FaithWorld

Biden visit to Kosovo monastery splits Serbian Orthodox Church

biden-in-kosovo-1DECANI, Kosovo – A visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to one of the best known monasteries in Kosovo has again revealed a deep split in the church. A veteran of Balkan complexities from his U.S. Senate activism against Serbian aggression during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Biden visited the 14th century Decani monastery on Thursday afternoon to highlight the importance protecting the Serbian minority in Kosovo. (Photo: Fr. Janjic with U.S. Vice President Biden at Decani monastery, 21 May 2009/Adam Tanner)

Father Sava Janjic, sometimes called Decani’s “cyber monk” because of his embrace of the Internet, warmly welcomed the vice president, who had first visited there in 2001. “This is his second visit to this monastery which is one of the most important Serbian Orthodox sites in Kosovo,” Fr. Sava told Reuters in fluent English. “We sincerely believe his visit will help the preservation of Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo and generally help the position of the Serbian people in Kosovo.”

However, the diocese overseeing Kosovo, which the church considers the cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy, issued a strong statement condemning the visit. “The U.S. vice president is visiting Kosovo as an independent state, to confirm forceful secession of Serbia’s territory and its hand over to Albanian terrorist who were not punished for numerous crimes against Serbian people, Serbian property and Serbian cultural and religious heritage,” the diocese said in a statement. “Does Joseph Biden want to confirm with his gesture that Decani is an American base in Kosovo, the same as Camp Bondsteel?”

biden-security-in-kosovo“The Decani monastery unfortunately has become known for its acts against Serbia’s interests, becoming in a sense a base for anti-Serbian acting in Kosovo as confirmed by this visit.” (Photo:Heavily armed U.S. Secret Service agents during Biden visit to Decani, 21 May 2009/Adam Tanner)

The harsh words were the latest as the church seeks to sort out how to deal with Kosovo’s declared independence last year. The conservative acting church leader, Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic, told Reuters in an interview last year that Serbs were treated so poorly in majority Albania Kosovo that future war was inevitable.

from Photographers' Blog:

Monks of the Namo Monastery – Audio slideshow

Click here or on the image above to view an audio slideshow from the Namo Monastery.

Behind the walls, an ancient monastery in a changing Turkey

Dressed in black robes and headcaps, the monks at the ancient Syriac Christian Orthodox monastery of Mor Gabriel in southeast Turkey sat gravely for dinner one recent cold night. Led by their bishop, they said their prayers in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, and ate their meal of meat and rice in sepulchral silence, the clinking of forks and spoons resonating in the bare white room.

On the face of it, little has changed in a life of meditation and prayer at the Mor Gabriel Monastery since it was built in AD 397; but the monks feel the cares of a changing Turkey, beyond their walls, weighing upon them. A land dispute between neighbouring villages and Mor Gabriel is threatening the future of one of the world’s oldest monasteries, and a Reuters multimedia team had travelled to the remote monastery to cover the row.

Once supper was over, they said prayers again and we filed into an adjacent room, where the monks started conversing about Turkey’s rocky path to join the European Union and “Ergenekon”, a shadowy group suspected of plotting a coup in a case that has consumed media attention in faraway Ankara and Istanbul. In the words of Saliba Ozmen, the bishop of the city of Mardin, Turkey is changing and even the Syriac monks of southeast Turkey can feel its ripple effects.

How TASS got the scoop on the last Russian Orthodox election

The death of Russian Orthodox Patriach Alexiy II and talk about his possible successor got Aleksandras Budrys, a correspondent in our Moscow bureau, to reminiscing about how he covered Alexiy’s election in 1990 for the official news agency TASS. Here’s his account of reporting on religion near the end of communism in Russia: (Photo: Patriarch Alexiy II, 30 April 2000/Vladimir Suvorov)

As a TASS correspondent for religious issues, I was the first to report the election of Patriarch Alexiy II in early June 1990. The scoop was made possible because I was allowed to stay in monk’s cells at the monastery where the vote took place while all the other journalists were sent away.

The election process took a little less than three days. On the first day, all the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church gathered at the refectory church at the Holy Trinity and St Sergius monastery outside Moscow.

