When the sermon by hieromonk Dr Amfilohije Radovic - held at the burial of St Justin of Chelije in 1979. shaking the foundations of the Communist regime in former Yugoslavia - reached me in Sydney where I was serving at the time, the streets I walked became different, broad and free. Addressing the reposed St Justin, in his homily hieromonk Amfilohije said:
“Dear Fr Justin, you have departed to Heavenly Serbia. Convey our greetings to St Petar of Cetinje and tell him that his descendants in Montenegro have converted the churches into stables.”
I knew that these words signified the fateful turning point both in life of hieromonk Amfilohije, and in life of Serbian people. The liberation from the shackles of darkness, the claws of the Communist regime who Amfilohije devoutly fought against, was forthcoming. From then until now, nothing significant has happened at the horizon of Serbian sphere that Metropolitan Amfilohije was not at the forefront of.
I had the honour of meeting Metropolitan Amfilohije long time ago, in 1984, when he was the Dean of Faculty of Theology in Belgrade. This happened when we invited him to give a lecture at Serbian youth seminar in Vision Valley, Arcadia, northwest of Sydney. I had the spititual joy of hosting Metropolitan in my home, during his first visit to Australia. He began his lecture with the following words:
“As per the words of important French thinker François Mauriac, there is nothing more significant from the awakening of the Orthodox youth in Russia at the horizon of our sky.”
We could also say today, with certainty: nothing more significant has happened on the horizon of our sky, in the last quarter of the past century and the first quarter of this one, from the word and deed of Metropolitan Amfilohije.
At the dinner at my home, we were joined by my friend Milovan, a political scientist from the former Yugoslavia, who in his spiritual confusion longed to meet then Fr Amfilohije. Namely, Milovan was impressed by the interview of Fr Amfilohije that appeared in weekly NIN magazine at the beginning of the eighties, under the title: “What is eternal, and what is fleeting”.
After some Milovan’s sophistry about a “force coming from the Cosmos and entering him at the moment of creation”, Fr Amfilohije calmly responded:
“There is nothing to it. We are either human, or we are cattle; a third option does not exist.”
After that he spoke about French writers for an hour, adding to Milovan’s confusion who could not comprehend how an ordinary priest knows so much about French literature.
Metropolitan Amfilohije visited Australia in 1989, for the Kosovo Battle 600th anniversary. Our delegation, led by Metropolitan, was received by the Premier of New South Wales Nick Greiner and Leader of the Opposition Bob Carr. At the meeting, Mr Carr asked the Metropolitan about his stance on multiculturalism, that was ardently advocated in Australia at the time. The Metropolitan answered calmly:
“Well, imagine a garden with only one kind of flowers, and then another one next to it, but with many different flowers. Then just answer the question: which garden is prettier?”
Оn his departure, before saying his goodbyes, Bob Carr turned to me and asked: “Fr Milorad, who is this man?”
I started to answer, but he interrupted me: “I know all that, but I never met a man who thinks with such depth and clarity.”
It was clear to me that Bob was mystified by Metropolitan’s personality. In similar way, many people throughout the globe were bemused after speaking with Metropolitan.
When our blessed in memory Patriarch Pavle visited Paris for the first time, on his return from the burial of Metropolitan Irinej in USA, Metropolitan Amfilohije was in his entourage.
In the hotel where Patriarch Pavle was staying together with then Bishop Irinej, today’s Patriarch, we have organised a reception for fifty people from Orthodox and French polical sphere. The total cost of the event was 3,000 USD. Patriarch Pavle insisted to pay the bill, not knowing what was the cost. Nobody dared to let him know, as he would get scandalised1 and we were having trouble to cope with the situation.
Metropolitan took the money out of his wallet and convinced the Patriarch he will pay, and then recuperate the cost from the Patriarch later. “The old man will forget once we are back in Belgrade”, Metropolitan said to me. Later, he did not want the Western European Diocese to pay him back. He said: “Forget about it, somebody has donated that money to Metropolinate. Your Diocese is poor. We will get by, easier than you.” And this is the proof that he was never selfish. Never thinking only about himself, and his Diocese. Every Diocese in Serbian Church was his, every parish, every soul. He considered everything and everybody as kin.
