January 7, 2004. god.

ERP KiM Newsletter 07-01-04

Bishop Artemije, Serbia wasted its opportunities in XX century

exclusive Christmas interview of Bishop Artemije to the "Danas" daily

www.danas.co.yu/20040106/vikend1.html#0  - Serbian version

Bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) of Raska and Prizren speaks with "Danas" on the occasion of the Nativity of Christ

The very awareness of the arrival of the Son of God on Earth gives hope that we have reason to live
 

 

Bishop Artemije: Yes, we would cooperate even with radicals because they will be in power, if they form the government, according to the will of the people.

Bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) of Raska and Prizren assumed the throne of the diocese after the Serbian Patriarch Pavle more than 12 years ago, and with it all the weight of "the cross of crucified Kosovo and Metohija". Born in Lelic, also the origin of the Holy Bishop Nikolaj (Velimirovic), who was canonized in 2003, as one of the spiritual children of Archimandrite Justin (Popovic), Bishop Artemije (1935) says that he is "striving to keep what he learned indirectly from Bishop Nikolaj and directly from Father Justin in his life and apply their principles and views because they are those of the holy fathers".
 

I am not a leader of a sect
 

Doesn't the very term "heretic" bar any type of dialogue?

"If you cannot tell him the truth, then there is no dialogue."

Is it because of such strict views on your part that some bishops say that "if it was up to them and they were the patriarchs, you and the Diocese of Raska and Prizren would be proclaimed a sect"?

"Everyone has a right to think and interpret both my actions and my opinion, just as I have a right to have a position toward the actions and views of others. Whether that could be proclaimed a sect is, I think, an exaggeration and has no canonic basis."

Support to the restoration of Monarchy
 

Many people are upset with the Serbian Orthodox Church for open involvement in political issues due to its support for a restoration of the monarchy in Serbia.

"That is only proof that the position of the Church is the right word at the right time. We did not expect all political factors to support the initiative of the Church and the desire of the people for a restoration of the Crown because we know that for 60 years our people and state have lived without a king and a monarchy. If we take into account that during this period the people have not heard a single positive word about the monarchy, it is no wonder that the letter of His Holiness the Patriarch raised a storm. The wonder is that despite 60 years of poisoning the idea and the institution it still has, I will not cite percentages, but more supporters among the Serbian people than any political party that participated in the recent elections."

Is it the Church that should launch the issue of the restoration of the monarchy or is that the job of political forces?

"The Church has always been on the side of the people and with the people when all state institutions collapsed and lost the ability to lead the people. The Church has accepted this role for itself during the time of our enslavement, during the times of war, and now in Kosovo. It would have been illusory to continue to wait for any politician to do this, except for Mr. Vuk Draskovic, who advocated the restoration of the monarchy even earlier. Everyone else wants to be the one sitting on the Serbian throne, primarily out of the desire for personal power. That is why the reaction to the initiative to restore the monarchy is what it is. We are not surprised by this. We will let time take its due course. It does not snow, as the folk saying goes, to kill the world but so each creature can leave its tracks. Let everyone say what he thinks and wants, in the end the people will decide."

 

Shame for the DOS
 

Has the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) lived up to its promises and the expectations of the Church?

"It has not lived up to the expectations of the entire people, not only the Church. That is why there was a crisis in the government and early parliamentary elections. There were a lot of arguments and personal interests in DOS. I am not making an analysis or calling anyone to account but there was a lot of pettiness and shamefulness in DOS."

Why did the Church not comment at all this time on the eve of the elections, not even after a statement by Tomislav Nikolic, the vice president of the Serbian Radical Party, regarding an alleged statement by Bishop Filaret of Milesevo "that the Serbian Orthodox Church supports the Radicals but does not want to make a public statement". Does the Church really support the Radicals?

"No. They may have the support of one man, perhaps even a bishop, but not the Church. The Church has not expressed support of any individual party representative. I think that it is good that the Church did not comment at all this time but simply left the parties to fight for their own seats in parliament. The Church will cooperate with whoever wins in the elections as the legitimate representatives of the people and the government. I hope that this cooperation will be of mutual benefit, no matter who it is."

