Pictured above: Metropolitan Amphilohije, Bishop Atanasije and Patriarch Pavle
After today’s Divine Liturgy at Djurdjevim Stupovima Bishop Joanikije said the following about the newly reposed Bishop Atanasije.
Loosely translated from here:
He was a man of universal breadth of spirit, known to all the Churches of God throughout the world as a great theologian, an extraordinary person, a luminous individual and we can freely say that such people are born, perhaps, once in a century. Bishop Atanasije is the pride of our Church and Serbian theology, as a theologian among the modern, great theologians, especially mentioned as a theologian who is particular and special, the one who bares the Gospel, the Apostolic Patristic tradition, who was the living, walking Gospel, an enlightened mind of the Church of God. His thinking was bright, quick, luminous, perceptive, sharp and his speech was the same.
Speaking of him as a professor the bishop added, “He was a little strict, but, it was only in appearance, his heart was very compassionate, he was prone to tears very often, very gentle, willing to come down to your level, but his strictness was pedagogical because he wanted to build young generations to be able to shake things off, when things get hard not to complain, not to shy away but to be able to say openly what was on their minds have, to have that freedom. As God once called Job to be a free man, he also wanted people to be free because that is the only way they would be useful to their people and their Church.
We no longer have theologians of such great knowledge, who have immersed themselves in the tradition of the Holy Fathers tradition, but God willing we will still have them. After Saint Bishop Nikolaj, we had Bishop Amphilohije and Bishop Atanasije. They were inseparable from a young age, from their days at the Belgrade Theological Seminary, as close brothers. He would criticize Amphilohije at times, but it was a brotherly freedom, jovial, between brothers, and Amphilohije saw his criticism as that, it was an inexpressible bond between the two of them. It was always nice for him to hear Atanasije criticize him for something, and there they showed themselves as being ones of apophatic theology.
Bishop Atanasije was a great supporter of Amphilohije in all things and we cannot imagine them without each other. It’s not strange then that soon after Amphilohije’s death, Atanasije also left, as if, in fact, they left together.
Also, let’s not forget how much he loved his Serbian people, followed in the footsteps of their sufferings from a young age, when we knew him as Hieromonk Atanasije. The first appeal regarding Kosovo and Metohija to the authorities of Serbia, the then tragic Yugoslavia, which refused to pay attention to Kosovo, was written by Bishop Atanasije and was supported by about 30 priests; later, his small book “From Kosovo to Jadovno”, listing the places where Serbs suffered, which he later expanded, then the book about Jasenovac, not to mention his constant visits to Kosovo. “There was not a single Serb who knew Kosovo and Metohija better, the churches, toponymys, the geography, the rivers, traditions and the memory of Kosovo Serbs,” added Bishop Joanikije.
He also pointed out that Bishop Atanasije supported the people in Herzegovina when Herzegovina suffered from the Ustasha and Muslims in during the previous war. “He went bare-handed to the frontlines, encouraging the soldiers; his role was immense since there was no man among the generals and officers who could instill the spirit of courage in the people of Herzegovina such as Atanasije. We also remember how much he sacrificed to help the people, the poor, the orphans at that time, how many trucks of flour he loaded and unloaded. That is why he was loved by the youth of Niksic, because they always helped him when help came and took it there,” the Bishop reminded.
Just as his spiritual father, whom he loved very much and whose works were published mostly due to him, Father Justin Popovic was the conscience of the Serbian Church during the communist era, so was the case in our time, – which was also very difficult and complex – with Bishop Athanasius who was the conscience of the Church and the people. His words went straight to the truth, and the truth often hurts. That is why he had difficulties, especially with the authorities, from the communist authorities to the newest ones. And when we had difficulties here with the authorities in Montenegro he gave great support to our clergy and people, to Metropolitan Amphilohije and to us bishops in Montenegro to defend our churches.
He was one to criticize [his Serbian people] very often but he loved them with all his heart, he was delighted when one of us showed virtue, any one of us. A great connoisseur of spiritual values that we have nurtured throughout our history, and especially the Kosovo-Metohija tradition, which is the core of our spirituality and our national idea, the depth that binds us to all other true values.
“It is a great loss, but it is also a great gain in Heaven and we are grateful to God for giving him to us, someone so unique, man of luminous thoughts, a bright mind, a bright character, deep emotions, great love and sacrifice. May God grant him rest and that we always remember him and his deeds”, said Bishop Joanikije