A Patriarch Unknown to the World (Pavle of Serbia)

This is a reprint of an article by Fr. Barnabas Powell. It was published in the Pueblo Chieftan. Fr. Barnabas is the priest at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Pueblo, Colorado. He was a classmate of my sons-in-law at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and a fine young priest. The following article is republished with permission of the author.

As Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could tell you, being a patriarch isn’t easy.

Leading your people through the desert is a task filled with trials and tribulations. It requires enduring patience and a clear vision of the goal at the other end. Of all the leaders of the world’s 15 Orthodox Churches, none bore a stronger resemblance to his titular namesakes than Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, who recently reposed at the biblical age of 95.

The future patriarch was born on a tightrope. The first World War began just months before he entered the world, and by the time he reached adulthood, another broke out. He survived the Croatian Fascist genocide of 800,000 of his countrymen and labored to rebuild his shattered country as a construction worker after the war. Despite the anti-religious climate of Titoist Yugoslavia, he became a monk.

His intellectual gifts led to post-graduate studies and a teaching position at the Orthodox seminary in Prizren, Kosovo (now abandoned as a result of the “cleansing” of that city’s Serbs).

For the 33 years preceding his election as patriarch, he was bishop of the diocese encompassing Kosovo. There he earned the moniker of “the walking saint” because he never owned an automobile.

Said he: “I will not purchase one until every Albanian and Serbian household in Kosovo and Metohija has an automobile.” He even made his own shoes.

In 1989, a mob of Muslim youths so severely beat the then-75-year-old Pavle that he was hospitalized for three months. In spite of such persecution, both of himself and his flock, he never acquiesced to the nationalistic machinations of Serbia’s communist leaders.

Having forsaken God, Slobodan Milosevic and his cronies forsook their own humanity. With a prophetic voice, the patriarch called for Milosevic’s ouster. He participated in marches and rallies, even breaking through a police cordon at one point.

Pavle saw communism rise and fall. But as with his biblical predecessors, one trial followed another. Having successfully branded the Serbs as the Balkan bad guys, our Western intelligentsia now dismisses their suffering as “reverse” ethnic cleansing.

Pavle didn’t submit to this double standard, and aggressively denounced NATO’s failure to protect Kosovo’s Serb minority. He pointed to the refugees, to the murdered Serbs, to the more than 150 Orthodox churches and monasteries destroyed by NATO’s de facto Muslim allies.

He dared to say that one evil does not justify another. In denouncing the hypocrisy of the West, he was labeled as anti-Western.

I was disappointed but not surprised to see this distorted image reproduced in a two-paragraph Associated Press feed that The Chieftain ran on Pavle’s death.

The blurb said Pavle, “failed to openly condemn extreme Serb nationalism.” The falsehood of this statement was demonstrated by the condolences that flowed not just from other Orthodox potentates, but from the Vatican and leaders of Serbia’s Jewish and Islamic communities – many of whom were among the 500,000 mourners at his funeral.

Pavle’s real crime was denouncing all nationalisms. That, and refusing to go silently away.

As for Pavle’s likely successor, Metropolitan Amfilohije, he was similarly written off in the AP blurb as “a hard-liner known for his anti-Western and ultra-nationalist stands.”

This description fits an ignorant, bloodthirsty Neanderthal, not the gentle and intelligent man I met five years ago in Belgrade.

“Anti-Western” is a hard label to pin on someone with Amfilohije’s pedigree of post-graduate classics studies in Rome and Switzerland, and years of teaching at a Parisian seminary.

Pavle’s likely successor is fluent not only in Serbian, Russian and Greek, but Italian, French and German. As I discovered, his English also is passable.

Let’s save the “anti-Western” stereotype for those who actually want to destroy Western civilization, not those who stand in their way.

Like Pavle, Amfilohije shares another enduring characteristic of the biblical patriarchs: tenacity. You’ve got to respect the stubborn endurance of a patriarch, even if he proclaims truths that are inconvenient.

Barnabas Powell is pastor at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church. He may be reached at email hidden; JavaScript is required .

