A lonely photo of a child
One of the many desolate homes left behind by Serbs fleeing their villages
in Kosovo, Novake village near Prizren

FOR ALL ABANDONED HOMES
A PILGRIMAGE TO OCCUPIED KOSOVO (JUNE 2001)

(the article was printed in THE ORTHODOX WORD, vol. 37, No. 3-4 (218-219) May-August 2001. The Orthodox Word s issued by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood in U.S. with the blessing of H.G. Bishop Jovan, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Western America)

By Ryassaphore-monk Andrew

For all evil thoughts, For all abandoned homes, For all dark minds, I repent and cry.
-St. Nikolai Velimirovic

INTRODUCTION

the small area of land known as Kosovo, called by history "Ancient Serbia," came to the forefront of the world news media in 1999 when NATO forces began bombing what the Serbs have for seven hundred years considered their "Holy Land." This attack continued for seventy-eight days. Bombs were dropped not only on Kosovo but also on the Serbian capital of Belgrade, other major cities, and neighboring Montenegro. Civilian targets were not spared. Following this one-sided war was the occupation of the disputed land of Kosovo by NATO forces, which has continued until the present day. Currently, only a small fraction of Serbs remain in Kosovo. The majority have fled north to Serbia, where there is one of the highest concentrations of refugees in the world. Little publicized in the Western media is the fact that it is not safe for a Serb to appear in public in Kosovo and Metohija due to the threat of violence from the hands of Albanian terrorists known as the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), despite the policing by NATO. This I witnessed firsthand when I traveled to Kosovo/Metohija this past June on a spiritual pilgrimage to its ancient monasteries and holy places. Due to the volatile atmosphere, I had no other choice than to travel in a convoy of Italian and Spanish armored KFOR (1*) vehicles.

Traveling only under KFOR escort
An armored KFOR vehicle: the only safe means of transportation for Serbs in
Kosovo and Metohija today

1. BORDER CROSSING

Arriving at the border, I immediately sensed an atmosphere of intensity-the war zone. As we pulled off the side of the road at the border, our taxi was met by a young Italian soldier, machine gun in hand. Our guide, Fr. Jovan (a priest-monk who serves at the old Patriarchate of Pec), announced our expected party, and we were quickly ushered into a guard station where we were to wait until our convoy was ready. In moments like these, one's awareness becomes intensely acute; each movement and word is calculated; one feels that one wrong move could potentially be fatal. Before long our convoy arrived, and the atmosphere was softened a little by the smiles on the faces of the soldiers upon seeing Fr. Jovan-a man whom, over the past year and a half, they have come to know and respect. Within forty-five minutes we arrived outside the ancient walls of the Pec Patriarchate.

Patriarchate Monastery
The ancient Patriarchate of Pec, located in the heart of Metohija

2. PATRIARCHATE OF PEC

The Serbian Orthodox Church had its foundation in 1219 when St. Sava, after receiving his spiritual formation on Mt. Athos, was consecrated Archbishop of Serbia, with his seat at Zica Monastery in central Serbia. St. Sava then instructed his closest disciple, the future St. Arsenije, to move to the city of Pec in Kosovo (southern Serbia), because he foresaw that Zica would become vulnerable to foreign invasion. Over a century later, in 1346, the Serbs had their first Patriarch, St. Joanikije II, who established his patriarchate in Pec.

The fourteenth century saw the blossoming of Balkan Christian spirituality. Inwardly, this revival was effected by the influence of the hesychast disciples of St. Gregory the Sinaite, the great teacher of Prayer of the Heart, who reposed in Bulgaria just beyond the borders of Ancient Serbia. Outwardly, the revival was effected by Serbian princes, who sponsored the building of splendid stone and marble churches. Many of these magnificent edifices stand until this day in Kosovo, bearing witness to the Serbian Byzantine culture in that area. In the fourteenth century, when Tsar Dusan gave part of Kosovo to the Church as a land holding, this area was named "Metohija" (from the Greek word metochion, which refers to a church land holding). Thus, when the media today refers to "Kosovo and Metohija," they are using names that hark back to the deep spiritual roots of this place.


Patriarch Pavle serving a Liturgy at the Patriarchate Monastery in Pec

Today at the Patriarchate of Pec there is a convent with over twenty nuns. They are mostly elderly, having lived in this same place for decades. But even since the 1999 war and the subsequent NATO occupation, young sisters have come with the intention to stay. They have made this decision despite the fact that it is nearly impossible to leave the walls of the monastery, and then only under the protection of the Italian army.

The Patriarchate also serves as a diplomatic base for the Serbs. There are two employed translators who speak English and deal with NATO and UNMIK, (2*) representing the Serb population in Kosovo and taking care of the needs of the nuns as well. Outside the front gate there is a base of the Italian army, which stands watch over the monastery and helps with providing necessities. The soldiers themselves are very helpful and friendly, having come to know and appreciate the real Serbian people. They, as well as soldiers from other countries who are guarding other sectors, found something they were not expecting on coming to Kosovo. Several American soldiers were outraged, having been briefed before arriving on the scene that they were to be protecting the Albanians from the Serbs, and in reality finding the exact opposite situation. When they came home from their time of service, they were intent on writing letters of complaint regarding their false indoctrination.


The serenity of the Patriarchate grounds is the most beautiful landmark of Pec region

The monastery court of Pec is absolutely beautiful, adorned with flowers, foliage, and ancient stone paths. There is a mulberry, "St. Sava's tree," said to be from the thirteenth century. Its limbs are so overgrown that they must be supported by wooden braces. The peaceful atmosphere reigning within these walls is not something that can simply be planted overnight. Here one senses a serenity cultivated through the more than eight hundred years in which Christian ascetics have been offering their prayers in this holy place. The main treasure of the monastery is the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God of Pec. Before the image of the Heavenly Queen the nuns faithfully continue to pray here in the center of Serbia's "Jerusalem," pleading for the "peace of the world," while outside the monastery walls mankind pushes itself towards the brink of insanity in war and hatred.

3. TERRORIST ROOTS IN KOSOVO

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the Albanians and Serbs co-existed in relative peace. Historically, many of the Albanians even shared the Orthodox Christian Faith with their Serbian neighbors. Even after becoming Muslims (under pressure from their Turkish conquerors), many continued to visit the shrines of Orthodox saints, at which they received healing from wonderworking relics. At times the Albanians even defended Orthodox monasteries and cemeteries from the Turks, under whom both they and the Serbs were subjugated for nearly five hundred years. The ethnic conflict between the Albanians and Serbs was born in more recent times, after the end of the Turkish domination, and was provoked by external interference.

In the peace settlements following World War I and the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, a new state was created: the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed "Yugoslavia"). Nationalist parties soon arose to oppose the new state, among which were the Albanian extremists in Kosovo and their allies in Croatia, the Ustashis. Both the Albanian extremists and the Ustashis received support from the newly founded Communist Party in Yugoslavia, headed by General Secretary Josip Tito.

During World War II, the Nazis gained control of Kosovo, Bosnia, and Croatia, from where they fought against the Serbian army, who were part of the Allied forces. The Ustashis now became the tentacle of the Nazis in Croatia and Bosnia, while the Albanians assisted the Nazis by forming a volunteer SS unit called the Skanderbey Division, which carried out raids against the non-Albanian population in Kosovo.

Orthodox Liturgy
Patriarch pavle (center) together with Bishop Artemije of Kosovo (right) and Bishop Atanasije
of Hercegovina, praying before the holy altar (Gracanica Monastery, 1999)

At the end of the war Yugoslavia came under Communist domination. A policy of unchecked and brutal repression ensued in order to keep up the facade of a unified Communist Yugoslavia, for which Tito was undeservedly praised by the world. When Tito died in 1980, each ethnic group sought to gain ascendancy in Kosovo, but the Albanians remained the majority. Through violent means, Albanian terrorists began a policy of systematically driving out Serbs from Kosovo. (The then Bishop of Prizren and future Patriarch of Serbia, Pavie, witnessed this firsthand and was himself beaten on several occasions.) Slobodan Milosevic used this crisis as a base upon which to build his platform of a false nationalism, gaining for himself the presidency as a "Socialist," while remaining in truth a Communist. As President of Yugoslavia, he took measures to suppress the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo-measures which only gave fodder for the terrorist actions of Albanian extremists. At the same time Milosevic retained the Communist policy of weakening and disrupting the unity of the Orthodox Church, whose leaders denounced him and his disastrous policies in Kosovo. (3*)

The spiritual leader of Serbia, Patriarch Pavle, never supported Milosevic. In 1997 he supported a public demonstration in Belgrade against Milosevic in defiance of elections widely known to have been fixed. Under Milosevic's regime, atrocities were committed by Yugoslav police against the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo: atrocities which stood in stark contrast to the time - still remembered by many of the older Albanians and Serbs from the region - when the two peoples lived together peacefully. Throughout the conflict, Patriarch Pavle called for justice against crimes on both sides.

To pious Orthodox Serbs, the violence against innocent Albanian civilians was deplorable. They considered the instigator of this violence, President Milosevic, as "the greatest traitor against the Serbian people," not a true (i.e. Orthodox) Serb at all but a political opportunist and a holdover from the brutal Communist Yoke. It is true that Milosevic's military action in Kosovo was initially provoked by terrorist attacks of Albanian extremists against Yugoslav authorities and Serb civilians in Kosovo, but by including innocent Albanian civilians as targets of his retaliatory war on terrorism, he added sin to sin. One cannot fight evil with evil means to expect good to come out.

The Bishop of Kosovo, Artemije, made several trips to the United States and Western Europe prior to the war with a proposal for a future multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo. Unfortunately his plea was not received by those who had the authority to effect change.

Three Serbs Slaughtered by the Albanian Extgremists near Pec
Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro serves the funeral for three murderesd Serbian men
of the village of Belo Polje, near Pec, June 1999

Recently the American public has begun to become aware that for several years there has been a connection between the Bosnian Muslim forces that fought in the Bosnian Civil War against the Serbs (1992-1995), the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of Albanian extremists, and the now-infamous Osama bin Laden. In 1992 bin Laden and his "al Qaeda" terrorist network began to send Afghan-trained mujahideen ("holy warriors") into the Balkans to fight for an Islamic stronghold in Europe. The following year bin Laden was issued a special Bosnian passport, which helped him to set up a base of operations in Europe. According to the Wall Street Journal Europe (Nov. 1, 2001), "Bin Laden directed al Qaeda 'senior commanders' to incorporate the Balkans into a complete southeastern approach to Europe, an area stretching from the Caucasus to Italy" Al Qaeda terrorist training camps were set up in Bosnia and Albania, from which bin Laden's mujahideen were sent to fight, first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo. In 1994 bin Laden visited a terrorist camp in Zenica, Bosnia, and in 1996 and 1997 he visited Albania, where he recruited Albanian Muslims to fight with the KLA in Kosovo. In the meantime, the KLA was being funded by bin Laden, al Qaeda terrorist cells were being set up in Kosovo, and Kosovo was being used as the Balkan route for the heroin trafficking that funded (and continues to fund) both the KLA and the al Qaeda network.(4*)

4. A DISASTER OF U.S. FOREIGN POLICY

By 1998 the KLA was officially described as "Islamic terrorists" by Robert Gelbard, America's special envoy to Bosnia. "Nonetheless, "states the Wall Street Journal, "the 25,000 strong KLA continued to receive official NATO/U.S. arms and training support and, at the talks in Rambouillet, France, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shook hands with 'freedom fighter' Hashim Thaci, a KLA leader." (5*) On March 12, 2000, The Sunday Times, London reported that "American intelligence agents have admitted they helped to train the KLA before NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.... CIA officers were cease-fire monitors in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, developing ties with the KLA and giving American military training manuals and field advice on fighting the Yugoslav army and Serbian police.... Many satellite telephones and global positioning systems were secretly handed over to the KLA, ensuring that the guerrilla commanders could stay in touch with NATO and Washington. Several KLA leaders had the mobile phone number of General Wesley Clark, the NATO commander."

