We finally arrived at Tvrdos Monastery around 6 PM, where Bishop Maxim was received by Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic), the retired bishop of Herzegovina, Bishop Gregorije, the current bishop of Herzegovina, and all the monastics of the area. Tvrdos, the men’s monastery, has about 10 monks. The foundations of the church are from the original 4th century church. Even today in the church, there are glass panels on some parts of the floor so that you can look down and see the remains of the original church. There are also two associated women’s monastery nearby, with nuns from all over the world. Most of them came there to be near Bishop Atanasije, who was a spiritual child of the Blessed Elder Justin Popovic and one of the greatest theologians today.
Almost immediately, we went in to celebrate the Vespers for St Nicholas of Myra. St Nicholas is an extremely popular saint in the Serbian tradition, and many Serbs have him as their slava (the patron saint of their family, which his passed down from generation to generation). St Nicholas is Bishop Atanasije’s slava, so it was a particularly big celebration at the monastery.
I was thrust right into service. Fortunately, the deacon who picked us up, Deacon Zoran, was very experienced and helpful, and Bishop Atanasije seemed to enjoy hearing the litanies in English. (He insisted on singing “Lord, have mercy” himself.)
Afterward, there was a big meal. In the Serbian tradition, the host—Bishop Atanasije—refused to sit and eat, and instead served all his guests. People ate, drank and sang songs—it was a very joyful atmosphere. One particularly memorable moment was when a little four-year-old girl gave Bishop Atanasije one of her blankets as a present for his celebration. He was SO excited about it. He kept holding it up to show everyone—and it had a big pink bunny on it. Here is one of the greatest theological minds of our time, but—at the same time—he always exhibited a child-like simplicity and joy. It was very refreshing and inspiring.
That night, Pelagia and Yulia went to the nearby women’s monastery of Sts Peter and Paul, and I had one of the monks’ cells, located next to Bishop Atanasije’s office. (The second photo is of his office, taken from the door of my room.)
The next morning, Wednesday, Dec 19 (Dec 6 OS), I served at my first full liturgy. See photos from Bishop Gregorije’s website here. It was an adventure, especially with three bishops! Bishop Atanasije kept taking my book from me, saying that I didn’t need it. Not that it helped that much with the Serbian anyway! ( :
After the service, we again had an even bigger, more wonderful and joyous meal together. Again, everyone sang songs—even the bishops.
The first and third photos were, again, taken from near my room. The first is of the landscape around the monastery, the third of the main church.
The final photo is of Yulia and a man named Milos, standing outside the front of the church.