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





10 responses to “A Patriarch Unknown to the World (Pavle of Serbia)”

  1. David Ellis Avatar
    David Ellis

    My comments don’t seem to be showing up in the discussion concerning the problem of unnecessary suffering. Is there a technical glitch?

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    They were trapped in the spam filter (for whatever reason I do not know). But I’ve got them up. Sorry – weekend is a busy time for me and hard to keep up with filters and moderation, etc. It makes blog conversation slow on the weekend. Thanks for your patience.

  3. Yannis Avatar

    Congratulations F. Stephen for your excellent post and for denouncing defamation so openly and clearly.

    Best Regards


  4. David Ellis Avatar
    David Ellis


  5. Meg Avatar

    WOW. St. Michael’s is most blessed in their priest!

  6. stephen edwards Avatar

    Father Stephen–Just stumbled across your website while searching for the Akathist Hymn “Glory to God for All Things.” Thank you for your obedience. It was refreshing to my soul to read your words. May God continue to bless your endeavors.

  7. Alexey Avatar

    Yes, that mention of his “failure” was all over the Western press (in exactly those same words). Even in the smallest articles, they repeated it. I don’t imagine Michael Jackson’s failures were emphasized during all of the major network broadcast time his memorial ceremonies took up. The decadent West thinks everyone eats up their propaganda & is blind to the manipulation.

  8. Jim Forest Avatar

    On the web site of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, there is a small collection of statements, sermons and prayers by Patriarch:


    Among other Pavle-related articles, here are a few of the more important ones:

    The Serbian Orthodox Church: Not What We Have Been Led to Believe

    The Church’s Role in Serbia’s Peaceful Revolution

    The Situation of the Church in Kosovo

    Belgrade Dialogue on Reconciliation

    There is a lot more on the site — just site-search the word “Pavle”.

    “If we live as people of God, there will be room for all nations in the Balkans and in the world. If we liken ourselves to Cain who killed his brother Abel, then the entire earth will be too small even for two people. The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to be always children of God and love one another. We should remember the words of St. Paul: ‘If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men’.”
    — Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church

    Jim Forest

  9. handmaid leah Avatar

    Father Barnabas hits the nail right on the head – the western elite cannot conceive of a Christian being on the side of right and even more, speaking out vehemently about the inhuman outrages being perpetrated on all sides.
    I still am processing this idea of “nationalism” because it seems so foreign to the American experience of “patriotism”. I know I am not understanding this because it is outside of my American experience.
    A bit off topic but an example that I noticed recently was the World Team Championships in Bull riding that was held in Brazil – if an American (or anyone not Brazilian) made a great ride there was no applause and this was held in a huge stadium that was packed. Nothing, just silence or worse booing. In America, if somebody makes a great bull ride that is celebrated no matter who makes the ride!
    For me this is an example of what ‘nationalism’ is – On the edges of my mind I know that this can lead to horrible destruction when people put the pride of their country over the love of neighbor preached by our Lord. There is only one place I seek to be a citizen of…
    The Patriarch, may his memory be eternal, is an example of that very virtue of love. May we all strive to emulate Christ as he did…

  10. Дејан Avatar

    the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
    on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16)

    Father Stephen in a recent comment said: “A true Christian should have something of Christ himself about them. His love, His kindness, His forgiveness.” This reminds me of Patriarch Pavle. He had in himself something of great light that St. Matthew describes in the Gospel. In the midst of the darkness he was consolation light to many suffering people of different nationalities who shared similar geographical and historical context. Thanks everybody for the kind words, and I am offering my deepest gratitude to Fr. Powell not only for writing the article, but indeed for taking time to explore the life and deeds of Patriarch Pavle. There is always immense joy and inspiration in exploring the lives of people who were uncompromisingly living in their practical life the very message they were telling in their words.

    Fr. Powell and Fr. Stephen, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. What does it mean to “experience God”? I think 1 Corinthians 2 is sorely overlooked in thinking about this question:…

  2. Matthew, Regarding the notion of testing the spirits: this is indeed a biblical reference. However when implemented within the very…

  3. Matthew I trust the Lord. Not so much in men. Please forgive me. I appreciate your kindness and comments.

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast