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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

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