Visit and co-service in Bigorski of Bishop Damascene of Romania

Our Holy Bigorski Monastery spent the central days of the colourful October in a grace-filled communion in Christ with His Grace Mr. Damascene of Dorni, vicar Bishop of the Archdiocese of Suceava and Radauti, from the Local Orthodox Church of Romania. He arrived at the Monastery with his archdeacon, Father Ephraim. The dear guests and brothers came on Tuesday afternoon, when according to the established monastic practice for the reception of a hierarch, they were greeted with a solemn and warm monastic welcome.

In accordance with the rite of the monastic ipodochi, after the troparia and prayerful petitions in the temple, our Elder the Antanian Bishop Mr. Parthenius addressed the esteemed guest, wishing him a heartfelt welcome and a pleasant stay at the Monastery on behalf of all of us. The Elder, among other things, said that although he met and got to know his guest in person for the first time, precisely because of the common love for Christ and monasticism, as well as because of the mystical unity in the Divine Eucharist, he felt him very familiar and close, as a true brother in the Lord.

Bishop Damascene, on his part, gratefully replied that this feeling of spiritual closeness and unity in Christ is mutual, all the more so because he and his archdeacon regularly followed the video contents from our Monastery and were especially inspired by the documentary film “1000 years – Witness of the Light”. In fact, after watching this jubilee achievement film, they finally decided to come and visit the Bigorski sanctuary of the Honourable Forerunner. The Bishop from Romania also emphasized his undisguised joy because of the fact that from May last year, with the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, our Church is in liturgical and canonical unity with all other Local Orthodox Churches.

Today, however, when we celebrate the memory of the Holy Apostle Thomas, this sacred man from the council of the twelve great disciples of Christ, who had in himself both the human doubt and the Divine revelation, the two God-loving hierarchs co-celebrated the Archiereic Liturgy. Thus the Holy Dornian Bishop and the Holy Antanian gave us an unforgettable mystagogical experience, through the wholehearted, dedicated and devout co-service in the holy Mysteries of Christ. Along with them, our archimandrites Dositheos and Cyril, the hieromonk Erasmus, the reverent priest Father Zoran Panic from the Banat diocese of the Orthodox Church of Serbia and the archdeacons Porphyrius and Ephrem also celebrated gathered around the honourable and Holy Table. Among the faithful, gathered in the Forerunner’s church there was also a group of about ten pilgrims from Serbia, guided by their God-fearing priest Father Zoran. The festive co-service took place in the spirit of the constant love and unity that characterize our Orthodox faith. Indeed, the meeting of several souls in the embrace of the Crucified and Risen One is always an event full of blessing and joy. For, in the modern world, which seems to be quite suffocated by condemnations, divisions, unhealthy envy and limitations, the moments of unity and love are a beacon that leads us to the path of spiritual freedom. Through brotherly love and sincere communion in Christ we discover the true meaning of our existence and of our mission in this world.

At the end of the Holy Liturgy, as a sign of gratitude for the visit and the co-service, our Elder Bishop Parthenius presented the guest bishop with an archbishop’s encolpion with the image of Saint John the Baptist from his miraculous Bigorski icon, made in honour of the millennial anniversary of the Monastery. In his inspired words, the Elder emphasized that he was especially delighted to see a true shepherd of the Church of Christ in the personality of the Most Reverend Bishop Damascene, to meet a monastic-loving bishop with a monastic ethos, who loves and applies the holy Orthodox tradition. For this reason, our Abbot expressed that it was a special honour for him that Bishop Damascene was the first hierarch from the Orthodox Church of Romania to co-celebrate in our Abode after the reception of our Church in canonical unity with the Orthodox world.

Moved to tears by the love and respect of the Elder, the Bishop from Romania sincerely thanked him and our brotherhood for all the kindness and care during their stay in Bigorski. He characterized his coming here as “a personal call from the Holy Prophet Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord John”, who invited him to his ten-century-old sanctuary, to introduce him to “the depth and beauty of the monastic life and tradition in it. This life and tradition the Elder and the monks sacredly keep and fulfil to perfection”. Also “to spiritually rest and strengthen himself through the Elder of the Monastery, the Most Reverend and beloved brother in Christ Mr. Parthenius and his Christ-like monastic brotherhood”. Bishop Damascene was especially grateful for the encolpion with the image of Saint John the Baptist, whom he had always loved and felt as his protector since he was little, revealing to us that he was physically born on the feast of the Nativity of Saint John.

In the next days, our esteemed guests from Romania had the opportunity to visit and get acquainted with the Christian shrines in Rostushe, Bitushe, Rajchica and Ohrid, and then had a meeting with the respected  Metropolitan of the Debar-Kichevo diocese, His Eminence Mr. Timotej, with whose blessing the co-celebration of today was realized.

Rejoicing for the several-day visit of Bishop Damascene and Archdeacon Ephraim from Orthodox Romania, we continue to thank the merciful God, Who renews our strength, guides us to eternal joy and connects us all together with the bonds of unity and peace, giving us the infinite light of His unspeakable love, which shines unchanged through the ages. United in Him, we move towards a future full of hope, with spiritual peace and bright contemplation. Amen.