„I observed in the Holy Land that even in the most humble of villages, anywhere in the world, in Kosovo in particular, the blessing of the Holy Land is preserved. You should, paradoxically, go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to fully understand that the same devoutness exists in your parish. This teaches us that we should not strive for imaginary happiness that is located somewhere far away, abroad, on another continent, in the future, and instead realize that it is there, in our hearts, in our love for our fellowmen and the deepening of our relationship with God,“ the abbot of the Draganac monastery Ilarion told Zagreb-based portal P-net.
Father Ilarion spoke with journalist Bojan Munjin about Kosovo customs, Christmas, and Christianity on Christmas celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, and on the eve of the Orthodox holidays.
“The strength of their faith in the ultimate victory of the good, regardless of all their hardships and temptations, the people in Kosovo laconically express through the phrases ‘dear God’, ‘dear church’, which I always understood to mean that even when all the parameters in life are very bad, one should not give up faith in the Gospel, faith that everything is well and that all will be well,“ Fr. Ilarion stressed.
According to the abbot of the Draganac monastery, the people teach us that, regardless of the drama taking place, all is basically well and there is no room for pathos and self-pity.
„What left an impression on me was when I met the returnees to the village of Osojane in the municipality of Istok a year after the end of the conflict in Kosovo, when I met old men and women, gathered around a common cauldron on the bare ground under a UNHCR tent. I inquired about their well-being and they replied, cheerfully and with a smile: ‘We are well, and things will be even better.“
Father Ilarion said that he discovered in Jerusalem that “God’s power” hides behind the ordinariness of everyday life.
The lesson of the modest cave of Bethlehem and its mangers is extremely important and eternally relevant: God appears in simplicity and peace. Not in the hectic hustle and bustle, not in the restless tumult of our mind that is always looking for a new sensation. We need to tame the impatience and unrest we have in ourselves, so that, in the depths of our being, we can experience life in heaven.
He described the Draganac Monastery, whose clergy numbers are slowly growing, as a meeting place – even in times when no monks were living in it.
The people of Kosovsko Pomoravlje gather around this monastery. It is a place where they pray, break bread and dance traditional Serbian folk dances.
„The monastery has always been a place of consolation – spiritual and physical healing. In recent years, the number of monks has increased. Now there are more than ten of us. We try to be as hospitable as much as we can. We try to make people feel welcome. The basic experience that people should take with them from the church is that it is truly God’s home, in which we are joyful and carefree as children in their parents’ laps.“
We need to show a little goodwill, to open the church, greet the people, talk to them, and pray together – in order to receive back three times more gratitude and love from them, Abbot Ilarion said.
He stated that the Diocese of Raska and Prizren is experiencing a revival – from the „Saints Cyril and Methodius“ seminary in Prizren, to parishes and monasteries that live an ever fuller liturgical life.
For several years now, international volunteer camps for students from all around the world have been organized in the Draganac monastery. Christians and Muslims, Serbs and Albanians, French and Turks, Americans and the Spanish, Czechs, and Italians, as well as Croats, stayed there, says Father Ilarion.
„We formed a wonderful friendship with everyone and we are always happy to see each other again,“ he added.
The villages – which the Serbs inhabited after being pushed out of the cities after 1999 – are being miraculously urbanized and culture is developing, underlined Father Ilarion (birth name Rastko Lupulovic), who was one of the most esteemed young Serbian actors and musicians and a recipient of numerous prestigious art awards.
„In the villages around Gnjilane, Vitina, or Kosovska Kamenica, you have very active Serbian communities: cultural and artistic societies, music schools, radio, and TV stations. With its repertoire, the Cultural Center in Gracanica can compete with many of the capital’s theaters and cinemas. In short, we can say, along with the poet, that today in Kosovo and Metohija, the homeland is defended with beauty, honor, and knowledge. The homeland is defended with life and good manners.“
He emphasized that Bishop Teodosije, along with the abbot of the monastery Visoki Decani, Sava Janjic, as well as the clergy and believers of the diocese, are creating a spiritual environment in which tradition is preserved and the truth is defended.
„But this is done in such a way that our message is addressed to all people of goodwill. Many people from the West recognize this, whom we consider sincere friends, and many of them have converted to Orthodoxy.“
He noted that Christianity is not „mere moralizing“ or „simply good behavior“, but a dynamic search and drama of „engaging with God,“ which leads to a radical change in our attitudes, after which we enter a completely new reality.
„It is very important, on the other hand, that our sermon is not intended only for the national club, but that it is a message of peace, one that is universal and comprehensible. Otherwise, we lose our original Christian identity,“ concluded Father Ilarion.
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