Secretary Albright and UCK leader Hashim Thaci
Amb. Holbrooke with an UCK commander in 1998

(Left) U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright greets KLA leader Hashim Thaci in Rambouillet, France, 1998, a month before the bombing of Serbia (RIGHT) Former U.S. Ambassador at United Nations Richard Holbrooke with a KLA paramillitary leader in Junik, 1998

During the NATO/U.S. bombing of Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, KLA forces inside Kosovo included U.S. military Special Forces, as well as British Special Forces. (6*) At the same time, as reported by the head of the Albanian intelligence service Fatos Klosi, Osama bin Laden was sending more units to join the KLA forces in Kosovo. (7*) According to a report recently issued from Interpol, one of bin Laden's senior lieutenants was the commander of an elite KLA unit operating in Kosovo during the war. (8*)

In the wake of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, which has been linked to Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network, the relationship between the U.S. (specifically the Clinton administration) and the KLA points to a disaster of U.S. foreign policy. As early as January 26, 1999, The Washington Times printed the following: "U.S. policy in the Balkans is worse than a crime-it is a blunder. Not only is America working against her own best interests by fostering a Muslim terrorist base in Europe, it is defeating the purpose of its Balkan intervention. Ostensibly designed to promote stability in the region, American foreign policy is doing precisely the opposite by its support of Muslim revolution." On May 28, 1999, a few weeks after the bombing of Serbia ceased, the Daily Oklahoman made an observation that is now particularly painful in hindsight: "By joining hands with the KLA, which intelligence sources say bankrolls itself by selling heroin and cocaine, the United States also would become partners of a sort with Osama bin Laden.... In 1998 the State Department listed the KLA as an international organization that supported itself with drug profits and through loans from known terrorists like bin Laden." This connection has come back to haunt the U.S. directly, since it has been discovered that some of the very terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 were holding Bosnian passports and that one of them had even fought alongside the KLA in Kosovo and later in Macedonia.(*9)

When NATO/U.S. forces began bombing Kosovo and Serbia in 1999. they in essence sanctioned the KLA's reign of violence in Kosovo. Due to NATO's failure to resolve the conflict through diplomatic means, it was the innocent who were to suffer. Immediately after the bombing ended, die Yugoslav police retreated into Serbia, leaving the Serbian people in Kosovo without any defense against the KLA. There was a window of three days before the NATO troops could occupy Kosovo/Metohija. These three days were a free-for-all for the KLA. Even since the occupation of Kosovo/Metohija by NATO, crimes continue to be perpetrated by the KLA. As recently as April of 2000. Osama bin Laden arrived in Kosovo from Albania, having formed a group of five hundred Islamic fighters in the eastern region around Korce and Pogradec to continue carrying out terrorist acts in the region. (10*) Over the past two years, 869 Serbs have been killed or abducted and over 1,000 Serbian homes have been burned in Kosovo. 360,000 Serbian refugees have fled from their homeland. (11*)

In an attempt to erase the Serbian Christian culture, the KLA has blown up, destroyed, or desecrated over one hundred churches in Kosovo. Many of these churches, being of inestimable spiritual value to the Serbian people, dated back to the fourteenth century and contained some of the most beautiful Byzantine frescoes in the world. In the meantime the KLA, maintaining its close ties with the al Qaeda network, has moved its terrorist activities into Macedonia, where it has gained control of thirty percent of this predominantly Orthodox Christian country. (12*)

Church of Most Holy Theotokos (Virgin Mary) at Musotiste village, built in 1315, before and after the mining by the KLA. The church was leveed to the ground after the arrival of German KFOR to Kosovo in June 1999

