Pastoral Appeal to the Faithful People of the Diocese of Raška-Prizren in Kosovo and Metohija

Confronting an extremely difficult situation for our people in Kosovo and Metohija, we feel a pastoral duty and the need to encourage our faithful people who are increasingly exposed to the open repression by the Kosovo authorities, more so now than ever since the end of the armed conflict in 1999. The institutional terror of Priština is conducted in various ways, ostensibly in the eyes of the world under the guise of supposed adherence to the law, but actually with the aim of forcing our people to flee and abandon the lands on which they have lived for centuries. Daily brutal manifestations of police force, searches, arrests, unwarranted detentions, threats, the hindrance of receiving pensions and social contributions, along with the crude toleration of imposed Albanian municipal authorities in the north of Kosovo who lack the majority of citizens’ legitimacy, are used as a means of coercion against our people who are denied a normal life, basic rights, and freedoms. Clearly, for the authorities in Priština, Serbs have been and remain second-class citizens, evident at every turn despite hypocritical invocations of the Constitution and laws of Kosovo, under which supposedly all citizens should have the same rights, with the most vulnerable being specially protected. Such behaviour not only fails to contribute to solving problems but deepens mistrust, creates ethnic barriers and intolerance, and destroys all the bridges that have been built between the Serbian and Albanian peoples in Kosovo and Metohija so far. This situation may benefit the authorities in Pristina in the short term, but in the long run, it keeps us all hostages to instability, uncertainty, and a difficult economic situation, so it’s no wonder that so many young Kosovo Albanians are leaving Kosovo in search of a better life abroad.

Feeling deeply and living through the suffering of our people who turn to us daily for help, we issue this appeal – not to the Kosovo authorities, for they evidently have no readiness to create normal living conditions for our people and build a vision of a society in which all people, regardless of ethnic origin and faith, live peacefully and securely; nor to international representatives, who despite the official stance that everyone must be enabled to live a normal and equal life, tacitly tolerate the violence of Priština’s authorities, especially the Kosovo police, but to our own faithful people with whom the Serbian Orthodox Church has shared all the troubles during the Ottoman occupation, during the suffering in the first and second world wars, during the time of communist rule as well as during all recent events, especially from 1999 to today.

Our Church has, even before the armed conflict, expressed strong disagreement with the policy of the then regime in Belgrade towards the Albanian civilian population, as it has openly testified and raised its voice against the violence carried out by various extreme Kosovo Albanian groups after the war, advocating all the time for dialogue and communal living. Despite all this, the Church itself has suffered violence, 150 of our holy sites have been destroyed, and dozens of cemeteries vandalised. The role of the Church is not to engage in politics, but when her people suffer injustice, she has a duty to raise her voice against terror. We are not in a position to decide on political solutions, but we have a duty, regardless of the society we live in, to do everything in our power to ensure the dignity of all people, their human and religious rights and freedoms are respected. 

Unfortunately, the Kosovo authorities have responded to everything our Church has done in the last 25 years with pressure on the Church itself, which is now openly denied its identity, basic religious and property freedoms. Such behaviour cannot bring good to anyone because what is built on injustice inevitably collapses sooner or later, and this applies to all the mighty ones of this world who misuse power and authority against those who are unprotected and vulnerable. Such can never achieve anything other than to disgrace their name before history. As the great poet Njegoš wisely said: “To him who relies on the force of the club, the tracks of his deeds reek of inhumanity.”

Therefore, we appeal to our people in these moments to show dignity, courage, strength, national unity, and patience. For centuries, precisely on these Gospel principles and faithfulness to God and our Saint Sava tradition, we have preserved the faith, language, our name, and memory, gathering in our holy sites, remaining faithful to the covenant of Saint Prince Lazar, which is of universal significance for everyone in the world – “the earthly kingdom is temporary, but the heavenly is forever and ever.” This is not just a phrase but a profound truth. Many empires have passed, but the Church of Christ, comprised of her people with clergy and monastics, has remained and survived, and His name is glorified throughout the world to this day.

Therefore, in this situation, we must not be faint-hearted. We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated, for every act of violence comes from fear and insecurity, as every fear and worry from a lack of faith in God. The spiritually wisest people of this world have never shown violence but have won others over with their wisdom and generosity, and for this, they are remembered in history. Therefore, the arrogant behaviour of the authorities in Priština is, above all, an expression of cowardice and blind hatred, because it is easy to enforce terror on those who are unprotected and who live in Kosovo and Metohija as living hostages. That is precisely why we must not give in to blackmail, but must struggle for our rights peacefully, with dignity, remaining above all faithful to God and devoted to this marvellous land, where we have lived and thrived for centuries. Let us remember the terror inflicted on our people during the previous centuries of Ottoman rule and the bravery of our people who, despite all difficulties, remained in their homeland, their churches, their graveyards. The Lord teaches us to pray for those who persecute us and do evil, and not to respond to hatred with hatred or violence.

Our people need and must know that many authorities have changed in this area, but their Church has remained with her people, as the fabric that unites us all together as the Body of Christ, which is what the Church is in its essence. Therefore, in all these difficulties, we call upon our people to, with their Church, as faithful children of Saint Sava, Saint Prince Lazar, and the many saints who have shone and lived in Kosovo and Metohija, preserve composure, peace, and firm trust in God that He will not abandon us. With such faith, no force of this world can defeat us, and punishment for those who do evil and injustice is always in God’s hands.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us constantly remember the prayerful words of our holy Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory, who in his time of persecution of our Church himself bore the cross with his faithful people in Kosovo and Metohija as the former Bishop of Raška-Prizren and prayed to the Lord:

“Lord, how numerous are the enemies who wage war against us and say: there is no help for them, neither from God nor from men. Lord, stretch out Your hand to us that we remain Your people in faith and in deeds. If we must suffer, let it be on the path of Your righteousness and Your truth, and do not allow it to be because of our injustice or hatred towards anyone. Likewise, we pray for our enemies, that the Lord, in His love, turns them away from violence against our Orthodox people, that they do not destroy our churches and graves, do not kill our children and do not persecute our people, but that they too turn to the path of repentance, righteousness, and salvation.”

Bishop od Raska and Prizren