2148 Michelson Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

Monastery Pilgrimage in Russia and Serbia 2010

Collage of pictures of Monastery Pilgrimage in Russia and Serbia 2010

 

An Odyssey Through Yesterday’s Holy Sites of Impe­r­i­al Rus­sia

And Koso­vo In Today’s Mod­ern Times

The times, they are a-chang­ing!” So peo­ple have said through­out the ages as for­eign con­quests, wars, reli­gious con­flicts, the rise and fall of civ­i­liza­tions, polit­i­cal and social upheavals, pesti­lence, and the sim­ple rav­ages of Time, as it march­es on, have all left their influ­ences on the world we live in today. The oppor­tu­ni­ty to “go back in time” to see how the Ortho­dox Church evolved in its strong­holds of Rus­sia, Ser­bia, Mon­tene­gro and Koso­vo, where it still endures and flour­ish­es in the hearts and souls of the Russ­ian and Serb peo­ple today , was a once-in-a-life­time oppor­tu­ni­ty giv­en to two Amer­i­cans of Serb ances­try from Pitts­burgh, PA who went on a monastery pil­grim­age this sum­mer with Fr Blasko Parak­lis , of the Most Holy Theotokus Church in Irvine, CA,. We vis­it­ed 15 monas­ter­ies, where we spent our nights in the very com­fort­able guest rooms at the monas­ter­ies. We shared meals with the priests, monks and nuns, who cul­ti­vate their own fruits and veg­eta­bles, bake their own bread and pas­tries, raise their own chick­ens, sheep, cows and goats, and, at some monas­ter­ies, main­tain their own fish hatch­eries stocked with trout and var­i­ous fish, which is the main­stay of their diets.

Rus­sia

We start­ed our tour in Rus­sia, with a week in Moscow. The one word that defines Moscow in a nut­shell is “t-r-a-f-f- i -c”! Imag­ine a city of 14 mil­lion peo­ple, sur­round­ed by three ring-roads of 5-lanes each (to cir­cum­vent the even more con­gest­ed traf­fic of the city cen­ter), with mil­lions of cars at all hours of the day dri­ven 70 miles an hour and con­stant­ly chang­ing lanes, with only the thick­ness of their paint sep­a­rat­ing them from col­li­sions, or so it seemed to us! When not dodg­ing the bul­let in traf­fic, we rode their world-famous sub­way sys­tem whose trains trav­el at speeds over 100 miles per hour, whose sub­way sta­tions around tourist sites like Red Square and the city-cen­ter are lav­ish­ly dec­o­rat­ed with crys­tal chan­de­liers, bronze stat­ues and art work wor­thy of a muse­um. The trains are always full with mil­lions of Mus­covite com­muters. From the moment they board the trains they all imme­di­ate­ly open a book or the news­pa­per, to read, even the stand­ing pas­sen­gers, as the trains fly through the tun­nels at warp speed. I was sur­prised that, in every instance that I was a stand­ing pas­sen­ger, old­er women or young girls would imme­di­ate­ly offer me, an obvi­ous for­eign­er, their seat, although I declined if we were going only one stop. In Moscow, the pri­ma­ry tourist attrac­tion is the famed Red Square, where we were greet­ed by a dead-ringer Lenin imper­son­ator and a Tsar Nicholas imper­son­ator at the entrance to the square. They were quite chat­ty and friend­ly, and cheer­ful­ly posed for pho­tographs. We were awed by the impres­sive archi­tec­ture and grandeur of build­ings like the Krem­lin and the St Basil Cathe­dral that dom­i­nates one end of the Square, and an indoor shop­ping mall the full length of the Square that could be mis­tak­en for a roy­al palace of the Tsars.

