I received a nice book from a parishioner who was in Serbia this past summer. Sometimes I receive books, leaf through them and put them on my shelf and forget about them. This book however, “Day to Day with Patriarch Pavle”, is 365 Q&A’s with our beloved Patriarch Pavle of blessed repose and it sits on my desk and everyday I look over the question of the day.
Today’s is the following:
Your Holiness, Many Christians don’t fast today regularly, even those who take communion. Some out of spiritual laziness, others take the position of modern theologians who say that fasting is unnecessary for our salvation because salvation, as they say, “comes only from God our Savior and not from human works”. Do those who purposely do not fast fall under any ecclesiastical penalties?
In the aim of preserving the importance of the fast, the Church has issues a number of regulations that provide for certain remedial measures, epitimia or penance, for violators of the fast.
If we consider them we will see that those measures are the same prescribed for those who commit the gravest of sins: murder, fornication, adultery, theft, perjury, etc.
The fast is not a human, but divine institution. The commandment of fasting the Church of Christ has kept holy from the beginning and throughout history.
Those faithful who do not keep the fast as the Church has prescribed whether in the types of food to be consumed or the length of the fast, according to the decisions rendered by the highest power of the Church, the Ecumenical Council, should either change their view or be excommunicated.
Festal homily of Bishop Grigorije of Düsseldorf and Germany (here), on the feast of the Holy Prophet Elijah the Tishbite:
Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You! Today, brothers and sisters, we celebrate the great and glorious Prophet Elijah. A lot can be said about him based of the Gospel we have just read, but I will say only a few things about why Elijah was so great and famous like few others. After the death of the great King David, who served God gloriously and faithfully, apart from what Holy Scripture says about what he did to Uriah the Hittitie, he served God gloriously and in an orthodox manner. And then, as it often happens in this world, weaker emperors follow who erect idols in the high places and make more prostrations to them than to God. Then the glorious and fearful Prophet Elijah appeared. And what did the Prophet Elijah do? Elijah killed the false priests and overthrew the idols, but he first prepared himself for it with a great spiritual feat which was his podvig.
You are now asking yourself, as we stand in this church, what are these idols? That’s very interesting brothers and sisters. An idol is anything that’s not God. We can make idols out of everything, out of our bodies, out of our clothing. The church can be an idol, so can the priesthood and the episcopate. Especially, in our day, we see how some false spiritual fathers turn into idols. Imagine then what kind of caricature it would be to worship and bow down before politicians?! Presidents, as if they are idols?! An even greater caricature is when someone appears on television and because they know to jump, dance and sing, they become idols. An athlete and knows to hit or kick the ball becomes an idol. We make idols out of all that, brothers and sisters, and we look silly before God and ourselves.
But the worst thing that can happen to us is if we make idols out of ourselves. If we start worshiping ourselves as idols, thinking that we are someone or something without God. When is the Church a place of salvation? When God is in it. When is a bishop, a priest something or someone? When God is in them. When is a man someone or something? When God is in them. When is a man who fights for the people – a politician, let’s say – someone or something? When God is in them, when God’s truth is in them. Anything else and anything beyond that is idolatry. Everything except serving God, the Living God, the One whom David served, the One who – as it was pleasing to the Father and through the might of the Holy Spirit – came into this world to save us. See what an idol nation it is brothers and sisters. Everyone loves their nation, everyone loves their family, that’s quite normal, but we must not make an idol out of family and nation, because idols fall, idols are broken, idols disappear. Why does it say in today’s gospel reading that Elijah did not go to anyone except the widow in Zarephath, and no one was healed by a prophet except Naaman, who was a Syrian, he wasn’t a Jew, he was not from the nation of prophets.
