Patriarch Pavle Stojčević (1914-2009) of Serbia (right) with Patriarch Aleksei Rediger (1929-2008) of Moscow and all the Russias (left) in 1999. Vladyki Aleksei was visiting Belgrade at the time of the NATO aggression against Serbia to show his solidarity with the victimised Serbian people, who were under indiscriminate American-led bombing at the time (this was a great shame for us… to bomb those who had helped us in WW2… disgraceful… the US even bombed Belgrade deliberately on Orthodox Easter… sacrilege!).
Patriarch Pavle died on Sunday in the 96th year of his life. Some called him “a righteous man of our time”, and Serbs considered him as “a living saint” because of his closeness to the people and for his asceticism, which became a byword.
A Great Ascetic
According to Serbian President Boris Tadić, “There are people who by the very fact of their life bond entire nations. Patriarch Pavle was such a man”. Fr Nikolai Balashov, the Deputy Chairman of the MP Department for External Church Relations, an expert in the field of inter-Orthodox relations, called the late Serbian Patriarch “a symbol of the spiritual unity of the Serbian people” and “a righteous man of our time”.
Numerous stories attest to the fact that Patriarch Pavle was very close to the people and that he loved the people very much. In particular, one finds many tales telling of the asceticism and selflessness of the patriarch. Everyone knows that he either walked or rode on public transport in the city; he went through the crowds without guards or assistants. Anyone could go up him and have a chat. One of the stories about him, published in the publication Tatiana’s Day, states that once, on his way to the building of the Patriarchate, Patriarch Pavle noticed some posh cars parked near the entrance and asked whose cars they were. His assistant told him that they belonged to the bishops. At that, the patriarch said with a smile, “If they who know the Saviour’s commandment on poverty have such cars, then, what kind of car would they have if there wasn’t this commandment?”
Everyone knows that the First Hierarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) always wore old scruffy shoes. A story in Tatiana’s Day related that a woman came to call on the patriarch. During their discussion, she happened to glance at the patriarch’s feet and the sight of his shoes shocked her… they were beat-up, torn, and cobbled-together old boots. The woman thought, “It’s shameful to us that our patriarch should go about in such clodhoppers. Surely, someone could get him a new pair of proper shoes?” Just as she was thinking this, the patriarch said, with great glee, “See what great shoes I have! I found them near the dustbins when I went to the Patriarchate. Somebody threw ‘em out, but, they’re real leather. I sewed ‘em a bit… see, they’ll last for a long time yet”.
Another woman came to the Patriarchate, demanding to speak with the patriarch on urgent business. During the audience, she said that the night before she dreamed of the Virgin. According to her, the Mother of God told her to bring money to the patriarch so that he could buy himself new shoes. With these words, the visitor tried to hand the patriarch an envelope with money inside. Patriarch Pavle, without taking the envelope, asked, “What time did you go to bed?” The woman, surprised, replied, “Well… somewhere around eleven”. “You know, I went to bed later, about four o’clock in the morning”, replied the Patriarch, “and I also dreamed of the Virgin and I asked her to tell you to take your money and give it to somebody who really needs it”. He didn’t take the money.
He could not only repair shoes or cobble himself new boots from old women’s shoes, but, if he saw that a priest had a torn cassock or cloak, he said to him, “Bring it to me, I’ll fix it”. He did the preparations before the service, and he cleaned up afterwards, washing the utensils, and hung up his cassock and cowl. He heard the confessions of the faithful and gave them communion. He didn’t eat much, much as the ancient Desert Fathers did. One day, Patriarch Pavle was flying somewhere on an airplane. Over the sea, the plane shook as it entered a turbulent patch of sky. A young bishop, sitting next to the Patriarch, asked him if he thought that the plane was going to crash. His Holiness calmly replied. “For me, it’s just God’s justice. After all, I’ve eaten so many fish in my life that it’s not surprising if they now eat me”.
His Aunt Takes the Place of His Dead Parents
Patriarch Pavle (his secular name was Gojko Stojčević) was born 11 September 1914 on the feastday of the Beheading of John the Baptist in the village of Kućanci in Slavonia (Yugoslavia) in an ordinary peasant family. Very early on, he became an orphan. “My father went to work in America, but, he contracted tuberculosis and returned home to die”, he said in an interview with the publication Orthodoxy and the World. “I was only three-years-old then, I only had my older brother, Dušan. My mother remarried several years after the death of my father, but, she died soon after that, so, my brother and I lived with my grandmother and aunt”. Therefore, the future Patriarch Pavle loved his aunt just like a mother, for she had to take her place after his mother’s death.
“My aunt loved us, but, if we did wrong, she’d hit us with a stick”, he told an interviewer. “In my opinion, today’s educational system is sick, it’s wrong. Children are literally bereft of parental love and care; they can’t develop normally. It kills any initiative; boys grow up with a psychology of entitlement. Instead of becoming the mainstay of the family, they are wilful and capricious, expecting nothing but passing pleasure”. The future patriarch grew up in a religious family; the children attended Sunday school, learned their catechism, and learned the Our Father when they were very small. Besides, he admitted, “When you grow up without parents, you experience a greater awareness of the Heavenly Father”.