Anoth­er not-to-be-missed site to vis­it in Moscow is the very awe­some Cathe­dral of Christ the Sav­ior that over­looks the Moscow Riv­er in the city cen­ter. The orig­i­nal cen­turies- old cathe­dral was razed to the ground by the Com­mu­nists dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion, who then built a swim­ming pool on the site, then a mar­ket place and final­ly a skat­ing rink, all three of which failed and sank into the ground. When Com­mu­nism fell and was replaced with a new era of “per­e­stroi­ka”, the City Coun­cil decid­ed that the ground at that site was holy ground, and it would only accept a cathe­dral to be on it, so the cathe­dral was rebuilt in its orig­i­nal design. What is so unique about this mag­nif­i­cent edi­fice is that it is real­ly two- cathe­drals-in-one, the vis­i­ble one at ground lev­el that is built on top of anoth­er one under­ground, each one with the high vault­ed ceil­ings and cupo­las, the ornate archi­tec­ture and gold-enhanced roco­co decor, the fres­coes and icons cov­er­ing its walls. A stair­way of 75 steps descends from the upper cathe­dral to the low­er under­ground cathe­dral. It cer­tain­ly deserves its sta­tus as the pride of Moscow!

The city of Moscow is the new Rus­sia, the mod­ern Rus­sia. We found the old Rus­sia in a lit­tle Russ­ian church in a sub­ur­ban vil­lage. This is where we saw the soul of the Russ­ian peo­ple who are so devout, who live their reli­gion in their dai­ly lives, who raise their chil­dren to hon­or their faith, who love and respect their priest, Fr Con­stan­tine, and trust him to coun­sel and guide them. On Sun­day the church was full, with all the vil­lagers in atten­dance, but what sur­prised us was that it was equal­ly as full mid-week on a Wednes­day, when Fr Con­stan­tine did a “bless­ing of the water” ser­vice at a nat­ur­al well of cold, pure spring water on the church grounds. In the Russ­ian tra­di­tion, females of all ages, chil­dren as well as adults, wear a scarf on their heads in church, even to a young moth­er with a new­born baby girl no more than a few weeks old, with a lit­tle ker­chief on the baby’s head. What impressed us the most was that, in this church with­out pews, where the parish­ioners stand through­out the long litur­gy ser­vices, when it came time for Fr Constantine’s ser­mon they all sat down on the floor, adults and chil­dren alike, to lis­ten atten­tive­ly to his homi­ly as he talked to them like a father to his chil­dren, like a teacher to his stu­dents. In this lit­tle vil­lage church there are two note­wor­thy arti­facts. One is a set of 3 stones, sal­vaged from the base­ment of the house where the Tsar’s fam­i­ly was mur­dered dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion, with the Tsar’s blood­stains still vis­i­ble on the stones. The oth­er is a piece of black­ened wood, found in the near­by woods, that was buried when the church was burned down dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. After the fall of Com­mu­nism it was sal­vaged as a use­ful piece of build­ing mate­r­i­al for the new church. While in stor­age, the total­ly black sur­face start­ed to fade spon­ta­neous­ly and show col­ors emerg­ing. There is now a beau­ti­ful bib­li­cal scene emerg­ing in full col­or, so far about 80% com­plete, with about the last 20% yet to emerge. It is con­sid­ered a mirac­u­lous mes­sage of rebirth for the church after the com­mu­nist repres­sion. It now hangs on a wall in the church.

We also vis­it­ed the very beau­ti­ful and impres­sive Lavra Monastery, ded­i­cat­ed to St Sergius and hous­ing his relics. It is locat­ed in the quaint rur­al town of Sergius , about a 1−1÷2 hr dri­ve from Moscow. Lavra has an expan­sive 20-acre com­pound with its gleam­ing blue and gold onion-domed cathe­dral sil­hou­et­ted against the sky­line, and a sem­i­nary that hous­es 3000 monks. It has a famed heal­ing spring in its cen­ter where vis­i­tors fill con­tain­ers with its icy cold pure water to take home, and at a near­by stream vis­i­tors can bathe in the heal­ing waters for phys­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al renew­al. It is a medieval walled city in its own right, with a restau­rant, a bak­ery, a muse­um and shops all con­tained with­in its walls. The grandeur of this monastery is breath­tak­ing, and it exudes a feel­ing of peace­ful­ness and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty as one walks through its grounds.

