Yesterday, commemorating Saint Charalampus the Holy Martyr and on the eve of Saint Theodore Tyron, the grand hall of the “Babylon” venue in Bitola, filled with over eight hundred guests, witnessed how the generous people of Bitola know to appreciate and honor goodness, nobility, and worthiness. Organized by “Bitolski Vesnik” and its owner and chief editor, the doyen of Macedonian journalism, Mr. Mende Mladenovski, awards and recognitions were presented for the nineteenth time to the most successful individuals from Bitola or those who have made significant contributions to this consular city across nearly all spheres of society: spirituality, culture, art, sports, politics, journalism, fashion, economy, craftsmanship, and more.
Among these, the highest and so far unique award of this kind, introduced specifically for this occasion – the Lifetime Achievement Award, was presented by the editorial staff of “Bitolski Vesnik” to the abbot of Bigorski Monastery, Archimandrite Partenij. The award was personally handed over by Mr. Mladenovski, who had the honor of celebrating the 55th anniversary of the first issue of the newspaper. In the official rationale for awarding this unique and highly dignified award to Archimandrite Partenij, read at the end of the official part of the ceremony, it stated:
“The ancient Macedonian sanctuary of Saint John the Baptist – Bigorski Monastery, a cornerstone of Macedonian spirituality and a gem of Mijak architecture, with its impressive iconostasis in the monastery church, has a long history and monastic tradition. In two years, in 2020, the Monastery will celebrate its grand jubilee – 1,000 years since its foundation, a truly rare event for our Homeland Macedonia, for the communal Slavic monasticism, and for Orthodoxy in general.
By divine providence, about 23 years ago, in late July 1995, a young man from Bitola, the then 24-year-old Zoran Fidanovski, later to be known as Father Partenij, after spending several years in the Mount Athos monastery of Gregoriou, embarked on his noble and especially challenging mission to renew and continue the centuries-old spiritual tradition in this Macedonian Orthodox sanctuary, with the blessing of the competent Diocesan Bishop of Debar and Kicevo, Metropolitan Mr. Timotej. This spiritual renewal was more than necessary because, after the repose of the last monk and abbot Spiridon in 1948, monastic life in Bigorski had completely ceased, and sacred services had long been absent. When Father Partenij crossed the monastery’s threshold, all traces of monastic life had already been erased. The chapel of the Forerunner was unclean, the Lower Quarters ruined, the Upper Quarters in decay, lacking electricity, water supply, or any basic living conditions. Spirituality was completely extinguished.
The task set before the young yet hardworking Archimandrite Partenij, the new abbot of Bigorski Monastery, was immense, and his accomplishments are numerous, but here we will mention just a few of what he, along with his monks and nuns, achieved over the past 23 years. In the very sanctuary of Bigorski, the neglected monastery church was thoroughly cleaned, restored, and beautifully adorned; then, on the old foundations that survived the fire of 1912, the Lower Quarters were authentically renewed and extended; after the fire of 2009, the Upper Quarters were completely renewed and the previously non-existent Eastern Quarters were built from the ground up. Regarding the metochions, firstly, in 2001, the monastic quarters in the metochion ‘Saint George the Victorious’ in the village of Rajcica, Debar, were built, turning this Bigorski dependency, from a barn for animals, into a jewel of modern Macedonian architecture; in 2012, the village of Rostushe in Lower Reka was adorned with a beautifully architectonic building – the church of the Holy Mother of God; construction is also underway on Bigorski’s skete ‘Saints Cyril and Methodius’ in the village of Bitushe, – where Abbot Partenij envisioned a more suitable location for summer catechism camps for the youngest, which have been held in Bigorski and Rajcica for several years now. As for his tireless effort to revitalize this region, more than a year ago, right on the regional road below Bigorski, the restaurant ‘House of the Mijaks’ began operating, an exceptional ethno-building, and arguably a monument to the Mijak culture of this picturesque and culturally-historically significant area.
We could speak at length about Archimandrite Partenij’s merits regarding the material renewal and construction of Bigorski Sanctuary, but far more significant than the numerous construction undertakings is his spiritual and societal mission, conducted with undiminished intensity over the past two decades. Knowing that the spiritual renewal of any Monastery begins, first and foremost, with the renewal of the liturgical life, from the very beginning, Father Partenij ensured that Bigorski introduced the regular Orthodox liturgical cycle… All this contributed to the sanctuary becoming a spiritual haven for the faithful people, with a large number of newly churched believers, along with the renewed communal monasticism, becoming part of the spiritual rebirth that has embraced our entire Homeland.