During a visit of Metropolitan Amfilohije to New Grachanica in the States, I have organised the lecture for him as part of the “Conversations about Faith”, a theological series of talks in the monastery. I didn’t have time to confirm the topic with him, so I took the liberty of setting it: “The fundamental notion of human life”. When he arrived and learned that I organised it all in advance, he said: “You’re the same as my Fr Radomir. I’ve got your ilk around me.”
During that lecture, visited by more than 400 people, a question was asked: “Why the Serbian Church has a problem with cremation of the departed?”
Metropolitan calmly answered: “Sinan-Pasha has burned the First of the Serbs."
A hush over the hall. No further questions were asked on the topic.
After a meek reaction on defrocking of Archpriest Mirko Skrobonja and deacon Bratislav Jovanovic in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2000 by Alexandrian Patriarchate, I have published a piece where I have rebuked two bishops for what they have allowed to transpire. Metropolitan Amfilohije summoned me in New Grachnica monastery, where I was serving at the time and said: “Archpriest, you are too harsh. I would have been worried sick if I didn’t know your soul.” We talked for a long time and I knew I conversed with a Father then, who does not possess any duplicity. Who balances everything with his love - Christ’s love, even when he is talking hard. I knew I conversed with a honest friend, because that was my experience with him; but every other person who ever met him, had the same experience as me.
The Serbian émigrés will never forget Metropolitan Amfilohije’s role in healing the tragic schism.3 He truly suffered this calamity of ours and put all his efforts to reconcile the actors. Because of his love, and our blessed in memory Patriarch Pavle love, we witnessed the day of reconciliation.
Metropolitan’s contributions to Montenegro are simply immeasurable by human standards. And probably will never be truly appraised. At burial of St Justin in 1979 Bishop Mark, the Orthodox ethnic German from Germany, has spoken among the others. Bishop Mark said: “I have always wondered, when visiting this country and these lands: whether the people of this land, of this town, knew who they had in their midst.” Today, similar words are applicable to the person of Metropolitan Amfilohije. Truly we could ask the question: did people of Montenegro know who they had in their midst? Metropolitan Amfilohije was judged and insulted by criminal personalities, petty politicians and speculators, the people who hold nothing sacred nor sublime, apart from their own egos.
During my visit to Metropolitan in 1998, at the Feast of Ascenscion of Theotokos, while we were travelling by car to the church somewhere in Kolashin area, Metropolitan said:
“My dear Fr Milorad, how should I explain to you our travails concisely? We have, trust me, become a schizophrenic nation. Like this: in one home, one family, a father and mother and one of the sons are Serbs; another son is Montengrin. Woe to us! Where are we heading?
In the same year in Moracha monastery, after the Divine Liturgy and Memorial Service held for about 1,300 murdered Communist victims in Kolashin area, Metropolitan mentioned in his sermon:
“I have wondered, woe to me, why we have been taught by ignorant teachers after the war, while the criminals have murdered all our teachers. I have wondered, why justice had been administered by incompetents, while those criminals have murdered all the jurists.
And so on, and so forth, contemplated the Metropolitan the great tragedy of his people. Metropolitan’s love for Kosovo and Metohija is immeasurable. Is there an execution site who wasn’t visited by this “good shepherd”, is there any suffering he hasn’t suffered too?
I remember his inner weeping and sorrow about former Bishop Artemije. I consider this one of his deepest wounds that he carried with him into Kingdom of Heaven.
With the departure of Metropolitan Amfilohije into Kingdom of Heaven, the Heavens have been enriched, and Orthodoxy has been impoverished. We have lost a deep thinker, an Orthodox theologian, who has built his theology on the foundations of Holy Fathers’ exposition. We have lost a teacher and an enlightened educator. Somebody who can say for himself, like Apostle Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”, Christ he preached for, Christ for Whom and with Whom he lived, Christ in Whose image he was created and Who was his paragon all his life. The Saints Justin and Pajsije were his teachers, so how we could expect any different? Those who are with Christ, bonded him with Christ, and he who is with Christ, “though he were dead, yet shall he live”.
While we mourn in this time a wonderful pillar of the Church of Christ, let us contemplate holy Amfilohije bespeaking: “Do not cry for me, but for yourselves and children of yours.” So, we could say, instead of “Memory Eternal” - Holy Father Amfilohije, pray God for us!
Fr Milorad Loncar