I am not a religious guy. It is one subject that always seems to divide people and has caused numerous wars. My family is made up of many different religions. We have Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Agnostics, and Atheists. I have lived and worked with Jews, Muslims, and every other type of religion you can imagine. The thing I always notice about religious people is how they tend to judge others and claim to have superiority. I am a believer in helping my neighbor, bringing people together, treating people with mutual respect, and not dividing people into little groups. If this will cause me to burn in the fiery depths of hell for eternity, so be it.
St Sava in Belgrade, Serbia
Serbia is a country that is dominated by the Orthodox faith. It is one of the most interesting things for me. Chicago is the 2nd largest Serbian city on the planet and we have a few Orthodox Churches, but I never paid that much attention to them until coming to Serbia. When I shut my eyes and think of Serbia I get visions of the ancient Orthodox churches that litter every corner of this country. Many of them are over 500 years old!!! They have that unique shape and style that you don’t see everyday. The Orthodox faith is the majority religion in many Eastern European countries including : Bulgaria, Russia, Greece, Belarus, Macedonia, Montenegro,Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.
Those of us from the USA know little about the Orthodox faith. The Catholic and Orthodox churches started their division in the year 1053. It was known as ” The Great Schism”. I am not a religious scholar and will not pretend to be. There are some significant differences between the two religions. You can find some of the differences here http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/ortho_cath.html Some of the most obvious differences are :
**the location of the “Holy City”. In the Eastern Orthodox religion it is Constantinople, Turkey and in the Roman Catholic it is Rome.
**the leader of the religion. In the Eastern Orthodox faith it is a Patriarch and in the Catholic faith it is the Pope.
** the way the make the sign of the cross. Roman Catholics tend to go left to right while Eastern Orthodox go right to left.
**the look of the church and the steeples. see pics below…
His Holiness Patriarch Pavle was born as Gojko Stojcevic in a small village in present day Croatia. He lost both of his parents at a young age and was raised by his aunt. He studied in Belgrade and was majoring in Theology and Medicine. He graduated from University of Belgrade in 1942. He worked as a construction worker after WWII and then took his monastic vows in Ovcar. That is when he received the monastic name Pavle. He later took post-graduate studies in Athens, Greece when he returned in 1957 he was elected as Bishop of Ras and Prizren. He held that position for 33 years before becoming Patriarch in 1990. He held that position until his death on November 15th, 2009.
Riding the bus in Belgrade
His Holiness is known for his humility. My favorite quote of his was when he was asked why he always walked or took public transport. He replied “I will not purchase one until every Albanian and Serbian household in Kosovo and Metohija has an automobile.”
Here are a few great stories that show how humble of a man he was ……….
Patriarch Pavle, as he was known, continued to live a simple life even after he moved to the new residence – the Patriarchal Palace – in Belgrade. People form Belgrade often encountered him on the streets, riding the train or the bus … Once, while walking alone the hilly street of King Peter the I, towards the Patriarchate, a Mercedes – last model barely passed him, the driver – a priest from one of the well-known parish in Belgrade, stopped the car and said:
– Your Holiness, permit me to invite you in! Just tell me where you heading …The Patriarch entered the car, and as soon as it started moving, asked:
– Tell me, Father, whose car is this?
– It’s mine, your Holiness!
– Stop it! – the Patriarch replied, he then got off, made the sign of the Cross and said to the priest:
-May the Lord, watch over you!
*****The Black Automobile Story*****
The great session of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church had just ended. As it was the customary, his Holiness was heading to the vespers service at the Cathedral. When he exited the Patriarchal Palace, he saw many black limousines parked near and asked:
– So many luxury cars, who do you think they belong to?
– To our bishops, Your Holiness! They came with them to the Synod meeting-replied the priest who accompanied him.
– Oh, God watch over them, what would they’ve traveled with, if they weren’t taken the monastic vows of poverty?!
******The Travel Story******
In the Patriarchate building, it is often heard the story of the Patriarch dialogue with the deacon accompanying him everywhere; as they were ready to go to the church in Banovo Brdo, the deacon asked:
– So, how are we traveling? By car?
– By bus! – the Patriarch replied with determination.
– It’s crowded, it’s stuffy in the bus, and the church is not close …
– We’re going (by bus)! – His Holiness replied shortly.
– But … – the Deacon, following him, advance a new argument, — Your Holiness, it is summer, many people go to Ada Ciganlija [a famous pool] and buses are full of barely naked people. It is not appropriate...
– You know, Father – the Patriarch replied back – one can see what he desires to see!
******Message to American Envoy*****
When bishop Pavle became Patriarch, (the director of BOS Museum recalls), many delegations and many foreign representatives have expressed their desire to meet him. The active American ambassador at that time in Belgrade, Warren Zimmermann, also came. The Patriarch received him in the Patriarchal Palace. The ambassador conveyed greetings and congratulations on behalf of the American people, himself and the President. At the end of the formal protocol, the ambassador had asked:
– How may we help you?
– Your Excellency, don’t intervene by setting obstacles, that is how you can help. (…)
Patriarch Pavle refused, in fact, to get paid. He only received a small pension he was entitled to as a formal bishop of Raska and Prizren. All his needs were modest, given that he sewed his mantle and repaired his shoes ... Yet, he still had some money left of that pension. What was left of it, he divided among poor or donated it to other purposes of civic good.
It remained memorable his reaction as a bishop in 1962, when a request from bishops was made to increase their salaries:
– “But why, since we are not able to spend what we already have?”.
He did, likewise with what he received as gifts. If he received mantle material, he keep it until he met a monk or a priest not been able to afford it. Then he would calculate how much they would need to sew a cassock (mantle) and give them exactly that, so he may share the rest with others.
Renowned historian Zika Stojkovich, who has worked with the bishop Pavle during his assignment in Raska and Prizren, when editing his work”Monuments of Kosovo”, complained once to the Patriarch of the difficulty of raising money to continue the print of the work-series he had started and belonging to one of the most prominent Serbian writers, Milos Crnjanski. After been listening to him, the Patriarch rose, went to his bed, raised the pillow, picked his wallet, took out three thousand marks and handed to Stojkovich:
– “Here, it’s my contribution for the printing of Crnjanski Milos’ books. May it be for your assistance. ”
Regardless of your religous philosophy, you can see why he was loved by the Serbian people. It is a shame that more religious leaders didn’t learn to lead by his example. May His Holiness Patriarch Pavle rest in peace for eternity!
If you haven’t done so…. please join us at Say Serbia. It is a website a few friends and I created to show the world the REAL Serbia. http://www.sayserbia.com/