Update November 27, 2009 – This post generated a lot of comments which surprised me. Some people called me on my understanding of the Serbian Orthodox Church. I don’t have a fact-checker or the time often to verify everything I write. The comments did inspire me to do a bit of reading and I learned that the Orthodox church prides itself on being the most “original” of all of the Christian sects. Although the Serbian Orthodox Church is not the “official” church of the state, it is so closely tied with politics and the Serbian ethnic identity, that is the de facto official church. All of the political parties are lobbying for their candidate to be named the next Patriarch.
Few of my Belgrade friends attended the funeral and procession. A couple went to pay their respects at the wake. It seemed to me that most people attending the funeral were from smaller towns and outside of Belgrade where religious sentiment is stronger. I think it was good to see that many people gather for a decent man. I love the pagentry and tradition and am following the naming of a successor. I am an atheist so this whole event does not have any religious or deeper meaning for me.
In regards to Pavle’s legacy. It would have been tough to stop the war. I can’t think of any religious leader, besides maybe Ghandi that did stop a war. I think the media is a bit harsh in that respect in judging him. It is my hope that his successor give a message of tolerance and honesty for the people of the Balkans. It would be good for the church to work to heal Bosnia and relations between Serbia and Croatia instead of whether the country moves towards the EU or Russia.
The big news this week in Serbia is the death of the Patriarch Pavle. Pavle (Paul) in English is the name taken by Gojko Stojčević and he was the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Like the Pope to the Catholic, the Patriarch is the supreme leader of the faith. He was 95 years old and his death comes after a long illness – the last two years he was in the hospital.
Pavle died on Sunday and the country declared three days of mourning. People are lined up to pay their respects to the open casket in the cathedral in downtown Belgrade. The funeral will be at St. Sava’s Church on Thursday and the burial will be at the Rakovica Monastery located in the southern suburbs of Belgrade. The BBC reported on his legacy.
Pavle was a respected theologian and linguist, known for personal humility and modesty.
After the fall of communism and rise of Serb nationalism, the Church regained a leading role during his rule.
At the beginning of the Balkan wars that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Pavle said – according to Serbian state television: “It is our oath not to make a single child cry or sadden a single old woman because they are of another religion or nation.”
But critics accused him of failing to contain hardline bishops and priests who supported Serb paramilitaries against Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
After those wars, Pavle became more directly involved – openly criticising Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, after he lost Kosovo following Nato’s intervention.
Since then, the Serbian Orthodox Church has strongly supported the Serbian government in its efforts to stop Kosovo’s independence drive.
“Kosovo is not only a question of territory, it is a question of our spiritual being,” he said after Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is the official state church. For a long time, it was suppressed by the Turks, Austro-Hungarians, and most recently, the communists. Pavle was the 44th Patriarch and the church officials will announce when a successor will be named. At least 40 days must pass before one can be chosen. Most Serbs I know are not that religious, although because the church is so strongly tied to the state, I feel people support the church out of patriotism. This is so different from my home country of the USA, where there is a clear boundary between the church and state, and no one church is officially sanctioned. The Orthodox Church is the Byzantine side of Roman Catholicism and when they split from the Pope, the orthodox churches in the various countries split into their own administrative units instead of maintaining a single head like the Catholics.
I hope to get a chance tomorrow to go downtown and see the faithful and take some photos. I am working Thursday, so doubt I’ll get a chance to go to the funeral. I am not a believer or member of the Orthodox Church, but I respect the historic significance of the position and his passing. It will be interesting to see who will replace him.
I also think the Serbian Orthodox priests look holy with their long beards, black robes, and hats.