This is a reprint of an article by Fr. Barnabas Powell. It was published in the Pueblo Chieftan. Fr. Barnabas is the priest at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Pueblo, Colorado. He was a classmate of my sons-in-law at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and a fine young priest. The following article is republished with permission of the author.
As Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could tell you, being a patriarch isn’t easy.
Leading your people through the desert is a task filled with trials and tribulations. It requires enduring patience and a clear vision of the goal at the other end. Of all the leaders of the world’s 15 Orthodox Churches, none bore a stronger resemblance to his titular namesakes than Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, who recently reposed at the biblical age of 95.
The future patriarch was born on a tightrope. The first World War began just months before he entered the world, and by the time he reached adulthood, another broke out. He survived the Croatian Fascist genocide of 800,000 of his countrymen and labored to rebuild his shattered country as a construction worker after the war. Despite the anti-religious climate of Titoist Yugoslavia, he became a monk.
His intellectual gifts led to post-graduate studies and a teaching position at the Orthodox seminary in Prizren, Kosovo (now abandoned as a result of the “cleansing” of that city’s Serbs).
For the 33 years preceding his election as patriarch, he was bishop of the diocese encompassing Kosovo. There he earned the moniker of “the walking saint” because he never owned an automobile.
Said he: “I will not purchase one until every Albanian and Serbian household in Kosovo and Metohija has an automobile.” He even made his own shoes.
In 1989, a mob of Muslim youths so severely beat the then-75-year-old Pavle that he was hospitalized for three months. In spite of such persecution, both of himself and his flock, he never acquiesced to the nationalistic machinations of Serbia’s communist leaders.
Having forsaken God, Slobodan Milosevic and his cronies forsook their own humanity. With a prophetic voice, the patriarch called for Milosevic’s ouster. He participated in marches and rallies, even breaking through a police cordon at one point.
Pavle saw communism rise and fall. But as with his biblical predecessors, one trial followed another. Having successfully branded the Serbs as the Balkan bad guys, our Western intelligentsia now dismisses their suffering as “reverse” ethnic cleansing.
Pavle didn’t submit to this double standard, and aggressively denounced NATO’s failure to protect Kosovo’s Serb minority. He pointed to the refugees, to the murdered Serbs, to the more than 150 Orthodox churches and monasteries destroyed by NATO’s de facto Muslim allies.
He dared to say that one evil does not justify another. In denouncing the hypocrisy of the West, he was labeled as anti-Western.
I was disappointed but not surprised to see this distorted image reproduced in a two-paragraph Associated Press feed that The Chieftain ran on Pavle’s death.
The blurb said Pavle, “failed to openly condemn extreme Serb nationalism.” The falsehood of this statement was demonstrated by the condolences that flowed not just from other Orthodox potentates, but from the Vatican and leaders of Serbia’s Jewish and Islamic communities – many of whom were among the 500,000 mourners at his funeral.
Pavle’s real crime was denouncing all nationalisms. That, and refusing to go silently away.
As for Pavle’s likely successor, Metropolitan Amfilohije, he was similarly written off in the AP blurb as “a hard-liner known for his anti-Western and ultra-nationalist stands.”
This description fits an ignorant, bloodthirsty Neanderthal, not the gentle and intelligent man I met five years ago in Belgrade.
“Anti-Western” is a hard label to pin on someone with Amfilohije’s pedigree of post-graduate classics studies in Rome and Switzerland, and years of teaching at a Parisian seminary.
Pavle’s likely successor is fluent not only in Serbian, Russian and Greek, but Italian, French and German. As I discovered, his English also is passable.
Let’s save the “anti-Western” stereotype for those who actually want to destroy Western civilization, not those who stand in their way.
Like Pavle, Amfilohije shares another enduring characteristic of the biblical patriarchs: tenacity. You’ve got to respect the stubborn endurance of a patriarch, even if he proclaims truths that are inconvenient.
Barnabas Powell is pastor at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .