Velimirović-Stepinac Controversy

Recently it seems like there has been a controversy in Serbia over the Roman Catholic cardinal Aloysius Stepinac (+1960), whose canonization process has been delayed due to some grievances expressed by Orthodox Serbian hierarchs to Rome. This led to the Roman Catholic archbishop of Belgrade, Stanislav Hočevar, remarking in a newspaper interview, “We know, for example, that even the Serbian public was not of a single mind about the canonization of bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, but he was nevertheless made a saint without deeper consideration of these complaints.” This, and perhaps some of his other comments made in the interview (which doesn’t seem to be able in full in English) provoked a reaction from Orthodox hierarchs.

The response of the Holy Synod of Serbia can be found in English here. In addition, I decided to translate, from a French translation of the Serbian, remarks made by the bishop of Valjevo. The notes in square brackets are from the French translator. I do not myself know enough to judge the situation (any suitable judge, of course, would need to know Serbian). I will say though that, for me, St. Nikolaj was a great writer and pious Christian, who seems to have been too taken in with certain ideas prevalent in his time (such as excessive Slavophilism, as well as anti-Semitism). It should be added, contrary to what Archbishop Hočevar said, that the Patriarch of Serbia in the 1990s, Pavle, did at first try to slow the canonization of Velimirović because he did not want his comments to be a source of controversy and excessive nationalism.

Following the declarations of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Belgrade, Stanislav Hočevar, concerning St. Nikolaj of Žiča, published in the Serbian daily newspaper “Politika”, Mgr. Milutin, bishop of Valjevo (the diocese containing the relics of the saint), has published the following communiqué:

“Little children, let us not love in words and with the tongue, but in actions and with truth” (1 John 3:18).

Profoundly affected by the attempt – which unfortunately is not the first – to place in doubt the figure and the works of the holy bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, we have the duty and necessity to express ourselves on this publicly. One week has already passed (which is amply sufficient to disavow or confirm what was said) since the Roman Catholic archbishop of Belgrade Stanislav Hočevar, in the interview accorded to the newspaper “Politika”, has, applying the method known as “inciting doubt” (without mentioning any facts), tried to diminish the holiness of the bishop Nikolaj Velimirović. The attempt was subtle, but as with every insinuation made in bad faith, it is sterile and a failure. Lacking all evidence to support his positions, Mgr. Hočevar thought up an interesting idea: why, in the difficulty off raising one [Cardinal Stepinac], do we not attempt to lower and contest the other [St. Nikolaj of Žiča]? This idea is not at all new, but is beneath the rank and the position of Mgr. the archbishop. We feel the necessity, as guardian of the relics of the holy bishop Nikolaj, to transmit the experience of his holiness and of his miracles. He was and will remain a luminary of theology, of the faith and of the life of the Orthodox Church and of the Serbian people. His ascetic life, his pastoral work, his confession of the faith, his sufferings and his love of neighbor do not need a “defense” or “proofs”. In particular, all that all that does not need a defense against affirmations made malevolently. The saints, as is well known, after their passage into the heavenly Kingdom, do not cease to accomplish works of love and of charity. The best example of this is the holy bishop Nikolaj and the good things that he accomplishes for those who venerate and glorify him. It clearly comes out in the interview of Mgr. Hočevar that he has not himself had the occasion (after his last declaration, the reason for it is evident) to come among the people of Valjevo and to observe whether or not there is a unanimity in the opinion of the Serbian people about the holy bishop Nikolaj. It would be sufficient for Mgr. Hočevar to only hear of the ceremony of the changing of the ornaments of the holy relics in 2013 or for him to see the affluence of people of God in the valley of Lelić to glorify the spiritual giant. The voice of the people of God is the best “commission” to give the seal of holiness, and the orthodox people of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church profoundly feel the full-of-grace magnetism of the bishop Nikolaj, glorifying him as “the bishop of all the people”. Also, no ounce of malevolent doubt can sully his holy life. On the contrary, such declarations and allegations seem only to incite us to guard even more the treasure that we have in the holy bishop Nikolaj and encourages us to prayer to attain his love and greatness. After all that has been said by Mgr. Hočevar, there remains an inevitable question: is his declaration in the spirit of dialogue, for which he lobbies so much? Is this an example of true and sincere love to which we are called? We deeply believe that this is not the case, as another modern-day saint, St. Justin of Ćelije teaches and warns us: “there is no truth without love, nor love without truth”. It is edifying on this occasion to recall the words of St. Justin concerning another great hierarch of our time, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky +1936), which we can very rightly apply to the holy bishop Nikolaj: “This luminous hierarch and divine sage is before us, and we after him. He is the guide, and we his disciples. He the great Orthodox hierarch in gentleness and humility, and we after him, small, miserable, dust and ashes.”

+Bishop Milutin of Valjevo


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