On 3 March 2023, His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije served a Service of Supplication to the Most Holy Theotokos with an Akathist in the church of Saint Sava on Vračar, for our faithful people on Kosovo and Metohija, for our holy places on Kosovo and Metohija, for our Kosovo and Metohija.
On that occasion, His Holiness kyr Porfirije addressed a patriarchal message and fatherly lesson to the faithful people:
– In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Children of Saint Sava, children of Saint Prince Lazar, of the Holy Martyrs of Kosovo, of the Holy Fathers and Mothers from Kosovo and Metohija, but also of all the saints of our kin, we have gathered here in our people’s Cathedral church, in these days of Holy Forty Days of Lent, to pray together, while such prayer gatherings are also being held in many churches of our holy Church. We gathered in the course of the Great Lent, a period of repentance, reconciliation and prayer, to pray even more strongly and fervently to God, to pray to the Most Holy Theotokos, the Mother of the Lord, but also to our Mother. Lent is the time when we pray more fervently, when we gather in the Lord, and when we prepare for the only important and the most significant victory, which is the Resurrection of Christ; when we prepare to be not only eyewitnesses but also participants in that victory. Lent, as we know, is a period of repentance, a long journey containing in its core what Saint Ephraim the Syrian expresses in the third verse of his prayer, which we read a number of times during this fast, and which states: O Lord, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother. The Lord Himself said the same in the Our Father prayer while teaching us how to pray: And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. He warned us, saying that prayer, that only when we are ready to forgive others for Christ’s sake, we will be able to recognize Him, we will be able to recognize Him among ourselves and inside of us because He is there. If there is no forgiveness, then our eyes are simply closed and our heart is sealed, and our mind is consequently darkened. Therefore, let this period of fasting be truly our humble walk in the spirit of the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, and in the spirit of the word of Christ from the Our Father prayer.
This year in this church, one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches that the Lord has given us, which, like everything else we are, have, and do, was founded on Lazar’s Kosovo… We all know it is certainly not by chance that down below us there is a crypt dedicated to Saint Lazar, the Martyr of Kosovo. Especially in these extremely difficult days for our people, we gather to pray to God and invoke the prayers of all the saints for our people on Kosovo and Metohija, for our holy places on Kosovo and Metohija, for our Kosovo and for our holy Metohija. We have gathered here modestly and humbly because we are the people of God, baptized people, Christian people, because we are the Church. That is why we know very well what Kosovo and Metohija mean to us and what Kosovo and Metohija represent for us, because the Church has always been on Kosovo. The Church has never deviated from Kosovo and Metohija nor abandoned Kosovo and Metohija. And not only did she not deviate but in no sense did she leave the people and the holy places, the villages and the cities, everything that makes Kosovo a pearl. Never, not even now! The Church is on Kosovo and Metohija now and always will be! We know that the Lord wants it to be so. The church is present there neither simply in thoughts springing from comfortable offices and commodious salons, nor with empty and hysterical words that most often simply echo. The church is actively present on Kosovo and Metohija. She is there by her very being, she is there by her own self. Throughout the centuries, the Church has preserved the spirit of Kosovo and the Kosovo covenant, carrying and spreading it throughout our nation. The Church, dear brothers and sisters, brought Kosovo to all our cities, to every corner, to every inch of space and land where we live. The church illuminated and sanctified our entire kin with the beneficial radiation of the Prince’s holy relics from his reliquary in Ravanica, in Vrdnik, and in the Belgrade Cathedral church. Our Church, together with the faithful people, is well aware of the special importance of the Serbian territory of Kosovo and Metohija, the very heart of our Motherland, but no less of the centuries-old Kosovo Covenant, which introduces and preserves the gospel tradition into our history through the doors of the New Testament and Holy Fathers.
It is, therefore, unnecessary, and no one needs to teach and explain to the Church what Kosovo is and how the Church should act on Kosovo and vis-à-vis Kosovo; nor anyone with good intentions can ask what the Church thinks about Kosovo and why the Church does not speak her mind about Kosovo?