The Sit­u­a­tion in Koso­vo

On leav­ing Rus­sia we flew to Ser­bia, and after a few days to recu­per­ate from “the hottest sum­mer in Moscow in 130 years”, we decid­ed to go to Koso­vo, in spite of the poten­tial dan­ger of trav­el­ing in this hos­tile Alban­ian-con­trolled province that is the birth­place of the Ser­bian nation. Since the 1995 war, Koso­vo is still occu­pied by NATO mul­ti-nation­al forces, known as KFOR. We were informed that the Bish­op of Koso­vo had pro­vid­ed for a KFOR escort for us, to take us to the Monastery Decani , where we would leave our car with its Serb license plates and be lent a monastery car with Koso­vo plates and a dri­ver. This would enable us to trav­el between monas­ter­ies as pre­sumed-to-be- Alban­ian Kosso­vars , with­out being attacked as Serbs. Before Clinton’s “wag-the-tail” war (which the locals call the Mon­i­ca Lewin­sky war), there were over 1500 Ser­bian monas­ter­ies and church­es in this Ser­bian home­land. Almost all of which were burned by the Alba­ni­ans. NATO made no effort to pro­tect them. Because they were com­plic­it in this destruc­tion of Serb holy sites, the Euro­pean Union has allot­ted mil­lions of dol­lars in fund­ing for these monas­ter­ies and church­es to be rebuilt, with the pro­vi­so that they can no longer be called Ser­bian monas­ter­ies, but, rather, be known as “Euro­pean Her­itage Sites”, in def­er­ence to the Alba­ni­ans, who object to hav­ing “Chris­t­ian” holy sites built in “their” Islam­ic coun­try. The few remain­ing Serb monas­ter­ies and church­es are pro­tect­ed by KFOR, 24 hours a day, with mil­i­tary units post­ed at their entrances that are sur­round­ed by barbed wire. We sur­ren­dered our pass­ports to these mil­i­tary units on arrival at each monastery and retrieved them only on depar­ture from the monas­ter­ies. Some monas­ter­ies had KFOR Ital­ian forces, some French, some Ger­mans and some Slove­ni­ans. Church­es locat­ed in town cen­ters were pro­tect­ed by KFOR police, rather than the mil­i­tary. One of the town church­es we vis­it­ed had only 3 elder­ly women liv­ing there, who refused to leave dur­ing and after the war. An Aus­tri­an police- woman is assigned to pro­tect them. She has learned to speak Ser­bian just so that she could con­verse with them. Most of the monks and nuns liv­ing in monas­ter­ies have not set foot out­side their walls in the 15 years since the war because of the risk of being behead­ed and/or dis­mem­bered, which is what has hap­pened to those who ven­tured out­side their walls to pick fruit or veg­eta­bles grow­ing in open fields. The most recent purg­ing of Serbs by the Alba­ni­ans was in 2004, when the Alba­ni­ans went on a ram­page, burn­ing and loot­ing Serb homes and killing the Serbs who had fled to Ser­bia dur­ing the 1995 war but had returned to Koso­vo with assur­ances of pro­tec­tion by NATO, only to be imme­di­ate­ly mur­dered. There now remains only two “enclaves” of Serbs in all of Koso­vo, one with only 6 fam­i­lies in it, and the oth­er the town of Mitro­vice , where 300 Serbs reside as vir­tu­al pris­on­ers in their homes, not dar­ing to go out­side unless nec­es­sary, even with­in the town itself. The town has no pro­tec­tive walls, as the monas­ter­ies do, but they do have a qua­si-pro­tec­tion by a KFOR pres­ence.

