|Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes - Missionary Support - Only Bread and Soup for Kosovo|
Only Bread and Soup for Kosovo
By Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
President of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund USA
While Americans gathered around their Thanksgiving tables this November to enjoy turkey and pumpkin pie, Kosovo?s Serbian citizens were thankful if they had only bread and soup. Their villages are girdled with barbed wire and the ever-present army tanks attest to the ongoing protective military occupation. Many Serbs have no electricity for cooking or heating and late November in Kosovo and Metohija brings a raw cold with lots of snow. This season is especially hard on children and elderly people; everyone makes do as best they can, often going without even the basic daily amenities. The landscape is blighted by ruins? charred or demolished homes, churches and monasteries can be seen everywhere.
Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes and His Grace, Bishop Teodosije visiting a local
monastery, accompanied by protective UN peacekeepers (the two monks
in the background are Hierodeacon Jevsevije (l) and hieromonk Andrej (r)
Dear Friends in Christ Our Lord,
May our Lord God always bless you!
As many of you know, I visited Kosovo during the last two weeks of July this year. As I was leaving the US, people at the several airports where I changed planes asked me, "Where are you going?"
I replied, "I am going to Kosovo to help the desperate!"
At the airport in Atlanta, Georgia, people I spoke to commented, "Are you crazy, you will be killed!" and "Are you going by yourself?"
When I arrived in Europe, at the airports there too people would ask where was I going?
"What? You are crazy to go by yourself!"
Then, in the Belgrade airport: "Where are you going?"
"No, it's too dangerous, Father Nektarios! May God protect you!" Many also said, "God bless you for going to Kosovo; so many there need your help and love!"
Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes distributes
aid to Serbian children in Osojane
This was why I went to Kosovo. As President of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund, at the invitation of the Serbian Orthodox Church, I traveled there to offer assistance and my pastoral love so as to give hope to the desperate. I assured them all of my continuous prayer for them.
When I arrived in Kosovo, the reasons for the concern people had expressed on my behalf became evident. At the border I was met by a military escort charged with safely conveying me to the Decani Monastery. At the monastery I was surrounded by several army vehicles and soldiers with machine guns. The peace keeping troops walked me to the entrance of that beautiful 14th century monastery, where, once inside, I met His Grace Bishop Teodosije and Hieromonk Sava, along with all the resident monks. After so many years of assisting with the Decani Monastery Relief Fund in America, I was moved to weep as I entered the monastery church itself. I could feel the great pain and sorrow of those who actually live with the situation here on a close and personal basis. I could also sense among these monks their steadfast dedication to our Lord God and to His Church. This can be seen in their faces despite their obvious exhaustion from living under constant threat. Despite their own trials and tribulations, the monks and the bishop remain ever prayerful and deeply concerned for the long-suffering Serbian Orthodox population throughout Kosovo and Metohija.
In all my life I never experienced what I did at this holy monastery-- such love for God and such total dedication to the causes of peace and understanding! I greeted the Respected Father Sava and the Good Bishop Teodosije in the middle of the night, at which time they welcomed me with joy. After our introductory meeting, I was told to go and rest. This I did for three hours until it was time for me to attend the morning service at 4:30 AM.
Upon entering the beautiful monastery church, my spirit became joyful, but soon I began to weep in prayer because I felt the pain of all those suffering around me. My heart broke as I saw and understood how the people cannot find peace even in prayer. Such a heavy cross for the monastery and the Serbian people to bear! Yet they all carry it prayerfully and with love. Whenever anyone suffers, all Christians will feel and share their pain; in Kosovo I felt this pain deeply.
For the next ten days I and the Good Bishop Teodosije traveled throughout the region to distribute material aid provided through the Decani Monastery Relief Fund and to bring spiritual encouragement to the Serbian Orthodox faithful. While giving the people assistance, I learned that Bishop Teodosije was well-deserving of the title "Good Bishop". I have met no more prayerful bishop nor one with greater love for those suffering souls residing throughout his diocese.
And I would also speak most highly of Father Sava whom I had begun to address as ?Respected Father Sava,? because of his daily attention to spending hours in prayer and his constant concern for the oppressed and suffering throughout Kosovo and Metohija.
Bishop Teodosije, Archimandrite Nektarios and children
in Osojane in front of the restored church of St. Gabriel the Archangel
The Good Bishop Teodosije, the Good Deacon Xenophon and I had to travel always in armed military vehicles. Everywhere we went the UN Peace keeping troops guarded us. For the next ten days we went about our business under military escort. We offered assistance to many needy people and families, distributing resources provided through the Decani Monastery Relief Fund.
No bishops, priests or monks can travel within the provinces of Kosovo and Metohija without an army escort. The soldiers I met during my travels asked me what group was I affiliated with. I told them I had come alone and on my own. "God bless you for coming, Father!" they responded. Some soldiers took photographs of me. Even the Generals I met evidenced astonishment when I told them I had come to Kosovo to offer assistance to the neediest people with funds raised in America!
Kosovo is not a free society today; Serbs there cannot simply move about as they please. For that reason they continue to suffer and they greatly struggle on a day to day basis just to sustain themselves with the most basic necessities. UN peace keeping guards and their tanks are everywhere in Kosovo and Metohija. Barbed wire surrounds the towns and villages where the Serbian population holds on to a tenuous existence. We did all we could during my visit to help the desperate.
