Patriarch Porfirije in Vukovar: We have no other path except the path of prayer and forgiveness!

Published On: 16/10/2022

On 16 October 2022, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije presided over the Holy Liturgy and the act of consecration of the restored Cathedral church of Saint Nicholas of Myra in Lycia located in Vukovar.

His Eminence Metropolitan of Budapest and Hungary kyr Ilarion from the Moscow Patriarchate and Their Graces Bishops Vasilije of Srem, Irinej of Bačka, Pahomije of Vranje, Fotije of Zvornik–Tuzla, Gerasim of Upper Karlovac, David of Kruševac, Jovan of Slavonia, Heruvim of Osečko Polje and Baranja, Isihije of Valjevo, Jerotej of Šabac and Stefan of Remesiana concelebrated with His Holiness.

Addressing the gathered people, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije said:

– Brothers and sisters, faithful people of God, an ancient travel writer Herodotus wrote a testimony that, while visiting many regions and countries of various ancient peoples, he noticed one general and common characteristic of all of them. Whatever differences between them may have existed and whatever specificities may have characterized them, there was a thing which made them completely identical. Each of the peoples and tribes was designating a place for their sanctuary and built their temples, places of offering prayers to God. What does that tell us, dear spiritual children? This historical testimony already reveals to us the great truth that man was created in the image and likeness of God and that he is not only a biological, material and consumeristic being created for the transient world, but a being which cannot find the meaning of existence only in porous and narrow, fragile and shadowy forms of this temporary world.

Man is, first and foremost, a spiritual being thirsty for eternal meaning, a being which is called man (Anthropos) because his forehead is turned towards the eon, eternity, because he finds meaning in what transcends the transient. As a God-like creature, man was, first of all, created for eternity, to design his historical existence through eternity. He may acquire the fullness of life only in communion with God, and that is life in accordance with what God created and intended for man. And precisely because the seal of God is imprinted on the human being, every man and every people – even when there are no possibilities or abilities for the conscious articulation of hunger for God – even then, in the absence of a clear idea of ​​God, he establishes his place of worship, his holy place, manifesting from the bottom of his God-like being the need for an eternal original. It is a place of meeting and reconciling with God, and therefore with oneself, with nature and with other people.

We clearly see this truth in the joyful message of the Gospel of Christ that this hunger, seeking God, faith and longing for the divine, is precisely the longing of children for their heavenly Parent without Whom there is no true life. And just as all nations have places to meet God, we Serbs also have such a place where we meet God as individuals and as a community. It is our Orthodox church where we are, through the word of God and through blessed matter, being fed with eternal sense so that we too can be authentic witnesses of the Gospel of Christ and peacemakers. That is why we are coming to the church to stand before the Living God and find the meaning of everything we are and of what we will be; to seek food for our deepest, existential, spiritual needs; to listen deeply to the word of God and understand what we should be, what is right and what is not; to recognize what we need to change and improve; how we should treat ourselves, and how we should treat those who are different from us. It is up to us, however, to make what we hear our experience, our everyday life; to decide whether we will really be children of God, in a word, true Christians, or whether we will only be so by an external appearance and declaratively.

And right there, at the place of prayer, in the church of God, infallible instructions are revealed to us. By the measure of our faith, by the gift of God, we become able to understand what the Lord is calling us to do – to stop choosing between the essential and formal Christian life, and decide to truly be children of God who will grow up spiritually with trust in God and love for Him. And that inspired and lofty path requires from us efforts equal to those that, as we heard in today’s Gospel, Saint Apostle Peter made after complying to the Lord’s instruction to set the boat in motion once more and lower the nets to the bottom, after a sleepless and tiring night, after unsuccessful fishing, and after having already packed the washed nets. How many times, brothers and sisters, have we unsuccessfully tried to do something to be people who are, above all, worthy of our God-like calling, and how many times have we not listened carefully to the word of God, which summarizes all the Law and the Prophets in just two commandments which read as follows: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”; and also: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How many times, like Peter, we couldn’t do anything, because various trials prevented us from truly hearing that part of Christ’s word that calls our hearts to uncompromising love for everyone: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

