12 January 2009

Archbishop Artemije's Christmas Serman

Sorry for the belated posting.

Source: Diocese of Ras-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija

The Christmas Epistle of Bishop Artemije


A View from Kosovo and Metohija

We all await Christmas, we all rejoice, both old and young, both ill and healthy, both free and those who are not. Christmas – an overall joy. And what Christmas is, in fact? Do we all know that, do we understand and comprehend? To give answer to that question is easy as much as hard. That answer can be in one sentence or one whole doctoral dissertation. Our answer is none of those, but something in the middle, adjusted to every human age, to all the God-loving soul.

Hence Christmas, the earthly Birth of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, as God-child, represents for Man and for Mankind, for the Earth and the ecumene, the only “New under the Sun”, the most important event since the creation of the World. In fact, it is exactly what Lord said for Himself – the Beginning; the beginning of all good, progressive and salvific within Man and for Man, within the Mankind and for the Mankind. By his earthly birth Lord Jesus Christ began the most magnificent deed, the most earth-shattering revolution ever carried out in the history of Mankind, the revolution and rebellion of Man against every sin, first within himself, and then around himself, against every evil and every devil. Surely this conscious struggle is the mere struggle for Man’s salvation. Thus, the feast of Christ’s birth – Christmas, is the most joyful Christian feast, woven most intricately in the life of every human soul, every family, and every Christian nation. It is the feast most decorated and ornamented with popular customs and practices, differing in their details from place to place, but always symbolizing and expressing the mere essence of the celebrated event – that is, that the newly-born Bethlehem God-child represents the Bread of Life, the Light of Truth, the Life-giving Warmth, the eternal Youth and the never-ending Joy to every man. That is why Christmas has been joyfully celebrated in our people under slavery and in freedom, in abundance and poverty, in royal castles and among those taking refuge. This joy brought by “Father Christmas” is mostly felt and utmost experienced by children, since they feel that He, that was born that night on Christmas Eve in the Cave of Bethlehem, is nearest to them. And He later showed and radiated so much love to children, setting them even as example to the adults: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

The Christmas, like all other Christian feasts, a part from the all-over and common spiritual joy, is being awaited and spent with certain differences and practices that decorate and ornament them. Hence the saying: Hundred villages, hundred different customs. But there is no crucial difference, anyhow. On the other hand, great difference is present in the circumstances under which we await and celebrate Christmas today in Kosovo and Metohija, great difference indeed from Lelic or any other place in Serbia outside Kosovo and Metohija. It is the infamous security situation and the ghetto-like way of our life, depriving us of many opportunities, basic human rights, freedom of movement (even to go freely in the woods to cut the Christmas Yule-log). Even in such troublesome conditions, nothing can take away the inner joy, brought by the Christmas feast itself, so the Birth of Christ is awaited and celebrated in Kosovo and Metohija also according to the traditional Serbian customs. And here, too, it is children who find most delight in the joy of Christmas.

A particular ornament of the “Serbian” Christmas, and what children enjoy mostly is the Christmas Yule-log and all the accompanying customs. Unfortunately, there are opinions that the yule-log is some pagan heritage. Instead of “Father Christmas” we await the “Father Frost”. How to comment that? Which wrong turn did we take and where will we arrive? Nothing much, a part that it is point of view and opinion of those who have nothing sacred, who did not still meet the newborn God-child Christ. Hence, they find paganism everywhere. Not only concerning yule-log and Christmas, but the Slava-feast, too, an impressive characteristic of the Orthodox Serbs. To such people, as our Christmas present we send our prayerful wish to experience their Meeting with the Lord in order to understand Christmas itself.

The place of oak yule-log is taken by fir-tree at many Orthodox nations (Greeks, Russians etc.). It entered not only homes, but also the churches. It is known that Greeks had oak yule log once. Was it so by Russians, too? It is a question that awaits examinations, the thing we did not particularly deal with. It is known that Russians (and later on many other Orthodox nations through their influence) experienced huge influence of the Western scholastic theology, of which was not spared in some segments even our own people. Such influence (pressure) is being carried out even today, maybe more than before. Isn’t the Christmas fir tree a part of that influence? It entered many Serbian homes, sometimes, though, together with oak yule-log.

More than sixty years under communism, Serb people were exposed to a planned and systematic secularization, to trials to separate it from its Holy Predecessors and its Orthodox foundations. The beginning of the 21st century is the beginning of disenchantment of the Serbs from the communist ideology. It is similar to the recovery of a man after long and hard infirmity. After a few decades of the atheist and godless destruction of our people, when all the spiritual values were being questioned, when many a generation was brought up with no religious education, today it is time of a gradual, spontaneous return to God, the Church to ourselves. When it comes to Serb people, there is no particular difference between those living in Kosovo and Metohija and the Serbs in other parts of Serbia, the territories of ex-Yugoslavia or anywhere in the world. We are, unfortunately, always, “ornamented” by not knowing our own faith and life according to the faith. Yet, we believe in the recovery of our people in the spiritual sense, as much as that process is hard and painstaking.

The troubles and sufferings of Serbs and their sanctuaries in Kosovo and Metohija, for almost ten years now, and growing into horrifying dimensions, contribute much to the sobering of our people. It is the pain and care of Our everyday life. We often hear a question: “What are we to do as people when it comes to Kosovo and Metohija?” It is a difficult question for Us. Yet, now, on the Eve of Christmas, we think that it is most necessary that we all, both representatives of authority as well as the whole nation, come back to God and to ourselves, that we start thinking of nation and of the State as the whole, that mutual separations and oppressions cease, that the spirit and moral in us become healthy again. In a word, as Saint Nicholas of Zhicha used to say, that we renew biologically, that we multiply, deify and unify. Then a solution to all our questions and problems will be found, even for the problem of Kosovo and Metohija. At the same time, regardless the unilateral, lawless and illegitimate proclamation of independence of Kosovo and Metohija by the Albanians, and the international attitude to that issue, it is our duty that we tend to and develop the awareness in our people what Kosovo and Metohija are for us, from kindergarten to University, and old people’s homes. We must finally realize that it is the holiest and the most important part of our Fatherland, that it is the cradle of our spirituality, our culture and our statehood; that to Serbia and the Serbian people Kosovo is what a heart is to a man. When you extract a heart, there is no more man; and if, God forbid, we lost Kosovo, there would be no more Serbs as a nation. Kosovo is our inalienable identity, our identity document, without which we would be unrecognizable. Hence we expect that the process of the spiritual renewal continues, that these authorities manage what the previous ones failed to do, that is, to create and clearly define the state and national interest when it comes to Kosovo and Metohija; that they approach to that matter in a unified responsible and statesman-like way, not in party-like, divided and selfish way, as it has been done so far. From the international community we expect a more consistent commitment to implementation of the UNSC 1244 Resolution, and the impartial relationship to all the residents of Kosovo and Metohija, especially when it comes to returns of refugees and the respect of basic human rights.

With such thoughts and prayerful wishes, we greet all the brothers and sisters, all the faithful children of the Serbian Orthodox Church, all the readers and all the Orthodox Christians, with the traditional greeting of peace and joy



On the Eve of Christmas, 2008