Time to re-think ban on women at Greek holy site?

Last month I visited Mount Athos, a self- governing monastic state in northern Greece where some 1,500 monks live according to rules which have changed little in the last millennium. Athos’ 20 monasteries are considered by the world’s 300 million Orthodox as perhaps the second most holy site of their faith, after Jerusalem. They are home to breathtaking religious art and thousands of manuscripts dating back to the Byzantine empire, as well as priceless relics, like fragments of the True Cross, believed by the Orthodox faithful to have performed countless miracles. (Photo:Simomos Petras monastery at Mount Athos/Daniel Flynn)

For many Orthodox it is the fulfilment of a long-held dream to visit the rugged Holy Mountain — but not if you a woman. Women are completely banned from the 300 sq kilometre peninsula and any breach of this strict rule is a criminal offence in Greece punishable by up to two years in prison. Athonite tradition has it that the Virgin Mary’s ship was blown off course as she travelled with St John the Evangelist to visit Lazarus in Cyprus and that on making ground in Athos she immediately prayed to her son to dedicate the beautiful peninsula to her, which he did, meaning that other women were banned. Modern day monks say there are good practical reasons why women are prohibited: “God built a sexual attraction between men and women. To have them here would distract us from our main aim, which is prayer,” one monk told me. Many pilgrims have more flippant excuses. “Women would not like it here, there are no mirrors,” said one elderly Greek. The ban on women has already raised the ire of the European Parliament, which has two voted to criticise the prohibition: European Union taxes are helping to fund a massive renovation of the monasteries, which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In January a group of women including a Greek MP briefly entered Athos in a protest. Apart from accepting some female refugees during the civil war in the late 1940s, the most the monks have done to open up is allow many of their most precious treasures to be briefly seen at exhibitions in Greece.

But the main treasure of Mount Athos is the place itself and many Orthodox women feel frustrated by the ban on visiting it. “I would love to see it, but I know I never will,” is a common comment, though some say they understand the ban. At the same time, many Greek women are angry that their taxes are being used to fund wealthy institutions that they are banned from setting foot in, arguing that UNESCO status means the monasteries are treasures of humanity, not just of male humanity.

Greek scandal as monastery linked to shady land deals

A Greek Orthodox monk at Mount Athos, 11 May 1999/Yiorgos KarahalisThe all-male Greek Orthodox monastic community of Mount Athos, a favourite stop for top Greek and foreign dignitaries such as Prince Charles but completely close to women, has long been a haven for those forsaking earthly pleasures to seek God.

You can imagine the shock, then, when Greeks learned that one of its main monasteries, the Vatopedi monastery dating back to the late 10th century, was conducting suspect land-swap deals with the Greek state.

According to Greek media, Vatopedi had nearly clinched a deal to exchange Vistonida Lake in northern Greece — which it claimed through 1,000-year-old documents — for  prime real estate elsewhere in Greece. The deal reportedly would have meant a substantial loss to the state.

Abkhaz monks also break with Georgia

Novy Afon monastery in Abkhazia, 9 June 2007/Thomas PeterThe separistist movements at the heart of the Georgian crisis have split the Georgian Orthodox Church as well. As our correspondent Oliver Bullough reports from Abkhazia, the monks at the Novy Afon monastery have declared independence from the Georgian church and now work more closely with fellow Orthodox from Russia.

“Are we supposed to be Georgians? We have nothing in common with them,” Father Vissarion, the head of the rebel state’s church, told him.

Read the full feature here.

Modernity meets monasticism in Egypt’s desert

St. Anthony’s monastery in the Egyptian desert, 3 May 2008/Asmaa WaguihA speck of green in a sea of sand, St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt welcomes those seeking God in silence broken only by the whisper of the wind.

Monks at what is considered by many to be the world’s oldest active Christian monastery still rise before dawn to chant and pray just as their predecessors did for more than 1,500 years.

Now, they also carry mobile phones, send e-mails and maintain a website, embracing modernity that has helped sustain the ancient monastery, nestled beside a spring where Egypt’s eastern desert meets the craggy Red Sea mountains.