by Stephen Karganovic for The Saker blog
Introduction to Bishop Artemije interview
I initially met Bishop Artemije, the exiled ruling hierarch of the Kosovo diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, a few years ago, after the expulsion from his see in 2010 and the deplorable abuse that he suffered at the hands of his synodal brethren. At first glance, that frail man, tiny of stature but of imposing spirit, hardly suggested a fearless confessor of the Orthodox faith and relentless champion of its purity. But it did not take long for me to grasp that the figure in whose presence I stood, combining patristic humility with zealous gravity, was the real thing and not one of the ecclesiastical bureaucrats in episcopal vestments that today pass for church hierarchs, or perhaps to put it more accurately — functionaries.
That is why meeting Bishop Artemije and absorbing his extraordinary and utterly genuine charisma was such a spiritual treat and delight.
Bishop Artemije was the spiritual child Saint Justin Popovich, arguably the greatest theologian of the Serbian Church in the twentieth century, along with three other prominent students of the same spiritual father. The latter have, regrettably, departed from the teaching of their holy mentor and fallen into the abyss of apostasy by choosing to adhere to the ecumenical heresy of our time. By some odd quirk, at the beginning of the 1990s, as the Kosovo crisis was gaining momentum (or by the design of Providence, as might be put more accurately) the outwardly frail Artemije was selected by his episcopal colleagues to take charge of the Orthodox Church in Kosovo, with all the souls and monasteries, containing unaccountable treasures, in its sacred inventory. They must have regretted it later.
Energetic peacemaker as the crisis kept worsening, Bishop Artemije turned into an uncompromising defender of the beleaguered Orthodox community in Kosovo and relentless opponent of the rape of this Serbian province that NATO and the Western powers clearly were preparing when in 1999 they mounted their aggression against Serbia. By rejecting the “politically correct” path of cooperation with the local criminals who were soon installed by their Western sponsors as Kosovo’s “government,” Bishop Artemije drew upon himself the enmity of this world’s powers that be. He did not however back down, prepared a lawsuit against the aggressors on behalf of his diocese, and declined to concede even an inch to them. His laudable recalcitrance is described in some detail in the interview that follows.
But to the surprise of many, the legion of “all the usual suspects” was soon joined by the Patriarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church and his brother bishops, whom those suspects apparently had in their pocket, or at least over whom they wielded remarkably effective mechanisms of influence and perhaps even control. In 2010, after a meeting of the Patriarch with the then imperial proconsul in Belgrade, at a hastily convoked church synod Bishop Artemije was dethroned from his see, accused on trumped up charges of financial misconduct, and soon thereafter excommunicated from the Serbian church for “insubordination.” Followed by his spiritual children, nearly two hundred clergy and monastics, he left Kosovo and went into what he calls “exile.” He refuses to recognize his removal from office, not having had a church trial nor having been allowed to offer a proper defense to the charges laid against him (the court case mounted by the Patriarchy against him still languishes in the judicial system eight years after it was filed, there being no credible evidence to support the accusations), and considers himself a hierarch in good standing of the Serbian Orthodox Church. His “Kosovo diocese in exile” now functions exterritorially. “Catacomb” parishes and monasteries under its auspices are springing up all over Serbia and numerous other countries where there is a Serbian diaspora. His historic “no” to the official church’s debasement of the faith embodied in their avid acceptance of ecumenism has found resonance far and wide. Bishop Artemije is upholding the banner of genuine Orthodoxy unfurled by his spiritual father St Justin and his diocese, faithful to a fault to the teaching and practice of the Orthodox Church, has become the new standard of the spiritual health of the Serbian nation. Serbian believers who seek his spiritual guidance are now the core element of Serbia’s future regeneration, should God will that to come to pass.
Q: Your Grace, what is the current political situation in Serbia and prospects for the future?
Bishop Artemije: Your question strikes me as overly broad. Serbia is the designated culprit for all evils which have befallen the states of the former Yugoslavia, perhaps even the entire Balkans. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia Serbia has not found its place under the sun. Every government we’ve had since then was worse than the ones that preceded it. That would be our assessment, at least. And it continues to be true to this day. No matter how depressing the current situation might be, no matter how aghast we might be at the conduct of our authorities, and there I have principally in mind the President himself, I am afraid that those who will follow will be even worse. It is difficult to say why it is so. Simply put, Serbia is no longer capable of raising men of character, statesmen and leaders, not even ecclesiastical figures, of the caliber it truly deserves. Unfortunately, the team which is in charge of both the State and the Church has utterly ruined everything that was entrusted to it. So that is where things stand today.
Q: What is the current situation of true Orthodoxy in Serbia and prospects for the future?
Bishop Artemije: It is difficult for one person to encompass and grasp the spiritual condition of an entire nation. But judging by the conduct of the spiritual leadership, which means the church authorities, I think that the level of spirituality in Serbia, as well as everything else in this country, is abysmally low and in a condition of complete degradation. Under the influence of a new crop of bishops, new priests, and new monks, the average believer is being reshaped in a way that has little in common with patterns that were deeply ingrained throughout the centuries. That applies to the order of worship, the administering of the Holy Mysteries, holy communion, keeping lent … at all levels we are witnessing decadence or — to put it another way — secularization. They are teaching the people that confession is no longer necessary, that weekly communion should and may be taken without adequate preparation, regardless of the quality of the believer’s life … That is not the Orthodox approach. When you look at it from the outside, you might even get the misleading impression that things are not entirely bad. The churches are large and splendid, priests’ vestments are finely embroidered with gold thread, mitres are studded with gems, choires are good, but the essence of the faith is not there. We are speaking here just of externals, of garments, but not about the man who is wearing them. You may dress up a mannequin with the same garments, but a mannequin is not a spiritual being, it isn’t a man.
