A Day of Remembrance of Those Who Suffered and Were Exiled in the Criminal “ Operation Storm”

Taken from here

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”.

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