"Even when I was accused of being involved in politics by the members of the former but also of the current regime, as well as by some others, I always replied that I am not involved in politics. What I am doing is not politics but concern and national work for the good of the people and the Church. I have no political goals but I have a great interest in helping my people so that Serbia remains in Kosovo and Metohija," emphasizes Bishop Artemije in a Christmas interview for "Danas" in which he talks about the Kosovo problem, the spiritual condition of the Serbian people on the eve of the 200 year anniversary celebration of the modern Serbian state, the Church and politics, and cooperation with other churches.

Even though Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija have already lived for four and a half years since the introduction of an international protectorate "without safety, freedom of movement, the right to work, exposed to attacks, robbery and murder", Bishop Artemije says that they "await the holiday of the Nativity of Christ with joy".

"Christmas is a holiday of joy for all Orthodox Christians, including the remaining Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as those who were forced to flee from it. Regardless of the conditions in which we live and the suffering through which we are passing, Christmas is, nonetheless, the day of hope, a message of peace and goodwill among men as announced by the angels during the night in Bethlehem in the song "Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men (KJV: Lk 2:14)". Thus, despite the fact that the situation in Kosovo and Metohija is nowhere near where it should be and could be four and a half years after the end of the war, I hope that the Serbs who still live there will welcome Christmas and celebrate it joyously. In places where there is a living church, a priest or a monastery nearby that joy will be even more fulfilled. In many villages and homes the celebration of Christmas will be limited to folk customs accompanying this holy day and, of course, inner joy. The very awareness of the arrival of the Son of God on Earth is something that brings joy and encouragement, and gives hope that we have reason to live and something to hope for during this life on Earth."

In addition to the international community which is primarily responsible for the conditions in which Serbs in Kosovo are living, to what extent are we ourselves, beginning with the government in Belgrade, responsible for what has been done or not done?

"It's difficult to measure responsibility. It certainly lies with everyone involved in the resolution of the Kosovo issue. First and foremost, great responsibility lies with the regime and government that led to all this in Kosovo and Metohija. On the other hand, I have often emphasized that the government that came to power on October 5, 2000 did not concern itself with Kosovo and Metohija for some time. It seems to me, in fact, that it never concerned itself with it with sufficient seriousness and statesmanship. During the last two years there has been more cooperation, talks and agreements with respect to Kosovo and Metohija, and concrete decisions we made jointly. Unfortunately, many of them have not been realized. First of all, I am referring to a May agreement on the forming of a state council for Kosovo and Metohija responsible for creating policies and solving problems. We even agreed on who should be on this council but, unfortunately, it never met. We still believe that those of us in Kosovo and Metohija cannot resolve the Kosovo problem on our own because it is primarily a diplomatic issue. However, there is also no way we can accept someone in Belgrade, no matter who it is, resolving the Kosovo problem without us who live there and whose lives are directly affected by these solutions. History will show who was responsible and to what extent. However, it is of little consolation to us whether someone is more or less responsible if we are to lose the cradle of our state, culture and spirituality.

The Diocese you head, as well as the Serbian National Council (SNC) of Kosovo and Metohija, of which you are president, took part in making several major decisions such as voting in elections by the Kosovo Serbs. It's true that each time the international community had interesting proposals: first, the return of displaced persons, then decentralization that never took place. Does it seem to you that part of the responsibility may be with the SNC and the Diocese?

"I do not think it was a mistake that we immediately accepted dialogue and readiness to cooperate with the international community, regardless of the fact that this did not lead to real solutions. If we had rejected cooperation in the start, all the blame would have fallen on us. As it is, our outstretched hand to the international community and even to Kosovo Albanians to resolve all our problems jointly and in democratic fashion now gives us the right to emphasize that the international community, in fact, bears all responsibility for the failure of its Mission. We have demonstrated readiness, goodwill, intention and effort but now we really do not see any further motivation for further cooperation with the international community and participation in some sort of Kosovo institutions that are Albanian. Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija and I personally are ready to cooperate in every program that leads to the survival of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija. However, we are not prepared to collaborate and participate in any institution or program leading to the disappearance of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija. The work of the international community to date, despite our readiness for cooperation, has shown itself to be fruitless as far as the survival of the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija is concerned, and we do not wish to continue providing legitimacy for these institutions.

What happens after the transfer of UNMIK competencies to provisional Kosovo institutions and the adoption of the "Standards for Kosovo"?

"I am not convinced that our opposition will prevent the building of new Potemkin villages because, in that case, the international community would have to admit its failure as well as its responsibility not only for the present situation in Kosovo but also for what preceded it: the bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. No one in the international community is still ready to accept that responsibility. The "Standards for Kosovo" are unacceptable to us and we cannot participate in their realization because they were passed for no other reason than to serve as a rationalization for all the failures of the international community. First the Constitutional Framework and now also the "Standards" have severed all institutional ties between Kosovo and Metohija and its motherland, Serbia, and the state union of Serbia-Montenegro, disregarding UN Security Council Resolution 1244. If they were enacted, these standards would lead directly to the secession of Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia, which we cannot accept. What is more, the "Standards" do not foresee any measures according to which it would be possible to objectively assess whether they were successfully achieved; therefore, if a single person returns to Prizren, Pec or Pristina they will proclaim that Serbs are returning to urban centers and that the standards have been met. We know that in the past representatives of the international community and representatives of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have used every opportunity to emphasize the great success achieved in Kosovo and Metohija, even though that success practically does not exist. Even now, when it is obvious at every step that the security situation has deteriorated, when even Mr. Holkeri is enclosing himself within concrete walls in Pristina, when it is far more difficult to travel on the ground, they are still talking about freedom of movement.

You supported the Resolution on Kosovo and Metohija proposed by the Joint Coordinating Center of Serbia-Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia for Kosovo and Metohija on the eve of the parliamentary elections to all political parties participating in the elections even though it was primarily assessed as a part of Covic's pre-election campaign. Does that mean you in a way participated in it?

"The vacuum in which Serbia has found herself without a president for more than a year, without a parliament, without a stable government, all these are unfavorable circumstances under which the issue of Kosovo and Metohija is now being resolved. The international community and the Kosovo Albanians are taking advantage of that vacuum to impose certain solutions like the "Standards". The Resolution proposed by the Coordinating Center can be interpreted in different ways. I saw it as a sincere offer because it really is uncertain what will happen after the elections, who will be in the parliament and government, and what will be their position on Kosovo and Metohija. This was a good way of getting a commitment from everyone to think about Kosovo and Metohija from the diplomatic and not the party aspect regardless of who will be in the parliament. The Diocese and I considered it to be the right text at the right time and we supported it. Of course, there is the possibility of a different interpretation, especially among those representatives of some parties who felt threatened, and who saw the Resolution as a marketing ploy.

Some political parties began this pre-election campaigns in the monasteries: meetings took place between party leaders and certain bishops, and almost all pre-election video spots had sequences from the church. Does this reflect some political manipulation of the Church?

"The Church itself has not been manipulated; if someone is trying to gain political points in this fashion, then it is up to the party leaders. The doors of our churches and monasteries are open to everyone. Even those who are not Orthodox come to our monasteries and are welcomed with love, bread and salt. We are hospitable toward everyone, no matter who comes to visit us; from there, let them fight with their program and promises which we know will not come even near to being fulfilled."

Has the Democratic Opposition of Serbia lived up to its promises and the expectations of the Church?

"It has not lived up to the expectations of the entire people, not only the Church. That is why there was a crisis in the government and early parliamentary elections. There were a lot of arguments and personal interests in DOS. I am not making an analysis or calling anyone to account but there was a lot of pettiness and shamefulness in DOS."

Why did the Church not comment at all this time on the eve of the elections, not even after a statement by Tomislav Nikolic, the vice president of the Serbian Radical Party, regarding an alleged statement by Bishop Filaret of Milesevo "that the Serbian Orthodox Church supports the Radicals but does not want to make a public statement". Does the Church really support the Radicals?