Ser­bia

En route to Koso­vo, we vis­it­ed 2 monas­ter­ies in Ser­bia, in the moun­tain­ous ter­ri­to­ry of Ras . The first stop was a brief vis­it with the Bish­op of Ras , at Zhi­ca Monastery. He was very gra­cious and hos­pitable. He phoned ahead to the Abbott of the very beau­ti­ful Stu­den­it­sa Monastery, our first overnight stop, request­ing that we be con­sid­ered his guests. We spent two nights in Stu­den­it­sa in their com­fort­able guest quar­ters. The two 800 years old bod­ies of Prince Ste­fan, (son of King Ste­fan Neman­ja in the 13 th cen­tu­ry), younger broth­er of St Sava, and their moth­er, are housed there as relics. Their cas­kets were opened for us so that we could view their still com­plete­ly intact bod­ies and mar­vel at how well they have endured the pass­ing of time over 8 cen­turies, with­out any form of embalm­ing. Leg­end has it that if you crawl under the cas­ket of St Sava’s broth­er, your ail­ments can be cured. Hav­ing done this dur­ing a pre­vi­ous vis­it to Stu­den­it­sa last year, I can per­son­al­ly attest to a remark­able improve­ment in a chron­ic ail­ment that is no longer symp­to­matic. Since the first crawl had been so effec­tive, I did the crawl again to rein­force my much improved health sta­tus.

At this monastery we met a tall, lanky, elder­ly Amer­i­can man from Texas, who had been mar­ried to an Amer­i­can Serb whom he dear­ly loved, and had con­vert­ed to the Ortho­dox faith for her. In his Texas drawl he told us that he and his wife had vis­it­ed Ser­bia sev­er­al times on sum­mer vaca­tions, loved it and decid­ed to retire there. They set­tled in Kotor , on the Adri­at­ic coast.. They made a pact that who­ev­er died first, the oth­er would then retire to a monastery where they would be tak­en care of, rather than live alone.. They liked the moun­tain­ous region of Ras , which they had vis­it­ed many times, so his wife would go to the female monastery of Zhi­ca as a nun, and he would go to the male monastery of Stu­den­it­sa as a monk. His wife died 6 months ago, so, true to their pact, he came to Stu­den­it­sa to live as a monk. He changed his name from Robert (McDou­gal) to Fr Nikoli , and he works dai­ly in the monastery’s gar­dens to earn his upkeep. Although lan­guage is still a bar­ri­er the monks are teach­ing him to speak Ser­bian.

Koso­vo

The next day we trav­eled through Mon­tene­gro to the bor­der of Koso­vo, where we were met by our KFOR escort, who were Ital­ian sol­diers with NATO. A car with 4 nuns from Zhu­pa monastery in Mon­tene­gro also joined our escort par­ty as we trav­eled first to the monastery of Pec for a brief vis­it while our escort wait­ed for us, then to our des­ti­na­tion for the night at Decani monastery. All of the monas­ter­ies we vis­it­ed had beau­ti­ful gar­dens land­scaped with rose bush­es and hydrangeas, but, of all the monas­ter­ies , Pec was by far the most beau­ti­ful! At this monastery there is an eight cen­turies old mul­ber­ry tree, with its thick mis­shapen branch­es held up with sup­ports, but still pro­duc­ing the sweet­est mul­ber­ries we have ever eat­en. We ate bowl­fuls of these deli­cious mul­ber­ries that we picked our­selves, with the aid of the nuns. One of the nuns, a quite beau­ti­ful woman speak­ing impec­ca­ble Eng­lish, was the for­mer wife of Pres­i­dent Tadich of Ser­bia. Their courtship and mar­riage was a well-known love sto­ry that entranced the peo­ple of Ser­bia, but, because she could not have chil­dren, she divorced him so that he could remar­ry and have a fam­i­ly. She then chose to lead a monas­tic life rather than live a sec­u­lar life with­out her beloved hus­band. There are four church­es on the monastery grounds, all ded­i­cat­ed to St Nicholas, whose body is interred in a cas­ket in the main church, along with anoth­er cas­ket con­tain­ing four pre­served heads of Saints and Arch­bish­ops who suc­ceed­ed St Sava. Both cas­kets were opened for us to view the relics. Also in this main church is an orig­i­nal 2000 years old icon paint­ed by the apos­tle St Luke, as well as the old­est and what is con­sid­ered the best fres­co of Jesus Christ in exis­tence.