These days I often listen and I deliberately say everything that’s contrary to that idolatry. Who will win: the Russians or the Ukrainians? Are we for Putin or Zelensky? How shameful for us Christians! We are for Christ and for nothing else, and no one else and we do not worship anyone else and we don’t fear anyone else and we don’t attribute divine qualities to anyone else, because we are afraid of falling into idolatry. If we fall into idolatry some Elijah will come and kill us with his right hand. That’s why, as much as is needed let us worship God and rush into His embrace and love. How fearful we should of idols lest we fall into idolatry. How shameful for a Christian to faint when they see some singer or athlete?! Even more shameful is it to worship some miserable and timid politician?! Let them live their lives, let them lie to whomever they wish, but if we are Christians then we must follow Elijah and destroy all idols, both in ourselves and around us.
May you be blessed today and all the days of your life. Amen.
Sermon Delivered by His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Porfirije
Brothers and sisters, Pomaze Bog! Welcome to Serbian Athens. I greet all of you gathered here on behalf of all the hierarchs and clergy present here and, first of all, on behalf of our host, Bishop Irinej of Novi Sad and Backa.
All of us – more or less – share the same or very similar history. For instance, Bishop Irinej’s family came from Dalmatia, where many of you came from, to Backa on one of the trains with no timetable. My family also grew up in a similar way in this rich and hospitable Serbian province. Many other bishops and priests have similar personal or family histories. That’s why we understand each other so well, fundamentally and deeply. This is why we sympathize and gather every year in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We gather, first of all, that invoking the name of God we all pray to the One in Trinity to grant rest to our brothers and sisters, relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens and fellow villagers, all innocent victims of those horrific days in August of1995, that He grant them rest in the desired bosom of our forefather Abraham. We gathered to prayerfully remember the violent exodus of our people from Dalmatia, Banija, Kordun, Lika and western Slavonia.
Let’s not forget the victims and destruction during the Kristallnacht in Zadar; the execution of the old and weak in Medak and the villages of Lika; the terrible terror and those killed in towns and villages, on streets and fields, in houses and apartments as far as Pakrac and the Slavonian villages. All of these are small pebbles in the mosaic of all our sufferings and crucifixions, together with Jadovno, Sisko, Jastrebarski, Mlako, Glin and Jasenovec. With us today are the surviving witnesses of the suffering, who keep and pass on the memory to us. We prostrate before their sacrifice and suffering, and of course we remember, but our memory is not a remembering of evils. Let’s remember – and a hundred times remember – their witness, so that no one could say: that never happened, that’s not true, those were humanitarian activities and institutions that provided hospitality to those who had nowhere to lay their heads and similar stories.
I have said it and will repeat it a hundred times: let us not remember wrongs because the remembering of wrongs could overcome us as well; anger and hatred could crush and weaken every God-given creative potential in us. We must always look to God, look to the Most Innocent One who was crucified on the cross and remember His words to the heavenly Father from the cross: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. That is our faith, the faith of our fathers. That’s the faith Serbian Patriarch German of blessed memory spoke of when he said in Jasenovac: we must forgive because it is a commandment of the Gospel, God Himself commands so, but we will not, must not and cannot forget it prayerfully nor in any other way.
The Holy Martyr Vukasin of Jasenovac, conformed to the crucified Christ on the cross, gazing into the image of God and illuminated by the light of the divine transcendence, received a supernatural power – as savages in Jasenovac were tearing apart parts of his body – to utter the holy and shocking words: “Just do your job, my child”. His words are not an expression of hatred nor defiance, or malice, or rebellion, or contempt because those words are not the words and power that come from any ordinary man. These are the words of a man immersed and focused on Christ. Those words, with the grace and love of Christ, through the holy mouth of the crucified Vukasin, descend from the eternal realm to our time, from the space of love and everlasting joy to the place of fear and tragedy of human existence alienated from God. They come from the abode of God to our abode. We cannot fathom the mystery of Vukasin’s peace in the midst of the most horrific martyrdom through the logic of this transient and limited age. We can, however, if we put our ear to the chest of Christ and listen to the beats of His heart which beat for every person without exception. We can only do it through prayer and our Christian faith because this is not a matter of reason and logic. That’s why today we have also gathered in prayer with faith in Christ the crucified and risen One.
