Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Week in Serbia

On Friday, May 16, I left for Belgrade with my friend Philip (another American studying theology here). There was some question whether we would be able to go at all -- there were a spate of strikes here in Greece, including one by tanker truck drivers which halted the flow of gasoline for one week.

Fortunately, the strike broke the day before we left and I got gasoline for the trip. We had a smooth trip on Friday. About 2 hours south of Belgrade, we stopped at Ravanica monastery, which is located just 10 km off the highway.

The top two photos are of the monastery. We were blessed to venerate the incorrupt relics of St. Prince Lazar, who died defending Serbia and all Europe from the Ottoman Muslims at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. We walked around for a bit and even ran into a young Serbian girl who had just gotten back from 18 months in the US at a tennis training camp. She was nice enough to translate for us.

Then we hit the road again and continued on to Belgrade. We were staying with our friend Djina in New Belgrade, but she wasn't home from work when we arrived, so we went down to the Danube River to have a coffee on one of the houseboats that serve as cafes. (See the bottom photo of Philip at that cafe.)

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to meet my bishop, Bishop Maxim, at the Patriarchate. The main purpose of my trip to Serbia was to meet with him, as he was in Belgrade for the meeting of the Synod of Bishops.

We had coffee with Bishop Luka of Western Europe, Bishop Gregorije of Hercegovina and a few other clerics, including the dean of the new (incredibly large) St. Sava's Cathedral.

Afterwards, I went with this priest, Fr. Daniel, to St. Sava's to see the latest progress inside the Church. (This magnificent church is just 6 meters smaller than Hagia Sophia in Constantinople -- out of respect for that church.)

On Sunday, Bishop Maxim invited us to Pozarevac, about 1 hour south of Belgrade, to serve at the liturgy in Bishop Ignatije's cathedral there, along with Bishop Luka. We drove there with two Serbian friends who knew the way.

Afterwards, Bishop Ignatije hosted us for a very nice meal. We finally returned to Belgrade in the afternoon.

On Monday morning, we attended a liturgy at the large St. Sava's Church, which had been a dream of mine. Almost every Serbian bishop participated. There were 35-40 bishops serving, 35 priests, and 5 deacons. It was amazing -- I've never seen anything like it.

Afterwards, we met one of Djina's friends, Milana. Djina teaches at a language school, and Milana is the Greek teacher there (although she is Serbian). After having coffee at the church, we went to a really nice section of the city and had lunch.

On Sunday evening, Bishop Maxim invited us to attend the opening of an exhibition of iconography by modern Serbian iconographers. Again, nearly the whole synod of Serbian bishops was there.

Afterwards, we had a drink at an outdoor cafe with two bishops from FYROM who study in Thessaloniki with us (although we hadn't met previously).

On Tuesday, Milana took us for some sightseeing at the Patriarchate and Kalemegdan, Belgrade's picturesque fortress which overlooks the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers. We met a Serbian deacon, Dn. Oliver Subotic, who edits the Theological School's journal, for lunch and had some very interesting conversation.

On Tuesday night, we had vigil at the Theological School for the feast of both St. John the Evangelist (the patron of the church) and Mid-Pentecost. The vigil began at 8:00 PM and concluded at 2:30 AM. Metropolitan Amfilohije, the acting Patriarch of Serbia, served, along with Bishop Maxim, 10 priests, and 8 deacons (including me). Metropolitan Amfilohije also ordained a deacon during the liturgy.

Wednesday was a quiet day, catching up on my translation work and having another lesson in Serbian from Djina. (Yes, now I am trying to learn a little Serbian!)

On Thursday morning, I met Bishop Maxim at the Theological School to talk for awhile and get his blessing before we left. We finally headed back here to Greece in the afternoon. Our friend, Djina, even came with us in order to make a pilgrimage to St. Demetrios and the other holy relics and sites in Thessaloniki. So she is currently staying with us here in Panorama until Tuesday. (We're also continuing my Serbian lessons.)

Unfortunately--and uncharacteristically--I didn't take many photos during this trip. My friend Philip has a few extra photos, so when he gets them to me, I will post them!

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