A Christmas Interview of Bishop Teodosije for ‘Nezavisna Svetlost’, Kragujevac (ERP KiM Newsletter 15-01-05)

(Text in Serbian: http://www. svetlost.co.yu/arhiva/2005/485/485-1.htm)

1. Your Grace, after the many trials we have gone through in recent years in Kosovo, do you think that God has abandoned the Serbs because of their sins and lack of repentance?

It would be more accurate to say that the Lord loves His people and reprimands them out of love, through all the suffering we are now passing through and through which we passed in history, in order to make them better than they currently are. That is His providence for us, and first and foremost, the Lord wants salvation for His people. In all this, He does not forget their suffering, pain and tears. When people grow distant from God, their Creator, when they grow distant from all that is sacred and from themselves because of our sins, ambitions and selfishness, God prepares great trials for us like a good teacher, so that through them He can return us to Him and to ourselves.

Taking all this into consideration, we, the monks and faithful in Kosovo and Metohija, have not for a second felt neglected by God; on the contrary, in everything that we are going through today, we see God’s presence and we have a sense of divine blessing that strengthens and encourages us to endure all for the glory of God, and in our own best interest for, as the Holy Scripture says, ‘He who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matt 10, 22).

2. At a spiritual evening in Kragujevac, you said that Serbs today should look upon Kosovo as the Jews looked upon Jerusalem in the time when they themselves were refugees and slaves? Can you explain this view a little more for our readers?

In the Bible the Jews are called the chosen, God’s, people of the Old Testament. I would venture to say that in the same way, the Serbian people became the chosen, God’s people of the New Testament by following the teaching and tradition of St Sava and choosing the Kingdom of Heaven. Both the Jews and the Serbs have their covenants and have given their promises to God, which has made them worthy of God’s glory and evocation. However, throughout history, neither the Jews nor the Serbs have always fulfilled their covenants. In their weakness they temporarily stepped away from the path of God and worshipped idols and the people of this world, instead of the living God. For this they were punished by God and frequently had to leave their ancestral homes, fleeing and finding themselves enslaved, far from their land and their holy shrines.

Although persecuted many times in history and enslaved, and scattered throughout the world, the Jews also always returned to their holy city of Jerusalem and gathered once again around it. They returned to the Temple of Jerusalem and to their holy shrines because they remained loyal to their prophet Moses and his law. Even while enslaved and physically far from their land promised by God, the holy city of Jerusalem was always in their thoughts and they sang: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!’ (Ps. 137, 5) Likewise, meeting on the great holy-days, they greeted each other with the greeting: ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’

Following the example of their older brothers, the Serbs, too, should look upon Kosovo and Metohija and their holy shrines as ‘their city of Jerusalem’, and constantly within themselves to long to return to it. Our Jerusalem consists of the monasteries of the Pec Patriarchate, Decani, Gracanica and many others, without which we cannot and will not survive as God’s chosen people. Depending on this, on how much love and desire we have to return to them, will God look upon us and fulfil that which is solely for our benefit and salvation? If we are like the Jews in sin and abandonment of God, we should also be like them in repentance and zeal to return to God and to everything that is holy to our people.

3. You mentioned twenty different ‘exoduses’ from Kosovo in the past. Is our ‘defeat’ in Kosovo this time any different?

Since the Battle of Maritsa River in 1371 to the present day the Serbs have fled from the territory of Kosovo and Metohija more than twenty times. Sometimes the exoduses were bigger, sometimes smaller. But they were always for the same purpose and goal, to save the lives of the people and prevent them from falling into the hands of our enemies. The most horrible exodus took place in 1690, when Pec Patriarch Arsenjie II Carnojevic fled with 70,000 Serbian families to the north across the Sava and Danube Rivers to Budapest and Vienna. This was followed in 1738 by a great massacre of the Serbs and a great exodus in the time of Patriarch Arsenije IV Sakabenta. During the period from 1941-45 there was also a great pogrom during which 200,000 Orthodox Serbs fled from Kosovo and Metohija, and took up residence in the north, never to return. We know that the godless Communist regime forbade their return to their ancestral homes.

Unfortunately, in our time the same thing was repeated, and about 200,000 Serbs again ended up as refugees. What happened yet again is something that has happened many times already to our people in this region. In a way, this most recent expulsion of our people is the most ominous, because this time entire areas of Kosovo, especially Metohija, have been left without Serbs. The cities of Prizren, Djakovica, Pec, Istok, Klina, Srbica and many others have been left without a single Serb, as have many Serbian villages, now empty and abandoned. Only the Holy Church is still holding on courageously, surviving with the remaining people and thus guarding our greatest holy shrines. These have been left to us by the Lord as a pledge, perhaps to offer an opportunity to return once more and inhabit this region where we have lived for many centuries.

4. Some Serbs believe that Kosovo and Metohija are permanently lost and that we need to pull back and take care of the part of Serbia remaining to us. What do you think, can the Serbs survive without Kosovo? I believe that you may think that even if today’s generations do not want to return to Kosovo, the coming generations will want to do so.

The fact that some Serbs think that Kosovo is lost is primarily because they themselves are lost, no longer having faith in God nor the confidence that follows from this faith. If they think that the solution is to amputate Kosovo and Metohija and exclude it from the rest of Serbia, they are grossly deceived because that would be only a temporary solution. Kosovo and Metohija are the soul of the Serbian people, and if we lose our soul, what else can we possibly hope for? The body cannot survive without the soul; over time it will only further disintegrate and eventually completely vanish.

