With Abbot Theodosios
Of Decani Monastery in Kosovo
Theodosius is the superior of the Decani Monastery Brotherhood, comprised mostly of young
men from the cities who have fled to the wilderness to seek God with
their whole hearts.
What is the present situation in Decani Monastery? It is a wonder that
in the most difficult part of Europe, monasticism is blossoming again.
What influence do monks have today, with the youth that are coming?
Abbot Theodosius: The history of the new
Decani brotherhood began in March, 1992, when a part of the Crna Reka
brotherhood, with the blessing of our spiritual father, Bishop Artemios,
came to Decani. Now we have monks from Crna Reka in Decani, Sopocani,
Zociste and Holy Trinity monasteries. Two bishops have already come
out of this brotherhood-Bishop Artemios of Raska and Prizren, and Bishop
Justin of Timok. Before our arrival here, there were only four elderly
hieromonks living in the monastery, and for almost twenty years no one
had joined the community.
After four years I can say that we have succeeded, with the help of
our spiritual father and the prayers of St. Stephen, to organize coenobitic
life in the monastery with the daily cycle of services and Divine Liturgy.
Now there are four hieromonks here and we try not only to meet the spiritual
needs of the brotherhood, but also to help the thirsty souls who come
to our monastery seeking spiritual consolation and advice, as much as
we can. We have begun to support ourselves mostly by our monastic activities:
woodcarving, icon painting, book publishing, and candle production.
We also have a large vegetable garden for our everyday needs, as well
as a couple of cows to supply us with dairy products. It is our wish
to live from our own hands as much as possible, because monks should
not be too dependent upon their benefactors.
Monasticism is flourishing at the present time not only in Serbia, but
in many other Orthodox countries. It is no wonder that the greatest
revival began here in Kosovo, because this area really has a very rich
tradition in monasticism - so many old monasteries, hermitages, and
medieval churches. The continuity of monastic life has never been completely
lost here in Kosovo. The medieval monastic atmosphere is far more preserved
here than in the northern parts of our country where there were many
influences from the West.
Our monastery, for example, has never been completely abandoned like
many others. Monastic life was revived in the first years of this century
when a group of Russian monks from the kalyve of St. John Chrysostom
on Mt. Athos came to take over the monastery at the request of the local
Serbian bishop. But World War II and the communist era brought new challenges
to the brotherhood. The flourishing monastery school which existed between
the two wars was forcefully closed, and large amounts of monastery land
were confiscated by the communists. The new rulers put great pressure
on the monastery-discouraging and even threatening anyone who wished
to join the brotherhood. Now, the situation is gradually improving.
No matter how much the outward dangers and temptations hindered monastic
life, they were also a stimulus for more intense monastic podvigs. I
might be free to say that monasticism is flourishing not where there
is comfort and material prosperity, but where the conditions of life
are more difficult. The greater the danger for our lives, the stronger
the faith and monastic life.
The monks have not come here only to preserve the past and its tradition,
but to live fully that tradition in our times, to make monastic ideals
alive again. That is why our duty is not only to work on our own spiritual
perfection, but also to help others seeking Christ and repentance. Of
course our missionary activity must not be such as would drive us away
from our monastic way of life. The most important missionary work of
a monk today is to confess Christian ideals by his life more than by
his words. With our prayers, tears, poverty, and ascetic life, we must
call others to repent, to change their lives, their ways of thinking,
and support them in the Christian life.
Question: What is the significance of holy
relics for those who live in Kosovo?
Abbot Theodosius: The veneration of holy
relics has always been one of the most important sources of piety for
the people here. Throughout our turbulent history, the people have gathered
around the relics that bring spiritual consolation and support in their
slavery. When they were bereft of any earthly consolation and help,
God, through the relics of His saints, strengthened their awareness
that He had never left them alone. Numerous miracles helped the Orthodox
Serbs in Kosovo to preserve their faith and tradition in extremely difficult
conditions when thousands of their compatriots converted to Islam in
other regions. Today the holy relics are our greatest weapons against
the nihilisric material culture as well as against the visible enemies.
