The Eternal Victor – A Confluence of Ages and Spirits

Address by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, at the solemn reception of the venerable and miraculous Icon of Saint George the Great Martyr at the Rajčica Monastery, on March 17/30, 2024, Year of our Savior

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Esteemed Mrs. Elena Pandeva, the greatest benefactress to this Holy Monastery,

Honorable Mr. Ratko Kapushevski, generous donor of this venerable and miraculous Icon,

Respected members of the Honor Guard and the Military Band of the Army of the Republic of North Macedonia,

Beloved brothers, sisters, and children, devout pilgrims of the great miracle-worker, Saint George the Great Martyr,

With hands lifted in praise and hearts brimming with love, we thank the Great Giver, our God and Savior Lord Jesus Christ, and His celebrated and victorious Warrior, Saint George the Great Martyr, who has once again gathered us in His Holy Monastery, in joy and jubilation, in a radiant communion in the name of Christ. This time, to rejoice in the unique and blessed opportunity – the arrival in this house of prayer of His venerable and holy Icon, which is a faithful replica / representation of His well-known Moldavian miraculous icon located in the Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos.

I confess to you that in these moments I am filled with an indescribable joy because, by the grace of God and through the intercession of Christ’s warrior, a long-held and intense longing of ours has been fulfilled. I rejoice that in the Rajčica Monastery, like a radiant diamond, will shine the icon of the Saint Protector, just as it does in the Bigorski Monastery.

Our hearts’ celebration is further enriched by the fact that this spiritual elevation transcends time and space, connecting us with the eternal threads of our inexhaustible spiritual heritage. Indeed, this holy Icon, embraced not only by grace and the mystical presence of the Saint but also by the depth of Roman history and spirit, reminds us of our place in the long and rich Orthodox Christian tradition, of the contribution of our ancestors to the fellowship of that splendid religious and cultural commonwealth.

The prototype icon, a true monument of Byzantine art and spirituality, originated in Constantinople and was initially a gift from the Roman Emperor John VIII Palaiologos to the once Moldavian Principality in the first quarter of the 15th century. Later, in 1484, the magnificent Moldavian Voivode Stephen the Great gifted this icon to the Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos, after he had renovated and rebuilt it, in gratitude for the heavenly aid of Saint George in his battles against the conquerors. For his efforts for the Christian faith and protective attitude towards the Christian population in the occupied lands, Stephen Voivode also received the title athleta Christi, or “Christ’s knight,” a distinction held by early Christian martyr-warriors like Saint George.

Undoubtedly, this Icon contains a rich narrative of faith, piety, courage, and Divine miracles. And not only that! It becomes a connective tissue between the past and the present, and a reflection of the uninterrupted protection that Saint George generously extends to the Christian race through the ages. Thus, the presence of this Holy Saint across historical periods reveals to us a shining figure from these lands, named after Saint George. This was the regional hero of the true faith in the true Divine revelation, the legendary George Kastrioti, known as Skanderbeg, who, with his unwavering dedication and fearless courage in the fight against the Ottomans, elevated the double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Byzantine model of coexistence, as his banner. He not only relied on and invoked the supranational Roman tradition, which, as mentioned, is the common denominator of all peoples who lived and created in that unity – something we must never abandon and should cherish as our most precious heritage – but also embodied its values of faith, courage, and sacrifice, serving as an eternal example for all of us. In his sacrifice, we see the inspiration from his personal patron, the Great Victor, who wonderfully weaves the spiritual connection with the eons and with individuals. Indeed, this medieval ruler, by showing himself as an unwavering champion of Christianity, was also honored to be called an Athlete of Christ.

Additionally, today’s event invites us to contemplate the mystical connection between Heaven and Earth, how the spirits of our ancestors speak in the hearts of their descendants. Indeed, as I mentioned, it was our great desire to have the Moldavian icon of Saint George in our Holy Monastery dedicated to him. And when finally the time was fulfilled for it to arrive here, upon exploring its history, we learned that the silver ornamental robe added to the icon in the 19th century was commissioned and donated by the holy Archimandrite Anatolij of Zograf, born and raised in this glorious Mijak and Debar region, and tonsured right in Bigorski. Consequently, this noble gift bears the imprint of our local sacred and national heritage, so vividly present even today in the Macedonian spiritual and cultural treasury, and revives the spiritual connections that link us through the flow of time.