5. MEDIA DISINFORMATION

The Serbs feel that their plight has been ill-portrayed by the Western media, which has been pushing a one-sided view of the complicated situation in Kosovo. Much of what was reported in the West during the 1999 bombing of Serbia was biased to justify NATO's military actions. Evidence of this was witnessed by Paul Watson, the only reporter from North America to stay in Kosovo during the entire war. On June 20, 1999, he wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "NATO called its devastating air war against Yugoslavia a 'humanitarian intervention,' a historic battle between good and evil to stop 'ethnic cleansing' and return ethnic Albanians to their homes. But from inside Kosovo, it rarely looked so pure and simple. It seemed more like calling in a plumber to fix a leak and watching him flood the house.... Even in Kosovo, I could not escape the sound of Shea's (13*) voice on satellite TV. It haunted me at the strangest times, denying things that I knew to be true, insisting on others that I had seen were false."

I was present at one meeting held at the Pec Patriarchate between Fr. Jovan and representatives of NATO and UNMIK. He spoke from his heart, telling of the suffering of his people, but having at the same time a knowledge of history and of recent political developments that left these international representatives literally speechless. They were not adequately prepared-either on an educational level or on a personal level-for what they heard. After listening to a series of arguments based on facts which they could not help but accept, all they could offer were weak justifications for the actions of the international community and a shallow compassion for the Serbs that will hardly effect any future changes. At present the main dilemma for NATO, UNMIK, and the Serbs is to figure out how to bring back the thousands of Serbian refugees who have fled from Kosovo and Metohija and are living in Serbia proper. (14*) Why come to live in a land where the lives of their children are constantly threatened? Why come to live in a land where 107 of their churches have been blown up or severely damaged since NATO occupation? (15*) Where will the Serbian children receive their education?

Decani Monastery
The fourteenth-century monastery church at Decani

6. DECANI

Rising before dawn on my second day in Kosovo, our party gathered at the front gate of the Patriarchate of Pec, 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 Decani, built by the ascetic 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 Serbia) by the man who today is the spiritual father of all Kosovo-Bishop Artemije. Bishop Artemije is a disciple of the great spiritual writer and theologian St. Justin Popovic, who was in turn a disciple of perhaps the Church's greatest poet of the twentieth century, St. Nikolai Velimirovic, who reposed 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 under the heat of war.

Since 1991 the revival at Decani 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," the Abbot gathered all the monks. He told them, "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 fervor. To be rich and free is not good for monastic life, and we are a weak generation. There is also a very real 'remembrance of death' here. We also feel a strong call of patriotism, 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 perfectly silent. The beauty of the marble church captivated each one of us. Entering the seven-hundred-year-old edifice dedicated to Christ the Almighty, we found ourselves surrounded by the mystic gazes of the saints, masterfully depicted in the ancient Byzantine frescoes 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.

Holy Liturgy
The Holy Liturgy at Decani Monastery


In addition to seeing the wealth of Ancient Serbia's culture, I had desired, in however small a way, to show our support and appreciation of our brothers' plight in Kosovo. This I felt especially strongly because I was an American, 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 telecast what I saw at Decani, 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 workshop. Before me I saw numerous copies of an icon of the Mother of God that looked very familiar. Suddenly I realized 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. Arsenije, who was in the process of painting these icons, exactly which icon this was, he simply replied, "The Decani Mother of God." Then it all made sense, and I realized that unknowingly there had already been formed a bond of brotherhood between us. Nations at war but brothers in soul.

Leaving Decani, I marveled-both at the beauty of the fourteenth-century church with its classic Byzantine iconography and at the contrast of the setting. Outside the front gate the monks stood next to a fleet of tanks, discussing 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 Metohija 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 Decani. Truly, they are the spiritual "Special Forces" of Kosovo.

