On 4 August 2023, in Prijedor, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije served a memorial service for the Serbs who endured suffering in the military operation Storm.
At the outset of the central ceremony commemorating the Day of Remembrance for all the killed and displaced Serbs in the armed action Storm, which was held for the first time in the Republic of Srpska, in Prijedor, after the memorial service, His Holiness the Patriarch delivered a befitting sermon:
– We have gathered here to pray for our brothers and sisters from Dalmatia, Lika, Banija, and Kordun, for whom Prijedor was the first salvific haven during the exodus of our people in the summer of 1995, an exodus of unprecedented scale in Europe. Some stopped and remained here, some continued further, hoping that someday brighter days would come. However, for one thousand eight hundred ninety-three (1893), there was no hope for better days. Today, we have gathered here in prayerful remembrance of the displaced, those who lost their lives, the missing, and the unmarked graves where they were laid to rest without proper funeral services. Therefore, I greet you, brothers and sisters, first and foremost, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the first Sufferer, the first Refugee and Exile, the first Martyr, but also the One Who, through His Resurrection and victory over death, gave meaning to every suffering and every endurance, including that which befell our people on the dreadful August days of 1995.
This summer as well, we offer our fervent prayers for the repose of souls of those who suffered death in the past wars. In July, I was in Bratunac, where we offered prayers for those who suffered in Middle Podrinje and Birač. Summer is the time when we also conciliarly remember in prayer the Holy Hieromartyrs and Martyrs of the Dioceses of Dabar–Bosnia, of Upper Karlovac, and of Bihać–Petrovac. Summer is the time of conciliar remembrance of the suffering in Prebilovci, where the summer buzz vanished in a single day in Herzegovinian pits. Summer is the time that gathers us today in the Diocese of Banja Luka, beneath Kozara – the mount of suffering. Here, too, in the summer of 1941, the dreadful darkness engulfed the summer buzz. In Prijedor – Ljubija, the Saint Prophet Elijah’s Day in August 1941 was inscribed in the prayerful diptychs of the Holy Martyrs. The whole of Kozara became a martyr.
Brothers and sisters, no one has an exclusive, elite, or exceptional right to love their homes, parents, siblings, and people. No one has an exclusive, elite, or exceptional right to pain, sorrow, mourning their victims, remembering them, and praying for them. Some, however, have dared to measure pain and determine which mother’s pain over the loss of a child is valid and which is not, saying that certain pain is not real pain. We know that the pain over a lost child, or relative, is felt by every mother, every person, regardless of their nationality or how they pray to God. Pain has no nation or religion. The pain of every mother, even our Serbian mother, is a mother’s pain. Therefore, pain is pain, whomever it belongs to.
Today, we have gathered not only because we have the right to our own pain and the remembrance of our innocent loved ones who suffered death, but primarily because we have a need to pray to God for the salvation of their souls. The fact that we pray for victims of our own kin does not mean that we forget the pain and the victims of others. On the contrary, as we pray for our innocent brothers and sisters Orthodox Serbs who lost their lives, we also acknowledge the pain of mothers from the Bosniak and Croatian people and respect their victims. We pray that God gives comfort to everyone, to us and to others. As Orthodox Christians, paradoxically, and some might say foolishly, we are called to act this way, even when some overlook and ignore our pain and our victims.
We have gathered to pray for peace within us and among us, and as far as we can influence, for peace among all people and nations with whom God has directed us to share the same living space. We know well that the precondition for any peace is peace with God and that there is no peace without God’s peace within us, without living according to God’s commandments, and without prayer to God. Our Liturgy, as the prayer of the Church, begins with the words: “In peace let us pray to the Lord… For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” Countless times during the Liturgy, we say “Peace be to you,” “Peace be to all.” Finally, we conclude the Liturgy with the words “Let us depart in peace.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, peace is the highest value, a condition without which we lack true human dignity. Peace with God, peace within ourselves, peace with others, peace with nature – that is why God created humans and the world.
Therefore, from this place, I appeal to everyone, but above all, I call upon religious leaders – let us do everything in our power to preserve and build peace among people and nations. To start, by feeling each other’s pain and wounds, let us strive to dismantle elitism and exclusivity in suffering, for only through simultaneously healing our own pain and acknowledging the pain of others can we lay the foundation and guarantee a more peaceful future. Let us be elite in virtue, in doing what is good, in mercy, in reconciliation, and in mutual respect. In a word, let us be human, as the late Patriarch Pavle used to say. Let us leave peace to our children, because peace is not merely the absence of war; peace should be an everyday reality in which we treat each other with consideration, not out of fear of divine punishment, but out of love and trust in God, for the sake of a better tomorrow, for the sake of descendants who, alongside nature, should adorn these skies that the Lord selflessly bestowed upon us!
May God forgive the souls of those who suffered death in the military operation “Storm,” our innocent brothers and sisters, and may He grant peace to all of us and the entire world. Amen!