Blječevo, Gniona, Osmače, Potočari, Karno, Vijogor, Osredak, Čumavičje, Zalazje, Ratkovići, Brežani, Zagoni, Krnjiči, Sase, Magašiće, Ježeštica, Podravanje, Fakovići, Boljevići, Bjelovac, Sikirić, Kravica, Metaljka, Rupovo Brdo, Bracan, Vandžići, Donja and Gornja Kamenica, Glođansko Brdo, Kozjak, Maskalića Potok, Široki Put, and Trešnjica are just a part of the list of places in the Middle Podrinje and Birač regions where thousands of innocent Orthodox Serbs were brutally killed over three decades ago.
Remembering the martyrs who innocently suffered on the thresholds of their homes, numerous pious people gathered on 1 July 2023 at the traditional church-people gathering titled Lest We Forget in front of the church of the Assumption of the Most Holy Theotokos in Bratunac. There, they welcomed His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije and Their Eminences and Their Graces the Hierarchs: Hrizostom of Dabar-Bosnia, Fotije of Zvornik-Tuzla, Andrej of Austria-Switzerland, Metodije of Budimlje-Nikšić, Isihije of Valjevo, Dimitrije of Zahumlje-Herzegovina, and Jerotej of Šabac.
In front of the church of the Theotokos, in the presence of several thousand faithful, including high representatives of the Republic of Srpska led by President Milorad Dodik, His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije presided over the Holy Hierarchical Liturgy, whilst the Hierarchs from the homeland and numerous clerics and monastics from several Dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church concelebrated.
After the reading of the Holy Gospel, Patriarch Porfirije emphasized:
– In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Brothers and sisters, Orthodox Christians, our people are an Orthodox people. Our people are the people of the Church of Christ, and therefore it should not surprise anyone that the way of life that is characteristic of us Orthodox Serbs is a life structured according to the order of the Gospel and the words of Christ. The Word of Christ has shaped and continues to shape what is called an Orthodox Serb. Therefore, we know perfectly well where we come from, who we are, what we are, and where we are going. We know well that our name and our essence cannot be recognizable without the seal of Christ, without the seal of the Gospel, without the seal of Saint Sava, Saint Prince Lazar, the martyrs of Kosovo, and the numerous saints of God who have emerged from our people. They are simply offspring through which an Orthodox Serb is recognized. They are only golden stones in the mosaic of our people by which all others, all other nations, recognize us.
The Gospel of Christ is, above all, good and humble, just like His word. The Word of Christ is not imposed on anyone. The Word of the Gospel is not imposed on anyone. The Lord Himself says: If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Taking up one’s cross and following Christ means giving meaning to one’s entire life through the Word of God and through heaven, and establishing one’s earthly life with heavenly order; and building up one’s earthly life by setting a heavenly hierarchy, a heavenly kingdom within it. Our earthly kingdom makes sense only when its root is in heavenly order, in the kingdom of God, and that is nothing else, brothers and sisters, but precisely in the Gospel of Christ, which culminates in prayer, in the Holy Liturgy. Therefore, it is important that we gather in the Holy Liturgy, offering ourselves and everything we are to God. Then, heaven becomes the foundation of our earthly life.
Therefore, the Orthodox faith has shaped and molded who we are. The Gospel is simple and clear to every person. In the Gospel, there is no dilemma about what is black and what is white, what is falsehood and what is truth, what is good and what is evil, what sin is and what virtue is. Everything is straightforwardly expressed, and whoever directs the gaze of their heart to the Word of Christ, to His Gospel, will know at all times what is right to do. Whenever we hesitate, whenever we are afraid, whenever we are lost, whenever our mind is clouded, whenever we do not know what to do, let us turn our hearts to the Gospel of Christ, and we will not only receive a clear answer and clear guidance, but we will also receive strength, agility, and the ability to do what is right, what is truthful, what is good, what is virtuous. But let us also know that, as we heard today in the Gospel, when we want to be what we are, Christ’s and Orthodox, when we want to be true to ourselves, there will be those who are not Christ’s, who will oppose us, who will first want to change us, to change our consciousness, to modernize us, to make us contemporary by saying: It is not correct to hold on to the Gospel, modernize it, adjust the Word of Christ to be acceptable to the spirit of this world. Of course, brothers and sisters, we will know that these pieces of advice are not from God, they are not salvific for us, they are not from the Holy Spirit, and therefore, they will be foreign and unnatural to us. Therefore, if we do not want to accept that foreign aspect and concept quietly and voluntarily, which is foreign to the Gospel and Orthodox life, if we do not want to change willingly, then various paths, methods, and means will be sought to try to impose on us what is foreign to the Word of Christ, what is foreign to us and our being, what is foreign to that seed that Saint Sava sowed and from which a tree sprouted, branching out and grand, bearing fruits that have nourished our people throughout the centuries, and that are admired by the whole world, sometimes imperceptibly and modestly. Yet the beauty of those fruits is such that sometimes they must loudly and clearly proclaim their origin from the root from which all of that sprouted and to the nature that gave birth to it, to the root called Saint Sava and to the nature that is the Orthodox faith and the Orthodox essence of our people.