Life under the constant guard
Life under continuous military guard - One of last 6 elderly Serbian women in Djakovica
"mother Poleksija"

7. DJAKOVICA

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 women who bear witness to Christ's presence on earth. Courageously 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 this scene-it seemed completely out of time. Getting out of the vehicle, we were hurried behind the sand-bagged entrance. In the street and from the surrounding buildings everyone was staring at us and some were shouting. Apparently it is not often that visitors come here, to the last remaining Serbian enclave in Djakovica. (16*)

Entering the courtyard, we were met by six much-suffering but presently rejoicing faces. Having greeted us, they led us into their home-a traditionally built house of logs and earth, of which parts of the walls were crumbling due to time and negligence. But within, everything was cozy, and its shabbiness made it all the more endearing. In the spirit of Serbian hospitality they immediately served us cold water, lukumi, coffee and a shot of rakija (17*) for those who desired it. We began our discussion-or rather, they poured out the sorrow that has been their existence over the past two years. There was Vasilica, a native of Djakovica and an especially robust character: "I was born here and I will die here!" She showed us pictures from Crucified Kosovo, a photographic document of the 107 churches in Kosovo destroyed by terrorists. One point she was especially intent to get across was that the terrorists are not only blowing up the churches, but they are then taking the time to carry away the rubble so as to completely wipe away from the face of the earth any possible reminder of the Serbian heritage on this soil of Kosovo. Quietly standing beside Vasiljka was the more gentle Poljka, who, after twenty-two years as a school teacher, was fired two years ago for being an Orthodox Christian. She has lived in this very church house for thirty years. And there were the sisters, Jela and Ljubica. Ljubica in Serbian is the diminutive of Love. It is interesting that both women and men (Ljubisa) in Serbia are called by this chief virtue of the Christian Faith.

Our elderly hosts told us that the only ones who visit them are the Decani monks who come and serve them Holy Communion. I was especially touched by Nada, who lives across the street in an atmosphere so violent that, if she were to walk onto the street alone, it would only be a matter of time before she was killed. Even under the escort of the soldiers, she is verbally abused when she crosses the street. With tears she told us how she had lost everything, her only remaining family being refugees in Belgrade. Her sorrow seemed to fall close to despair but was not unto death, since her faith-perhaps without her fully realizing it-carries her through. For me, this was a moment to feel Serbia's genuine pain and suffering. Again unknowingly, there stood before me six brave Confessors in the form of old and simple Serbian women.

Together we visited their much-cared-for chapel. I prayed that mercy would not abandon these courageous strugglers and that their witness would somehow strengthen me. Just as we were about to leave this Golgotha, a big Italian soldier came running towards us, his countenance all aglow. Seeing me and perhaps thinking I was a Decani monk, he immediately asked, "Is Abbot Teodoslje coming?" "No," our guide (also an Italian soldier) replied. "We were Just there [in Decani]." Realizing that I was not a Serb, the big Italian soldier began telling me in his broken English: "Abbot Teodosije is a great man! We worked a lot together during the war...." Bassu-for such was this soldier's name-had been in Kosovo longer than most of the soldiers: about two years. He was very jubilant and excited to be meeting again with an Orthodox monk. To conclude our brief but heartfelt exchange, he loudly proclaimed in front of all his comrades, "For me, Orthodoxy is the best!" Apparently, Bassu had also found something in the Serbian Orthodox people-something that one doesn't hear about on the television, that is, a deeply warm, loving and forgiving Christian character.

Seminary Under KFOR Protection
Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Prizren protected by KFOR sandbags
The Seminary which worked even in Ottoman times had to be closed down under the UN protectorate

8. PRIZREN

Beyond the outskirts of the ancient city of Prizren lies the monastery of the Holy Archangels, first built in 1351. In 1615 the monastery was burned by the Turkish Muslim leader Sinan Pasha, and the stones of the St. Nicholas Church were taken to Prizren for the construction of a mosque. Within the past ten years, a new chapel has been built dedicated to a new St. Nicholas-St. Nikolai Vehmirovic, also known as the "new Chrysostom" for his gift with words.

