Interview With Abbot Theodosios
Of Decani Monastery in Kosovo

Abbot 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.

Abbot Teodosije

Question: 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.

From "Orthodox Word" Nos. 193-4
Copyright St. Herman of Alaska Press

Decani Monastery
Everyday life in Decani Monastery - Photo Album
Pilgrimage to Kosovo Today by ryassophore nun Natalia
Monasteries of Raska and Prizren Diocese
Orthodox Monasticism

Kosovo and Metohija

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Decani Monastery Brotherhood
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