Page 975 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
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aged since NaTO occupation?15 Where will the Serbian children receive their education?
Rising before dawn on my second day in Kosovo, our party gathered at the front gate of the Patriarchate of Peć, where we were to meet the italian KFOR unit that would take us on our pilgrimage to the holy places. Our first stop was the fourteenth-century monastery of Dečani, built by the as- cetic prince St. Stefan, whose relics rest in the main church. after the reign of Communism, the monastery had been all but abandoned. in 1991 a spiritual envoy was sent from the Black River Monastery (just north of the border in Ser- bia) by the man who today is the spiritual father of all Ko- sovo-Bishop artemije. Bishop artemije is a disciple of the great spiritual writer and theologian St. justin Popović, who was in turn a disciple of perhaps the Church’s greatest poet of the twentieth century, St. Nikolai Velimirović, who re- posed in the United States in 1956. Thus, Bishop artemije represents and embodies the spiritual lineage of erudite monastic leaders responsible for the Orthodox revival that began under Communism and is now budding flowers un- der the heat of war.
Since 1991 the revival at Dečani Monastery has been headed by its current abbot, Teodosije. Only thirty-nine years old. abbot Teodosije demonstrated the composure of an experienced spiritual general during and since the bombing of 1999. When the bombs began to fall and daily there began to be “shrapnel flying within the monastery courtyard,”theabbotgatheredallthemonks.Hetoldthem, “We don’t know what will happen in the future. everyone is free to leave until peace returns to Kosovo.” But all the brothers stood firm, choosing to live in the face of death rather than to abandon Serbia’s spiritual heartland. Then, within a few months, a new brother came, desiring to give his life to Christ in this place of sacrifice. One of the older monks told me that, when they saw this willingness for sacrifice in the new brother, it greatly strengthened them and confirmed their own choice to stay. Before long, five more brothers arrived, and to this day they continue to live in this spiritually thriving monastic brotherhood. Today there are thirty-one brothers. i asked, “But why stay here when you could just as easily go to a monastery in Serbia?” The answer i heard was, “Here we feel more zeal and fer- vor. To be rich and free is not good for monastic life, and we are a weak generation. There is also a very real ’remem- brance of death’ here. We also feel a strong call of patrio- tism, a good kind of patriotism. For us, this is jerusalem.” Within the walls of the monastery no one has ever been wounded from the bombings or shootings.
as we entered within the monastery walls, it was per- fectly silent. The beauty of the marble church captivated
15 Crucified Kosovo.
For all abandoned Homes
each one of us. entering the seven-hundred-year-old edi- fice dedicated to Christ the almighty, we found ourselves surrounded by the mystic gazes of the saints, masterfully depicted in the ancient Byzantine frescos and icons. The Liturgy had just begun. immediately i was invited by the brothers to stand on the kliros, where they welcomed me by having me read both the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer in english.
in addition to seeing the wealth of ancient Serbia’s cul- ture, i had desired, in however small a way, to show our support and appreciation of our brothers’ plight in Koso- vo. This i felt especially strongly because i was an ameri- can, born in the country which had dropped devastation from the air upon their most treasured land, and which had taken part in the media’s depiction of the Serbs as some kind of barbaric, bloodthirsty people. if only CNN had tele- cast what i saw at Dečani, i know that no honest american would have ever supported what NaTO did there.
immediately following the conclusion of the Liturgy, i was blessed to meet the abbot and was taken by the monk who was the main chanter to see the iconography work- shop. Before me i saw numerous copies of an icon of the Mother of God that looked very familiar. Suddenly i real- ized why it was so familiar. We had placed a print of this very icon as one of the two main icons on the iconostasis in our monastery chapel in alaska. Upon asking my guide, Fr. ar- senije, who was in the process of painting these icons, exactly which icon this was, he simply replied, “The Dečani Moth- er of God.” Then it all made sense, and i realized that un- knowingly there had already been formed a bond of broth- erhood between us. Nations at war but brothers in soul.
Leaving Dečani, i marveled-both at the beauty of the fourteenth-century church with its classic Byzantine ico- nography and at the contrast of the setting. Outside the front gate the monks stood next to a fleet of tanks, discuss- ing the daily business with the italian soldiers. Half a mile down the road it is impossible for an Orthodox Christian to show his face in public. Throughout Kosovo and Meto- hija lies the rubble of destroyed churches, but here the glory of Byzantium and the silent prayer of ancient ascetics lives on. Here is the eye of the storm-a bubble of peace within the surrounding chaos. But this image that i beheld was only the surface. Later i would more fully realize the scope of the work of the monks of Dečani. Truly, they are the spiritual “Special Forces” of Kosovo.
entering again our armored KFOR vehicle, we descended into the urban jungle of Djakovica. Here, behind a sand- bagged entrance and barbed wire walls, live six elderly wom- en who bear witness to Christ’s presence on earth. Coura- geously they are standing at their post of the parish church in this now entirely albanian city. There are literally no Serbs left besides them. i cannot adequately put into words

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