We arrived at the monastery at dusk. The front gate was guarded by German troops. Quietly we entered the enclosure and found the monks at prayer. They were singing the Vespers service in their small chapel. On the hand-carved, wooden iconostasis we were blessed to venerate an original, hand-painted icon of St. Nikolai, who as a bishop and professor in Belgrade was once the mentor of a young Russian ascetic by the name of Hieromonk John-the future Archbishop of San Francisco, St. John Maximovitch.

Upon completion of the service, we eagerly greeted our newly found brethren. Already I had sensed something akin to our small skete in Alaska-just three brothers gathered in a rather forlorn spot, forgotten as it were by the rest of the world. We had much to talk about. Their love for one of the founders of the St. Herman Brotherhood, Fr. Seraphim (Rose), served as common ground. We also discovered that, like the brothers in our Alaskan skete, they carve wooden crosses. The oldest brother, Fr. German, was quite accomplished in this craft, despite never having been formally trained. He also was a disciple of Bishop Artemije and had originally come to Kosovo from the Black River Monastery. It is his duty to carve tonsure crosses (18*) for all the monks and nuns in Kosovo.

The monks told us the martyric story of one of their number, Hieromonk Hariton, who disappeared in 1999. Later that year his body was found, bearing the marks of a violent murder undoubtedly performed by the KLA. One week prior to this trip I had visited the Black River Monastery and, just before leaving, I had been taken by one of the brothers to the grave of Fr. Hariton. The monks in Kosovo look to him as a New Martyr. Upon request, the Prizren monks gave me a printed account of his life in Serbian with the hope that it would be translated into English.

Finally, after lingering in our edifying conversation for more than a half hour past the time limit that we had been given by our Italian guides, we had to pull ourselves towards the gate. This was difficult. I wanted so much to stay a few days and live their common life. I had come from the other side of the world and found brothers here so close in spirit, as if of one blood. Exchanging lists of names for commemoration, we passed outside the gate. As I walked toward the KFOR vehicle I briefly spoke with a German soldier, thanking him for protecting the monks. Considering the circumstances, perhaps he was a little surprised to hear such words. I could see that he perceived something about our unexpected joy amidst such an outwardly bleak scene-and that it had something to do with what was going on behind these walls by which he stood guard.


Holy Archangels' monastery near Prizren under KFOR Guard

9. FINAL REFLECTIONS

As we boarded the four-wheeled tank, the sun was lowering beyond the surrounding mountains. At this moment and throughout our entire stay in Kosovo, we found ourselves surrounded by paradox. Here, a year ago, an innocent monk had been captured and brutally murdered. Here and in all the monasteries in this occupied zone, the Serbian monks, nuns, and lay Christians live without freedom-as prisoners behind guarded walls. Outwardly, all is fallen, all is gray. But within-in this moment we felt great lightness and inexplicable joy. All around us we had witnessed human injustice: an almost hopeless plight resulting from the NATO bombing of a people who did not support Milosevic and were then forced to abandon their homeland out of fear of terrorism. This was the human injustice I witnessed first hand. But right beside it I saw the justice of God: how, under the most unthinkable circumstances, Christ conquers. He conquers not only war and all its consequent pain, but death and hell itself. The proof of this I had seen in the joyful face of the Italian soldier Bassu, a reflection of the Christian love he had received from the Orthodox Serbs.

Panihida to Fr. Hariton in Gracanica

The body of Fr. Chariton Lukic found near Prizren, Aug 2000
Fr. Chariton was kidnapped by the KLA Albanian extremists on June 14th 1999 in the streets of Prizren. His body was found one year later on August 8th 2000 near Prizren. According to the post mortem report Fr. Chariton's body was decapitated and severely mutilated. He was stabbed several times by knife. The perpertrators of this murder have not yet been found.

CONSLUSION

The onset of the Kosovo bombing threw the former Republic of Yugoslavia into a crisis situation. The war brought them to see that it is vain to put their hope in any earthly prosperity. The assault by the U.S.-led NATO forces has caused them to lose any remaining hope that deliverance will come from the West. Experiencing the loss of friends and family has reminded them that life is indeed very short. Like flowers on a grave, something beautiful has sprung up through these trials. Rather than being consumed with national hatred and the desire for retaliation, they have turned in another direction-towards our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Redeemer.

