Sunday, February 9, 1997
ORTHODOX PATRIARCH LEADS BY EXAMPLE
It was an awesome display of spiritual power over brute police force. On January 27, the Serbian Saint Sava Day, Patriarch Pavle led a procession of over 100,000 people through the streets of Belgrade as the Slobodan Milosevic riot police backed away.
Like a tiny Moses, the 81-year old leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church parted the sea of the "men in blue" who had been blocking the streets in the city center around the clock for days, and clubbing the pro-democracy demonstrators for three days in a row. It was the largest religious procession in Serbia since World War II.
"In contrast to the noisy pro-democracy demonstrations of students and opposition parties, Monday's procession - marking the holiday of St. Sava, the founding father of the Serbian Orthodox Church - wove silently through the heart of the capital," Associated Press reported from Belgrade. "The only sounds were the chanting of St. Sava's liturgy by dozens of Orthodox priests in flowing robes who headed the procession, and bursts of applause for Patriarch Pavle, head of the church."
Yet you'd never get a sense of such personal power when you meet the diminutive leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The first time I talked to His Holiness, I was struck by his kindness and gentleness. That was back in 1991, when our president was George W. Bush, the man who preached a "kinder, gentler" image for America during the 1988 election campaign, but who delivered "blood and guts" to American families instead. Think the Panama invasion, the Gulf War, Somalia...
"It is not for us to judge (other people)," Patriarch Pavle told me during our first meeting. "That's something God will do. All we can do is try to do our best. (And trust that) He will weigh everything precisely and fairly."
"Kinder, gentler," has been the image which His Holiness has also demonstrated in many subsequent meetings we've had. And humble, too. When I sent a personal emissary one day last fall to pick up a letter from the Patriarch Pavle blessing a humanitarian action in which I was involved, His Holiness did not like the draft which his cabinet had presented. My emissary offered to type up the changes for him. "Oh, no, no... I'll do it," the Serbian Patriarch replied. "You don't know the quirks of my typewriter." With that, he sat down and typed up the letter with his own hands. Our mission could not have been any more blessed.
No wonder Patriarch Pavle is widely regarded as a "living saint." Not the least of the reasons is his ascetic life style. Several years ago, for example, he told me that he never watched TV.
And that's good, the Westerners may wonder, brought up on daily fare of soap operas or nightly news?
Well, it has its advantages... You can't be brainwashed by electronic media if you don't watch it, can you? Being dedicated to God, rather than to pursuit of earthly power, has helped the Serbian Patriarch avoid the trauma of having to see, day in and day out during the Bosnian and Croatian wars, the Western media's lies and distortions about his beloved flock.
It is all the more ironic, therefore, that this "living saint" and the church he leads have been attacked lately by some people in the West as being supposedly "nationalistic."
In his January 16 Washington news conference, Congressman Bruce Vento (D-MN) reportedly said that he was "concerned by the nationalistic display of the Orthodox church in Serbia." And he called for "some ecumenical effort" in the United States against the Serbian Orthodox Churchs alleged nationalism.
In my subsequent letter to Congressman Vento, I asked him to flip his argument around. Suppose the U.S. government, with the help of foreign troops (e.g., NATO), drives over 200,000 Italian-Americans out of Minnesota and into Canada, killing several hundred helpless elderly civilians in the process. Suppose the Pope, in defense of his Catholic Italian-American flock, publicly condemned such an atrocity.
"Would you call that 'nationalism?'," I asked the Congressman. "Would that warrant an American 'ecumenical effort' to teach the Catholic Pontiff a lesson about his extreme nationalism?"
If not, why attack the Serbian Orthodox Church which did nothing more than condemn the
pogroms against its flock, as the Pope might have done in the above hypothetical situation
if the Catholics were being persecuted. And as the worlds 250 million Orthodox
Christians did when they stood by the Bosnian and the Krajina Serbs at the time of their
Nor is Congressman Vento's outburst an isolated attack on the Serbian Orthodox Christian church. The Paris-based L'Express carried a cartoon on Jan. 9 depicting Patriarch Pavle as an apologist for the alleged "ethnic cleansing."
And the European edition of the Wall Street Journal published an OpEd piece on Jan. 27 by Mark Almond, an Oxford University lecturer, in which the author asserted that some Belgrade opposition leaders and the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church "have been the off-stage chorus to genocide in Bosnia."
Such charges are preposterous, of course, as the Serbs have been the greatest victims of "ethnic cleansing," especially in Croatia. When the U.S.-aided Croatian army attacked the Serbs in the Krajina and Western Bosnia in August 1995, it forced the largest exodus of civilian population in Europe since World War II. Over 200,000 Serb civilians fled their centuries-old homesteads with their lives. Today, Serbia is home to more than 600,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia.
So where did Congressman Vento and others like him get the idea that the Serbian Orthodox Church had sanctioned the "ethnic cleansing?" Well, we don't know for sure, but he did visit Zagreb, Croatia, on his recent trip to the Balkans. One Truth in Media member from Wisconsin has told us about a 1996 book entitled "Serbian Orthodox Church and Fascism," written by Ljubica Stefan, and published in Zagreb. The book is the latest Croat effort to rewrite history. It accuses the Serbs, our allies in World War II and victims of the pro-Nazi puppet government in Croatia, of collaboration with the Nazis!?
That's like charging the Jews with the Holocaust. Accusing the Serbian Patriarch of being an accomplice to crimes committed by Godless communists, like Slobodan Milosevic and his government, is no less preposterous.
Just consider the following message which His Holiness had given me in a telephone call on Sept. 8, 1995, to pass on to the Phoenix protesters against the NATO bombing of the Serbs in Bosnia. I read it at a street demonstration in front of the Arizona State Capitol on Sept. 9, 1995:
At the time when all the might of NATO was being deployed against the Bosnian Serbs, destroying their military infrastructure as well as killing many civilians in "collateral damage," His Holiness chose to remind the Serb people not to be afraid of anything except of sin. And to always stand on the side of "the holy, the honest, and the dear God-pleasing."
And that's "nationalism?" That's endorsement of "ethnic cleansing?"
To me, this sounded more like another example of a "kinder, gentler" man that Patriarch Pavle is. Unlike the dictators who rule with brute force, unlike the religious leaders, like the Pope, who command by the strength of their centralized, corporate-like global organizations, the heads of the autonomous Orthodox Christian churches, like the Serbian one, would never presume to dictate policy to another nation's Patriarchs. Or vice versa. The Orthodox Patriarchs lead their flock by the strength of their moral authority. And by example. That's why the tiny Pavle parted the sea of the "men in blue" as easily as Moses had parted the Red Sea.
Is that the kind of power the West is afraid of? Because a strong church and a real democracy can return the authority which the globalist elites have usurped back to the people?
If so, the fear is misplaced. "Don't be afraid of anything except of sin," His Holiness counseled. Western Christians should emulate such religious leaders as Patriarch Pavle, not slander them as Congressman Vento and others like him did. For, in the end, God "will weigh everything precisely and fairly." Including the globalist elites.
Attribution: Bob Djurdjevic is a Phoenix-based businessman and writer. He writes about economic and foreign policy issues.
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