The triumph over time and centuries

Sermon of His Beatitude, Archibishop Stephen of Ohrid and Macedonia, during the ceremony of the 1000th jubilee of the Bigorski Monastery, on October 18th, 2020 AD

His Beatitude, Archbishop Stephen of Ohrid and Macedonia

My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God, which art, and wast, and art to come; how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep.

There are many places in the Holy Scriptures that explain to us and capture the meaning of time, purpose and the occasion on which we have ever been somewhere. And these biblical words seem to fit perfectly today’s occasion and this holy place, as well as these good and proven hosts, who have gathered us for a celebration, and not just an ordinary one, but rather a very rare one – a millenniаl. Rarely is any individual, or even a generation, worthy of such blessing from God – to be а part of a millennial event, when, for a moment, we stop to look back in time for a deed not ten or a hundred years old – but а millennial one. And that break is not to end this creative history, but to look into a group of individuals and communities, moments of common sorrows and joys, оf crucifixions and resurrections, of  ups and downs, оf sufferings and successes… And that observed experience should motivate us to а new continuum in time…

Anyway, “the sacred history of the Church is overfilled with bright examples, both of individuals and of spiritual centres, which, with their life and their activity, have left a special mark on a period of time, or even on an entire epoch.” [4]. So, here, in Bigorski, the temple and the lodgings, and the icons and the frescoes, and the bigor-stone and the woodcarvings, and the noise of the unceasing fountains – everything seems to be a praise in the same voice and with the same message! This millennial celebrant, which we have been paying tribute to this entire year of 2020, and celebrate today with gratitude and special attention is exactly that: a set of places and personalities. Bigorski existed, exists and will exist for the faithful, just as the faithful have been, are and will be there for this God-blessed place. Bigorski, in itself, is an inseparable tissue of deeds and activists, of devoted theologians who have created and are creating a sacred history – a history of salvation. And that activity is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and is therefore written with indelible letters in the minds of the people, but also in the historical pages, both ecclesiastical and national. For, in fact, only the life and deed resulting from the constant faith and the eternal love for the Risen Christ and for His Church, dedicated to the name of our Lord God – can leave a mark, encourage a transformation, create spirituality, and be recognized as a true system of values to be followed and lived by.

Both the monasteries and monasticism are especially important for the sacred history of the Orthodox Church and in the life of Orthodox Christians. It is not accidental and without meaning the statement of a modern Mount Athos Elder that “monks are the hope of man, because they are signs and witnesses of the Kingdom of God” [5].  In the same way, we, the Christians of this Macedonian spiritual arena, bear witness to the truth of it – that monks are the hope of man, because they and their monasteries, both in the past and now in the present, are leaders of the general spiritual rebirth, as well as consistent guardians and testimonies of the authentic traditional spirit of our Christian faith.

Monasticism is not a community or order outside the ecclesiastic unity, but rather an essential part of the body of the Church. “Monasticism is the bloodstream of the Church”, “the other self of the Church”, as the Holy Fathers say. Having this in mind, but also considering the reality, i.e. the arguments of the ecclesiastic experience, we will emphasize that the monasteries, although created to be spiritual fortresses outside the world, they are, in fact, prayer shelters for the world. “The monk spends his ascetic life in prayer for all people, carrying on his shoulders, beside his own, the cross of all mankind. A true monk can never be deprived of love. Although distant, in the silence of his cell, he nevertheless becomes so close to every human being that even his very presence illuminates the lives of many. “[6] All of this is done in the name of the primary goal of monastic life – love, which, according to the words of St. Isaac the Syrian, means “a heart burning for the entire creation.”

Beloved children of the Mother Macedonian Church,

Bigorski is our triumph over time and centuries, it is our pride that lasts, because the love for it and the love emanating from it, turned it into an inexhaustible source, into our spiritual greatness and our best spiritual representative. If just for a second we go back in time through the historical events from the 11th century till today, we will see that there is not a single historical period in which this spiritual centre is not, more or less, present or active with its contribution. This justifies the conclusion that since its foundation the monastery seems to have been blessed to be something big and significant. And that hasn’t changed even today. In the past, the monastery suffered many hardships, reaching both rises and falls; was demolished and devastated, conquered and plundered, impoverished and left without monasticism… However, during those terrible moments, as well as in its glorious times, this monastic centre never failed to be a spark of hope for the Macedonian people in many ways – culturally, politically and economically and, above all, spiritually. As it is today and, God willing, it will be tomorrow and to the end of the centuries.

Beloved venerators of the Bigorski Monastery,

The existence of Bigorski started with a miracle, and that miracle continued and continues to this day. In fact, the whole existence of Bigorski is a constant miracle: not in the sense of something extraordinary, and above the laws of time and nature, but seen from an Orthodox point of view – as constant creation. Ever since its beginning, Bigorski creates – makes miracles in God’s glory and for the good and salvation of our people; it builds the living Church, together with its cooperators in the Macedonian spiritual field. Its creation is not only spiritual, but also contributes to the art, language, literature, architecture…, and the recently opened exhibition of art pieces ​​from the Bigorski treasury, organized by MASA and the monastery, demonstrated that material creation in public.