I returned to America still saddened by my experience and because I know that what we did during the time I was there barely scratched the surface of that blighted society?s needs. There is so much more work that must be done!
The majority of displaced Serbian citizens want to return to Kosovo and Metohija but to date few have done so. Most fear for their lives because the local authorities give no guarantee of protection to returnees and their families. Albanians now walk into Serbian homes and evict the residents, telling them to get out because they no longer own the home! There is also much stealing of crops and cattle from Serbian farmers; anyone who has a cow must guard it twenty-four hours a day lest it be stolen! One person came up to me and the Good Bishop Teodosije and asked for assistance to replace a stolen cow. A good cow costs about $1,400.
There are many persons lacking even food now. Several homeless shelters have been opened in Kosovo and Metohija. The Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Pristina has set up homeless shelters and the Decani monks are distributing soup and bread.
In conversation with Bishop Artemije in Gracanica Monastery
Bishop Teodosije and Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
I saw many new homes under construction along the highways as I was conveyed about by my Army escort. I was informed that none of these new homes are intended for the Serbian population. Only a few homes have been rebuilt for displaced Serbs throughout Kosovo and Metohija, so few in fact that it seems this is only being done to give the impression, through the media, that some reparation is indeed underway. One can distinguish a Serbian home from a non-Serbian home because the non-Serbian homes are large and expensive, with two or three floors; the replacement homes intended for Serbs are more modest, having only a single level.
The Christ-loving Patriarch Pavel arrived at the monastery to celebrate the feast day of the Archangels. This monastery had been previously damaged. Now army tanks and soldiers surrounded us in the hills as we came together with the locals to celebrate with the pious Patriarch. It was a great blessing for me to serve with him.
I also visited and prayed at the monastery of Pec where the Patriarch has his own residence. Outside the walls, army vehicles and trucks protect that holy monastery.
Next day I visited a town where a temporary shelter houses many families who all live there together. Not far from this shelter stands what is left of their village church. I wept as I entered this ruined sanctuary. The faithful still go there to pray, despite the building?s pitiful condition.
I was able to visit many children in a guarded area there. My visit delighted the children. Both the Good Bishop Teodosije and I were able to distribute monetary gifts form the DMRF which they regarded as a great blessing.
I wonder if that church will ever be rebuilt. Throughout Kosovo and Metohija, close to 150 Serbian Orthodox Churches and Monasteries have been destroyed. Many are now just piles of bricks. All these churches where destroyed after the war. I also passed Serbian Orthodox cemeteries and saw the crosses that had marked the graves broken and lying on the ground. It seems even those already departed in the Lord cannot rest in peace! Ironically, I also saw some very attractive and well-groomed non-Serbian cemeteries, their monuments unmarred and intact!
The Serbian Orthodox faithful love their churches. They will only live where there is a church in which to pray. Even after a church has been destroyed, the faithful will request marriages and baptisms to be performed amidst the ruins! Serbian Orthodox Christians will only leave their towns and villages when their beloved church has been destroyed completely so that not even the bricks remain.
I took as a souvenir some small rocks from where the foundation of a church had been. I hold them in my hand when I pray, tearfully, for the people who once worshiped there.
This month amidst the abundance we share with family and friends during our American Thanksgiving celebration, I could not help but think about all the people in Kosovo and Metohija who lack even basic food-- those many who depend on the vegetable soup and bread served by the Decani Monastery monks in the homeless shelter run by the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Pristina.
Fr. Nektarije with Patriarch Pavle and Bishop Artemije during the
Holy Archierarchal service at Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren
Thanksgiving Day here in America also serves as the true start of the winter season. In Kosovo and Metohija winter can be very harsh. Many citizens are facing it again, as last year, with their electricity turned off and the knowledge that their only heat will depend on whatever firewood they can find or purchase. The small children of poor families and the elderly who are too physically infirm to gather and split wood will suffer most from this situation. The Decani Monastery Relief Fund will again attempt to provide battery-operated heaters or fire wood to those in most desperate need.
We appeal now to you: your donation can bring some hope and love to those in Kosovo and Metohija by assisting the Decani Monastery to help those struggling souls in greatest need. I will try to return to Kosovo in late January (2006) as the Serbian Orthodox Church has invited me to do. As President of the Fund, I assure you that one hundred percent of your donation will be used to feed and shelter the needy.
Thank you! And may our Lord God reward you! Together we can bring hope and Christian love to those in Kosovo and Metohija who so need our support and assistance at this hour! Please help us to help them through the DMRF by sending your donation in Christ:
Decani Monastery Relief Fund
I most humbly and sincerely thank you. Be assured also that we pray for you daily!
We ask you too to pray for Kosovo and Metohija! Peace begins with love and concern for all! Peace to your souls! God bless you!
Your Ever-mindful Brothers in Christ our Lord,
+Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
+His Grace, Bishop Teodosije, Abbot of the Decani Monastery
+Hieromonk (Father Sava) Sava
Who all pray for you with great Christian love!
Content written/compiled by firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes