburg Theological Academy, Petersburg, Russia. In 1915, at the beginning of the World War I, he was sent to England and the US, where he visited many churches, monasteries, and other institutions. In March 1919, while he was still in England, he was elected to the episcopacy and appointed to head the Diocese of Ohrid. A great missionary and evangelist, he traveled throughout his diocese and beyond, rebuilt many churches and monasteries destroyed in war, and established orphanages for abandoned children.
In 1934, Bishop Nicholai was reassigned to Zica and initiated reconstruction of the Zica Monastery and many other monasteries. When the Germans occupied the country, police and military forces arrested Bishop Nicholai on July 12, 1941. He was imprisoned in the Ljubostinja Monastery until December 3, 1942, when he was sent to Vojlovac with the former Bishop of Zica, Vasilije, and his nephew, Jovan Velimirovic. In 1944, he and Patriarch Gavrilo were taken to the infamous Dachau concentration camp, from which they were released and sent to Slovenia.
After the war, Bishop Nicholai did not wish to return to Serbia, feeling that he was being called to help his people from abroad. “When a house burns, put out the fire from the outside,” he used to say. After arriving in the US, he offered much assistance to the Serbian Church. For several years, he lived at Saint Tikhon Monastery, South Canaan, PA, where he served as Dean of Saint Tikhon Seminary.
Bishop Nicholai’s writings on a wide variety of theological subjects, especially his renown “Prologue from Ochrid,” have been translated into numerous languages.
Bishop Nicholai died on March 18, 1956 at Saint Tikhon Monastery and was buried at Saint Sava Monastery, Libertyville, IL. In 1991, his remains were transferred to Serbia and enshrined in the Lelic Monastery.