Our generations are much burdened by the past and are incapable of understanding, much less realizing the great deeds that stand before us. I believe that the younger generations that are coming will be more competent to return to that which their fathers have lost. Especially if we take into account that the word Kosovo is our most expensive word, verified and overflowing with the blood of many valiant and innocent victims, and that it has deep roots in the Serbian being and therefore many future generations will not be able to circumvent it nor forget it.

Kosovo will be and remain Serbian, as long as it lives in the soul of the Serbian people and to the degree that Serbs are ready to live in this region, regardless of all the problems that surround us.

5. The year 2005 is considered a critical year for resolving the status of Kosovo. If Kosovo gains independence, which seems likely, what will happen to the Serbian community and especially with the monastic (church) community in Kosovo and Metohija?

Christ’s Church has survived under various empires of this world and ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matt 16, 18). Regardless of the final status given to Kosovo and Metohija, we are seeking to survive in this region, adhering to the Gospel lesson to ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matt 22, 21, Mark 12, 17, Luke 20, 25). We believe that the powerful of this world will ultimately realize that peace and stability in the Balkans cannot be realized through one-sided solutions and we hope that, regardless of the final status, Serbs and especially our holy shrines in this region will be adequately protected.

6. In your opinion, is there any hope of achieving a solution more favourable to the Serbs?

There are several options for the final status of the Province. I personally think that a change in borders in a Europe where everyone is forming ties and becoming integrated is not the path to a better future. It would be very significant for Serbia to preserve at least formal sovereignty of this region if nothing else, with clearly recognized rights to protect its legitimate interests, specifically, to protect its population and cultural and historical legacy. Of course, a solution can be imposed upon Serbia, but Serbia must never renounce its historical deed of title over this region.

7. Why is the international community so persistent in its support of the Albanian option despite the fact, which you mentioned in your lecture, that it is clear that the Albanians will not stop with Kosovo and will also seek parts of South Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece?

Because of the erroneous policies carried out for years in Serbia, the world saw the Albanians as the exclusive victims. Now that picture is slowly changing, but we need to make much more effort as a people and, as the most multiethnic state in the Balkans today, to offer a perspective for the entire region that is much more acceptable than creating ethnically cleansed territories within internationally recognized states. If we follow a wise course, I believe that Serbia will soon be able to assume its place in Europe, and prevent the disintegration of its state territory.

8. There is increasing talk in the media of the possibility of a repeat of an even more brutal version of 17 March last year. Is it really true that some sort of new pogrom is unavoidable and is the Serbian community in Kosovo and Metohija, including the church community, now more ready to defend itself?

This danger always exists, because in Kosovo and Metohija there are still extremist paramilitary forces taking advantage of unemployment, social crises and other problems to manipulate the Albanian population, especially the young. The March pogrom was a painful experience, but also a big wake up call for the international community. KFOR is now far more serious in its approach to this problem, and I believe that 17 March, as we experienced it, will not be repeated. Nevertheless, we must be prepared to bear similar trials bravely without renouncing our ancestral homes and holy shrines. No one can expel us from Kosovo and Metohija if we are firmly determined to stay.

9. Do the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija still believe in the Church as they did before, as in the first days of persecution and expulsion, or is this changing?

The people believe in the Church, because the Serbian Orthodox Church is the only institution that has remained in Kosovo and Metohija and never abandoned them. Confidence in the Church is not only confidence in her diplomatic and political capabilities, but also in that the faithful see the Church as their guide to eternal life, because through many difficulties our goal is to arrive at the Kingdom of Heaven.

10. Your seat is in Visoki Decani Monastery. Is it possible to live normally in the Serbian monasteries located in Metohija?

Thanks to the efforts of the brotherhood and the Italian KFOR troops who provide military protection for us, normal monastic life is going on in our monasteries in Metohija with religious services in the first place, but also regular monastic obediences [duties] and other activities. Despite the difficult conditions, the monks are managing to fulfil their duties regularly in order to benefit the holy shrine in which they live and for the salvation of their souls.

11. What can Serbs on this side of the military border do for Kosovo and Kosovo Serbs?

The Church and her faithful in this region look with hope on their brothers and sisters in other lands where Serbs live, both in the homeland and abroad, and call on them not to forget their spiritual roots, their holy churches and monasteries, and all of us who at the price of our lives want to preserve our historical legacy and survive here in these difficult times. Kosovo and Metohija is a living treasury of Serbian historical memory and spiritual identity, and the Serbs, no matter where they live, must be aware of their spiritual roots without which they will be unable to preserve their being.

12. What is your Christmas message to the Serbian people?

If we want to change the world around us for the better, first we need to begin to change ourselves through repentance, through the divine virtues. This is the way of the Gospel, which differs from secular ‘revolutions’, where people want to change others but are unprepared to confront themselves and their own shortcomings. Our Lord Christ came to earth as God incarnate to triumph over death by His own suffering and bestow life eternal on what He created. He does not asking anything of us that He Himself has not done. He gives us His help, but he asks for our co-operation. That is why Christmas, like every other Church holy-day, is an opportunity to remind ourselves of Christ’s suffering and ‘take up His cross and follow Him’ (Matt 16, 24, Mark 8, 34, Mark 10, 21, Luke 9, 23), knowing that this is the only true path leading to eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven.