Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Patriarch Pavle Laid Down His Burden

Patriarch Pavle Stojčević of Serbia (1914-2009) celebrating liturgy.

On Sunday, Patriarch Pavle Stojčević, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), died in Belgrade. He headed the SOC in one of the most difficult periods in its history, when the collapse of the Yugoslavian state saw Serbs scattered over several new states. Patriarch Pavle took pains to follow a policy of non-interference in politics, but, in the mid-90s, he stood at the head of a column of demonstrating students demanding the resignation of Slobodan Milošević. A few years later, His Holiness said that Milošević was “solely responsible for the catastrophe” of the Serbian people.

Sources close to the SOC told our Kommersant correspondent that Patriarch Pavle died in his sleep on Sunday at 10.45 am in his suite at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade. In September, he was 95-years-old. “There are people who by the very fact of their life bond entire nations. Patriarch Pavle was such a man”, President Boris Tadić said yesterday. Most Serbs agree with President Tadić’s statement.

Even during his lifetime, many Serbs called their spiritual leader a living saint. Although he received privileges from the state because of his rank, Patriarch Pavle consistently refused to take advantage of his state-supplied car and driver; he preferred to use public transport or walked when he was in Belgrade. He ate only Lenten food; he mended his own clothes and shoes, and he lived in a room that was like a monk’s cell. They say that, leaving the Patriarchate, he saw several posh limos parked nearby, and he asked whose cars they were. “They’re the cars of the bishops who came to the cathedral”, said his assistant, who was walking by his side. “Just look at those cars! Why… bishops have vows of poverty… don’t they?” Patriarch Pavle said with a puckish grin.

Patriarch Pavle, its 44th First hierarch, led the SOC for 19 years, as the SOC Archpastoral Council elected him Patriarch in November 1990. Patriarch Pavle became head of the SOC shortly before the collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). During his time as First Hierarch of the SOC, the constituent republics of the SFRY went their separate ways, a bloody Balkan civil war erupted, NATO aircraft bombed Yugoslavia, and, finally, Kosovo proclaimed itself an independent state. As a result, Serbs were scattered across several new states. Many consider that the past two decades are one of the most tragic periods in Serbian history. Therefore, the role of the spiritual leader of the Serbs in this period was particularly significant.

Patriarch Pavle pointedly steered clear of any political activity. He did not even vote in any election, whether it was local, parliamentary, or presidential. However, he could not completely withdraw from politics… it was impossible. He met not only with the leaders of the Serbian government, but, also, with the opposition, and, in 1993, he wrote a letter to Serbian President Slobodan Milošević asking for the release from prison of opposition leader Vuk Drašković.

In late 1996, the patriarch made some even more unambiguous political choices, when student demonstrations broke out in Serbia against the ruling régime. When the Belgrade students reached the police checkpoints, the cops prepared to fire at the students, but, the patriarch stood up at the head of the student columns…  the police stepped aside. In the summer of 2000, Patriarch Pavle clearly stated that Slobodan Milošević and his régime were “solely responsible for the catastrophe” of the Serbian people.

Liberals often criticised Patriarch Pavle for his contact with Radovan Karadžić, whom the Hague tribunal accused of genocide. However, the patriarch talked with him as the leader of a part of the Serbian people. He did not spurn Karadžić, when, in 1995, Slobodan Milošević, in order to present himself as a peacemaker in the eyes of the West, imposed a blockade of the Republic of Srpska Bosna. Indeed, it seemed as though Milošević abandoned to their fate those who were carrying out the “sacred struggle for the Serbian land”. Speaking in the spring of 1996 with a correspondent of Kommersant, Patriarch Pavle did not openly condemn the actions of the President of Serbia, but, said only that there was a need of “unity with the Serbs across the Drina River” (the Serbian-Bosnian border).

Serbia declared three days of public mourning for the patriarch. This Thursday is the scheduled day of Patriarch Pavle’s funeral. Yesterday, Serbian media reported that Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias would attend. However, highly-placed sources in the MP Department for External Church Relations told Kommersant yesterday, “This is not yet definite”. The head of the Press Service of the Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, Fr Vladimir Vigilyansky, told Kommersant, “Patriarch Pavle was a great friend of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Russia, he was very well-loved and revered. All the MP mourns along with the SOC”. Yesterday, President Dmitri Medvedev sent condolences on the death of Patriarch Pavle to Belgrade.

By tradition, the burial place of deceased Serbian patriarchs is supposed to be the Peć Patriarchate, which is located in the breakaway Kosovo region. However, Patriarch Paul’s burial shall be at Rakovica monastery, on the outskirts of Greater Belgrade, in accordance with his will. During his life, he said, “I would not wish to trouble anyone on account of this”.

17 November 2009

Gennady Sysoev

Pavel Koroboev

Kommersant (The Businessman)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion



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