"No. They may have the support of one man, perhaps even a bishop, but not the Church. The Church has not expressed support of any individual party representative. I think that it is good that the Church did not comment at all this time but simply left the parties to fight for their own seats in parliament. The Church will cooperate with whoever wins in the elections as the legitimate representatives of the people and the government. I hope that this cooperation will be of mutual benefit, no matter who it is."

Does this apply even to the Radicals, if they succeed in forming a government, and how do you comment their convincing victory?

"Yes, we would cooperate even with them because they will be in power, if they form the government, according to the will of the people."

This year marks the 200 anniversary of the modern Serbian state and the First Serbian Uprising. Where is Serbia today?

"Two hundred years after the First Serbian Uprising, Serbia is in a sorry state: without clear borders, without an anthem, a flag, without a president, a parliament, basically without a single state and diplomatic symbol. It is located more or less within the borders of the former Belgrade pashadom and without any of the fruits that came after the First Serbian Rebellion. Although it was renowned in the 19th century, the 20th century was extremely unfavorable for her history. We survived three terrible wars – the Balkan War, the First and Second World Wars – as well as these local wars on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Parts of territories inhabited by Serbs have been lost and we are in danger of also losing our spiritual cradle, Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia has lost its good reputation in the world. The DOS government attempted to repair this situation but did not completely succeed. All this, however, is no reason to cloud the celebration of the anniversary, which should serve to motivate us in resolving existing problems and in returning Serbia to the position which rightfully belongs to her. In addition to the celebration of this anniversary, this year will also be the 70th anniversary of the murder of King Alexander, and the 58th anniversary of the murder of General Draza Mihailovic."

Is there an explanation for what has been happening to us?

"The causes are many. The course of natural development was forcibly interrupted in Serbia. The monarchy was forcibly removed and a republic was introduced, that is, torture or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Serbia forgot her true symbols. For 60 years we have lived under false symbols and that is why we have lost the fruits of our wars of liberation and we have been returned to the same situation we were in before the Balkan Wars. The entire 20th century was squandered and all the results we could have achieved in that period have been lost."


Bishop Artemije distributing presents to children


Many people are upset with the Serbian Orthodox Church for open involvement in political issues due to its support for a restoration of the monarchy in Serbia.

"That is only proof that the position of the Church is the right word at the right time. We did not expect all political factors to support the initiative of the Church and the desire of the people for a restoration of the Crown because we know that for 60 years our people and state have lived without a king and a monarchy. If we take into account that during this period the people have not heard a single positive word about the monarchy, it is no wonder that the letter of His Holiness the Patriarch raised a storm. The wonder is that despite 60 years of poisoning the idea and the institution it still has, I will not cite percentages, but more supporters among the Serbian people than any political party that participated in the recent elections."

Is it the Church that should launch the issue of the restoration of the monarchy or is that the job of political forces?

"The Church has always been on the side of the people and with the people when all state institutions collapsed and lost the ability to lead the people. The Church has accepted this role for itself during the time of our enslavement, during the times of war, and now in Kosovo. It would have been illusory to continue to wait for any politician to do this, except for Mr. Vuk Draskovic, who advocated the restoration of the monarchy even earlier. Everyone else wants to be the one sitting on the Serbian throne, primarily out of the desire for personal power. That is why the reaction to the initiative to restore the monarchy is what it is. We are not surprised by this. We will let time take its due course. It does not snow, as the folk saying goes, to kill the world but so each creature can leave its tracks. Let everyone say what he thinks and wants, in the end the people will decide."

Do initiatives such as this run the risk of causing further divisions among the people and does Serbia need, among other things, national reconciliation?