In addition to those, we must say, well-intentioned, who, for various reasons, simply do not understand the very being and mission of the Church, or who would like to shape her according to their own image and likeness, still the most interesting to us are those who – forgive me for saying honestly – ask such questions while despising the Church from the depths of their souls. Again, forgive me for the expression – their hair stands on end when they see a church, a holy place, and even in photographs. When they ask why the Church is silent, it is, to say the least, amusing to us. But, brothers and sisters, we have no need to answer them anything other than what is our deepest Christian duty: to pray to the Lord to be merciful to them as well as to us, to enlighten their hearts and ours, and to open their minds. We must do this, and we do. For reasons known only to them, such people in these difficult times for us and our people, especially on Kosovo and Metohija, would sow even more confusion and chaos among us. They would like there to be as much misunderstanding, discord, and quarrels among us as possible, they would like us to provoke each other, and no one to show even the elementary measure of humility, even in the days of the holy Great Forty Days. They would even like to harness the Church to be – forgive me again for the expression – their free contractor in their hypocritical and ill-intentioned plan.
And we also know very well that many of them care about Kosovo and Metohija as much as they did about last year’s snow. Our Holy Orthodox Church, brothers and sisters, has always and tirelessly not only spoken out about Kosovo and Metohija but has relentlessly and continuously testified and proclaimed the truth about Kosovo. And what she has always done in the past, she will always do in the future. Therefore, the Church, we Orthodox Serbs, live with Kosovo and Metohija. Kosovo is our being, our breathing, our sight. Kosovo – that is us! And do you really think that we will inform you every day when we wake up that we really breathe, that we really see, that we really live naturally, that we are what we are? Of course, it is easiest to “liberate Kosovo” in words and mix one’s desires with the burdensome reality that first and foremost puts pressure on our brothers and sisters, our compatriots from Kosovo and Metohija, without taking into account all aspects of the extremely difficult and complicated global situation.
In the church, I dare to say, only in the church, the holy place where we gather around the Lord’s Holy of Holies, can we not only see and understand correctly but also contribute in an essential, Christian, evangelical, orthodox manner to the preservation of our people on Kosovo, our holy places on Kosovo, of our Kosovo and Metohija.
One may wonder why the Church calls for prayer for Kosovo and Metohija in these days of fasting and in these difficult times. Is there nothing better for the Church to do? Lo and behold! The church is praying?! Sorry, we really did not realize that prayer is the strongest tool that a Christian can have, and that every other tool and activity derives its true meaning and impact only when grounded in prayer. Brothers and sisters, prayer is our strongest spiritual weapon. Prayer is actually the saving sword from Christ’s fresco in Dečani. Only those who do not believe in God do not understand the power and real help of prayer in the fight against every temptation, whether it is about our own sins or whether it is about evil or hostility that attacks us from outside. Where there is prayer, there is the action, power and might of God. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says: God works through your prayer. In a word, where there is prayer, there is God. Our people say: The violence does not pray to God, but also adds precisely from his Orthodox experience: God does not like violence. We do know that God is present in prayer and we know that the outcome – the victory of truth, is inevitable. The church is par excellence the most natural place of prayer and of God’s presence, and God, I repeat once again, blessed us with this wonderful gift – one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches, he gave us the church of Saint Sava, and even if we maybe did not even deserve it, that is exactly how God manifests His grace and His blessing. Therefore, as a Church, we will offer our daily prayers to the Lord for Kosovo and Metohija, and for our people who are enduring multiple trials in these times to which God has called us. We will offer these prayers in this holy place, as well as in our other churches.
