Through Christ, We Become Cultured People

Address by His Grace Bishop Antaniski Mr. Partenij, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, at the Christmas and New Year’s Musical in Kichevo, on January 1/14, in the year of our Savior 2024

Your Eminence, Metropolitan of Krushevo and Demirhisar, Mr. Jovan,

I take the liberty on behalf of the “Metropolitan Kozma of Preshchitsa” choir, the youngest actors, and the “Merak Chalgija” orchestra, to thank you for honoring us with your presence today and for providing great support for the work that these young people have been doing for years.

I especially want to thank the Mayor of Kichevo, Mr. Fatmir Dehari, and the director of the “Kocho Racin” Cultural Center, Mr. Mazlam Osmani, for their immense cooperation and support to the respected Sisterhood of the Prechista Kichevska Monastery. Normally, besides the city’s bishop, mayors are also called “fathers of the cities.” Mr. Fatmir Dehari, who is justifiably absent today, will surely hear about this. He has truly shown himself to be a father to all citizens, with a strong awareness of our multiethnic society, and of the things that unite us. Today, we have different faiths with our brethren in the city, but let’s not forget that once we were of the same faith. Until the 14th century, everyone here was Orthodox. However, in the contemporary context, despite having different faiths today, we all know that many things unite us. God is one for all, and He is love.

Here we are, having left 2023 behind us and now at the threshold of the year 2024. It is good, my dear ones, to ask ourselves how much, in the past year, we were, above all, true human beings. All those who believe in God, who have set their minds on the divine, always account for how much in their lives they have pleased God. And we please God most when we please, that is, love our neighbors. For he who believes, it is impossible not to love, impossible not to love his brother. Saint John the Evangelist says: “If a man says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?(1 John 4:20-21, King James Bible). My dear ones, it is good to reflect, just as companies settle their accounts and review their operations at the end of the year. How did we spend the past year? We do not know what tomorrow will bring. Only the Merciful God knows what will happen next year. It remains for us to be thankful for everything that, by the grace of God, we accomplished last year and to pray to God to help us in the next, to be with us, to support us in all our good intentions. To be, above all, good people, and we will be so if we are truly His children.

Today’s Gospel, designated for the Sunday before the Theophany, was, in fact, the beginning of the Holy Gospel according to Mark, where the appearance and preaching of Saint John the Baptist are discussed. And what could be more beautiful than that, than the voice of Saint John, who showed the Lamb of God and exclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Saint John proclaimed this in the Judean wilderness and with this call prepared the entire world for the coming of Christ. Thus began the New Testament. Those who truly repented recognized Christ as the Son of God. But others, those who went to see Saint John merely out of curiosity, did not recognize Christ. Therefore, Saint John condemned their hard-heartedness. So, my dear ones, today we also heard the evangelist Mark speaking about the preaching of Saint John in the Judean wilderness, reminding us that we should repent. This is a beautiful lesson for the beginning of the year.

When it comes to the concert, I must candidly express that I was often overcome with such profound emotions that I even found myself moved to tears. This is because all of this is a fruit of repentance. All these children that you see before you have created this beautiful concert out of their enthusiasm. And their enthusiasm stems from their repentance, for they all live eucharistically, fully immersed in the Church. You have seen the culture they cultivate within themselves through Christ! How much they have grown as liturgical beings, whose fruit is also this beautiful concert. Let this be a lesson for everyone from this wonderful city, which is now experiencing its rebirth. Indeed, I can say that in recent years, Kichevo has undergone a transformation. Again, I emphasize that this is due to collaboration. Kichevo has become an example of multiethnic cooperation, and may it be a blessing and honor to all who contribute to this endeavor, to all actors, primarily to the Municipality, cultural institutions, and then to all others. Therefore, I would like to call upon you: Send your children to the Church, for there they will learn best how to first become human beings. For a person is truly human only with God. Without God, regrettably, one becomes a wayward soul. History has always shown this.

In the 21st century, we sadly see that man is equating himself with other creatures, claiming there is no God, no Creator. Scientist Charles Darwin, more than a century and a half ago, posited a hypothesis about the origin of man from animals. And indeed, man began to identify with animals, living an animalistic life, reduced to satisfying only personal existential needs, not aspiring to anything noble and spiritual. But now, we see that man has descended even lower than animals. With what I am about to say, I do not wish to offend anyone, as the Church loves all, embraces all, there is a place for everyone in it, it is a place for repentance. Recently in neighboring Greece, parliament is facing a major challenge and is to make a “historic” decision on the possibility of same-sex couples adopting children. No one prevents or condemns those who wish to live in a same-sex community, as they have chosen this for themselves. The Church does not force anyone; it started under persecution, but no Christian in the first three hundred years, until the cessation of persecutions in the time of Emperor Constantine, retaliated with violence or armed themselves against anyone, but rather called out: “Come all! He has for all, He has bread for all!” You know, all internal phenomena in man, such as passions, which are neutral forces created by God, have always existed in man, but it depends on us how we direct them. Then there were homosexual couples, but the Church did not reject them; instead, it drew them in and transformed them. The Church still possesses this transformative power today. However, let us now think more deeply about the adoption of children by same-sex couples. At the same time, we hear about surrogate motherhood. I wonder, is motherhood, the most sacred of things, being reduced to a mere machine tasked with producing a child, only to hand it over to someone else? People have become worse than animals. In nature, we observe the strength of motherhood in all God’s creatures. For example, a mother bird is prepared to die for her chicks. Even if she must face a danger a hundred times stronger than herself for her chicks, she will still sacrifice herself. There is nothing more sacred than motherhood. We have all written essays about mothers. But how will children write about mothers tomorrow? Motherhood is magnificent. And the Lord came into this world through a Mother. Do not think that I say this to incite rebellion or protest. Not at all. Become good Christians, and thus your children will be protected. Let the Orthodox tradition shine in you. We learned from our grandmothers. As children, we were taught by women, those enlightened grandmothers who lived during communism. Of course, also from parents who, because of communism, were a bit ashamed and did not profess their faith so publicly. But the grandmothers knew what repentance meant, what God meant. I remember telling my grandmother during communism, “This is the society of the future, everyone at school says so,” and she would say, “No. If it is without God, child, it will fail. We will see its end.” And indeed, in the last years of her life, she saw the end of that godless society. Everything that is without God will meet its end.

My dear ones, the tradition passed down to us by our ancestors is powerfully present in monasteries and churches. Seek it there, send your children there. See what a beautiful concert these wonderful young people have made for us. I believe they have stirred strong and noble feelings in all of you. I thank them for the gift, they never forget to give me something. Yet, know that the greatest gift to me is you. There is no greater gift than your smiling faces, no greater gift than your repentance that I see and feel, nothing more important than your efforts for the faith of Christ. That is the greatest gift. To be a Christian means to embrace all the people of this world, regardless of their nation, regardless of their faith. For Christ makes no distinction between people. He, while still in the flesh on Earth, broke down all the taboos that existed then against women and all people in general. In Christ, there is an embrace for the entire world.

May you be blessed, and may we have a wonderful New Year in the Lord!

Once again, we thank Bishop Jovan who honored us with his presence. I have known his love for the Lord for a long time. We were friends from our youth, neighbors in the glorious city of Bitola. I know he loves God and always sacrifices for Him.

May you all be healthy and well. Thank you.