The spiritual creation, on the other hand, is evident today, as many times before, through the presence of the increased number of faithful, or as the Abbot of Bigorski said, on one occasion, while describing the challenge of every monk of there: the mission of a monk is – to present before God a multitude of repented people, numerous followers, taught and established Christ’s sacrifice. His heart carries the essence of monasticism inscribed on it – to cry, to pray and to love like Christ, and for Christ’s sake, far from the comfort and potentials of this world. “[8]

If the presented is not enough for a clear view of the Bigorski’s mission, then look at the past 25 years, and you will get the real meaning and the important role that this Macedonian spiritual and cultural centre had for this region and beyond, throughout the entire spiritual and folk history. Because the last two and a half decades compared with the historical periods in the past, beginning from that glorious 1020 until today, represent a mirror in which the whole millennial past is reflected. In fact, if these modern inhabitants of Bigorski have created so many and such impressive works, suitable and inspired by those that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, [9], then what can we say about the past? Undoubtedly, the present cannot be good if it has not been planted on the good historical roots. Although, without any intention provoke pride, for we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. [10] We must admit that the recent works of these nearly three decades are the greatest achievement, both spiritually and materially, in its millennial history.

Well, we should acknowledge to Bigorski, to his Most Holy Abbot, the Bishop of Antania Parthenius, and to the brotherhood, together with the honest and devoted nuns of the convents, and praise the feat so far for the salvation of many individuals, a feat affirmed with much effort and hard work for the entirety of our Holy Church, as well as for the whole Orthodoxy. In the life of these monks, in their mission, one cannot but recognize Christ’s call for the preaching of the redemptive truth, once addressed to his apostles, and through them to all the followers of the Son of God: ye are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [11], as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. [12]

You, Most Reverend Abbot and Venerable Fathers, here at Bigorski, have helped and are helping many burdened souls, tired from the weight of everyday life, from the unrest and uncertainty, and as far as you could – you offered your hand, welcomed them in your embrace of spiritual care, taking upon yourself a struggle equal to the apostolic one, consisting of constant sacrifice and tireless confession of faith in the Triune God. You managed to proclaim the true freedom to the modern slaves of the false freedom and sin, convincing them that the only freedom is in Christ, because: “If he accepts the realization of his personal freedom in Christ, then man experiences the joy and fullness of human life. “[13].

Love is the one that speaks strongly in favour of you, the inhabitants of our this heavenly island of ours, and preaches to all who have come here for the sake of love and are now abiding in love; it testifies about Bigorski, from its beginnings until today. The spiritual wall of this fortress, of this city which is set on a hill, cannot be hidden.[14], is constructed out of that love. And that is why it is recognizable and receptive, according to the words of Christ: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another[16]. That is why this fortress is invincible, and whoever approaches it with good intentions, will be conquered and accepted, and the one with bad intentions will be ashamed by that strong testimony of love.

Thus, if we don’t speak, we will hear the testimony of thousands of spiritual children, who are nowadays present in almost every temple of our Holy Macedonian Orthodox Church, as well as of the monastery protégés, those still here and those who have finished the process of rehabilitation, those who have struggled and won, who have finished their course and kept the faith: [17]. Those who were once darkness, but are now bearers of light in our Lord: living like the children of light. [18]They will testify to that love and goodness which “draws man nearer to Christ God, who builds him up, transforms him, and sanctifies him.” [19]  We have singled out the feat of love, the most important segment of the mission of the brotherhood, but not the only one. It will take a lot of time and space to talk about the other deeds, also inspired by love, i.e. the fact that Bigorski is one of the pioneers in the restoration of Macedonian contemporary monasticism – where this feat equal to the angels was established slowly but on sound foundations, so this monastery is our biggest spiritual centre, it is a building that is constantly being built and enlarged, having as its modern founder the Father endowed with artistic and architectural sense – the Bigorski Abbot. Also, the Monastery is the most recognizable witness of our ecclesiastic reality and of our determination, as well as of the recognition of our right to ecclesiastic independence in the Orthodox world.

But we are aware that in the Orthodox way of life and work, nothing begins or is achieved without the blessing and prayerful intercession before the merciful God for prosperity and progress. In these last 25 years of the Bigorski millennium the competent hierarch of this deified diocese, His Eminence, Metropolitan of Debar and Kichevo Mr Timothy, who was the spiritual leader of this God-blessed Diocese, even before the revival of Bigorski, contributed greatly with his general support and his paternal advice, governed by his strong love for God and monasticism, thus helping the Monastery become what it is today. – a true spiritual fortress and a strong pillar of our Holy Ohrid Archbishopric, restored in the Macedonian Orthodox Church.


We are gathered to pay our respects and remember all those who have served God in this place and knew just how greater blessing it is to give than to receive, [20] as well as to the present ones, in fact, to all those who have invested themselves in the millennial history of The Bigorski Monastery. I would like to wish you all a lot more years of history, many centuries to come, another millennium of miracles and creating for the glory of God.

Dear abbot, together with the monks around you,

We pray to God that He may give you strong health, with a lot of spiritual powers, with divine wisdom and experience, so that you may continue writing the future of the Bigorski monastery. Try to make your work pleasing to God and make sure that when you stop, those who would come after you would continue to serve God in the same manner, serving with love the Macedonian Orthodox people, the Macedonian Orthodox Church and all those who respect the Bigorski family. As you have inherited the fruit of the past great and glorious deeds, the good foundation and the past enlightened experience, so we oblige you to leave a similar spiritual heritage for the future, so that this magnificence could continue forever.

May God bless and multiply the deeds of this millennial home of ours, for the benefit of our pious people and our MOC – OA! Let us pray to the Lord and to the patron Saint – St. John the Baptist – to the extent the years and centuries of the Bigorski monastery, as well as of the Macedonian Church and of our state! – Amen!

[1] Ps. 83, 1.

[2] Rev. 11, 17.

[3] Ps. 92, 5.