"There should not be any new divisions. I believe that reconciliation has already been carried out in younger generations. There are few who consider themselves to be partisans or chetniks. Of course, there never were any chetniks as they were described by the partisans after the Second World War. That was just a caricature of chetnikdom formed from 1945 on so that the people would be revolted by chetniks and the monarchy through stories about 'gibaničari' and such. Of course, there are still living people on both sides who believe in the ideologies for which they fought but no can or should try to return to them. Younger generations need to move forward together into a better future with the Crown as the head of the state and with the Church, because the state of Serbia enjoyed great progress and development in all fields when it rested on two unshakable pillars – the Church and the Crown."

How do such views on your part influence religious believers who are republicans by conviction?

"I do not impose them on anyone. I only say what I believe. At one time my position toward Milosevic influenced a group of my believers who were too closely bound to him. With time they came to realize that they were wrong, at least many of them did, and now they are returning to the Church."

Some people in Kosovo and Metohija gained the impression that "the anti-Communist and opponent of Milosevic in you overpowered the spiritual leader"?

"That assessment surely does not stand because I am, first of all, a bishop, which means a member of the clergy for the region and my activities reflect that: the number of built and consecrated churches, the growth of the monastic orders. My views do not overshadow my spiritual work, which has always been consistent. To what extent I am a spiritual leader, others will judge."

How accurate are assessments that the Serbian Orthodox Church became even more closed toward the public after October 5, 2000 (The fall of Milosevic regime)?

"That cannot be said about me. As far as the Church as a whole is concerned, I do not see that it has become more closed. His Holiness and the Synod of Bishops receive anyone who wishes to come and talk. The Church is not closed before anyone, perhaps with the exception of some media and certain journalists, but that is individual matter and not a Church position."

Nevertheless, there is an impression that there is no transparency in the work of the Serbian Orthodox Church even with respect to church issues, such as cooperation with other churches, regarding which religious believers are not properly informed?

"It is perhaps far more closed regarding such issues than it is regarding political ones. Why that is the case, I have no answer but I believe it is so because I, as a bishop, am very frequently uninformed regarding many developments at the top of the Church and learn about them from the media."

How do you comment that some intellectual circles, crisis groups, Helsinki committees, connect all "intellectual conformity and darkness" of which they accuse the Serbian Orthodox Church to Bishop Nikolaj and Father Justin Popovic?

"If they were to accept the views of Bishop Nikolaj and Father Justin, there would be no crisis group nor various international NGOs alienated from their roots, religion and nation. Then they would be on the right path. As it is, with their views on Bishop Nikolaj and Father Justin they demonstrate where they stand with respect their own people, tradition and history. Father Justin used to say that his contemporaries did not understand him and that he would understood only after 50 years. That time has not yet passed but there is no doubt that everything positive in our Church is the fruit of the activities of Bishop Nikolaj, his religious movement and the work of Father Justin. If their work was to be purged from the Serbian Orthodox Church, I do not know what would remain of its more recent history."

Their views are being differently interpreted today even among the leadership of the Church, especially with respect to relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Is there some sort of joint position of the Holy Synod of Bishops that would help believers figure it out?

"The best thing they can do is read the works of Bishop Nikolaj and, based on that, arrive at the right conclusions. He was for dialogue, rightly so, but only within canonical limits and with the aim of promoting the truth as preserved in Orthodoxy. He did not advocate any compromises, ecumenical ideas in the contemporary sense of that word nor, especially, did Father Justin. Such topics have not been discussed at the Assembly because every one of the bishops essentially follows the teaching of the Church. Just as among us there is a breadth of approach to this issue, I believe that among religious believers as well there are those who favor more consistent adherence to the canons as well as those for whom everything is allowed, who even take communion from the non-Orthodox or are willing to give communion to the non-Orthodox. All of them remain under the wing of the Orthodox church because no Assembly, Ecumenical or local, has condemned either of the sides. Every believer is free to chose his own orientation but it is well to keep in mind the words of St. Theodore Studite, who says we are duty bound to fight for the Orthodox truth."

According to what positions, then, is the Serbian Orthodox Church working together with other churches?