The Word of God calls to sacrifice, to feat, to the cross; it calls us to be persevering and obedient like the apostle Peter. At first glance, that word seems difficult, unattainable and unprofitable in the world we live in, which is often flooded with envy, hatred, jealousy, greed, egoism, selfishness, indifference and cold-heartedness. Man cannot fulfill that word by himself, only with his powers. The Lord, however, says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” So great is the thirst for the Gospel in this torn and suffering world that we are called on right now, even in spite of all the infirmities and doubts, in the midst of our ongoing, busy and complicated lives, to hear the word addressed to Simon – Peter: “Do not be afraid!”. Therefore, where there is faith, trust in God and readiness and determination to respond to the call of God, the man is not alone, the grace of the Holy Spirit is with him, and he makes every thought, word and deed a worship, he serves God and people. Then God gives man strength and joy, works together with him. Then the words are fulfilled: “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

Today we are blessed because we are gathered in such a place that our ancestors determined to be a place of holiness and prayer. We are gathered in the restored Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, which your great-grandfathers built in this place in the second half of the 17th century, and after that, in the middle of the 18th century, they built this church as we see it today. Today we also prayed for your ancestors and before the Lord we thanked for the efforts of bishop Cherubim and his predecessors of a blessed memory, priests and faithful, all who brought this church to such a magnificent state after it was destroyed by mines in September 1991. I am equally pleased with the fact that the convent, the monastery of the Franciscan brothers in Christ, has also been restored. I am glad that this city and its surroundings are being restored.

The day before yesterday I served in the Patriarchate of Peć, where there is a large, very beautiful and well-known fresco of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia. Looking at that icon, I thought of you, dear brothers and sisters, of your church of Saint Nicholas and of this day in which we are blessed, because we are gathered for the holy Liturgy. I was thinking about that wonderful providence of God that this very church, situated in this place, is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, who miraculously unites the Orthodox East and the Catholic West. Therefore, it is not surprising that your ancestors chose him to be the patron of this church and this place, or that he, according to the providence of God, chose for himself a place for tireless witnessing and building bridges between people and nations, as well as building God’s peace; and Vukovar, this region in general, is a place of living for the people who slightly differ from each other. There is incomparably much more of which they have in common than of which they differ by, and the Christian faith is something that make us closer and obliges us more than anything else. And in this church of Saint Nicholas, as the house of God, today we served the Holy Liturgy, the feast of God Himself.

It is clear, therefore, why the Holy Liturgy is the event of the reconciliation of all and the revelation of the secret and meaning of the whole world, which was created to be a harmony of beauty and a place of God’s peace. At the Liturgy, we make peace with God, with ourselves, with other people, i.e. neighbors, and with the whole creation. It is important that we always know this, but especially today here in Vukovar, where the wounds of war suffering and losses of many women, men, and many Vukovar children have not yet healed; where relations between people, its citizens, have not yet been fully restored and healed. Today we opened the heart of this church and our hearts so that – even when people or circumstances discourage us – we would cure our wounds caused by sufferings and losses through prayer, but also sympathize with the wounds and sufferings of our fellow citizens and neighbors; so that we remember our victims in prayer, but also respect the victims of our neighbors. It is natural and logical that everyone remembers their victims and respects them, but the one who respects the victims of others is equal to the one who sacrifices himself for others, i.e. for a neighbor. Such people are our role models, and those who commit violence against helpless people, whether in war or in peace, are worthy of all condemnation. We must pray for everyone who suffered death, for every innocent victim in this city, and for the city of Vukovar itself, because prayer and Christian forgiveness are the only way to heal everyone’s wounds. That’s why I invite you all today to light a candle for all our Orthodox brothers and sisters who suffered death, but also to light a candle for all innocent Roman Catholic Croats who have also fallen victims. Before God, all people are the same, regardless of what religion and nation they belong to. God does not pay attention to whether someone’s name is Mate or Matej, Josip or Josif, Ivan or Jovan, but recognizes as his own only the one who has a pure, calm and merciful heart and who creates peace. When in prayer we remember our martyred neighbors, Catholic Croats, in addition to our victims, our neighbors will rejoice there in heaven, because they will see that we, illuminated by Christ, understood the tragedy of historical conflicts. Christ Himself obliges us to this, Who in the eternally valuable series of Beatitudes on the Mount, like a ladder leading to the heavens, immediately after the words: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, also added: blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy, and then blessed are the peacemakers, brothers and sisters, for they shall be called true sons of God.