Patriarch Pavle Stojčević (1914-2009)
Doubts on the Way to God
His aunt did not let Gojko work in the fields because she felt that he was in “very poor health”. “They had already lit a candle for me once, they thought I had died. My aunt saw that I was not suited for hard farm work, so, she decided that I needed to continue my education. My family was a crucial influence in my decision to enter the Theological Academy, but, I had an interest in Physics and I studied it in my spare time”, Patriarch Pavle related. He graduated from gymnazia in Belgrade and seminary in Sarajevo. After that, he continued his education at the Theological Faculty in Belgrade. Then, at the beginning of his road, the future Patriarch had doubts about the correctness of his choice.
Patriarch Pavle said of this, “In my third year at the Academy, I thought, ‘If God knew in advance that I’d be a killer, could I change my fate? If I can, His knowledge is meaningless, but, if I can’t, where’s my freedom?’ I wrestled for a long time with this issue, without finding an answer. I couldn’t confide in my friends; they weren’t interested in such problems. You can’t ask a professor, for he could suddenly say, ‘You’re a heretic’… who knows? At that age, everything’s a mind-game, for a long time I worried this question in my mind, until I found the answer in St Augustine, who explained it with his concept of time. Time, [St Augustine] said, has a certain continuity, which has a past, present, and future. The past has been, but, it no longer exists. The future will be, but, it is not here yet, and what will it be? There is now, but, it almost is not. There is a point of convergence between past and future, where the future is constantly disappearing. Time exists only for created beings, matter, universe, and especially us men. We live and learn in terms of space and numbers. For God, they do not exist. He has neither past nor future, only an eternal present. When we talk about the future, that future is the future for us, not for Him. This was how I answered this question. If I had not come up with it, I would have chucked theology”.
However, later, he had difficult moments in his ministry. He said that fear assailed him at such times. “To fear is very human. Then, in retrospect, you realise that failure and grief have their own meanings. Well, at one time, I remember that I was walking to a monastery; the road was long, the rain was pouring, I had no umbrella, the clay under my feet was wet and sticky, and I was barely able to move my legs. I thought, ‘Lord… why? I’m not going to a gin-mill, why is this happening?’ Then, I said to myself, ‘Where’s my patience and hope?’ Everything’s put in order, if you can accept and trust in God”.
Patriarch Pavle Stojčević (1914-2009) with clergy after services.
He did not Want and did not Expect to be Patriarch
Gojko Stojčević became a refugee as result of the events of World War II. Along with others, he found sanctuary in the monastery of the Holy Trinity in Ovčara, where he became a novice and taught catechism to the children of the refugees. Then, he became seriously ill; the doctors diagnosed tuberculosis and predicted that he had only three more months to live. He spent these three months in Vujan Monastery, where he found a cure. In gratitude, he donated an ancient cross to the monastery.
After the war ended, the future Patriarch went to the Annunciation Monastery at Ovčara, where he took monastic vows and became a hierodeacon in 1948. From 1949 to 1955, Hierodeacon Pavle was a member of the brotherhood of Rača Monastery, and carried out a variety of monastic obediences. In 1954, he received ordination to the priesthood, and, in 1957, Pavle became an Archimandrite. From 1955 to 1957, he studied New Testament Scriptures and liturgics at the Theological Faculty of Athens. In Belgrade, on 29 May 1957, Archimandrite Pavle was raised to the eposcopate, and he became the ruling archpastor of the Diocese of Raška and Prizren. In 1988, the Theological Faculty in Belgrade awarded him a doctorate in theology.
In November 1990, the Archpastoral Council of the SOC elected Bishop Pavle Stojčević as the First Hierarch of the SOC, to replace the ailing Patriarch German Đorić. His formal installation as the 44th Patriarch of the SOC took place on 2 December 1990 in the main cathedral of Belgrade. In Vladyki Pavle’s own words, his election to the patriarchate was a “real shock”. He said, “Come on, I was 76-years-old, and at that age, it’s very difficult to start anything new. However, I slept on it. The next day, I woke up and I began to think about getting down to it and about what I had to do. You know how it is… you can do something about some things, you can’t do anything about other things, and, then, there are things that you must attend to or else. You need a sense of duty and you need to carry on… that’s the main thing”. To embody this idea, Patriarch Pavle travelled to many dioceses of the Serbian Church, both in the former Yugoslavia and abroad. His Holiness even visited his flock in Australia, America, Canada, and Western Europe.
“She’ll be the First One that I’ll Meet…”
On 13 November 2007, Patriarch Pavle entered the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade for treatment of several disorders. He tendered his resignation as First Hierarch of the SOC on 8 November 2008 on the grounds of his incapacity due to debilitating illness, but, on 12 November, the Archpastoral Council of the SOC decided not to grant the request of Patriarch Pavle. Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović of Montenegro and Primorsky was the effectual head of the Holy Synod whilst the patriarch was in hospital.
Patriarch Pavle died in the 96th year of his life. According to his wishes, his burial shall be at the Rakovica Monastery on the outskirts of Greater Belgrade. His funeral shall be on Thursday in the Cathedral of St Savva in Belgrade. In an interview, Patriarch Pavle, talking about his aunt, who raised him in the place of his deceased mother, said, “I think that when I die, she’ll be the first one that I’ll meet, and, then, I’ll meet everybody else”.
16 November 2009