Q: And what is in your view the current situation of true Orthodoxy in the world and prospects for the future?
Bishop Artemije: There is a peril much greater and more hideous than all the sects taken together, than even the satanists. That is the contemporary heresy, characteristic of our time – the heresy of ecumenism.
You must have heard of so-called ecumenism. That is not a mere heresy, but an all encompassing heresy, as our blessed father among the saints, Justin Popovich of Chelije, used to call it. In that motley company, the World Council of Churches as they call it, over 300 different sects are amalgamated. For what purpose? They claim that their objective is to restore that unity among Christians and of the Christian church for which Christ had prayed, “that all may be one.”
You might say that the goal is good. Christ truly prayed that all might be one, as He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But the means employed by them to that end are not good because their umbrella organization, the World Council of Churches, is the champion of heresy that is all-embracing and more dangerous than had ever made its appearance in the history of Christ’s Church. They have set as their goal that all should be one, but with the stipulation that no one has to change anything in their beliefs or practice. They say to us that we, Orthodox, may remain as we are, while they, the heterodox, may continue to adhere to their erroneous doctrines. And that in that condition we can be integrated and be “one.”
The fathers of all seven Ecumenical councils, who laid the foundations for our Church and Orthodox faith, they all confessed without exception that light has nothing in common with darkness. Life and death cannot be fused. Light and darkness cannot converge. When light appears, darkness dissipates. Where there is no light, darkness predominates. Truth and Falsehood cannot be conjoined, they cannot be “one.” As a result, Christian unity as conceived and preached by ecumenists is simply impossible.
So how would it be possible? Only when there is unity in the Truth, in the authentic faith, the faith that Christ brought down to us, which the apostles preached, which was established by the holy fathers at the ecumenical councils … Any other approach undermines the foundations of the Orthodox Church, the foundations of our faith.
Q: What are the causes and potential consequences of the rift between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Moscow Patriarchate?
Bishop Artemije: It is not an issue to which I have given much consideration as a hierarch. It is politics, pure and simple, on both sides.
Unfortunately, that conflict has not arisen and is not playing out based on substantive issues, but appears more to be a turf war for predominance and primacy. That will, of course, have long-term negative consequences for the Orthodox Church because these two religious centers, Constantinople and Moscow, are the most heavily involved in submerging Orthodoxy in the heresy of ecumenism. But that key issue is not the subject of their dispute. Faith is not the issue there at all, but secular power. That is as much as I have to say.
Q: Finally, what is the current political situation in Kosovo and prospects for the future?
Bishop Artemije: The current situation in Kosovo… That „current situation“ has lasted already for twenty years. But the issue known as Kosovo goes back far into the past, beyond the last twenty years. The current state of affairs was being generated gradually, step by step over a long period of time. Let’s leave it up to historians to give a comprehensive assessment of what happened and how. But we do have documentary evidence of the persecution of Serbs in Kosovo up to the 1990s. However, the actual betrayal of Kosovo and Metohija started during World War II, when over 100,000 Serbian residents were forcibly expelled. While the war was still in progress, in February of 1943 Yugoslav communists issued a decree prohibiting the return of the expelled Serbs, even after the cessation of hostilities. The border with Albania was thrown wide open, so the expelled Serbs were simply replaced with Albanians. They moved into abandoned Serbian homes, took possession of Serbian property. That was the initial stage of the situation that prevails in Kosovo and Metohija today. That genocidal decree has not been voided by Serbian authorities to the present day. Governments have come and gone, Titoism is over with, as well as communism presumably, so-called democracy was introduced, but that decree is still in effect. In the latter stages of the persecution, in 1999-2000, over 240,000 additional Serbs were expelled during the current NATO occupation of Kosovo, which was preceded by a 78-day bombing campaign in 1999. Even though in the UN Resolution 1244, which was enacted at the end of the 1999 NATO aggression, it is stated that UN forces would ensure a peaceful life for all and secure return of all expelled inhabitants, that has remained on paper for twenty years but has had no practical effect. There is neither security nor return for the expelled Serbs. These principles are applied to the Albanians only.
What should have been done to remedy this situation? It is very simple. I have spoken on this subject many times. When UN forces, actually NATO under what is said to be a UN mandate, took control of Kosovo, but at the very latest in 2008 when Albanians unilaterally proclaimed independence under American auspices, Serbian Parliament and Government should have officially designated Kosovo as occupied Serbian territory. Regardless of the occupation, that still remains Serbia. We had been under occupation many times and we know how to conduct ourselves under the foreign yoke: you accommodate yourself to foreign rule and their laws, but at the same time you work relentlessly to liberate yourself from the foreign occupier. There is none of that today. When the issue of Kosovo is supposedly being resolved by seeking „compromises,“ and by means of „border corrections,“ then we must ask: what kind of a State is it whose president does not even know the location of its borders?
That is horrifying. This nation is under a spell, as it were, it has lost its sense of identity. Kosovo is not a „territory,“ it is not just subterranean mineral wealth. It is above all else a spiritual issue, it involves the spiritual identity of this nation.