I personally pray for all the victims, I constantly light the candle of my heart for the victims in Glina, Jadovno, Grubori, Varivode, Paulin Dvor, in Voćin, Medak… I also pray for those who suffered in Ovčara, Škabrnja, Lovas, Široka Kula, Baćin, Sotin and many other places of suffering. I also pray for all the missing, regardless of their nationality, from 1991 to 1995 in the terrible and unfortunate war in these areas. I also invite all of you, brothers and sisters, to join me and pray together with me. We have no other path except the path of prayer and forgiveness. It is the path paved for us by the Lord Himself and to which His Gospel calls us on. Don’t we turn to God by saying the Our Father prayer every day? And doesn’t that prayer say: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us? Doesn’t Christ Himself unequivocally and clearly encourages us to love even those who are against us? True and sincere prayer is the only cure for the wounded, it bridges any distance. The only question we should ask ourselves is – are we Christians, and do we, even though we are weak people, believe what God reveals to us as the law of our spiritual and thus physical life? If we are Christians, we know by faith that the power of victory and resurrection is already present in sacrifice, love, and in the cross.

As children of God, as those who trust the Lord Christ, we cannot leave it to those who have levers of power of this world to solve the issues of our lives for us, to arrange our mutual relations, to determine the past, present and future, regardless of whether these levers are of political nature or come from other spheres of power. At the very least, it can be said that the goals of those levers are different from the goals of the Gospel, and that means from the meaning of our Christian faith. We are directed towards each other, we are directed to share the same space, and we need each other. Only when we are aware of the fact that God created us and that there is His plan for each person, then we understand the true dignity of ourselves and other people. When, on the other hand, we do not accept the plan and intention of God for ourselves and another person, then we do not recognize our eternal designation and the other as our eternal neighbor, and that is why we often see the other as an enemy and rival. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we should ask ourselves the question again and again, are we truly Christians and do we believe in the providence of God? We know that we are and that is why we believe that God will open the eyes of our hearts to understand the prayerful words of Christ addressed to God the Father that all may be one, which for us Christians are an imperative and a call.

Bearing these words of Christ in mind, I pray, carrying you all in my heart, that as the first step on the road that leads us to that goal, with our faith, hope and love, we will be greater than the committed evil that humiliated us all, and without thoughts of revenge, giving way to God’s justice, we preserve the pure memory of all innocent victims, heal wounded souls, build trust and understanding between individuals and nations, and thus lay solid foundations for a better and more just future for every individual and every nation through the Gospel. I am aware that what I am saying now is only the beginning of the path we call trust. I would like everyone to be aware of this, especially us, the representatives of the Churches and governments. It is not courageous, let alone wise, to be against that path. This path is critical to this city, but also to the wider region, which is burdened by the heavy load of memories of restlessness.

Brothers and sisters, glory to God, today we consecrated the restored church dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, as a place of our gathering in Christ, and we celebrated the Holy Liturgy, which is an icon and the presence of the Kingdom of God in us and among us, in which we become one with Christ and one with each other. Therefore, from now on, let us gather here as our ancestors did. Let us stand before the face of God, pray for peace with God, for peace in our hearts, for peace in our families, for peace in our society, for peace in our people, for peace with our neighbors, for peace in the whole world and, above all, for the peace and the stability of the Holy Churches of God. We pray and glorify the One God in the Trinity – the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

***

At the end of the Holy Liturgy, His Eminence Bishop of Osečko Polje and Baranja kyr Heruvim granted His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije the Order of Saint Stefan Štiljanović for the active love shown through wholehearted help to the Diocese of Osečko Polje and Baranja. After the Holy Liturgy, His Holiness Patriarch kyr Porfirije performed the act of consecration of the Serbian Home in Vukovar.