We have gathered here but we must also gather at the place of Vukasin’s suffering, in Jasenovac, as well every place where our innocent brothers and sisters suffered, but also all innocent people regardless of which nation they belong to and how they prayed to God. There we will not only pay our respects to the victims and pray for them but more than anywhere else we will have the opportunity to enter the sanctum of our inner being, our hearts, and be able to stand before the face of eternity, before the image of Christ and in His light, in Him, hear the invitation addressed to everyone and to all of us that we see each person as our brother, as one who belongs to God as much as we do, as much as I do, and that outside of Christ, outside of the house of God, brothers and sisters, a husband and wife, friends and neighbors and all people will become rivals and even enemies, often ready to annihilate each other.
We need to pray for all – more than anywhere else, for ourselves, our neighbors, our people and all people, for those who suffer and are persecuted, for the peace of the whole world. Hence – to put it mildly – it’s humanly unreasonable, wrong and unjust for someone to hinder anyone, whether they be king or beggar, rich or poor, native or foreigner, an ordinary citizen or an official, prime minister or president, or whatever their title might be, from their need to go to the site of Vukasins’s suffering or any other place where they might get in touch with themselves and God and in humility offer a prayer to the Savior of the world.
We will come together in prayer in places like this, such as Novi Sad, our Serbian Athens, and our entire beautiful Serbia which has embraced us, which has infinite breadth, infinite love and kindness for everyone. In Serbia, we don’t ask: how do you cross yourself or how do you pray to God? In Belgrade, in Novi Sad, in Nis, we don’t ask what religion or nationality your mother or father are. Such a Serbia we love and pray for it to remain as such, that in it there always be room and kindness for everyone, every soul and every name. After all, God does not distinguish between names. Every person is equally valuable to God.
We will come together and pray in Dalmatia, in Kordun and Banija, in Lika and Slavonia, in all cities and villages where our near and distant ancestors, our great-grandfathers built churches and monasteries, their hearths and homes. The day before yesterday I was in Lika, in Smiljan, where people from all over gathered. In such a small, yet significant place, we consecrated the restored our Orthodox church from the XVII century, where our great and world renowned Nikola Tesla was baptized and his father, an Orthodox priest, served in that church. Today, Tesla’s Smiljan and his church are a paradigm of the turbulent history of the Serbian people, west of the Sava and the Danube rivers. On the way back to Belgrade my thoughts constantly returned to Lika, to Smiljan, to Tesla’s people, who have always throughout history risen from the ashes, rebuilding themselves, their homes and churches. A part of me – a part of my being – remained in that village, near that restored place of worship. I can only imagine, brothers and sisters, what’s in your souls when your thoughts return to the hearths, to the places, to the churches and cemeteries that you left in the face of mortal danger.
However, we prayerfully and in surety know that our people have countless times, precisely through suffering and sacrifice, achieved the experience of victorious freedom and resurrection. As Christians, we know that all suffering and crucifixion in Christ is already here and now a measure of glory, a measure of victory and triumph. The mystery of the Cross also contains the mystery of victory, the mystery of the resurrection. In that sacrifice and victory, we, faithful Orthodox Christians, find unshakable hope in God’s final justice, even when human justice fails, because the final judgment does not belong to us but to the righteous love of God.
May the grace of God and the “peace which surpasses all understanding” settle in our hearts, in the hearts of all people and nations, that in an evangelical way a solid foundation for a better and fairer future for every individual and every nation be. May God grant memory eternal to all our brothers and sisters who innocently suffered in the operation called “Storm”.
The birthplace of the great Serbian scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, the Lika village of Smiljan, was once again filled with Serbian Orthodox faithful and joy, because together with their diocesan hierarch, Bishop Gerasim of Gornji Karlovac, visiting this town was the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Porfirije.
The joy on His Holiness’ face was evident as he, together with Bishop Gerasim and Bishop Heruvim of Osijek and Baranja, many priests and faithful who came from all over to the native Smiljan, where His Holiness consecrated the restored church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the church where Nikola Tesla was baptized, after which the Holy Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was served.