Saint George the Great Martyr, who makes this thread of connecting times and spaces real, alive, and strong through his boundless love for Christ and uncompromising sacrifice for the truth, teaches us the extraordinary importance of faith, courage, and devotion. As a great protector of the Christian race, his holiness and deeds continue to serve as a bridge to God’s grace, reminding us that each of us is called to be a beacon of hope, goodness, sacrifice, and love in this world.

In these solemn and for us sacred moments, it is my special honor to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the monastic sisterhood of the Saint George Monastery in Rajčica, whose unceasing prayers and self-sacrificing labor are the foundation upon which our spiritual community in this region rests. Their sacrifice and dedication to the good are sparks of hope for the entire people. Of course, it is especially important that this spiritual, but also patriotic work, continues with continuity in good standing in obedience, in repentance, in prayerful labor, and in maintaining the honor and dignity of the angel-like monastic image. Only thus will they have a share in the purity of Saint George, be called his sisters, residents of his palace, and be accepted as his co-inhabitants in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Allow me also to express my immeasurable gratitude to the pious Mr. Ratko Kapushevski from Skopje and his faithful family, whose generosity and faith made it possible for us to welcome and have this holy Icon among us as a great heavenly blessing. His love for Saint George and sincere selflessness should be an example for all. We also thank the talented iconographer Mr. Nikolaj Kangaras, who brought this icon to life with his hands, and the master Mr. Leondaris Zidros, who with his artistic skill adorned it in a beautiful silver robe, adding another dimension of beauty, value, and permanence.

Today, we are especially delighted by the presence of our beloved benefactress, the faithful Mrs. Elena Pandeva, a great donor to this Sanctuary of Saint George and tireless worker of mercy and aesthetics.

We extend brotherly love and thanks to the holy Elder of the Xenophontos Monastery in the Garden of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Mr. Alexios, with his Christ-like brotherhood, as well as to the holy fathers and brothers from the Zograf Monastery, who with heartfelt monastic hospitality enabled this icon to be consecrated and blessed with the Athonite blessing specifically in the two monasteries of Saint George, as well as to receive the blessing from the prototype icon of the Saint.

We particularly thank the esteemed Minister of Defense, Ms. Slavjanka Petrovska, who accommodated our requests, allowing the participation of the Honor Guard and the Military Band of the Macedonian Army, significantly contributing to the beauty of this celebration.

Today’s solemn event, our sacred assembly, is our collective gratitude to the glorious Great Martyr, without whose assistance and protection none of what we see today, not a single wall of this now celebrated Monastery, would exist. Therefore, Saint George the Great Martyr remains for us an inexhaustible inspiration for faith, courage, and creativity, as well as a beloved patron under whose protection we firmly stand in the testimony of the Spirit, as well as in the face of challenges, temptations, monastic struggles, afflictions, and problems, the snares from afar and envious glances, filled with hope and faith that by God’s mercy, magnificent deeds can be achieved and the light of goodness can persist and spread even in darkness, dispelling the gloom.

The icon that will now adorn this house of prayer of the Victorious One will stand not only as a sign of our bright faith and Christian tradition but also as a constant reminder of our connection with the ages and spirits, with our ancestors and descendants, with the ancient roots of our spiritual identity and our cultural heritage, making us receptive to the timeless grace that flows through the centuries. At the same time, it will stand as a beacon towards grace and holiness, as a visible sign of the Christian life of cross and resurrection, of sufferings and sorrows, but also of the glorious Resurrection. Having Saint George as our model, we are bound to follow in his footsteps, living in love, with generosity and courage, serving as living witnesses of Christ’s truth, mercy, and self-sacrifice in everyday life.

I wish for all of you present here, whether in person or in spirit, to carry the grace and blessing of this holy Icon into your homes and hearts, sharing them with your loved ones, with all those in need of comfort, kindness, generosity, and joy. In these challenging times of spiritual distress and human suffering, the endeavor and dedication of Saint George should serve as a model for all of us, guiding us towards our sweet and fruitful faith, which overcomes all obstacles, human limitations, and hostilities, and brings bright hope and spiritual renewal.

Beloved and most beloved, glorious and most glorious, dearest and most beloved Saint George, welcome home! May your blessing and intercessions be with us all.