They are a living demonstration of God's utmost mercy towards His people,
and a strong shield for the faith, which is so shaken by the relativism
of the modern age.
Question: How is it that more and more
young people are being drawn out of modern popular culture to join the
monastic communities in such dangerous places as the monasteries in
the land of Kosovo? What is the monastic struggle for the youth of today?
Abbot Theodosius: Young people who are
seeking Truth cannot easily be satisfied by any substitutes of real
spiritual values. Genuine lovers of Truth are not attracted anymore
by the glittering beauty of the world, but look to Christ where there
is true life-without masks and technological makeup. The monasteries
of Kosovo offer surroundings and an atmosphere which constantly calls
to mind the ascetics of old-ancient churches imbued with the contrite
spirit of the Divine Liturgy, and caves of the desert dwellers soaked
with their tears and warmed by their prayers. Besides all this, in this
area we are in some way forced to think of death more often than usual.
The dark clouds of war have been hovering over Kosovo for years. In
an instant, all of our cities and villages, beautiful churches and monasteries
can become dust and heaps of stone.
Concerning the struggle of a young monk today in Kosovo, I can say that
it is almost the same as anywhere else. First one must conquer his old
self through the guidance of his elder. In our coenobitic community
the monks are encouraged first to practice obedience, humility and patience.
They are taught to feel responsibility for the work that they do. Unfortunately
these virtues are rarely found in modern youth, who usually grow up
in good tempered material conditions with very strong egotism fostered
by their parents and their education. Young people are taught to be
independent, unsubmissive, proud of their abilities, and extremely ambitious.
All of these characteristics are disastrous for a future monk and he
should be taught to conquer them in order to enter the real spiritual
life, to begin greater podvigs, and learn the art of prayer. Without
this condition we can only "act" monastic life and imitate
outwardly our holy predecessors.
Question: What is the message of the suffering
land of Kosovo to the Orthodox in the free world?
Abbot Theodosius: All Christians are in
some sort of spiritual exile, and we all have our own martyrdom as confessors
of Christ. Of course our cross in this historically dangerous area amid
two million Muslim Albanians is somewhat specific. Although at the moment
we are enjoying artificial peace, we are nevertheless aware that our
predecessors very often had to defend the monasteries and churches with
their own blood. Not so long ago, to be a Christian in Kosovo was very
dangerous. We cannot easily forget the ruins of Devic Monastery devastated
by Albanian fascists in World War II, as well as the burning of the
Patriarchate of Pech in 1986. Only six or seven years ago nuns in the
distant mountain monasteries had to defend their lives and chastity
with guns because there was no one to offer them protection. How can
we forget the one-handed Abbess Parasceva of Devic, who sacrificed all
her life to preserve the shrine of St. Ioannikios? Monks and nuns were
attacked by stones and threatened. Their crops were burned, their churches
burglarized and desecrated-all in front of the eyes of the democratic
world which now wants to restore Albanian dominion in this heart of
Christian Serbia. Every inch of this martyric land is soaked with the
blood of Christian martyrs and confessors. We understand that to live
in this land is a privilege of which we are not worthy.
From our brothers and sisters all over the world we can ask nothing
but prayers. They will be our great support in the forthcoming years,
full of menace and danger. Our message to them is that we Orthodox Christians
must not rely on anything of this world. We cannot rely on the idea
that we can create a paradise on earth by wise politics, strong armies,
and economic welfare. It is all transient and temporary. We must not
seek the peace of this world but the peace which can only be given to
us by Christ. We must not become careless in our material prosperity
and become easily deceived by the spirit of modern heresies and secularization,
but should on the contrary stick to our tradition canons, and the teachings
of the Holy Fathers. Only the Truth can set us free.
Word" Nos. 193-4
Copyright St. Herman of Alaska Press
Everyday life in Decani Monastery - Photo Album
Pilgrimage to Kosovo Today by ryassophore nun Natalia
Monasteries of Raska and Prizren Diocese
Kosovo and Metohija
with their Bishop and Abbot
TO DECANI MONASTERY PAGE