This very significant spiritual ceremony was attended by member of Parliament Dragana Jeckov, the president of the Serbian National Council, Professor Dr. Milorad Pupovac, Deputy Prefect of Lika-Senj County Milan Uzelac and Director of the Secretariat for Religions of Republika Srpska Dr. Dragan Davidovic.
His Holiness’ address to the gathered faithful:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord has made us worthy today to come to this beautiful region, to this holy place, to celebrate the Holy Prophet Elijah, a man completely dedicated to God, both mind, heart, and body. He said what he felt and he did what he said. The most important thing we can have – as our example to be admired – is to have the faith of the prophet Elijah, it was due to that faith that the Lord made him worthy to manifest the power of God and perform great miracles, miracles which served as warnings, awakening and encouragement not only to keep the true of faith, but also to live according to that faith.
It’s very important – and we see this in the example of the Holy Prophet Elijah – that we know that what we believe determines our behavior, determines how we build our life, determines our relationships with each other. The one who has God as his Father, the one who knows that God is the Father of all creation and as the crown of creation, God is the father of mankind, such a person knows that there is one unique human race and that, precisely because He is one unique Father, all men are brothers. Only from an eternal perspective, through the prism of Christ – Christ and from His Gospel – can we, believing in His word, strive with our entire being to see each other as brothers, to see that we are all, regardless of how different we are, members of one body, members of the same body of the human race, created by God, that we are brothers with all people because we are all created in the image and likeness of God. If there is no perspective of eternity, if we don’t view history from this eternal perspective, rather our beginning and end we only have here and now, then of course our life begins and ends here and now and it also down to the rules which are created here and now . That’s why when we speak, when we act, think, regardless of the fact that we are weak and fall, we know that we are sinful and imperfect, we think and act with Christ, with the Gospel. For us, there is no answer to the question what we think about this or that topic. No, I think what Christ thinks or, better yet, I try with my whole being, despite the fact that I sway and despite the fact that I am sinful, and that I am egoistic, and vain, and self-loving… And despite all that, I try with my whole being to think with Christ, to act with Christ, because as we believe so we live. He who says: The end justifies the means cannot act in the same way. That’s his faith but in accordance with that faith he acts, lives, builds upon his life and relationships. The one who says: My neighbor is my brother, or: Love your neighbor as yourself – when we hear the Word of Christ – for such a person their life is arranged differently.
We have gathered here today, brothers and sisters, on the feast day of the Holy Prophet Elijah, to establish ourselves in our faith, that it not be merely declarative, that it is not be something we merely flaunt with our words, but to make that faith as active as possible in our life. We gathered, and the joy is great and this event is great, that we might consecrated this church dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. An ancient traveler writer wrote: I visited many places, many regions, met many people and saw that all people have their own stamp, their own uniqueness. And that is the charm and beauty of the human race, that all of us – each according to their own gift – enrich humanity, enrich one another and we are enriched by others. Therefore, I can perceive that as a gift from God, everyone has their own uniqueness, their own stamp, something that distinguishes them from other peoples, but there is one thing that is identical, that exists in all peoples – wherever I have been, I have not yet come across a place where it is not a place designated for a church, for prayer, and this applies to all nations. All nations have, says this ancient travel writer, a place they call a church, where they come to pray to God, to plan their physical, historical, transitory life with the metaphysical, eternal and imperishable ones, to design their life with human and divine values, to encounter themselves, meeting eternity and God. There is a place, therefore, in every nation where people come to turn to God individually, but also to gather together, to build communities around spiritual values. We consecrated this church dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in the place where Orthodox Serbs in approximately the year 1600, since they settled in these parts of Lika, determined that this place be a place of prayer, a place of peace and love, to be a place for everyone individually to congregate and to collect oneself from the various and sundry brokenness and dissolution that every man is faced with in his individual life. We know how rare it is that we are in ourselves and with ourselves. This place was determined by Orthodox Serbs in this region to be a place to encounter God, a place where people could encounter one another and that they not only hear, but also that the commandment of Christ echoe in their hearts, that is, Christ’s call to love Him, our God, with our entire beings and other people as ourselves. Distraught and torn apart by various everyday concerns people would come here to find peace, peace in Christ, and then peace within and among themselves. The forces of history, of course, which don’t reconcile themselves to the word of Christ, wanted to eliminate this place, as well as many similar places in many nations, and so in 1941 this church was destroyed. It was destroyed by the Ustasha and many people were injured. 