From Pec , our escorts deliv­ered us safe­ly to Decani monastery, where we spent the night. At Decani the relics of St Ste­fan, from the 12 th cen­tu­ry, are interred in a cas­ket. Every Thurs­day there is an evening ves­per ser­vice attend­ed by all the Ital­ian NATO forces in the area. There were about 40 sol­diers at the litur­gy, which ends with the cas­ket of St Ste­fan being opened for view­ing his body, and all the KFOR sol­diers in atten­dance lined up to ven­er­ate the relics. At Decani we met the monk, Fr Hilar­i­an , a very tall (about 6′8″) hand­some man who had been one of the most famous actors and movie stars in Ser­bia, win­ning the equiv­a­lent of the Euro­pean Oscar awards sev­er­al times as best actor. At the height of his fame he gave up his celebri­ty life-style to enter the Church as a monk, which he felt was his true call­ing and des­tiny.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing we left our car, with its Serb license plates, at Decani and were giv­en a monastery car with Koso­vo plates and a dri­ver, so that we could pro­ceed with our monastery tour with­out a KFOR escort. We were accom­pa­nied by a very learned young monk, Fr Niphant , who spoke Eng­lish per­fect­ly, as our guide and men­tor. Our next monastery was Cetinje , where the relics are the body of St Peter, and the hand of St John the Bap­tist. Our overnight stop was at the Gra­cani­ca monastery, where we had the hon­or and plea­sure of meet­ing the Bish­op Teo­dosi­je , Bish­op of Koso­vo He is a tru­ly saint­ly man who radi­ates a kind­ness and gen­tle­ness of spir­it, hon­or and humil­i­ty. Dur­ing the war an elder­ly Alban­ian man, ema­ci­at­ed, wound­ed and dis­ori­ent­ed, was found wan­der­ing in the woods out­side the monastery. The Bish­op took him in and cared for him for one month until he found out the name of the man’s Alban­ian vil­lage. He called in the Com­man­der of the Serb forces in that area and made him promise that no Serb sol­dier under his com­mand would harm this man nor his vil­lage. The Bish­op then per­son­al­ly took the man to his vil­lage, where the aston­ished vil­lagers had pre­sumed him to have been killed by the Serbs and rejoiced at his return. The man then asked the Bish­op if he would grant him one favor before depart­ing. “Allow me to kiss your hand”, he said.

In the town of Prizren , where the burned out church is being rebuilt with EU funds, we met a priest who had for­mer­ly served in Alas­ka. He was replac­ing the two for­mer priests at this church, one of whom was found behead­ed 10 years ago when the church was burned. The body of the oth­er has nev­er been found. At our next monastery, Devich, which had also been burned and was still in ruins, there were 6 nuns liv­ing there. The Abbess had gone to Ser­bia to buy sup­plies when the monastery was attacked in 2004, The KFOR French unit assigned to pro­tect them evac­u­at­ed the 5 remain­ing nuns to safe­ty, but allowed the monastery to be burned. “Our orders were to pro­tect per­son­nel only, not to pro­tect prop­er­ty”, they said. The Abbess said that if she had been there she would have refused to let her nuns be evac­u­at­ed, and the French would have been oblig­ed to pre­vent the burn­ing in order to pro­tect the nuns. At this still burnt out ruined monastery there is a well with a his­to­ry of mir­a­cles, whose water is reput­ed to cure peo­ple. Dur­ing the Turk­ish occu­pa­tion 500 years ago the Sul­tan had ordered his troops to destroy the monastery and kill all the Serbs in the near­by vil­lage. En route to do this, the Turk­ish troops all sud­den­ly and inex­plic­a­bly went mad, crazy mad, and were unable to car­ry out their mis­sion. The Sul­tan rec­og­nized that a super­nat­ur­al force was at play and rescind­ed his order. Since then, and to this day, the vil­lage is known as Crazy Vil­lage. Even now, the Alba­ni­ans who now occu­py Crazy Vil­lage come and bring their sick and dis­abled to drink the water from the well. A blind Alban­ian boy from the vil­lage had his sight restored, and there are leg­ends of oth­er mir­a­cle heal­ings. We each col­lect­ed a bot­tle of this holy water to bring home with us.