The Word of Christ can be summarized in one sentence that we have heard: “Love one another!” And do not be surprised when people oppose you and, moreover, when they persecute you. It is because they cannot accept that simple word of Christ. Love is the only thing we owe to one another, but not the humanistic ideology that uses marvelous, rich intertwining words and formulations about love for humanity, love for those who suffer, love for the poor. Such an ideology, on the one hand, speaks about all that, and on the other hand, produces loads and loads of instruments of death, and together with the aid related to this first block, it sends this second contingent as well. The love of Christ, to which He calls us, is simple and humble. It means: You cannot love humanity and have feelings for the poor who are miles and miles away from you if you do not have love, you as a husband towards your wife, you as a wife towards your husband, if you do not practice love as a parent towards your children, and you, children, towards your parents. Everyone is a unique individual, everyone is different, everyone faces temptations and has a desire to do things their way, to do what they want, to triumph in egoism and pride. However, by practicing the Word of Christ, His Gospel, primarily within the family, if you train yourself in preserving His words, you will then be capable of carrying them outside your home and wherever necessary, wherever you can, wherever you are called. Then you will testify to the Gospel of Christ. Therefore, it is important to cherish the family, and that is one of the principles taught to us by the Lord Himself and His Gospel.
Here is an example that shows how the spirit of this world, the ideology foreign to the mind of Christ, and therefore, foreign to our mind, wants to tell us what our family should be like. It wants to tell us: What the Lord teaches you, what Christ tells you is the family, what you have read in the Gospel, what your ancestors believed in, what you believe in and live by – that is not good enough, that is not correct, adjust it a little, change it a little, and then we will teach you what a family should be, how many genders there are, and how genders multiply every day. No, brothers and sisters! Just as the Lord does not impose Himself on anyone, we do not impose our lives, our being, our faith, and our way of existence on anyone. But at the same time, we do not want someone to threaten our lives, our way of existence, our worldview, and our relationships. That is the justice of God, and it should also be human justice.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us read the Gospel of Christ, listen to His word. It is simple and easy, let us embrace it. And when we embrace it, no matter how weak, powerless, and sinful we may be, no matter how often we fall and make mistakes every day, with the help of God, we will not be lost. We will always rise renewed and strengthened, knowing that the Lord is our Jesus Christ, and His Father and the Holy Spirit, One in the Trinity, the God we praise now here on earth and throughout the ages. Amen.
A procession followed to the city cemetery and the military cemetery in Bratunac, where His Holiness Patriarch kyr Porfirije served a memorial service for all the Serbs who suffered death in Middle Podrinje and Birač. Again, he addressed the congregation and said:
– Your Eminence, Your Graces, brethren Hierarchs, esteemed Mr. President, Your Excellency, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, and all esteemed guests, brothers and sisters. Of course, first and foremost, I greet the brothers, sisters, parents, relatives, fellow citizens, and neighbors of those who have innocently suffered in Birač and Middle Podrinje.
