Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren in Washingto

A reception was held on Monday evening, 2 February, 2004, in the Parish Hall of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington DC, for His Grace the Most-reverend Artemije, Bishop of Raska and Prizren, of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Addressing an audience that filled the hall to overflowing, His Grace told of the current state of the Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija. Accompanying Vladyka were his secretary, Hieromonk Symeon, and Abbot Vasily, Father Superior of the Sopocani Monastery. The day before his talk, Vladyka attended and prayed at the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. At the conclusion of the service, he greeted the faithful, bestowing upon each his hierarchical blessing and, as a memento, giving each person a little icon of St. Savva.

The Washington talk had first been presented on January 21, 2004, in Moscow at the opening of the 14th Annual Conference of the Orthodox St. Tikhonís Theological Institute. Bishop Artemije began by saying:

“Kosovo was crucified, and five years later it still hangs upon the cross. The profound respect for the crucified victim forces everyone to remain silent in front of the cross. Even the Mother of God kept silent in front of her Sonís Cross, but tears never ceased to speak.

“As the Orthodox bishop of Kosovo and Metohija I do not merely stand in front of the cross of Kosovo crucified, I am myself crucified on that same cross. That is why it is hard for me to speak about it. And yet, I cannot keep silent, because I am called to speak. If only I were granted the power of thunder or given a trumpet of Jericho with which to make known and bear witness to what has been happening in Kosovo and Metohija in the last five years!

“Kosovo and Metohija todayóand this word “today” covers the period from 1999 to this day, and will continue beyond todayóresembles more than anything else a Roman Coliseum of the early days of Christianity. In it are present the torturers, the martyrs and the beasts, all together, all at the same time. It is a blood-soaked place where beasts devour innocent Christians while the spectatorsówhich in this case is the whole worldówatch what is happening through mass media and, in their enjoyment of the spectacle, are themselves transformed into beasts. And there is no end to this gory orgy.

“In this tragedy, the Serbian people are cast in the role of the victim. It is by Godís will that I am the spiritual leader of that people. That is why I find it difficult to speak of my own suffering and of the suffering of my people in cold, scientific, academic terms. Feelings run high in a Coliseum. Of course, there are various kinds of feelings, depending on the role one is asked to playóthe role of the victim, the role of the beast or the role of the spectator enjoying the performance…”
Later in his talk in Washington, Bishop Artemije explained to his large audience that for Serbs, Kosovo is not simply a geographic space, but is a spiritual, supernatural concept:

“What is Kosovo for the Serbs and for Serbia? It is what Jerusalem is for the Jews. It is the heart of oneís body, the hearth of oneís home. Kosovo was, Kosovo is, the cradle of Serbian statehood, Serbian culture, Serbian spirituality. There lie our deepest national roots; there stand our most majestic Orthodox holy places; there lives our sacred heritage, left us by the Nemanji_ dynasty.
“This is why, after the name of God, Kosovo is the most sacred word in the Serbian language. It signifies not only a territory, not only a geographic concept. Its meaning is much broader and higher than the meaning of such simple concepts. This word is a symbol of spiritual values, of eternal Christian values which make life worth living and which are worth dying for. This spiritual, this mystical content was given to Kosovo by the famous Kosovo battle, which took place in the year 1389. This battle was the historical turning point dividing the history of the Serbian people into the pre-Battle of Kosovo and the post-Battle of Kosovo periods. The profound meaning with which the Battle of Kosovo was invested in the consciousness of the Serbian people is rooted in the conscious choice made by Prince Lazar and all his knights and through them by the entire Serbian people. The choice was between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven. They chose the Kingdom of Heaven; they chose the eternal Christian values and objectives.
“The Holy Prince Lazar went to the Field of Kosovo to fight a most powerful enemy and his countless Turkish hordes. Prince Lazar did not go to war in order to conquer lands belonging to another; he went to war to defend his own land. He did not enslave other peoples; he protected his own people from the enslavement by another. He did not force his Faith upon another; he defended his own Faith. That was the Kosovo choice; that is the Kosovo legacy. That is the stronghold of Serbian history. Kosovo thereafter became a synonym for any suffering endured for the sake of truth, justice and faith, “for the venerable Cross and golden freedom.”

Bishop Artemije went on to describe the tragic fate of the Serbs who remained in Kosovo, Serbs forced to live in enclaves reminiscent of concentration camps. He also told of the desecration and destruction of a multitude of Orthodox churches. Then Vladyka turned to the numbers: He reported that during four and a half years in which international peace-keeping forces have been in the land of Kosovo, i.e. between June10, 1999 and the end of 2003, there were 6,392 attacks made against Serbs, resulting in 1,197 Serbs killed, 1,305 Serbs wounded, and 1,138 Serbs kidnapped. Today we know that 155 of the kidnapping victims were killed, 13 escaped, and 95 were released. The fate of the remaining 863 Serbs is as yet unknown.

Following Bishop Artemijeís talk, Belgrade video journalist Lidya Kujundjicís film "Crucified Kosovo," a film of staggering emotional intensity, was shown. Ms. Kujundjic was in attendance at its presentation in Washington. The film, which features chant and other musical accompaniment, is an exceptionally graphic documentary. It begins with a depiction of the great holy sites of Kosovo Ė Vysokij Decani, Gracanica, Pec, Crna Reka, and others - that endured throughout the 500 years of subjugation under the Ottoman yoke and throughout the recent war. In the second part, we witness scenes of peaceful church life in Kosovo and Metohije before the war of 1999. The concluding portion of the film documents funerals of Serbs murdered by the Muslims and the barbarous destruction of Orthodox holy places. The film ends with a close-up of the sad and prayerful, ascetic face of Hieromonk Khariton seen in profile; a tear slowly moves down his left cheek. Abbot Vasilije of Sopocani Monastery, who was sitting next to the author of these words, whispered “Fr. Khariton was martyred.” Receiving this news made our impressions of the evening with Bishop Artemije even more powerful.

The evening concluded with questions from the audience. In a series of questions phrased in different ways, Vladyka Artemije was repeatedly asked the single question: “What should the Serbs in Kosovo do?” Vladyka responded: “We must pray and hope, we must patiently endure and remain in our martyred Kosovo and Metohije, together with our holy places, with the graves of our ancestors, and with firm assurance that God also has the answer to this problem.”

Protopriest Victor Potapov