Patriarch Irinej was enthroned in Kosovo on Sunday. He was elected head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in January at the Bishops Council in Belgrade, but it took almost nine months to organize the ceremony on the ancient see of the Serbian Patriarchs in Kosovan Pec, where primates have been enthroned for eight centuries, and to provide security for the new patriarch and guests. One of the participants in the ceremony Deputy Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Archpriest Nikolay Balashov told Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Verevkina the details of the ceremony.
- Father Nikolay, what impressed you the most? Please, tell our readers about brightest moments of the ceremony.
- On the one hand, I was very impressed by multitude of believers, who came to the Pec monastery in spite of the difficult conditions, and the enthusiasm they expressed when they welcomed their spiritual father and pastor in person of Patriarch Irinej and representatives of Orthodox Churches who visited this very important for the Serbian Church event. From the other hand, it was a feeling of absolutely alien life outside the monastery walls: hostile actions against participants in the patriarchal enthronement were held there. We know about buses that were bombarded with stones, we know about billboards with Patriarch Irinej caricatures, which they tried to place near the Pec Patriarchate.
- Did Patriarch Irinej and his guests feel protected?
- We'd like to thank KFOR as they spared no efforts to hold the celebrations at a worthy level, but we sorrowfully share feelings of Serbian people who are violently alienated from the shrines connected with the most important period in formation of Serbian people as a nation, formation of the Serbian Orthodox Church spirituality, formation of Serbian state system that took place in Kosovo. Amazing frescoes of ancient Kosovo monasteries, concentrated prayerful life led in Kosovo monasteries by monks who stay there in spite of the great difficulties and constant fears for their security - all these makes us seriously think about the future of these shrines of universal importance, about what should be done to preserve them and provide access for Orthodox pilgrims from various parts of the world.
- Do you think that Orthodox pilgrimage to Kosovo is prospective?
- I believe we should think how to organize regular pilgrimage from Russia to these ancient Orthodox shrines. Every person who has visited the Pec Patriarchate, the Gracanica, in Monastery Visoki Decani will never forget this visit and will be transformed.
- Coming back to the enthronement, what moments do you remember the most?
- I remember how Metropolitan Hilarion read out His Holiness Patriarch Kirill's message. "The faithful of Holy Rus', who have survived a tragedy of the destruction and defilement of their forefathers' shrines, do understand the feelings which overfill the hearts of our Serbian brothers. The prayers of millions of the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church will always accompany your primatial efforts and concerns." When these words were said loud applause of all believers interrupted the reading. Russia's support, spiritual unity with Orthodox people of the Holy Rus' inspires hope in Orthodox people in Kosovo.
- Who are protecting Serbian monasteries in the area?
- Today Serbian monasteries in Kosovo are still protected by the KFOR, but the KFOR presence will be cut down in coming years. Western countries are not ready to further fulfill their commitments and protect national minorities in Kosovo. Incidents similar to those happened on the day of the patriarchal enthronement and vivid memories about March 2004 when in several days over thirty Kosovo churches and monasteries were destroyed or suffered serious damage don't make Kosovo residents feel themselves secure especially if international military forces will leave the territory.
- Who will substitute them?
- It is supposed that their functions will be taken by local police officers, however Orthodox people don't trust them. I'd like to say that many representatives of the Serbian state, who wanted to participate in the ceremony, were not allowed to the patriarchal enthronement. Such decision was taken by Kosovo authorities. They said the Serbian officials would be allowed only if leaders of the self-proclaimed republic of Kosovo would receive an official invitation. Then it was managed to reach an agreement that permitted Serbian President Boris Tadic to participate in the enthronement.
- You said that believers of the Serbian Church especially welcomed Patriarch Kirill's words about prayerful support. Relations between Serbs and Russians have always been very sincere, they still remain the same, don't they?
- We felt special attitude of the Serbian Orthodox Church and organizers of the patriarchal enthronement at every step. Delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church was the only delegation that was with fraternal love and kindness received at the Pec Patriarchate by the His Holiness Irinej on the enthronement day though it was a tiresome day for the eighty-year old primate.
We are strongly connected with one faith and centuries-old history and this mutual attraction exceeds all fluctuations of political conjuncture. Love to Serbian people and their Church is in our blood. I think Serbs feel the same as Mother-Russia for them is not only a country of the world community.