The Interiror of the cave-church with the coffin of St.
Peter of Korish
and get changed. Abbot Theodosy is going to Black River Monastery, and
you are to go with him!"
It was Tuesday, Januaiy 25, 1994. The message was brought to me as I
helped wash the dishes after lunch in the Decani Monastery kitchen.
"You will need to wear plenty of warm clothes because it is very
cold up there in the mountains."
As an Australian Orthodox visitor to Serbia, I was glad of the opportunity
to visit another monastery. Obediently I left the dishes and went to
rug myself as best I could against the bitter cold of the Serbian winter.
Black River Monastery (Manastir Crna Reka) was hidden high in the inhospitable
and rugged mountains of northwest Kosovo near the borders with Montenegro
and Albania, and the monks there were often isolated by heavy snowstoms
which confined them to their monastery.
The journey took three hours. After passing through Kosovo Mitrovica
we began the gradual climb back into the mountain range. The road hugged
the River Ibar to the village of Ribarici. It is hard to imagine that
not fifteen years ago Archimandrite Atremy, having left his teaching
position with the Theological College in Prizren had been ferried across
this very river on a barge with all his belongings and books packed
onto the back of a little donkey which he led up a shepherd's trail
to the half-ruined hermitage of the Black River Monastery there he began
living the coenobitic monastic life after the patristic principles taught
him by his spiritual father, the Blessed Archimandrite Justin Popovic
(+ 1979). God blessed his spiritual struggles and a brotherhood gradually
formed from those men God sent to him.
Called from his lonely but by now overcrowded monastery in 1991 to be
the bishop of Raska-Prizren, Vladika Artemy is currently leading a monastic
renewal in this comer of Serbia, staffing four monasteries in his diocese
with the monks he trained at Black River. And still young Serbian Orthodox
men are coming to place themselves under his spiritual direction to
the amazement, constemation and even envy of those within and without
We crossed that same river now on a modern bridge that replaced the
ferry only eight years ago. The rough dirt road climbed steeply up a
narrow valley beside the rushing water of the small but lively Black
River. We soon reached the snowline. Our Combi-van could go no further,
the track was covered with a layer of thick, slick ice. The cold was
piercing as we began the slow and careful walk up the mountain, avoiding
the ice and making sure we walked in the footsteps of the one before
us. The Black River was too busy tumbling through the rough black rocks
and boulders for the winter temperatures to interrupt it. An icy breeze
blew in our faces. Breath condensed and matted our beards.
We trudged on. The valley narrowed dramatically, with the road falling
on the right in a sheer drop to the river beneath. We climbed higher,
and then the monastery came into view. On the few places level and wide
enough were two modern but modest buildings containing a winter chapel,
cells for the monks, storerooms, workshops' trapeza and kitchen. And
there, on the right side of the valley, reached by a covered footbridge
that spanned the gorge beneath, was the ancient cave monastery, Manastir
Crna Reka. Built in the thirteenth century, the monastery has been home
to monks and hermits almost continuously for nearly seven hundred years.
The gray skies, glowering clouds and our late afternoon arrival just
before dusk impressed upon me its isolation.
We were warmly greeted by the Abbot, Father Nicolai, who at once led
us across the footbridge into the ancient building fitted snug against
the sheer cliff face. I felt awe at the podvig and spiritual struggles
of those generations of holy monks who had lived, prayed and suffered
in this ancient place. We were led along a corridor, up some steps and
in through a doorway. Before us was the entrance to the cave church
of the Holy Archangel Michael, built in the fifteenth century.
Father Nicolai began to tell the group the history of the monastery
and the church and the spiritual exploits of the holy monks of past
ages. The sound of running water caught our ears. Behind us a small
small issued from the hidden depths of the great mountain that covered
us. This stream had supplied the needs of those early monks and is now
considered to be a source of grace, healing and blessing to pilgrims
in these last days, who drink of it. A little concrete channel had been
built into the floor in an attempt to control its Dow. Moisture dripped
from the ceiling and walls, our breath misted in in front of us. The
cold was chilling, it was no warmer inside the cave monastery than it
We entered the little church which was only three metres wide and six
metres long, its walls covered with faded fifteenth century frescoes
of holy saints. Carpets and rugs had been laid on the floor of living
rock but the perpetual dampness of the cave made them squelch beneath
Monks and visitors venerated the holy icon of Saint Michael. Near the
right wall of the church, I noticed a large kivot (reliquaiy). I suddenly
realised that we were in the presence of the relics of one of God's
saints, though who I did not know. In turn, we venerated the holy remains.
As I prostrated on the wet floor, water oozing from the carpet into
my gloves, I noticed beneath the reliquary a small bed. I was intrigued.
I rose, kissed the reliquary and the holy cross that lay upon it and
venerated the icon of this unknown saint, a venerable white-haired schema-monk.
I asked for his prayers and blessing, thanking God for the holiness
of His saints and the faithfulness of those many generations of Black
As Father Nicolai continued his talk, I stood quietly with my own thoughts
and prayers, my heart aflame with the holiness of this isolated hermitage
and in awe of those who had lived in such harsh conditions out of love
for God and for the salvation of their souls.
