Continuing Crisis in Kosovo/Metohija
By Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
“Whoever gives a hand to help his neighbor is helped by God’s own hand.”
–St. Isaac of Syria
Fr. Nektarios blessing the people of the village of Osojane.
I have now visited Kosovo/Metohija four times in my role as president of the Dečani Monastery Relief Fund (DMRF). Following my most recent trip in July, 2008, I returned to America very conscious of the many blessings God has bestowed on me. The people I met and the conditions I saw on my travels had impressed on me the contrast between my own circumstances as an American and the great struggles and hardships still being endured by Serbian Orthodox Christians who remain living in that region. Indeed, my reflections on what I had witnessed there still bring tears to my eyes, especially the memory of the many people I met who also wept in expressing their deep appreciation for our assistance.
Accompanied by two monks from the Dečani Monastery, my mission of humanitarian aid was facilitated by Italian soldiers who escorted us in a three-truck convoy provided by the UN Peace-keeping Force. It is still impossible to travel within the region without an armed military escort and armored transportation since this remains very much a war zone. Orthodox clergy and Serbian civilians, despite being easily recognizable as unarmed non-combatants, continue to be in danger of ambush and attack.
Our convoy stopped at twelve villages. Six soldiers guarded us with their machine guns in hand as the village children and their families excitedly ran to greet us. Each received our blessing and an icon. Then the two monks and I distributed cash to these desperately needy people-- this financial assistance made possible by the DMRF.
Peace-keeping troops are currently still protecting the monasteries, churches and villages occupied by remaining Serbs but now the tanks that also used to patrol these areas have been recalled. Many fear that even more of the peace keepers will leave over the coming months. If this happens, the remnant Serbian families will lose what little safety they now enjoy in those parts of Kosovo they still occupy. These regions of course include their beloved historic sites and cultural treasures such as the Dečani Monastery and other monasteries and churches as well.
Fr. Nektarios with Italian UN Peace Keeping troops in Banja.
In addition to the twelve villages, I was also able to visit several historically significant monasteries-- Gračanica, Holy Archangels, Dević, and Sopoćani.
At Dečani, the monks are preparing to erect a new wall on the north end of the property to create a protective enclosure for their crops and livestock. The monks are appealing for financial assistance to pay for this new wall’s construction and of course, any contribution you can make toward building the monastery’s new northern wall would be greatly appreciated. Simply send your donation to the Fund and designate it to be used for the new wall.
Dečani is a World Heritage site. Its loss would be a tragedy not only for Kosovo, but for all mankind. But, quite frankly, salvaging this little corner of civilization and history will be possible only if enough people worldwide care about preserving our shared human heritage and will make the financial effort and the moral commitment. It will not be an easy project. In the past the Dečani Fund helped to build a southern wall to protect the monastery. Even so, Dečani has been attacked six times.
Fr. Nektarios at the new wall being built at Dečani Monastery.
In the twelve villages I visited, I saw more then 1,000 families. Most of these villages are in mountainous regions where Serbs relocated after fleeing their original homes in the cities and towns. In the remote areas where they now live, there are few opportunities for paid employment or farming. Food is scarce and conditions are harsh. The aid the Fund enables us to give them is the only lifeline for many.
On behalf of the diocese of His Grace, Bishop Artemije and His Grace, Bishop Teodosije, the monks of Dečani have expanded their assistance efforts by opening two additional soup kitchens so that now the DMRF supports three altogether in Kosovo/Metohija. These are located in the towns of Prekovce (Novo Brdo), Rečane (Kamenica) and Vrbovac (Vitina).
During this last trip, I accompanied Bishop Teodosije to a meeting with Bishop Artemije. We assured his Grace that the Fund will continue to assist his efforts to aid the people of his suffering and struggling diocese by supporting the three soup kitchens established by the diocese. After our meeting, Bishop Artemije invited me to serve together with him and Bishop Athanasios at the feast day liturgy at Holy Archangels Monastery. The bishop further expressed his gratitude by presenting me with an icon of St. John of Kronstadt.
The hardships endured by remaining Serbian citizens continue in Kosovo as the region goes through its most recent transition from a province of Serbia to an independent Albanian state. The ultimate outcome of these political and national realignments, which have been evolving since the break-up of the old Yugoslavia, is not a matter we feel we should express opinions about. As Christians, we must never doubt that God loves all His children equally. Ultimately, He holds Kosovo in His mighty hand, just as He holds America and the rest of the world. Our Christian concern in this situation is only for the casualties of the recent wars and strife in the Balkans, especially for those most vulnerable victims of the conflict— the very young and the frail elderly. Our Fund was instituted to alleviate the suffering of individuals and families whose basic human needs are great. It is our intention only to carry out the singular commission Jesus gave to all Christians: to serve God by serving our neighbors.
In this spirit, we must concentrate on addressing the practical aspects of assisting those persons who have been left desperately poor, hungry, or homeless as a result of the ongoing strife in Kosovo/Metohija. One of the soup kitchens now needs a new oven and two bread machines to achieve their goal of providing at least 600 loaves of bread for daily distribution. We need your donations to enable them to obtain this necessary equipment.
You can view a short video, “If we only had a little more bread”, that shows the soup kitchens serving their hungry patrons by going to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX7rUmT5h04.
The DMRF also has a goal of providing shoes for the impoverished children of Kosovo. The region’s winters are cold and harsh. Yet many families cannot afford appropriate clothing or school supplies for their children. The Fund has in the past served as a life line for these families and we want to continue in this role. We have also been providing heating fuel for four schools, as well as assisting individual families to pay to heat their homes. We hope to be able to continue to provide this commodity so long as there is still so great a need for it.
We are now considering the possibility of setting up a scholarship program for the region’s youth. There are many bright, talented young people living in the impoverished villages of the region. Their future opportunities to cultivate and utilize the potential God has given them are quite limited due to the present circumstances. We would like to offer them hope through an academic scholarship program funded by the DMRF.
Fr. Nektarios visiting with the youth of the village of Goraždevac.
Before leaving the Dečani Monastery, the monks gave me, with the blessing of Bishop Teodosije, a hand painted icon of St. Basil of Ostrog. Bishop Teodosije and Fr. Andreji took me to the airport in Belgrade and the Bishop also presented to me there a medal from the Patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
And so we continue to turn to you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to ask you to stay with us in carrying out our Lord’s commission, given to His entire Christian family. In this material world, material resources are needed to ease suffering and fulfill needs. Along with our minds and souls and bodies, we must also commit our own resources to the mission. Jesus Himself asks no less of us; He Himself gave no less for us.
Please send your donation to:
Dečani Monastery Relief Fund
+Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
2618 West Bannock Street
Boise, Idaho 83702
Be assured we shall remember you in prayer, as we ask also for your prayers.
Peace to your soul!
Your brothers and sisters in Christ our Lord,
+Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, President
+His Grace, Bishop Teodosije, First Vice President
+Hieromonk (Father) Sava , Second Vice President
Lois Fletcher, Secretary
Gioia Maria Frahm, Treasurer
26 August 2008
Continuing Crisis in Kosovo/Metohija