We have nothing against – it is important to say – anyone expressing and organizing their concern for the holy Serbian land, Kosovo and Metohija, in their own way, in different ways and in a different manner than how we organize ourselves and manifest our own way. We have nothing against anyone who organizes themselves elsewhere outside the church, but the Church cannot agree that someone, without her and outside of the church as the most important home of prayer, dresses in her name, and uses her name and dignity regardless of the type of organization involved, regardless of how appealing the name of any potential organization may sound, regardless of the fact that it may truly have honest and legitimate goals because we know what the Church is, we know who we are, we know what church as a building is, and we know what prayer is. However, we often do not know who stands behind various kinds of organizing, if you will – organizations, and also we often do not know whether there may be someone invisible who also uses them, even without their knowledge, for some other purposes that are not in accordance with the final and the ultimate goal that the Church sets for herself. In this sense, we as a Church must take care because of the responsibility to which the Lord has called us to be cautious and not to allow ourselves to be used in any way – I repeat, even if someone may have the best and purest intentions. The Church is wider than the sky, all-encompassing, she cannot be narrowed down to anything less than herself, to nothing less than Heaven. She has her own centuries-old order, and the way of her functioning is well known. The Church also has her own rhythm. Therefore, it is important to know that it simply would not be possible, even if some people wanted to impose on her some concept that does not arise from her experience and her tradition, to impose on her a concept that may be alien to her role and her action in the world. The Church always looks from the perspective of eternity and takes care of the entirety, whilst bearing in mind all the circumstances, and first and foremost she bears witness to Christ crucified and resurrected. Therefore, the Church has never been, nor can she be, nor will she ever be, God simply will not allow it, a factor of discord and conflict, but a source, foundation and space of unity and understanding. By its very nature and essence, she is there to comfort, to be a compass for everyone in all circumstances, to be a landmark, and by no means to create or even contribute to discord. In the Church, we become one in good, in virtue, in good deeds, in love for one another, and that is the unity that is important to us. It is a blessed unity. Unity in evil is of no use to us, let alone anyone else. We need each other, and that is why the Church is doing everything to prevent, God forbid, the Serbs rise up against the Serbs. Of course, many would be happy about that. History has shown us all this many times and has taught us that faithfulness to the Gospel and keeping it is the only safe, salvific and correct path that we should follow. Mother Haritina, Hegumenia of the Patriarchate of Peć Monastery, when we spoke before the beginning of the Fast, when I reflected on this topic in that conversation, she told me: If we are better, if we are holy, the Lord will have someone to help, everything will be different.
Brothers and sisters, know that the Serbian Orthodox Church can never and will never give up what our holy ancestors believed in and defended. We will always be ready to make a personal sacrifice and pray for those who, despite everything, remained in their homes and centuries-old hearths near the holy altars of Visoki Dečani, Gračanica and Bogorodica Ljeviška. Therefore, even today, we invoke the prayers of all the saints: Saint Sava, father of all us Orthodox Serbs, Saint Prince Lazar, Saint Joanikije of Devič, all the Holy Martyrs of Kosovo, all the Saints of our kin, help us to be better. Pray before the Throne of our Lord and yours that we be better, that we think better, speak better and do better, so that everything that is ours becomes and remains ours, and that we multiply it in every virtue and good for our salvation, and for everyone else’s benefit.
Brothers and sisters, let us take it as obedience that praying with the rosary, from the depths of the soul, with affection and tears, on our knees, we ask the Lord to be merciful, to be with our brothers and sisters, with our holy places on Kosovo and Metohija, to be on Kosovo and Metohija. We pray with the rosary: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners. Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners. Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners. Let us also pray in our cells, in the recesses of our hearts, to the Most Holy Theotokos: Most Holy Theotokos, save us. Most Holy Theotokos, save us. Most Holy Theotokos, save us.
May the Lord give us the strength to go through the Great Forty Days, in a narrow sense of the word, but also through the Forty Days of our people’s feat, through the desert and the open sea full of temptations on that journey, so that we may not only see the light of the Resurrection of Christ, but really say together with Him: Christ is risen! Here lies our victory. Amen!