As summer approaches, as Vidovdan approaches, our Orthodox people turn their prayers and daily thoughts towards all those who have laid down their lives in the struggle for the honorable Cross and golden freedom, but also for all those who have been innocently and defenselessly killed by the hands of criminals. We all direct our thoughts and prayers towards them, and I am certain that in these recent years, most of all, you, dear brothers and sisters here in Bratunac and the surrounding areas. Many will ask – why do we offer the most prayers for our innocent suffering children, mothers, sisters, and helpless elderly? It is because, from my impression last year when I was with you, their innocent sacrifice, their terrible martyrdom, as well as your pain and tears, were not reflected enough in the collective prayer of our nation. Too few of us gathered at this holy place from which we should direct our prayers to the Lord. But today, here with us in prayer, are our brothers and sisters from Šabac, Mačva, and Pocerina, from Valjevo, from other regions, from our Republic of Srpska, from our much-suffering but also proud Bosnia. God willing, we will continue to gather at this holy place in the future.”
I come to Podrinje directly from Kosovo and Metohija, brothers and sisters. I bring you prayers from the holy Gračanica, from the mother of Serbian churches – the Patriarchate of Peć, prayers from the brotherhood of Dečani; prayers from the Kosovo-Metohija people. They are with you in prayer, in pain, just as you are with them, for we are one people, one Church, Serbian and Orthodox. We share the same concerns and the same joys. And may God grant us more joy than worry in the days and years to come.
I was here a year ago when we marked thirty years since the suffering of our people in Middle Podrinje and Birač. Since then, I have included in my prayers all those who suffered martyrdom in their homes on Saint George’s Day, Saint Vitus’ Day, on the Day of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul, on Christmas… Today, thirty-one years after the suffering, we have gathered to pray together for the souls of our brothers, sisters, children, and elderly who suffered in the past war. Or rather, those who suffered from 1992 to 1995.
In the photograph of the mother from the village of Ratkovići, who buried the skull – the only thing she found of her son taken from their home in June 1992 – our entire tragedy and sorrow become palpable, as does the mother’s love, her pain, and the pain and sorrow of all those who have lost their loved ones. In her hand, as she caresses the skull of her son Živan, it seems to me that all the sorrow of Podrinje has converged, unable to mourn and grieve the wounds from the Second World War when new wounds opened in 1992.
Brothers and sisters, you have survived on this land soaked in the blood of your dearest ones. The grief is immense, but so is your wound. You have carried faith in your hearts even in the darkest moments, when you lost your loved ones, and even when some dared to measure pain and determine how much a mother hurts for the loss of her child, saying that it’s not pain, that it’s not a tragedy, that it’s not a crime. But a mother’s pain is a mother’s pain. And no one has an exclusive, elite, or exceptional right to pain. Pain is the same for every human being. Every mother feels pain regardless of the nation she belongs to or how she prays to God. Pain has no nation or religion.
It would be healing if all those who deny anybody’s pain, including the pain of Serbian mothers, could hear and accept the truth about the suffering of Serbs in Middle Podrinje and Birač. Here, at the very beginning of the war, people with names like Živan, Zora, Milutin, Milovan, Vinka, Radosava, Borka, Slobodan… – the list is long – over three and a half thousand men, women, children, and elderly were killed. We know our pain, but not only are we called to recognize, but we truly recognize and respect the pain of other mothers, mothers from other nations, Bosniaks, and Croats. We pray for our wounds to heal, just as we wish for their wounds to heal. Here, brothers and sisters, we have gathered in faith in the resurrected Christ to pray for the innocent victims buried here and everywhere in the Republic of Srpska and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We pray that crimes never happen again to anyone, and let us pray for the dismantling of elitism and exclusivity in pain, because only mutual recognition of pain can be the foundation and guarantee of a more peaceful future. Let us strive to be elite in goodness, in mercy, in the love to which the Lord Himself has called us, let us be elite in truth. It is healing to love people, but it is also healing to know and accept what is a fact, for it is only that which will lead us on the right path.
We are Christians and believe in eternal life, and therefore we know that our prayers for our loved ones are important. However, here, gathered in this sacred place and on this holy land, I am certain that the prayers of those who have suffered innocently, who are martyrs before God, holy martyrs who have shed innocent blood, are even more necessary for us than our prayers for them. Therefore, as we pray to God for them and that they pray for us, we know that the final word is the word of God, and we know that His word is mercy and love. We rely on it, always saying: Eternal remembrance to all those who suffered in the defensive war in the Middle Podrinje and Birač! May the Lord grant them the Kingdom of Heaven!