568 people were buried here in the cemetery! Five hundred and sixty-eight people suffered from this region! They rest next to the church they built to be their place of rest and peace. The church was rebuilt in 1986 then again in the 1990s it was destroyed and, glory be to God, rebuilt on the site where the first church was built in the 17th century, the church where, to say the least, the world-famous scientist Nikola Tesla was baptized, who was born in a house near here, and his father was a priest here. Baptized and sealed by Christ and the love of Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, with his gift, but with enormous effort and work, he did a lot for which all of humanity is grateful even today and for generations. However, wherever he went and whatever he did, he never forgot these regions that were imprinted on him and his being, he never forget his Orthodox faith, the faith of his mother and father, the faith of his uncle who was the Orthodox Metropolitan of Sarajevo. He testified to that faith! He was aware that everything he did and had was a gift, and only because he knew that, he was able to produce what he produced and leave us with that gift in humility, in modesty, without a pursuit of worldly fame and power.
It is no coincidence that this church is dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. This is another message: two of the foremost apostles, one very very learned and educated both in faith and in the science of this world, in philosophy, while the other was a simple fisherman. Where there is real and true faith there is also love. The one who is more educated and learned is not better than the one who is not and vice versa. The poor is not better than the rich and vice versa. There, the one who has power is not more important than the one who doesn’t have it and vice versa. Where there is faith and love, there is the place and material that we offer to God’s grace for it to act. The Apostles Peter and Paul are different in everything and each in their own special way, yet still the same in one thing, in their love for Christ and in their faith in Him and the Gospel, – that it is not merely an empty and simple word – that you are blessed when you forgive, that you are blessed when you repent, when you change, that you are blessed when you do good, that you are blessed when you do not respond to an insult with an insult, that you are blessed when you do not avenge yourself. That’s the Gospel. It is not possible to do this on your own and with your own strength. I repeat, it’s always the fruit of God’s grace. Then when they insult me to respond with love. Of course I can’t help myself and my human anger, vindictiveness, maybe even my hatred will manifest in me. However, when I have faith in Christ and turn to Him with prayer and try to have love for Him, I open a place for Him to cleanse my soul, to transform me, to soothe my heart, to soften my thoughts, to make me a man. And so, the Apostles Peter and Paul, though different in everything, moreover, the Gospel even records that they were in disputes, quarreled, used harsh words in relation to each other, but since the framework of their existence was Christ, faith in Him and love for Him , regardless of the disputes, regardless of disagreements, quarrels, harsh words and sin, they always found a way to come to Christ and each other. This church, brothers and sisters, invites us to that. It calls us to faith in Christ, to love for Him. Since it bears the name of the Apostles Peter and Paul, it invites us to imitate their example, to follow in their footsteps, praying to them to have a deeper faith.
I invoke God’s blessing, peace and love on all of us gathered here, on all the people who live in this region, on all the people who live in this country, but also on the whole world. May we all glorify the Triune One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen!
His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Porfirije and Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic signed the Underlying Agreement between the Serbian Orthodox Church and Montenegro today, August 3, 2022, in Podgorica.
The signing of the Underlying Agreement was attended by members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church: His Eminence Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro and the Coastlands, Bishop Vasilije of Srem and Bishop Photije of Zvornik-Tuzla; along with hierarchs whose canonical jurisdiction is within the territory of Montenegro: Bishop Atanasije of Milesevo, Bishop Metodije of Budim and Niksic and Bishop Dimitrije of Zahum and Herzegovina; in attendance were also: the Secretary of the Holy Synod of Bishops Archimandrite Nektarije, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Jokovic, Minister of Human and Minority Rights, Fatmir Djeka, Minister of Health Dragoslav Scekic, and Minister of Finance, Aleksandar Damjanovic.
