15 November 2006

Celebration of two-year anniversary of renewal of monastic life in Zociste Monastery

KIM Info Newsletter 31-10-06
KIM Info, Zociste - Orahovac, October 27, 2006

On Friday, October 27, 2006, the feast of St. Paraskeva (sv. Petka), the two-year anniversary of the return of the brotherhood and the beginning of work on the restoration of the monastery destroyed by Albanian extremists in 1999 took place in the monastery of the Unmercenary Physicians Sts. Cosmas and Damian in the village of Zociste near Orahovac.

With Bishop Artemije's blessing Vicar Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan served Holy Hierarchal Liturgy in the restored church with the priests and priest-monks of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren. In addition to approximately one hundred faithful from the Orahovac region and other parts of Kosovo and Metohija the festivities were attended by the head of the German Office in Pristina Eugen Wollfarth, representatives of the Austrian and Swiss Office, and representatives of KFOR in the German zone of responsibility.

In his homily Bishop Teodosije advised the local residents of Zociste, Velika Hoca and Orahovac to follow the example of their wise ancestors and remain in their ancestral homes building their future with hope and faith in God. "Throughout the centuries this land has been soaked with blood and sweat and tears. This land is too precious, brothers and sisters, to be sold for money, fleeting satisfaction and fleeting prosperity here on earth. That is why you must follow the example of our ancestors who knew how to value the eternal and respect what belongs to us, guarded by our forebears and passed on to us as our legacy," said Bishop Teodosije during Holy Liturgy.
Abbot Petar, the elder of Zociste Monastery, was especially joyful that the local residents of Velika Hoca and Orahovac restored the monastery with their hands, their will and their great effort. "Many things, like the frescoes and everything that existed before, cannot be restored even though in the foundations (of the monastery) traces have been found of an early Christian basilica much older than our monastery. This attests to the fact that people prayed to God here from the earliest of times and that this location should remain a place of prayer and spiritual life," said Fr. Petar. Presently there are four monks living in Zociste Monastery, who hope that with the restoration of the church and the living quarters the brotherhood will continue to grow.

The head of the German Office in Pristina Eugen Wollfarth emphasized the importance of return and the restoration of the holy shrine as a priority so that all people can live in peace with their neighbors. "We all know there are Serbs in this region but that is not enough. A greater degree of return would contribute to the wealth of Kosovo," said Wollfarth.

Houses for returnees have been built but local residents of Zociste have not returned because they have no regular water supply and, according to municipal coordinator for Orahovac Dejan Baljosevic, the houses still have not adequately equipped for a normal life. "The houses have been built but they are not furnished. The office of the Kosovo Government's Ministry of Returns is currently in the process of seeking donors who will equip the houses with basic necessities and finding a way of making the return sustainable," said Baljosevic.

Today's festivities were secured by Swiss KFOR forces from the Austrian-Swiss military base in Suva Reka.

The restoration of the church of Zociste Monastery was financed by the Republic of Serbia's Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija, and the restoration itself was entrusted to the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Leposavic. After the restoration of the church there are plans to rebuild the other monastery buildings to create more space for housing the brotherhood and visiting faithful.

After the celebration in Zociste Monastery Bishop Teodosije visited St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Prizren which is currently undergoing restoration. The head of the Council of Europe's Commission for Restoration Emma Carmichael and chief architect and project manager Milan Catic informed Bishop Teodosije of work done thus far. Currently the roof frame and the central dome are being put in place. In addition to continuing work on the roof, in the next several days work is expected to begin on covering the metal beams with plaster. Work on restoration of Devic Monastery, St. Nicholas Church in Pristina, St. Elijah in Vucitrn, and the church of the Most Holy Theotokos in Belo Polje are continuing according to schedule.

During his visit to the construction site in Prizren Bishop Teodosije gave an interview to EURONEWS on the restoration of the Serbian Orthodox patrimony in Kosovo and Metohija. "By restoring our holy shrines we are showing that Orthodox Serbs want to stay and survive in Kosovo and Metohija, where they have lived for many centuries. Restoration is the greatest encouragement for all Serbs wishing to return to their homes, and by renewing our holy shrines we at the same time renew ourselves," said Bishop Teodosije in the interview.

The same afternoon Visoki Decani Monastery received a visit from British ambassador in Belgrade David Gowan and the head of the British Office in Pristina, David Blunt. They discussed with Fr. Sava on greater engagement by the British Government in projects intended to improve the lives of Serb returnees as well as on Britain's possible contribution in restoration of Serbian holy shrines and the protection of Serbian Orthodox spiritual and cultural patrimony in Kosovo and Metohija.

UNMIK chief Dr. Joachim Ruecker addressed a letter to Bishop Teodosije informing him that he had approved the extension of the protected zone around Visoki Decani Monastery for the next six months. By decision of Ruecker's predecessor, Soeren Jessen-Petersen, over 700 hectares of forest around Visoki Decani Monastery was placed under special UNMIK protection in 2005 as an area of special cultural-historical and environmental importance and beauty.

"As you know, the exact modalities for the protection of cultural heritage in Kosovo are yet to be worked out as a part of the future status arrangements. I have no doubt that the concerns of the Serb Orthodox Church will be adequately addressed in the process. For as long as those arrangements are not in place, UNMIK will continue to apply necessary measures to protect Serb cultural and religious monuments", UNMIK chief Ruecker wrote in his letter to Bishop Teodosije.