The funeral of Patriarch Pavle was elevated to the level of a national event. The state occasionally went to humiliating extremes, which this modest man did not personally deserve. Much time will pass until everything is again finally settled after the slap in the face that the deceased delivered to all of us. For his eternal home he chose neither a crypt in the Orthodox Cathedral church in Belgrade, nor a marble vault in the St. Sava Temple. No, he chose a small church cemetery in Rakovica. He used his right to choose while knowing what both the state and the church expect from him. And that is a message too – one of his many that has been interpreted differently.
But our newspapers write about every little detail. We know now that he left the revenues from his books to the Church; that he willed his old alarm clock to his grandson; but to whom he had left his umbrella – that we are still uncertain about. We used to see him strolling around town with that ancient umbrella for years. The alarm clock would wake him up for the morning service, but it never managed to wake his brother-archpriests. Many stood under his umbrella at the funeral; and many used to stand under it for years. Of course, not under the old one, but under the one of authority that he held among his brothers, the archpriests in the Synod and in the Council. His torture, and perhaps the final doom, of his twenty-year mission as the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church is contained precisely here.
Consolation was sought on Pavle’s grave by the very “Girl of Kosovo,” Biljana Plavsic, who – together with the warlords, Karadzic and Mladic – sowed graves throughout much of Bosnia. In the troublesome years of the country’s breakup – and in the midst of atrocities that appalled the entire world – the late patriarch did not quite know how to act. He uttered warnings – no one can say that he didn’t – but his brother-archpriests, or at least the majority of them, did not hide their war goals. They did not pray to a Jesus of peace and justice. Rather, they bowed to the ground before the Balkan God Mars. And they led others, and us too, all the way into the abyss, from which we have not yet resurfaced. And we will not any time soon.
Hundreds of thousands of killed innocent people won’t let us rest, they call for remembrance. Perhaps that’s the way it should be – we are yet to assess the deceased’s character and his deeds. Those who have already begun writing his hagiographies, often excessive in their political overtones, seem to be afraid of such remembrance. Others who are quick to shout out santo subito (Immediate Sainthood) are not honest. And it is unclear whether more of the dishonest ones are to be found in the society or in the church. But they all manipulated the patriarch: from Milosevic to Kostunica. And he, not knowing how to act, swallowed much bitterness and didn’t manage to alleviate any.
He was asked to give his blind consent which would allow Milosevic to represent all Serbs, regardless of where they live. And he signed it in green ink. But then the brothers asked him to publicly erase his signature, and he did that too. That’s humiliation: one must have the stomach to withstand it. Standing around his grave, the officials are now afraid to remember their own role and his. But there are no secrets here: everything has been recorded and published.
Political role was assigned to him and to the church. And he didn’t know how to play it. In 1991 he signed a letter to Lord Carrington which stipulated that all Serbs must reside under the same roof of Serbia and all of Serbia’s territories. This was the beginning of the downfall. He did give a blessing to Karadzic and Mladic – not to do evil – but they sowed crime and death under his umbrella. Many who stand around his grave today have committed crimes. No one’s guilt is to be covered up by ritual speeches – neither his nor ours. No, the Patriarch did not give his blessing to Gavrilo of Trnovo to commit a crime – far from it! – but Gavrilo, dressed in a cowl, blessed the Scorpios who shot those poor, bare-foot Bosnian boys in Srebrenica. No, the Patriarch did not bless Gavrilo, but he didn’t excommunicate him from faith and from the church either – although he should have done it. The chronicle of his and our wandering and straying is long, and we all know it. That he had good intentions is beyond doubt, but that his brothers in the Synod had their own is also beyond doubt.
Let us pause now before another bitter piecemeal. In 1995he was taken to the torn down town of Foca, then renamed Srbinje. And the European press – especially Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation in Paris – poured out articles on how the Serbian Orthodox Church supports ethnic cleansing. Patriarch’s name was cited. The Serbian Orthodox Church pressed charges against these newspapers. A troublesome and sad case… Many testified during the trial: the historian Paul Garde, as well as Ivan Djuric, an expert in Byzantine history from Serbia. The defense of the Church came from bishop Atanasije Jevtic. And the defense was so strong that the trial ended in a verdict against the Serbian Orthodox Church. No, said the judge – the facts are facts, and the French truth cannot be silenced. Here the Patriarch had to swallow yet another bitter piecemeal. Did we, too, swallow it – it remains to be seen. Yes, he managed to say and to repeat that he refuses not only the Greater, but even the smallest Serbia, if creating it means committing a crime – and this must be rightly written and remembered – but neither his brothers, the archpriests, nor the hungry warlords listened. So here we are now. He opened the path through warnings – but he failed. And this path is still ahead of us: under the ashes of those who died in Srebrenica there lie many cowls and many military epaulettes. Someone must draw a line to end the past. Some individuals, the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the state of Serbia all are to repent. The deceased are not to be badmouthed. But we speak best of them when we speak the truth. Know the truth and the truth will liberate you, says the Gospel. The rest – along with the struggle for a spot under the umbrella of the saint who walks among us – is mainly vanity.
Translated by Vesna Bogojevic