In Pristi­na , the cap­i­tal of Kosso­va , there is a stat­ue in the city cen­ter of Pres. Clin­ton, with one arm out­stretched, palm upward, “giv­ing Kosso­va ” to the Alba­ni­ans as their coun­try. The Alba­ni­ans fond­ly say that Clin­ton is their God, and Madeleine Albright is their Queen. By con­trast, just out­side of Pristi­na is Kosso­va Pol­je , “Black­birds’ Field”, the site of the Bat­tle of Koso­vo on June 15, 1389, when the Turk­ish forces defeat­ed the Serbs led by Tsar Lazar, and Ser­bia was dom­i­nat­ed by the Ottoman Empire for the next 500 years. . There is an impres­sive mon­u­ment, ded­i­cat­ed to the Serb defend­ers in this bat­tle, and near­by there is an Islam­ic mon­u­ment, shaped like a tur­ban, that marks the site where Tsar Lazar killed the Sul­tan dur­ing the bat­tle. Every year dur­ing the month of June there is a dark red wild­flower that cov­ers the bat­tle site, mak­ing Black­birds Field look like a blood-stained field. This flower, stud­ied by many Botanists, is unique to this field and does not exist or grow any­where else in the world!

Our last and final monastery vis­it in Koso­vo was at Veli­ka Hocha monastery, where the moth­er of the Bish­op of Koso­vo resides as a nun. This monastery is guard­ed by Sloven­ian KFORs. We again met the actor-monk, Fr Hilar­i­an , here. He comes once a week to con­duct a litur­gy ser­vice for the nuns liv­ing there.. We also met again one of the 4 nuns who trav­eled with our escort on arrival in Kosso­va . Sr Anphilokia , a love­ly young woman, was reas­signed from her monastery in Mon­tene­gro to now serve in Koso­vo at this monastery.. After this vis­it we returned to Decani once again to spend our last night in Koso­vo. In the morn­ing we retrieved our Serb car, and our Ital­ian escorts led us back through the mas­sive moun­tain­ous ter­rain to the bor­der of Mon­tene­gro, where we bid them a fond adieu, with our grate­ful thanks for their pro­tec­tion. The sad­dest part of leav­ing Koso­vo was know­ing that in Decem­ber this year, just 4 months from now, NATO plans to with­draw all their KFOR troops from Koso­vo, which, in the last week of July 2010, was declared an inde­pen­dent coun­try by the Inter­na­tion­al Court in The Hague., there­fore no longer a NATO pro­tec­torate. They will turn over the respon­si­bil­i­ty for pro­tect­ing the Serb monas­ter­ies and church­es, and the 2 Serb enclaves, to the Mus­lim Alban­ian Koso­vo police, which is like expect­ing the fox to guard the hen house! The Serbs of Koso­vo, the priests and monks and nuns in the monas­ter­ies and the res­i­dents of the 2 Serb enclaves„ are all very fear­ful of what will hap­pen to them once their KFOR pro­tec­tors leave in Decem­ber. On leav­ing our final monastery of Veli­ka Hocha , Sr Anphilokia gave me a hug and whis­pered in my ear “Pray for us!” And that is all we can do for these brave, ded­i­cat­ed guardians of our Ortho­dox her­itage in Koso­vo!