And while it is true that the Serbs want the international community to recognize the injustices done against their country, ultimately they are choosing the path of self-accusation. Led by the spiritual poet and national hero, St. Nikolai Velimirovic, the Serbs blame their falling away from God as the primary source of their present and past turbulence. In the four days I spent in Kosovo and the two months in Serbia, I noticed one truly amazing thing: they do not harbor hatred and resentment towards Americans. Considering the recent war in which the U.S. and NATO equipped and supported the KLA, I found this inexplicable and, in terms of human righteousness, impossible. This is what it means to be an Orthodox Christian people-to have endowed in the consciousness of a people a sense of repentance. This is something I not only found in the writings of St. Nikolai but also heard from the lips of the young generation, who have used their national crisis as an opportunity to re-evaluate their lives.

One Serb, reflecting on the meaning of their recent crises, has written: "It has taught many the necessity to look for reasons and the lesson that nothing happens without a reason. If one has learned anything, it has been that such stock answers as 'madness' or 'insanity' or 'evil' just aren't adequate. Even more so, if one has learned anything, it is that finger-pointing isn't the ultimate answer, either. Ultimately, free men and
free nations cannot accept the notion that the causes of their fortunes or misfortunes lie outside themselves. (19*)

Having myself witnessed this national repentance, I can say that much spiritual fruit can be expected to continue to come from Serbia in the future, and that we Americans have much to learn from the Serbian Christians of past and present.

Remaining Serbs in Kosovo Liibr in Fear and Uncertainity
Kosovo Serbs live in fear and uncertainity
facing the everyday Albanian terror and discrimination



FOOTNOTES:

1. KFOR: NATO-supported armed forces in Kosovo (short for "Kosovo Forces")
2. United Nations Mission in Kosovo - UNMIK
3. Veselin Kostich, " Kosovo in the History of the Serbian orthodox Church", St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 44, nos. 3-4, 2000
4. Marcia Christoff Kurop. "Al Qaeda's Balkan Links", Wall street Journal Europe, Nov. 1, 2001
5. Ibid.
6. Vojin Joksimovic, Kosovo Crisis (Los Angeles, Graphics Management Press, 1999), pp. 75-76
7. "Bin Laden Runs Terrorist Network, Report Says", Charleston Gazette, Nov. 30, 1998, p. 2A
8. Preliminary Report from Interpol, Oct. 23, 2001. Quoted in Scott Taylor, "Signs Point to a Bin Laden-Balkan Link, " The Halifax Herald Limited, Oct. 29, 2001.
9. Joseph Farah, "Our Friends' in the Balkans":
10. "Bin Laden in Kosovo Acts," Canberra Times (Australia) April 28, 2000, p.8
11. Hieromonk Sava (Janjic) foreward to Crucified Kosovo, third revised and expanded edition (Serbian Orthodox Church, Diocese of Raska and Prizren, May 2001)
12. Joseph Farah, op. cit.
13. Jamie Shea was the spokesman for NATO during the Kosovo War
14. The village of Osojane was the first village to be reinhabited by Serbs, which occurred in August 2001
15. Crucified Kosovo
16. See the article "For Whom the Bell Tolls", Decani Monastery
17. Lukumi is a sweet candy and rakija is a kind of Serbian brandy. These are both commonly served to guests
18. When monks and nuns give their life vows to live in chastity, poverty and obedience, they are presented with a hand-held cross during the service. The cross is a physical reminder of Christ's words, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mt. 16:24).
19. From "A Message from Serbia to Grieving Americans" written by Aleksandar Pavic only two days after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. Aleksandar Pavic, a U.C. Berkley graduate returned to Yugoslavia in 1990 to work for the abolition of Communist rule in Serbia. He also served as a senior presidential advisor in the Serbian entity in Bosnia. For the complete text of his message to Americans.