Upon signing the Underlying Agreement, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Porfirije said:
Esteemed President of the Government of Montenegro, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers in the Government of Montenegro, Brother Archbishops, Most Reverend Metropolitans and Most Reverend Bishops,
I rejoice today, above all, because of our cordial and brotherly meeting here in the capital of Montenegro, the capital of this beautiful country formed and molded in the love of God in such a way that it always remain- as it has been throughout the centuries – home to all people from wherever around the world they might come.
I am foremost grateful to God today, I am grateful to you, Mr. Prime Minister, for all the efforts you have made together with your colleagues to end the vicissitudes that have been going on since 2012 in this most solemn manner today with the signing of the Underyling Agreement between the country of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
At this time I would also like to greet all citizens, regardless of how they pray to God or do not pray to God, whatever nation they belong to. We have so much in common over the centuries that it is truly a luxury to spend time on that which differentiates us, emphasizing and increasing each other’s differences. Centuries have proven that we truly need one another, that we cannot do without each other, and that we can truly accomplish all things when we are together and when we find room in our hearts for one another.
Therefore, I am grateful that, above all, you share in the sentiments regarding this topic of which I speak, the fact that we are directed towards each other, that we need each other. Of course, I am also grateful – in addition to your associates – to all those who have, ever since 2012, added a single pebble to the mosaic on the path leading to this moment and everyone has a place there.
If you will, I am even grateful to those who did not agree that we reach this moment. In their own way, they perhaps unconsciously – because God can use anyone – contributed to our understanding of how important it is for us to have an even better and deeper understanding of each other, that we fight for each other, that only working together can we make huge steps even in a short period of time.
On this occasion, I must express – to say the least – my gratitude and prayerful feeling of love and thanksgiving to Metropolitan Amphilohije of blessed who, regardless of the fact that he encountered various obstacles and those who in various ways wanted to challenge his feeling for the Gospel, his sense of the need for salvation for all people and his feeling of the fact that man is not only a biological and historical being, but created for eternity – he actually did much more than all of us gathered here today from the Church. I am sure that he is also rejoicing today with us in heaven and certainly his prayers contributed to us reaching this act in a simple, quick and easy manner – at least since you have been in the position of Prime Minister and I in the position I find myself in.
It didn’t take many words between us in order to understand that this kind of contract is something that both the state of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church needs. Why? Because we Serbs, in any country we find ourselves or in any country we have ecclesiastical jurisdiction, it goes without saying that we want to respect and obey the constitution and laws of that country. Therefore, I think it is very important that you, respecting the Constitution and laws of Montenegro, and we, also respecting the Constitution and laws of Montenegro, want nothing more than any citizen of Montenegro, nor do we aspire to achieve anything more than any other religious community, however it is naturally both logical and normal that it was not possible for us to accept anything less than that. What is valid for our Church and faithful is also valid for all religious communities here in Montenegro. We strive wherever our Church finds itself, if there exist problems when it comes to other religious communities that we always fight side by side for the rights of that religious community on all issues so that they are respected and applied to, to the same extent as the rights which we expect for ourselves, but also to try to live by them. Of course, the goal is not rights for the sake of having rights.
From our perspective as religious communities, the understanding of ‘rights’ is the space and the possibility for us to help and contribute on the foundation of the Gospel, on the system of evangelical values, to build not only a democratic society, but above all a human society with the aim that all feel and experience each other as brothers, as members of that in which we are all one, and that is first of all that we are parts and members of the human race, and then the rest comes after that.
Thank you once again for all yours efforts and the determination you and your colleagues have shown. I thank all citizens of Montenegro! They should also rejoice, regardless of how much someone will show it or not. May the Lord bless you and your kinsfolk with good health, may He grant peace to you and all people residing in Montenegro and throughout the whole world, something that everyone needs today. May the blessing of God descend on Montenegro, on all the people who live here but also on those who come to Montenegro.