On 4 August 2022, in the city of Novi Sad, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije served a memorial service for the Serbs who suffered death in the criminal action “Storm”.
Probably the largest gathering in the history of Novi Sad began with a commemoration for the Serbs who suffered death in the criminal action “Storm”, which was served by His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije before several tens of thousands gathered, and in the prayerful presence of the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops – Their Graces Bishops Vasilije of Srem and Irinej of Bačka. The event on the occasion of marking the Remembrance day of all Serbs who suffered death or were expelled in the Criminal Action “Storm” was also attended by: President of the Republic of Serbia Mr. Aleksandar Vučić, President of the Republic of Srpska Mrs. Željka Cvijanović, Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mr. Milorad Dodik, presidents of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska, presidents of the Parliaments of the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska, political representatives of the Serbian people in Montenegro and Croatia, representatives of traditional religious communities in Serbia.
Address of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije
Brothers and sisters, God be with you! Welcome to Serbian Athens. I greet all of you gathered here on behalf of all the Bishops and clerics present, and first of all on behalf of our host – Bishop of Novi Sad and Bačka kyr Irinej.
We all to a certain extent share the same or very similar history. For example, Bishop Irinej’s family came from Dalmatia, where many of you came from, to Bačka on one of the trains without a timetable. My family also in a similar way found itself in this rich and hospitable Serbian province. And many other Bishops and clerics have such a personal or family history. That is why we understand each other so well, essentially 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 we may, calling the name of God, all together pray to Him in the Trinity to rest our brothers and sisters, relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens and fellow villagers, all innocent victims of the terrible August days in 1995, in the desired arms of our forefather Abraham. We gathered to prayerfully remember the violent exodus of our people from the areas of Dalmatia, Banija, Kordun, Lika and Western Slavonia.
We do not forget the victims and destruction in the Crystal Night in Zadar; the execution of the old and infirm in Medak and villages of Lika; terrible terror and murdered people in towns and villages, on streets and fields, in houses and apartments as far as Pakrac and Slavonian villages. All of these are pebbles in the mosaic of our sufferings and crucifixions, together with Jadovno, Sisak, Jastrebarski, Mlaka, Glina and Jasenovac. Surviving witnesses of the suffering who preserve and pass on the memory to us are here with us today. We bow down to their sacrifice and suffering, and of course we remember, but our memory is not about holding grudges. We remember and let us remember a hundred times their testimonies, so that no one could say: that did not happen, that is not true, those were only humanitarian activities, those were institutions that provided hospitality to those who had nowhere to lay their heads and the like.
I will repeat it a hundred times: let us not hold grudges, because if we hold grudges it would overcome us too; anger, hatred would crush us, they would weaken every God-given creative potential in us. We must always look at the face of God, look at the Most Innocent who was crucified on the cross and remember the words that He addressed to the heavenly Father from the cross: Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing. This is our faith; this is the faith of our fathers. This is the faith that Serbian Patriarch German of blessed memory expressed in Jasenovac with the words: we must forgive, because it is a Gospel commandment, God himself commands so, but we will not, must not and cannot forget it prayerfully and in any other way.
Holy Martyr Vukašin of Jasenovac was like the crucified Christ on the cross, with his sight directed towards the face of God and illuminated by the light of the divine transcendence, because he received the mind-transcending power to utter the holy shocking words, while the monster in Jasenovac was tearing apart his body parts: “Do your job, child”. His words are not an expression of hatred, nor defiance, nor spite, nor revolt, nor contempt, because those words are not the words and strength of an ordinary man. These are the words of a man immersed and focused on Christ. Those words, with the grace and love of Christ, come through the holy mouth of the crucified Vukašin from eternity to time, from the space of love and lasting joy to the space of fear and tragedy of human existence alienated from God. They come from the abode of God to our abode. Fathoming the mystery of Vukašin’s calmness in the midst of the most terrible suffering is impossible for us if we use the logic of this transient and limited age. However, we can make it happen if we put our ear to the chest of Christ and listen to the beats of His heart that beats for every person without exception. We can do that only through prayer and Christian faith, because this is not a matter of mind. That is why today we also gathered for prayer with faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ.
We have gathered here, but we must also gather at the place of Vukašin’s suffering, in Jasenovac, as well as at every place where our innocent brothers and sisters suffered, but also innocent people, regardless of which nation they belong to and how they prayed to God. There we will not only pay our respects to those who suffered death and pray for them, but more than anywhere else we will have the opportunity to enter the inner sanctum of our being, into our heart, to stand before the face of eternity, before the face of Christ and that in His light, in Him, we hear the calling addressed to everyone, including us as well, to see each person as our brother, as one who belongs to God as much as we do, as much as I do, and that without Christ, outside of God’s house even brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends, neighbors and peoples become opponents, rivals, and even enemies, often ready to exterminate each other. We will have the need, more than anywhere else, to pray for everyone, for ourselves and our neighbors, for our people, but also for all of mankind, for all those who suffer, for the peace of the whole world. Hence, to put it mildly, it is humanly unreasonable, wrong and unjust when someone finds a reason to disable anyone, beggar or emperor, rich or poor, native or foreigner, ordinary citizen or official, prime minister or president, regardless of the title of the one who needs to encounter himself, with God, at the place of Vukašin’s suffering or any other similar place, and calmly light a candle and offer a humble prayer to the Savior of the world.
We will also gather for prayer in places like this, such as Novi Sad, Serbian Athens, as well as 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, Novi Sad, Niš, we don’t ask what religion or nationality your father and mother are. That is Serbia we love and we pray for it to be and stay like that, that there is always room and kindness in it for everyone, for every soul, for every name. After all, God does not distinguish between names. Every person is equally valuable to God.
We will gather and pray in Dalmatia, in Kordun and Banija, in Lika and Slavonia, in all cities and villages where our close 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 different parts gathered. In such a small, yet so significant place, we consecrated the restored Orthodox church from the seventeenth century, where our great and worldly 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. On the way back to Belgrade, my thoughts constantly returned to Lika, to Smiljan, to Tesla’s people, who are always rising from the ashes, rebuilding themselves, their houses and their churches. A part of me, a part of my being remained in that village, near that restored place of worship. I can imagine, brothers and sisters, what is in your soul when your thoughts return to the hearths, to the places, to the churches and cemeteries that you left in the face of mortal danger.
We, however, in a prayerful disposition, know for sure that our people, precisely through suffering and sacrifice, reached the experience of winning freedom and resurrection countless times. As Christians, we know that every suffering and crucifixion in Christ is already here and now a part of glory, a part of victory and triumph. The secret of the Cross also contains the secret of victory, the secret of resurrection. In that sacrifice and victory, we, believing Orthodox Christians, find unshakable hope in the final justice of God, 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 that surpasses all understanding” settle in our hearts, but also in the hearts of all people and nations, so that solid foundations for a better and fairer future for every individual and every nation can be laid on the Gospel path. Memory eternal to all our brothers and sisters who innocently suffered in the operation called “Storm”.