Crazy John

I wanted to mention a book I finished reading recently, one that only took two days to read but could easily be read in one sitting (I didn’t have the time to sit that long). The name of the book is  “Crazy John”  and it’s a translation of a Greek book which apparently is quite popular in Greece. It’s a slender, 132-page book and very easy to read.

The main character is a fool for Christ known in an unnamed Athens neighborhood as Crazy John.  A major part of the story takes place at the local parish church after the Trisagion prayer for Crazy John who had passed away and the parishioners begin sharing one story after another of how John went out of his way to help them spiritually, emotionally and even (and in many cases) financially. The priest, listening to all the stories says at one point: “Oh what a treasure did our Lord hide in our neighborhood! What miracles took place right under our noses, and we didn’t realize it! How hard have our hearts become and how blind have we all turned by greed and seclusion from all but our close relations!”

The epilogue says that the time and the place where John lived is not what’s important, rather what is important  is whether we, as Christians, are willing to follow in the footstep of Crazy John.  Of course, this poses the question: did he actually exist or is this a work of fiction? To be honest I picked up the book thinking  it was a modern day fable and didn’t treat it as traditional hagiography which didn’t make it less enjoyable. In fact, I recommend you include it your list of summer reading.

We fight the Battle of Kosovo

A homily delivered by former bishop of Ras-Prizren Artemije from 2007:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

Your Eminence, venerable and honorable fathers, brothers and sisters, Your Excellency, Mr. Minister! A joyous and blessed Vidovdan  on this evening which has brought us together here before the beautiful Gracanica, to celebrate the 618th memory of the battle of Kosovo when Prince Lazar and the other Serbian knights laid down their lives for the Heavenly Kingdom, for those eternal values which give value to life, but are also worth dying for when needed.

The battle of Kosovo is different from other battles in the history of mankind. All battles last, some shorter some longer, and then they are finished and they enter history; but the battle of Kosovo has lasted, behold, over six hundred years. And we find ourselves in the final phase of the Kosovo battle, or so it seems to us, and if it will be, probably, that the Kosovo battle will continue after us and after our generation. Why? Because it is the battle for the Heavenly Kingdom, for the Honorable Cross and Golden Freedom, for those eternal values without which there is no life to the Orthodox Serb and without which he could not exist. For this reason every generation, every age, every man is really fighting the battle of Kosovo.

Our time is exceptional in that right today, when many of the mighty of the world are trying to snatch Kosovo and Metohija from the bosom of Serbia, to pluck it out as a heart is plucked out and to turn Serbia into a corpse, we are fighting not to allow that. And I believe that no one will be able to take from us what is to us the most holiest, that which to us is the most precious, more than even our lives. In this may the holy Prince Lazar be our guide and leader, as he was on the Kosovo field on that famous battle of Kosovo in 1389, while we, with faith in God, with hope in God’s help will endure on this territory, to remain here, by our holy sites, by our tombs, on the land of our ancestors. Let us not allow any winds to blow us away from here, let us not sell that which our ancestors left for us to preserve and pass on to our younger, future generation. Only if we live in Kosovo, brothers and sisters, Kosovo and Metohija will live in Serbia and in the Serbian people.

May the Lord allow it to be thus through the prayers of the Holy Prince Lazar and all the others venerable Saints from our people. Amen, God grant it.

Our Faith is Indestructible

Tomorrow is the great Serbian feast of Vidovan, the feastday of the Holy and GreatMartyr Lazar of Kosovo and all Serbia Martyrs. I found this message of Metropolitan Amphilohije from the Serbian Patriarchate website archive page, from last year’s feast:

“As the poem says, ‘Vidovdan, my eye’s vision, with you I see what others don’t see,’ on this Vidovdan, just as ever other, we see what we were from the time of the Battle of Kosovo…we see Prince Lazar and his choice for the Heavenly Kingdom, his sacrifice for the faith and his journey on which is founded not only Vidovdan but the fate of our entire people…..We see that which happened today and we see that hope is indestructible because the foundation on which Kosovo is built is indestructible, the holy sites which are sown throughout  it are indestructible, for the faith which defended us and fed us and kept us throughout the ages to this day is indestructible.”

Vidovdan, he stated, bears witness not only to what we once were but to what we are and that God is always with His faithful.

The Bulwark of Christianity

H/T: Serbian newspaper Politika (here), loose translation:

Two Controversial Statements in Croatia

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), regarding the recent two-day visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Zagreb, noted that the First Hierarch of the Roman Catholic Church sent a series of universal messages but two were remembered as controversial and not only in the Serbian public.

The Pope made both statements in the plane before he arrived in Zagreb.

It was noted that in an interview with reporters he recalled how previous Archbishops of Zagreb, the late Cardinal Franjo Seper, Franjo Kuharic and Josip Bozanic always said that Croatia is not in the Balkans but in Central Europe, “it would be logical and fair and Croatia needs to join the European Union, which it has always historically and culturally belonged in. ”

The SOC, as it is noted, does not want to believe that the statement the Pope made had any intention of placing the Balkans somewhere outside of Europe. Nor to return to the beginning of the 16th century, when his predecessor Leo X marked Croatia as a “bulwark of Christianity”.

It should not go without being mentioned, as stated in the SOC, that in that “bulwark” during those times, in addition to the Zrinski and Frankopan, many Serbs were also guarding that border, and today, after five centuries of historical presence, all of the sudden there are either no more or the few are surviving ones serve as a remainder of a slaughtered and banished people.

“From our viewpoint, we in the Balkans, that is we Serbs, do not see Europe in a narrow horizon of Western and Central Europe, even in a broad range from the Atlantic to the Urals, but we see it as a civilized continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or from the Canaries to the Kuril Islands because it is a unique spiritual space, which has the same Christian roots and shares the same ideals of value,” was stated in the communique.

From the SOC it is pointed out that members of the Orthodox people in the Balkans not only love their homeland, but all the Balkans, the Byzantine-Slavic, but also the Western Christian,  Muslim, its more broader – Romani – homeland, conscious of the fact that it gave Europe its two foundations of civilization, Christianity and Hellenism.

The statement signed by Bishop Irinej of Backa calls to mind the anthropological formulation of the late Pope John Paul II that there is no Europe without “both lungs, one of which is called Orthodox or Eastern Christian, mostly Greek-Slavic …”

According to the SOC the second controversial message of the Pope was related to Aloysius Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II regarding whom the Pope said that he “defended the right of humanity against the regime, defending Serbs, Jews, Gypsies.”

“Given the fact that Stepinac was the military vicar of the “Independent State” of Croatia – or, according to others, appointed the military vicar – and was a member of Parliament of the Independent State of Croatia, and, on the other hand, given the fact known worldwide of the Ustasha physical and spiritual genocide of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, we must point out that, in light of these historical facts, this dimension of the personality of Stepinac is, at the least, one-sidedly exaggerated or, more likely, it is forcibly fictitious…”, was stated in the communique.

Pope Benedict XVI visited Zagreb May 4-5 and during that time he, as was evaluated by the SOC, sent out messages that encourage Christians, especially Roman Catholic bishops and priests to be permanently committed to the reconciliation between divided Christians, as well as between Christians and Muslims.