January 11, 2011

Bishop Teodosije Encourages Serbs To Return To Their Homes In Kosovo and Metohija

Dragana Zecevic, 9 January 2011

Conditions for the return of Serbs to Kosovo and Metohija are far from good and there are great difficulties and risks. We cannot, however, wait for others to create better conditions. Everyone should return to their homes and thus contribute to the return process. Examples of those who have done this, although rare, inspire hope that other displaced Serbs will follow them, said the newly enthroned Bishop of Raška-Prizren Teodosije (Šibalić) in an interview with Vecernje Novosti.

He gave a similar message to the people in the Province at the Christmas liturgy in the St. George Cathedral in Prizren. The bishop emphasized that the return of the historical and spiritual center of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren to the city on the Bistrica river, after 11 years of exile, is a kind of invitation to Serbs to return to where they belong.

—What are the prospects of rehabilitation and reconstruction of destroyed Orthodox holy sites in Kosovo?

—Reconstruction of the destroyed sites is our long-term task. By restoring the holy sites, we work on restoration of the church and spiritual life. By restoration of our sites in Pristina, Prizren and Istok, we have in recent months breathed new life into the previously extinguished parishes, and appointed there young priests. We are planning to reopen the parish in Pec, and continue the reconstruction of the Seminary compound in Prizren. We are planning to re-launch the religious educational work there, with God's help.

—The church has been the pillar of survival of the Serbian people in Kosovo and in most difficult times. How do you see the role of the Church in today's circumstances?

—The most important task will be to strengthen the spiritual work and resume humanitarian aid to the vulnerable population. It is also important that the soup-kitchens run by NGO, "Mother of nine Jugovic's," continue to work. Providing conditions, their number will increase. The Church needs to work on building harmony among the people, because only together and with solidarity towards one another we can survive.

—What is the situation in the monasteries, which are no longer protected by KFOR? How do you assess the cooperation with the Kosovo police?

—I think the time has not yet arrived to hand over protection of our most important and vulnerable sites to Kosovo police. In KP we still don't have that confidence which we had built with KFOR, which is more professional, and has established better relations with us. However, we are not in a position to choose, and are forced to accept what is being offered in order to preserve our holy sites and our people.

— More than a decade after the war in Kosovo-Metohija, the Serbs are still in a very difficult situation. They seem to be exhausted. How they can be encouraged to stay in the Province after so many ordeals?

—The Diocese will make every effort to help Serbs to remain in Kosovo. Unlike the previous diocesan administration which talked a lot about patriotism, but hardly worked with the people, we intend to intensify the spiritual life of our people. We cannot make things better if we are embittered with everyone around us. The faith in the crucified Christ, however, teaches us that evil is conquered by kindness, hatred by love, and despair with hope in the Lord. The return of our people to our faith will open new resources of strength.

—Among the Serbs in Kosovo there are also divisions, particularly regarding the recognition of institutions of the so-called state of Kosovo. How are they to overcome the differences that exist?

—The role of the Church is to discourage divisions among the people, regardless of existent political affiliations, and make them feel more that they are one people of God. The Church does not act as a political institution, because she would be reduced to a mere ideology. It is rather obligated to encourage awareness among the people and their leaders that personal interests must not be above the interests of the community. Do not expect that others will understand and support us if we are not to be able to do that for one another.

—The future of Kosovo in Serbia is seen differently. The majority believes that the Province must not be given up, but the voices are heard, and that it has been irretrievably lost.

—Kosovo is not only a political and territorial issue. It is a place of our covenant with God. If we keep returning to this covenant, with Christian faith and hope, no one can take it away from us. The political situation has changed through history, and it will do so in future. If we look at Kosovo-Metohija only as an issue of national ideology and territory, it may seem lost. If, however, we turn to it with our heart, the answer is quite the opposite.

—Do you believe in what politicians announce as a compromise between the two peoples through dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina?

—Dialogue is the only way to solve the problems in Kosovo and Metohija. We cannot wait for others to find a solution to our problems. Most Kosovo Albanians do not currently see the future in any way connected with Serbia. The Serbian people, however, are the first whom they should address to discuss their long-term interests. In the upcoming negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, the priority should be the real interests of the people and peace, and not transient ideologies. It is therefore important that people of good will distance themselves from all those who think to achieve happiness (of their people) by violence.


—There is an impression that our nation is disoriented. There are also many false goods that are promoted as a true ...

—God has given man the gift of freedom, but to use it reasonably and responsibly and not for personal enjoyment and lust. When passions take control over the soul and body, one becomes incapable of communion with God. Instead of being part of a community, one becomes a loner, suffocated in his own ambitions to find earthly happiness. We can find true joy and happiness only when we realize that service to our neighbor in love is not our loss, but the only good gain. This is the essence of the Church and life in it.


—We hear that a part of the defrocked monks, which the SOC calls a sect, has returned to the Diocese you lead. What will you do about this issue?

—As the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church advised, it is about a sect, which, fortunately, does not have popular support. If necessary, we will be undertaking additional canonical and legal measures in order to preserve the SOC's name, integrity and property. We will not allow such sectarian activities in our Diocese. Divisions are the last thing we need in this moment. It is essential that our people know how to distinguish the Church from the sect, a priest from an impostor, the faith in Christ from a religious and political ideology.


—What is your message to the Serbian people in Kosovo?

—Our only hope is Christ. We should be more attached to the Church and preserve mutual love and harmony. The Lord is glorified in weakness and suffering, and therefore we must not lose hope in Him. Let us stay in our homes and holy sites, and above all, preserve our faith.

From the official website of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren