His Holiness the Archbishop of Peć,
Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci,
Serbian Patriarch Pavle
11.9.1914 - 15.11.2009
This article I dedicated to Serbian Patriarch Pavle the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church ('Srpska Pravoslavna Crkva'), who died this Sunday in his ninety-fifth year of life, and was laid to rest on Thursday.
Serbian Patriarch Pavle was born Gojko Stojčević in the village of Kućanci near Donji Miholjac in the region of Slavonia in Croatia, and was one of two sons born into a farming family. He was born before any Yugoslavia existed in the western Balkans, in a time in European history when Austro-Hungary, which still existed back then, was waging war against neighbouring Serbia following the famous - or infamous - assassination of its crown prince and heir and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia. One European country after another took sides in this conflict, and thus ensued the Great War, or World War One, which consumed Europe for four years.
Gojko and his younger brother Dušan had a tough start to life, losing both parents when they were both very young: their father Stevan travelled to America for work, but died of tuberculosis upon his return home, an infection he sustained during his time working there; their mother Ana later re-married and bore three daughters, but sadly died upon the birth of their third sister. Following the loss of their parents, they were left to their paternal aunt, who raised them along with her own daughter Agica, their first cousin.
Then another world war raged throughout Europe. For two of those war years, he took refuge in the Ovčar monastery in western Serbia. His brother Dušan was not so lucky; their home village found itself located within the borders of the fascist "Independent State of Croatia" ('Nezavisna Država Hrvatska'), and Dušan, like many unfortunate people at that point of time, was himself murdered by the evil Ustaše.
Following the end of that war, he took his monastic vows and gave himself the name 'Pavle' after St Paul in the New Testament. He rose through the ranks of the Orthodox clergy, from hierodeacon to hieromonk, then from protosyncellus to archimandrite, and then being elected to the office of Bishop, serving his post in Kosovo for over thirty years.
Finally in 1990 and right on the cusp of war, Pavle was elected to the highest office of his church, attaining the title of Archbishop, thus becoming the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church. And it was during this turbulent period of Balkan history characterised by war and war crimes, that he found himself in the company of various Serb wartime leaders, reviled throughout the world for their notorious actions against non-Serb civilians in the republics that had secceeded from Yugoslavia. This was also a period of "isolation" for Serbia, being outcast as a "pariah" state by the international community, because of its leaders' involvement in the bloody wars in the neighbouring ex-Yu republics. This period, that consumed a whole decade, brought economic sanctions that crippled Serbia's economy, and moral meltdown that has corrupted Serbian society to its core.
Many of those same non-Serb victims of those Serb leaders' catastrophic policies against them, are critical of the late patriarch - and in turn, critical of his entire church - for at all associating with those people who ruined their lives, and even giving them support at the beginning of the war period.
On the other hand, that same patriarch also shared in the company of Serbia's anti-Milošević opposition, and stood alongside hundreds of thousands of people in the massive anti-government protests in Belgrade of 1997. On a number of occasions, he had openly confronted Milošević over many of his failed policies.
Apart from politics, Patriarch Pavle led a very humble existence according to his Orthodox Christian faith. He was called by many a "Saint that walked, or 'Svetac koji hoda', as he didn't drive a car, preferring instead to travel from one place to another on foot. And whenever asked why he didn't own a car, his famous reply was, "I will not purchase one until every Albanian and Serbian household in Kosovo and Metohija has an automobile!"
In the background of all the turmoil in the Balkans and the lowlives responsibile for all this mess, Pavle was one of very few people in the public eye who were truly genuine; what you saw was what you got from him, and there was absolutely no pretense about him.
Here's something the late patriarch once said in response to criticism about him. And what you're about to read is something that you've never heard from any of those Serbian nationalists and never will hear!
"Some have accused me of calling upon the Serbian people to destruction, to this misfortune and war, only so a Greater Serbia could be maintained. I have told them, and I repeat this to all now - if a Greater Serbia had to be maintained at the price of something inhumane, I would not agree [to it]. I wouldn't agree to even a small Serbia being maintained at that price. If the last Serb had to be maintained at the price of something inhumane, and if I had to be that Serb, I would not agree to it. For us, it would be better that we cease to exist as a people, rather than for us to exist, to biologically survive, as criminals and non-humans!"
(My translation; original Serbian at Blic Online)
Personally speaking, I believe in the existence of soul, that there is life after death, and I believe in some kind of universal energy that could be called God. I am not a member of any church and don't practice any specific faith. Nevertheless, I do agree with the fundamental tenets of Christianity that are compassion, forgiveness, non-judgmental attitude and humility, and I believe the world can never have enough of them!
What inspires me most about Patriarch Pavle, which I have mentioned above, was his character, which exuded humility and modesty according to fundamental Christian beliefs, and also his wisdom, which promoted decency and honesty in all people.
A lot of my fellow Serbs following the simultaneous collapse of Communism and the rise of Nationalism, today consider themselves "big Serbs", or 'veliki Srbi', and even "great Orthodox folk", 'veliki pravoslavci'. (Let's not get dragged into the whole "heavenly people" ('nebeski narod') idea!) Pavle not only knew those things better than a lot of Serbs, he was fundamentally a true Christian, who understood what he believed in and knew what he was talking about!
Lots of people in the Balkans and elsewhere round the world, regardless of religion, are overly proud and full of themselves in their personalities. Pavle, on the other hand, was a humble human being in his soul and full of decency in his heart, both of which characteristics manifested themselves in his modest way of life and in his interactions with people. This example of his can be followed by everyone of any religion or none whatsoever!
Of course, Pavle served as patriarch during the toughest period of Balkan history since World War Two. So much religion and nationalism combined was shamelessly branded about and used to fuel hatred and create a climate conducive of war and all its horrors by some of the most cynical individuals you can find anywhere on this earth! Contraversially, the late patriarch had on a number of occasions shared company with such people.
What was so disastrous about those disgraceful leaders, who had been put into positions of power and responsibility, was that they decided the destinies of millions of people. And because of the nature of their policies, they brought them pain and misery and turned their lives upside down!
Yet, had any of those same leaders of the turbulent 1990s had even a tenth as much wisdom and honesty inside them - let alone humility! - as Pavle had inside him and exuded for all to see throughout his service to God and people around him - and like I mentioned above, they themselves had been in his presence more than once! - the whole history of western Balkans during that time as we know it would've turned out completely differently!
I've been hearing quite often how his passing is a loss to Serbia, to the church, and a loss for other reasons. But in my opinion, that someone like him lived amongst us in our tumultuous part of the world for all that time that he did, represents the greatest gift to all of us and the greatest blessing that we could've received at such a time. And now, that his soul has ascended from this earthly plain and has started its new journey in the next life, his memory here will remain a blessing and constantly provide a gift for future generations of people from the former Yugoslavia and beyond!
His life and presence in one was a gift and inspiration to all of us, Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim or whatever! In life, he was known as a "living saint", or 'živi svetac' in our language. Now he really is one!