Bishops Atanasije, Joanikije and Teodosije take part in celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy in Prizren
Today on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Administrator of the Diocese of Raška-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija, His Grace Bishop Atanasije, served the Holy Hierarchal Liturgy in the Orthodox Cathedral of St.. George in Prizren with the concelebration of Their Graces Bishop Joanikije of Budimlje and Nikšić, Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan and twelve priests including Protopresbyter Stavrophor Milutin Timotijević (Rector of the Prizren Seminary), Protopresbyter Radomir Nikčević from the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Coastlands, Archimandrite Sava, the hegumen of Tvrdoš Monastery, and ten priests from the Diocese of Raška and Prizren. Before the beginning of Hierarchal Liturgy, Bishop Atanasije reconsecrated the restored church.
About 250 faithful from Prizren and various parts of Kosovo and Metohija (especially Velika Hoča, Brezovica and the north of Kosovo) eucharistically participated in the Divine Liturgy, including some thirty children who took part in the traditional procession with icons, which is performed on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Advisor to the President of the Republic of Serbia Mr. Mlađan Đorđević (who is a native of the Prizren region) also attended the Divine Liturgy and took part in the procession.
This is the first Hierarchal Liturgy to be served in the newly restored Orthodox Cathedral in Prizren, which, like other Serbian Orthodox holy shrines in Prizren, was torched during the March pogrom in 2004. In addition to St. George Cathedral, the Bishop’s Residence in Prizren has also been rebuilt as part of the reconstruction process, where the see of the Diocese of Raška and Prizren will soon be returning in accordance with the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops in May 2009. The Diocese of Prizren is one of the oldest in the Serbian Orthodox Church and the earliest preserved written records of the Diocese date back to the beginning of 11th century, even though there are traces of church life from earlier centuries. The second oldest Serbian diocese after Prizren is the Diocese of Sts. Peter and Paul (Petropavlovska) in Raška. In the year 1808 the Dioceses of Prizren and Ras merged to form the Diocese of Raška and Prizren.
In the city of Prizren, where 8,000 Serbs lived prior to the war in 1999, there are now only about 20 Serbs remaining, most of them elderly. The Diocese is confronted with the huge task of strengthening church life and presence in Prizren in order to encourage the return of refugees and to show that the Serbian Orthodox Church is not giving up her ancient church and historical see.
On the same day the Bishops visited Holy Archangels Monastery, where monastery administrator Fr. Benedikt welcomed them. They then visited the church of the Bogorodica Ljeviška (the Holy Virgin of Lyevish) and the newly rebuilt Prizren Seminary building (the Sima Igumanov Endowment).
Today's Holy Liturgy was also attended by the commander of German KFOR, General Manfred Hofmeyer, who accompanied the bishops during their visit to Holy Archangels Monastery.
His Grace Bishop Artemije served today in Gračanica Monastery.
EXCERPT FROM THE FESTAL HOMILY OF BISHOP ATANASIJE:
In his homily Bishop Atanasije spoke about the multifold importance of the feast of “the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Sunday of respect and veneration of the Holy Icon of God the Invisible, who became a visible man in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth . . . An icon is a window into heaven. It is not a mere photograph but an image of man transformed and perpetuated by the grace of God. It is a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. A light shines from the icon, which emanates from the entire psycho-physical being of man." Remembering Patriarch Pavle of blessed repose, who spent 33 years on the throne of the Bishop of Raška and Prizren, Bishop Atanasije said, “We, too, will stay and survive if we adhere to the window to Heaven, the Icon of the Living Christ, the Original. He is the Archetype, the Prototype of man because God, when creating man, first saw Christ, who was yet to become a man.”
Later in his homily Bishop Atanasije spoke about the Liturgy, which “is not only a religious service and veneration . . . Heaven is here today and from here we cross into Heaven; the proof of that is that we take communion and participate, we eat and drink the body of the God-Man, which was mortal but became immortal. It is a miracle that God came into this world and it is why there is salvation in this world.
"No matter in what state the world is and we sinners in it, we must never lose hope. There is salvation because there is a Savior. Sometimes we experience a great fall but keep in mind that the longer the fall, the greater the hope of salvation. With God it’s never say never. Adhere to your faith. Faith is new hope and new energy, a new sense and connection with the living and true God. Faith never suffers defeat, and faith, my brothers, is also love. Faith is not hate, it is not revenge. I was happy this morning that the people here greeted us and that we see a different face than the one when this church was destroyed. Thank God, never allow hatred and revenge to enter your heart. Man is responsible for his Paradise and his hell and what a man brings into his soul will live there, not only here but also up above. Nor will God impose or take away from man. That is why is a man responsible being, for he is a free and God-like being. Freedom is the primary feature of his likeness to God.
"We are sinful but God came to save sinners, and not the ‘righteous’ like the Pharisees. Today we also have Pharisees, unreasonable people, people who cannot weight things, supposed zealots who want a monopoly on salvation and Orthodoxy. But they are malicious and they slander, and you know what recently happened. God is great and the Church is the Body of the God-Man. It is an organization of this world but it is also a God/manly organism. It has lungs, a heart, organs and those are the holy mysteries. The presence of the Holy Spirit makes the Church a Church, ensures that it survive and awaits the second coming of Christ. The main mystery of the Church is Holy Liturgy and our participation and communion. We are invited to the table the Emperor of Heaven and let us not seek superficial excuses. We should fast and go to confession but do not let anything stand in the way of that which is most important.”
Concluding his festal homily, Bishop Atanasije said, "May this Liturgy bring you closer to salvation and encouragement. Not to hatred and revenge, to exclusion and isolation, but to the expansion of your hearts and lungs. Love God and your neighbor, for He wishes the Peace of God and God’s grace (blagodat).”
ADDRESS OF BISHOP TEODOSIJE:
After Holy Liturgy toys were distributed to the children and the faithful were served with refreshments. At that time Bishop Teodosije addressed them as follows:
"Much has been done to restore this church. There is still much that needs to be renewed. All the buildings in the Seminary complex need to be renewed and this will be a center where all Serbs will be able to gather. It will be both a spiritual and a cultural center where we can come together. Since this is the see of the Bishop of Raška and Prizren, the restoration and today's Liturgz are a call to all Serbs to return to Prizren. Throughout history Serbs have come and gone but there have always been those who have lived here and that is why life should continue here. Many have suffered here, but we know that after suffering comes the joy of Resurrection. Today is a new beginning and if God grants there will be regular services in this holy shrine.”
ADDRESS OF MLAĐAN ĐORĐEVIĆ, ADVISOR TO THE SERBIAN PRESIDENT:
"This celebration today is an encouragement for all those Serbs who want to return and an indicator that life in Prizren is possible, that return is possible to this city, where Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Muslims and Bosniacs lived together for centuries. Today this will also help to make life and return possible. It is important for all Serbs to know that the Church has returned to Prizren and that it will provide strong support to them. As His Grace Bishop Atanasije said that faith means love, and love does not mean hatred and revenge, this church will be the place from which a message of peace and love will go out to all the citizens of Prizren.”