Holy Mountain Memory Book
Along Sava’s paths, next to Sava’s water, to Sava’s sanctuaries... Hilandar is even today the ”scale of Serbia”, as St. Nikolaj of Ohrid and Žiča used to say. Sava’s Karyes hermitage is still ”the light over Mount Athos”, in the only country in the world whose inhabitants are born by death. One always comes here for the first time and it is always the same, always different. After thirty years of coming, we remember many wonderful old men, monks, who now shine in the dead of this deep night and give us the strength not to faint

By: Mišo Vujović
Photo: Mišo Vujović, father Milutin

The old ”Toyota Hilux” bounces elastically on the dusty road riddled with potholes of rough fire protection forest roads, cracked from landslides and frequent torrents from the surrounding hills. We drive through the hills of Mount Athos, overgrown with conifers, small plants, wild chestnuts, plants blooming in the blue of the sea and the mirror of the sky, with the elevated Athos as the throne of the Mother of God, the merciful protector of Mount Athos.
For the first time, after three decades of wandering around Mount Athos, through clouds of dust and inaccessible landscapes, I am making my way from Karyes to Hilandar on rutted land roads. Due to the pandemic, some monasteries, such as Vatoped, installed ramps with security at the entrances.
”Vatoped denied visits to pilgrims, completely closed and isolated itself from the others, right from the beginning, and almost all the monks fell ill, led by the abbot”, says our nice and cheerful driver Schumacher, as he introduced himself to us, while we made our way through the dusty paths towards Hilandar. ”Here is also the dust of the world,” observes this benevolent monk behind the wheel, familiar with every inch of this land imbued with in God’s grace.
Along Sava’s paths, next to Sava’s water, we emerge above Sava’s holy monastery, from where Saint Sava took his father’s relics to reconcile the feuding brothers Vukan and Stefan. After the departure of the holy relics from his earthly resting place, the vine of Saint Simeon sprouted, which even today brings joy to many homes with its fruits.
”Hilandar is the cradle of the soul and the treasury of Serbian memory. The eternal lamp of heaven and the scale of earthly Serbia. A mystical gallery of secrets in whose holy chambers all our victories and defeats have found peace. There, in Milutin’s church, Stefan’s eyes opened, and the Leader kissed the Radovanje ax,” I wrote, a quarter of a century ago, in the editorial of the promotional publication about Hilandar, Eight Centuries of the Serbian Soul.


The feeling of passing through the great monastery gate, faded by the winds and centuries, is indescribable. I remember my first steps and entering the Milutin church from the Lazar’s narthex. I am telling good Braš, Metropolitan Amfilohije’s brother-in-arms in rooting out communist weeds in Montenegro, about the excitement when I first set foot in the Hilandar temple. I remember old men moving like shadows in the dead of night. Black-faced men merged with the monastery’s frescoes as they rise from the stasidium and, after paying respects and responding to the litany, dive again into the world of heavenly forces. Aged Mihajlo, a baker, would often snore, just enough to be loud. The impressive father Kirilo, miniature in size, would dive into those wooden chairs. Gavrilo, a long-time novice, woke up exactly at the moment when it was his turn to say a prayer. Father Vasilije, a wonderful man from Čačak, welcomed the guests as if they were his closest family, not hiding his aversion to communists, and he also sang the song ”Landing on Hilandar” about the visit, inappropriate according to many, of the then president of Serbia, Slobodan Milošević, to this Serbian temple, the most protruding towards the sky.
In the tenth decade, father Jovan worked the garden on his knees. Josif, the librarian, and Nikanor, the cellarer, jumped out with youth and energy. Before him, the cellar was taken care of by Stefan, who will replace the irreplaceable father Mitrofan in Protat, one of the most respected and influential Hilandar priests, who died immediately after the end of the bombing of FR Yugoslavia in 1999.
Father Mitrofan Mišulić, a humble monk, missionary and builder, for decades performed the duty of the first epitropes of the monastery, dealing with renovation, economy and all other affairs towards the outside world. He enjoyed the undivided respect of both the Mount Athos residents and the Greek population and local administration throughout northern Greece. In the metochion of Kakovo, he created a productive estate. The pond for which we brought fish progeny from Ečka, a wood processing factory, greenhouses for vegetables... His erudition and power of words, sermons about Hilandar, about the Resurrection of Serbia in the First World War, evoked emotions both in him and the listeners. He spoke fluently and warmly, emphasizing the humanistic and patriotic dimension of his personality. Driven by the need to help brothers in war-torn areas, he initiated an action to help maternity hospitals in the Republic of Srpska. Several thousand children, mostly war orphans, stayed in the Greek resort of Asprovalta, in the magnificent complex of the monastery of St. Lydia, with Archimandrite Teofil, who unsparingly helped the Serbian people during all those war and post-war years.


Elder Agathon would stand through the entire service. Saintly white, ascetic almost transparent, with prominent bones on his arms covered with a thin layer of whitish skin, calm and noble, a hermit’s body, or rather a thinly coated skeleton, he looked as if he had come down from some old faded fresco. Father Agaton, the later megaloschemos Antonije, for many years heard confessions from monks and was considered one of the greatest living clergymen of the Holy Mountain.
The silent Father Sava stood behind the Mother of God, next to the silver sarcophagus of Saint Simeon, in the place where the saint was originally buried.
Memories of the guardians of this sanctuary, exposed to storms and gusts of events for centuries, from plundering raids by pirate gangs, through Ottoman invaders, occupation by Bulgarian monks, to the communist silent terror at the time of Tito, when this sanctuary was considered an enemy breeding ground of Serbian clero-nationalism, come flooding back.
Hilandar is one and only, tucked away in Mileya, built not only for prayer and permanent refuge, but for the strengthening and deification of the entire Serbian race.
And it be the source of the light of the spirit, the priceless landmark, the timeless invisible limit of eternity. The same one, because of which they attacked us for centuries. And it be an eternal gift to the Serbs. To a powerful ruler in the monastic race and to his son and spiritual father, in whose footsteps he headed to Mount Athos.
And it be a gift and light to the entire Serbian race, on whose golden necklace is the greatest medallion of continuance.
And in the middle of Mileya, white Vilandar from a thousand mists – as a legend says...
The deserted home of the retired monk Hilandarion revived, which the Father and the Son restored and invoked the grace of the Holy Spirit as a gift to the entire Serbian race. And its monastery life is full of dramatic intervals, conquests, robberies, raids, fires, occupations... ”It was always the scale of Serbia,” claimed Bishop Nikolaj of Žiča and Ohrid. Each epoch of the power of the fatherland reflected on Hilandar and its influence in the Orthodox world. As the first university, it first produced archbishops, later emissaries, preachers, and clergymen respected throughout the Orthodox world.
”In the late 1980s, about fifteen old men served in the monastery, most of them members of the Yugoslav Army in Homeland and Ljotić’s ‘Zbor’, who fled to the west after the Second World War,” recalls Father Stefan, protos and member of the Mount Athos administration, at that time one of the youngest, today among the oldest members of the monastery in terms of age and time spent in the monastery. That old guard, led by the priest Agaton, along with the wise and visionary idea of ​​the late Father Mitrofan to strengthen the monastery economically, built foundation of the present-day monastic brotherhood, which has never been more numerous since the Second World War.


”Is it your first time in Hilandar?” I heard the voice of a young monk whose beard glistened in a strand of sun that had stopped for the moment to emphasize even more brightly the beauty of these ancient walls that were attacked by various thugs.
”In the early nineties, I entered the biggest altar of our church for the first time,” I said spontaneously, aware that every visit to the Hilandar monastery is the first and unrepeatable one. No matter how much you know, you always discover that hidden gallery of secrets. Even in that disheveled monk Nikolaj, prone to witty remarks, masked behind dark glasses, a monk whose favorite hero is the Knight Koya, we discover all the diversity of Hilandar, its strength and power to harmonize or tune out all differences. The strengthen the weak, empower the fainting, give sight to the blinded, sober up the intoxicated, tame the proud, soothe the anxious...
In the bookbinder’s shop we visit Father Domentijan, who is unusual in many ways. A man of gentle nature and vast life experience, shrewd but unobtrusive in his views. He was truly happy to see us, without polite gestures, he welcomes us with a wide heart, joyful pupils, a warm brotherly hug. We talk about everything. Father Domentijan achieved his potentials and was successful in all dimensions of life. Both on a business and personal level.
”Experience warns us. The world is stumbling rapidly. I feel an inner restlessness, strange things are happening,” he says quietly, looking at us worriedly, not hiding the anxiety and uncertainty hanging over this vault of the heavenly throne that survived the storms of the ages, thanks to the constant prayers and mercy of the Almighty.
And only there, in the lee of this temple, where time has stood still for a long time and where every soul feels tiny but fulfilled, even more faced with itself, one feels the beats of eternity and Saint Sava’s claim that no place in the world can be compared to this.


Karyes Hermitage, light over Mount Athos
They enter with god-fearingly to bow down, take cover, pray, confess and pray to the Mother of God the Milk-Giver the Miracle Worker – the quick helper of Karyes.
Nebojša arrived from Belgium, with two Flemish Orthodox priests. He watched the film ”Unending Prayer” on ”YouTube”, about the most prayerful corner of Mount Athos. They observe with admiration the cave where Saint Sava prayed for the forgiveness of sins of all of humanity. That refuge for the silence of the first archbishop is today one of the most revered sanctuaries of Mount Athos, the only country whose inhabitants are born by death.
Testimonies of the Hermitage of Saint Sava, the elder Nikodim and the power of his prayers, are found in thousands of slips with names for prayer from almost all parts of the world. ”The Hermitage is the light over the Holy Mountain,” says the monk Nikodim of Hilandar and Karyes, ascetic, man of prayer, builder – whose work is difficult to measure with earthly scales. We observe the paved roads leading to Hermitage, a brick fence with a wrought iron gate, stone retaining walls, a new roof made of stone slabs, cells, church... Everything is like in the golden age of the Nemanjićs, when temples sprung up, and half of Holy Mountain was turned into the endowments of the Nemanjićs, Brankovićs and other Serbian rulers.


At father Nikodim about Saint Nikodim
Elder Nikodim has been faithfully fulfilling one of the most demanding monastic rules in a country where prayer is a vow, occupation, philosophy and meaning of life for over two decades. The prayer rule in the Hermitage of Saint Sava is defined by the Karyes typicon, authored by Saint Sava, the first spiritual shepherd of the Serbian race, educator, missionary, statesman and diplomat, ascetic with an archbishop’s scepter, a saint devoid of pride, ”more sinful than anyone” – as he used to sign.
I am reading the poem ”Old Man” to Nikodim from the collection ”Island” by Branislav Matić. He listens unblinkingly, while my voice trembles under this holy vault soaked in psalms, tropars, hymns to Christ and the Mother of God, unendingly for eight centuries. The poet sings about ”the most prominent cape, in the blue horizon”, where ”something shines day and night and this autumn of many names...”
”Like a voiceless whisper, / like a rite of release, / the old omen casts a shadow, / this herd has gone astray, gone lost. / That old man Nicodemus / incenses the hermitage, / waters the cave with a tear, / reads the psalms of Sava, / summons another morning prayer...”
We fell silent for a moment. These warm verses are pleasing, but Nikodim is long not from this world, masked in the demonic armor of the Antichrist.

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