As an experienced and well-educated spiritual guide, Father Partenij, with his ultimate selflessness and dedication to others and the Homeland, has taken under his protection thousands of souls from Macedonia and beyond, helping them find consolation, peace, and solutions to life’s problems in our time of great spiritual crisis and general decline in moral values. Moreover, his support is not only of a spiritual nature. On the contrary, his humanitarian activities in providing material and financial assistance to those in need, whether individuals or entire families, are widely known. Particularly significant is Archimandrite Partenij’s mission for the treatment and re-socialization of individuals, predominantly from the younger generations, who have fallen into the severe vices of drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, etc. Hundreds of young souls, under the spiritual protection of Father Partenij, have not only managed to free themselves from the clutches of perdition and death but also to fully rehabilitate and thus become useful members of our society…
As a man of peace and love for all people, regardless of their religious, ethnic, and racial affiliation, Archimandrite Partenij has elevated Bigorski Monastery and the monastery in Rajcica into true centers of coexistence in the Mijak-Reka region of our country. With his philanthropic attitude towards all, he has made Bigorski Monastery a strong factor in the safety, stability, and coexistence in that area, turning this sanctuary into a true spiritual oasis and cultural landmark not only for Orthodox believers but also for Macedonians with Islamic faith and ethnic Albanians from Macedonia, who have great respect for the monastery and its abbot…
Ladies and gentlemen, all this said, we believe, was more than enough reason for the editorial staff of ‘Bitolski Vesnik’ to award the highest honor for 2017 – the Lifetime Achievement Award, to the Bigorski abbot and Archimandrite Partenij.”
Upon receiving the award, Father Partenij addressed the audience with a brief greeting:
“Esteemed Mayor of Bitola, Mrs. Natasha Petrovska,
Respected editorial team of ‘Bitolski Vesnik,’ led by the indefatigable Mr. Mende Mladenovski,
Honored guests and my dear fellow citizens of Bitola,
Thank you all for showering me with such great love this evening! As the host mentioned earlier, by being here today, I must admit, we made quite an exception, as during the first week of the Great Lent, we monks traditionally do not leave the monastery, especially not during the initial days of the Fast. However, due to the great honor and Mr. Mende’s persistence in inviting me, I made an effort to graciously accept his invitation, to not hurt his kindness. He had visited me at the Monastery back in July, along with my friend, journalist Kiro Kiproski, informing me that the editorial team of ‘Bitolski Vesnik’ wished to present me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. When they mentioned the event would be held on February 23rd, we noticed in the ecclesiastical calendar that it fell during the first week of Great Lent. I then told them it would be difficult for me to attend, as we do not leave the monastery during the first week of the Fast. Yet, about a month ago, they returned, and as Mr. Mende knows in his own style, with persistence and skillfulness, during our conversation, I realized he had convinced me to come to Bitola. I then said to him, ‘Now I understand why Bitolski Vesnik has overcome all societal and financial challenges and pressures to remain a beloved publication for the people of Bitola.’ Among other things, this Bitola messenger regularly reaches our Monastery as well.
I would like to say something about the award, which evoked particularly strong emotions in me. Indeed, even its name, I dare say, is sacred – Lifetime Achievements. In the absolute sense, only God is the One who endures eternally. I am merely a humble and faithful servant of His, striving through the endeavor of love to make God’s presence among people felt – firstly in my own heart, and then among others. And believe me, this is best done through love, for as Saint John the Evangelist says, God is love (1 John 4:8). Apostle Paul, on the other hand, speaks that prophecies will cease, tongues will be stilled, knowledge will pass away, but only love will endure forever (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8). The mission we strive to fulfill in the Monastery with my brothers is precisely that – an act of love towards God and our neighbor.
I dedicate this award to a great lasting value of ours, which all of us from this land of Macedonia should be proud of, the glorious Ohrid Archbishopric, rejuvenated in the form of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. This year, the Ohrid Archbishopric celebrates its millennium. Few nations can boast such a jubilee. Moreover, our Monastery, which was founded by the monk Jovan Debar, the first Archbishop of Ohrid after the fall of Samuel’s empire and the founder of the Archbishopric, in two years, by God’s grace, also celebrates its millennial anniversary, and for this occasion, I now invite all Bitola citizens to join us in this grand jubilee.
I extend my gratitude once again to all citizens of Bitola, who shower me with love, and especially to Mende Mladenovski and ‘Bitolski Vesnik,’ to whom I also congratulate on their 55th anniversary and wish many more fruitful years!”
The strong applause that followed testified that grateful Bitola honored its fellow citizen fittingly.
Previously, among the recipients of awards and recognitions, several notable names from Bitola and Macedonian public life were included, such as: the builder Vancho Chifliganec, who in his greeting expressed particular pleasure at Archimandrite Partenij’s attendance at yesterday’s gathering; businessman Trifun Kostovski, who also warmly welcomed our elder in his award acceptance speech, repeatedly emphasizing the significance of Bigorski Monastery, stating that “Father Partenij has made Bigorski a true miracle not only in Macedonia but across the entire Orthodox ecumene”; the Mayor of Bitola, Mrs. Natasha Petrovska, who dedicated her award in the political field to the citizens of Bitola; the well-known duo – trombonist Kiril Ribarski and pianist Milica Sperovic-Ribarski; artist Pande Petrovski, journalist Zoran Mishevski, clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski; the Ambassador of France to the Republic of Macedonia, H.E. Christian Thimonier received a certificate, and the lifetime achievement award was bestowed upon our renowned scientist-urologist, academician Zivko Popov, who personally expressed his gratitude and support to the elder for the entire mission of the brotherhood…The Brotherhood of the Holy Bigorski Monastery congratulates the editorial team and editor of “Bitolski Vesnik,” Mr. Mende Mladenovski, as well as all award recipients, wishing them continued success and godly advancement.