"Well, the Church is in favor of dialogue but the limits of that dialogue have not been defined. The canons define the borders what is not forbidden for discussion but even this with a clear goal, to present the truth in which we unambiguously believe in order to help our interlocutor. As the Apostle Paul says: "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject. (KJV Tit 3:10)" The canons provide an even more precise definition: "It is unacceptable to pray together with those who are not members of the Church, who are heretics or excommunicated from the Church, even in a private home." Even though the canon is precise, there is a broad range of interpretation. Someone said that when he set out into the world to serve, he got the advice 'everything is allowed except a common cup for communion'. That means that we did not adhere to canonic principles which decisively defined our capabilities in that dialogue."

Doesn't the very term "heretic" bar any type of dialogue?

"If you cannot tell him the truth, then there is no dialogue."

Is it because of such strict views on your part that some bishops say that "if it was up to them and they were the patriarchs, you and the Diocese of Raska and Prizren would be proclaimed a sect"?

"Everyone has a right to think and interpret both my actions and my opinion, just as I have a right to have a position toward the actions and views of others. Whether that could be proclaimed a sect is, I think, an exaggeration and has no canonic basis."

This year is the 950 year anniversary of the Great Schism and next year is the 40 year anniversary since Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras mutually withdrew their anathemas. Why has this caused so many shocks in Orthodoxy?

"Because it came suddenly, without preparation, with goals that were not of the Church. It is not possible to remove an anathema if the causes that provoked it remain in place. This lifting of anathemas was just a personal gesture by Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI with the aim of bringing them prestige and the image of promoters of reconciliation. The Great Schism or apostasy still exists."

How is it them possible to arrive at inter-Christian cooperation in a united Europe and among existing integrations?

"Europe can be united in the economic, political and every other sense, but not in the church sense. It can be but only if Rome gives up the false teachings it has promoted for the past 950 years. One cannot talk about the 'unification of churches'; they (heterodox) cannot be united as they are but can only join to the Church. That is the correct expression that should be used. There is a unity of the Church, just as there is an apostasy from the Church and the return to the Church of both individuals and groups. Thus, both those who through false and erroneous teachings apostatized from the Church can unite with the Church only when they have renounced their false teachings."

The Roman Catholic Church is not talking about unification but about dialogue between churches and "breathing through both, eastern and western lungs" to more easily influence European developments and fight against secularism.

"That is just a new trap to completely dilute the Orthodox wine and make it lose its original spirit. That is very dangerous and slippery terrain."

Ibrahim Rugova, the president of Kosovo, has announced that construction will begin in 2004 on a mausoleum dedicated to Mother Theresa in Kosovo and that he would like "the inauguration to be carried out by the Pope in person". How much would such a visit contribute to the resolution of the situation in the Province?

"That is a purely political game, although I think that the Pope cannot go to Kosovo and Metohija without coming to Belgrade and this must accepted by the Serbian Orthodox Church, too. If he were to go to Pristina first, where many people come and go, for us it would be yet another in a series of such visits with which we have nothing in common."

How do you then comment on the contacts between the Roman Catholic Church in Kosovo and Metohija, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Vatican with the mediation of St. Eugidio to revitalize interreligious dialogue, which you put on hold due to the behavior of the Roman Catholic clergy in the Province?|

"I learned that Vincenzo Paglia visited Kosovo and Metohija from the media. I do not know anything about his visit nor with whom he is working and negotiating. I have already said that even bishops frequently don't know what is happening at the top of the Church. I am rarely invited to meetings with foreign and domestic officials with whom Kosovo and Metohija is discussed in the Patriarchate. These meetings take place not only without my presence but without informing me of them either before the meeting or after regarding the results."

What is your message to believers for the upcoming holidays?

"Care should be taken regarding the order of events. Christmas comes first and then the New Year because we celebrate both holidays according to the traditional calendar. May the Lord make the new year of 2004, this jubilee year for our people and Church, may God and the Divine Infant Christ make it a year in which many problems will be resolved in our lives, as well as the problems of Kosovo and Metohija, and that we become better Christians than we have been in previous years and in the past year of 2003. These our prayerful wishes for all and we greet them with the ancient Christian greeting: Peace of God – Christ Is Born!

by Jelena Tasic

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