Mon­tene­gro

As we drove through Mon­tene­gro we were dwarfed by the mas­sive “black moun­tains”, cov­ered with forests so dense that it was hard to imag­ine how any­one could even walk through them. The Swiss Alps and the Rocky Moun­tains pale by com­par­i­son, and only the Himalayas can be con­sid­ered com­pa­ra­ble. The scenery is stun­ning! We drove through at least 25 or more pitch-black tun­nels with no light­ing in them, bored through sol­id rock in the moun­tain­sides along the shores of Lake Piva . In Mon­tene­gro we vis­it­ed 2 monas­ter­ies. Ostrok Monastery is the pride of Mon­tene­gro, a nation­al mon­u­ment, where the body of St Basil lies in an open cas­ket to allow the dai­ly throng of thou­sands of pil­grims and tourists to ven­er­ate his remains. Built high atop a mas­sive moun­tain, it is accessed by a hair-rais­ing 5-mile dri­ve up a very nar­row wind­ing road with no guard rails, where the car wheels were only inch­es from the cliff edge if 2 cars had to pass each oth­er. Only the façade of the church is vis­i­ble, built flat against the sol­id rock moun­tain top, like a white patch on the gray stone. The inte­ri­or of the church has been hol­lowed out of the rock. On a nar­row cliff about 60 ft above the church façade there is a grape vine grow­ing in a small 6-ft by 3-ft patch of earth, still pro­duc­ing grapes since the 15 th cen­tu­ry! Nine­ty years ago a woman with a tod­dler baby was pick­ing the grapes, when her baby fell off the cliff onto the rocks 60 ft below. The dis­traught moth­er found her baby total­ly unharmed, play­ful­ly laugh­ing, with no injury of any kind! That baby lived to be 80 years old, and he died just 10 years ago, in 2000! This is one of the many mir­a­cles attrib­uted to St Basil. In the 15 th cen­tu­ry he was buried in the ground for 10 years, just his body cov­ered with earth, with­out any pro­tec­tive cas­ket. In a dream he instruct­ed the Abbott to build a church, then retrieve his body from the gravesite and place it in the church. He was then dug up and found to be total­ly intact, with­out any tis­sue dis­in­te­gra­tion! He was placed in a cas­ket in the church, where his still intact 600 years old body remains today. Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties make pil­grim­ages to Ostruk , seek­ing to be healed by St Basil, and there is a his­to­ry of mirac­u­lous heal­ings. Our sec­ond monastery in Mon­tene­gro was Moracha , whose rel­ic is the hand of St Kar­alampius , a Saint who died in the year 203. At this monastery there are 30 nuns who run a thriv­ing work­shop where they paint icons for church­es, they do exquis­ite embroi­dery and embroi­der the robes worn by Bish­ops, they weave their own cloth on looms, and they make pot­tery and jew­el­ry as reli­gious sou­venirs that are sold in church­es and monas­ter­ies, not just in Ser­bia but through­out Europe. They are all very skilled artists at what they do.

Thus end­ed our per­son­al­ized guid­ed tour by Father Blasko , facil­i­tat­ed by the Bish­ops of Ras , Mon­tene­gro and Koso­vo who arranged a red-car­pet treat­ment for us by the Abbotts and Abbess­es of the many monas­ter­ies we vis­it­ed. Their hos­pi­tal­i­ty was bound­less, and all the monks, priests, and nuns whom we met will live for­ev­er in our mem­o­ries. To call this odyssey through Serbia’s his­to­ry a once-in-a-life­time oppor­tu­ni­ty, the kind of expe­ri­ence that mon­ey can­not buy, does not do it jus­tice. We call it what it tru­ly was … price­less!!!

With our thanks to Fr Blasko Parak­lis for reunit­ing us with our proud Ser­bian her­itage on this pil­grim­age through the lands of our ances­tors, we are two grate­ful fel­low pil­grims from Pitts­burgh, PA,

Marie Wilkie and
Robert DePhillips

Help us by sharing!