My meditations were interrupted when I heard Father Theodosy call my
name. What was happening! I caught the Serbian word for "headache",
the name "Sveti Petar" and from gestures I understood that
I was to lie down on that small bed beneath the reliquary, and try to
sleep! The holy one, Sveti Petar - Saint Peter, would help me. And help
I needed For over six years I had suffered from severe tension headaches
and racking migraines that kept me bedridden and in severe pain for
up to three days at a time. Medication helped sometimes but I often
needed to recuperate from the after-effects of the drugs prescribed.
It all happened so quickly. Before I knew it, I was being helped to
lie down on that narrow bed raised only a few centimetres above the
wet floor and covered with blankets against the cold. Directly above
me about 40 centimetres was the base of the kivot and the fringe of
the velvet cloth which covered it The monks and visitors soon left.
I was alone with the holy saint, the vigil lamp burning brightly in
the damp and frigid atmosphere.
My mind was in turmoil I tried to pray, to calm myself. I didn't feel
a bit sleepy. I felt hope - Oh how I wanted to get rid of those headaches.
I felt fear - what if nothing happened' what if I wasn't worthy enough
to receive a healing? "Lord," I prayed, "I do not know
what is happening. I pray through the intercession of your holy saint
that I may be healed of the headaches which cause me so much pain and
distress. I accept whatever you want for me. If it is Your will for
me not to be healed at this time, and to live with the pain, I accept
that May Your will be done, not mine." I tried to concentrate my
thoughts and pray. I tried to relax. Outside a bell rang for Vespers.
I did not know how long I lay there, but eventually I dozed off praying
for God's mercy. Even though the temperature was well below freezing,
I did not feel cold but warm and protected. How long I slept I do not
know. As I dozed I could hear things happening in my head, as if taut
wires were being moved and loosened. Finding the right words to explain
is difficult. But I do know that something happened inside my head.
I was awakened sometime later by one of the monks. At first I did not
feel any different. I venerated the holy relics and left the church,
returning over the footbridge to the trapeza where the monks and our
party were being served coffee. One of the monks who spoke some English
told me the name of the saint whose help I had sought - Saint Peter
of Korisha. In the following months I was to learn as much as I could
about this wonderworker. Soon we said our goodbyes, received Abbot Nicolai's
blessing and began the cold and slippery walk down the mountain in the
dark towards our vehicle. I noticed during the long drive home that
an incipient headache that had developed on the journey to Black River
had completely gone. I gave thanks to God and Saint Peter.
During the following week I experienced the full blessings of Saint
Peter. Think of a pot of boiling water covered by a heavy lid that prevents
the steam and bubbling water from escaping. That is how my head felt.
I know that I was experiencing enormous headaches, but it felt as if
my head was somehow enveloped by "something" which prevented
any pain from being felt. Only once did this series of major headaches
succeed in beginning to manifest the usual physical symptoms, and when
I called on the name of Saint Peter, it immediately vanished. I was
filled with wonder, joy and thankfulness and I still thank God and Saint
Peter for this mercy granted to me, a sinner and unworthy one.
Since that day I have had no migraine headache. The tension headaches
have continued, but as I daily pray to Saint Peter they have been diminishing
in frequency and force. I no longer need to take any medication. For
the first time in years my head feels clear and pain-free, my mind and
thinking free of the
fog of pain and constant tension. An icon of Saint Peter now hangs above
my bed and each night I pray to him to continue the healing mercies
he began when I slept beneath his holy relics.
In my search to know more about my spiritual benefactor, I was told
that Saint Peter is a miracle-worker who helps those who pray to him
and come to his shrine, especially if they rest beneath his relics as
I did. He is particularly helpful to those suffering problems of the
head, migraines headaches, epilepsy, etc.
Shortly after my return home to Australia in early December 1994 I found
myself recounting the stay of my healing to a friend, Susan Menis. Her
husband, then Melbourne based Greek Orthodox priest Father Stelios Menis,
had for many years been afflicted with a major migraine complaint. With
the onset of an attack he would take double doses of drugs such as Panadeine
Forte and Mersyndol. Often this initial treatment proved futile and
the pain would incapacitate him. His physician would need to be called
to administer shots of Pethidine to relieve the pain and doses of Stemetil
to combat the nausea. The medication would bring relief from the excruciating
head pain but leave him debilitated and in need of recuperation for
three or four days after each attack.
I gave Susan some oil I had brought with me from the vigil lamp which
hangs above the relics of Saint Peter at Black River Monastery. She
took this to her husband who began to anoint himself at the onslaught
of a migraine headache and pray to Saint Peter for help.
Father Stelios testifies that when he applied the oil of Saint Peter
and prayed the migraines would go away. Since using the oil the violent
migraine attacks have completely stopped, and he no longer has need
of prescription drugs. He still experiences tension headaches, but they
are lesser in violence and frequency and nothing in comparison to the
pain he endured during those long years as migraine sufferer. The Menis
family gives grateful thanks to God and Saint Peter for this healing
and deliverance from pain.
Glory be to God for all things, Who in these last days manifests His
wonderworking healing mercies through the relics and intercession of
His glorified ones, the holy Orthodox saints. Holy Saint Peter of Korisha
pray for us, and all who call on you in faith. Amen.
Joachim, Protection of the Theotokos Skete
Copyright Protection of the Theotokos Skete
The monastery in the rocks (click to get the larger