Belgrade, August 31, 2016
With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk made a working trip to Belgrade on August 29-30, 2016. On August 30 Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk met with His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia. Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral, and Bishop Irinej of Backa along with members of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church took part in the meeting. In the course of the conversation, marked by a spirit of cordiality, the parties discussed a number of matters of mutual interest.
After the meeting Metropolitan Hilarion departed for the residence of the President of the Republic of Serbia for participation in the solemn ceremony of signing of the agreement on transfer of the first tranche of charitable aid for the project of furnishing of the Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade, reports the DECR communication service.
The agreement on the transfer of donations was signed by the Gasprom Neft Public Joint Stock Company’s [one of the largest oil producers of Russia] Deputy CEO for Corporate Communications Alexander Dybal; President of the Society for the Building of St. Sava’s Cathedral in Belgrade Patriarch Irinej of Serbia; Chairman of the Society’s Board of Trustees, President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic; and Vice-President of the Moscow International Foundation for Support to UNESCO, full member of the Russian Academy of Arts Manana Popova.
Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral; Archpriest Vitaly Tarasyev, Rector of the Dependency of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belgrade; the Russian Federation’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Serbia Alexander Chepurin; Head of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (“Rossotrudnichestvo”) Lyubov Glebova; Deputy Head of “Rossotrudnichestvo” Alexander Radkov; Director of the Russian Center in Belgrade Nadezhda Kushchenkova; people’s artist of Russia Nikolai Mukhin; along with diplomats, political and cultural figures and art workers of Russia and Serbia were present at the ceremony as well.
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia and Serbian President T. Nikolic also signed another agreement on practical matters of the implementation of the donation agreement with Vice-President of the Moscow International Foundation for Support to UNESCO Manana Popova.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Metropolitan Hilarion said:
“First of all, I am happy to greet all of you on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. Over the past twenty-eight years 28,000 churches of the Russian Orthodox Church were restored from ruins or completely rebuilt. It means that we opened a thousand churches every year or three churches every day. Beyond a doubt, we have gained an enormous amount of experience in restoration works, and the building and furnishing of churches and so on. We have teams of excellent and highly professional artists who can skillfully beautify churches in any possible technique: mosaics, frescoes and so forth. Today we are delighted to share our knowledge with you and are excited that our masters will work under the dome of the most magnificent Orthodox church in the Balkan Peninsula.
When the Serbian Orthodox Church invited us to take part in this project, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill gave his consent without hesitation. But, given the scale of the project and the scope of the work, it became clear that we would not be able to carry it out without the support of the Russian state. So His Holiness Patriarch Kirill appealed to the President of the Russian Federation. We received confirmation of the Russian Federation’s participation in this large-scale project, and today we are happy that the project is beginning to be practically implemented.
On my part, I would like to express the hope that this project will contribute to the further strengthening of relations between Russia and Serbia – relations which were paid for with the blood of Russian soldiers and which trace back hundreds of years. I sincerely hope that the project will enable us to develop and strengthen the ties between the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches.
The Russian people will always help their Serbian brothers and the Russian Orthodox Church will always support Her sister – the Serbian Orthodox Church. I would like to assure you of this assistance and to wish you the help of God and every success to all those involved in this undertaking."
The first stage of beautification of St. Sava’s Cathedral in Belgrade will include the decoration of the cathedral’s dome with mosaics by a team of masters headed by the Russian people’s artist N. Mukhin with the support of mosaic artists of the fresco workshop at the Convent of St. Elisabeth the New Martyr in the city of Minsk. The decoration of the dome is to be completed by the end of 2017, and the next stage (decoration of the chancel apse) is to be timed to coincide with the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the autocephaly of the Serbian Church in 2019.
During his stay in Belgrade Metropolitan Hilarion visited the Russian Embassy in Serbia where he met with the Russian Ambassador to Serbia A. Chepurin.
The DECR Chairman also visited the Russian Center in Belgrade where he had a meeting with Chairwoman of “Rossotrudnichestvo” Lyubov Glebova. They discussed a wide range of matters of mutual interest and agreed to extend their cooperation.
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St. Sava’s Cathedral in Belgrade was conceived as the cathedral church of the Serbian Patriarchate and the largest Orthodox church in Europe. Its construction began back in the 1930s in the Vracar neighborhood on the site where the holy relics of St. Sava of Serbia (c. 1175-c. 1236), founder and first primate of the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church, were burned by order of the Turkish authorities. Building was resumed in 1985. At present, the decoration of the cathedral interior (total area of over 17,000 square meters) with mosaics is still needed.
On March 16, 2012, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the then Foreign Minister of Serbia Vuk Jeremic signed in Moscow a protocol on Russia’s participation in the decoration of the interior of St. Sava’s Cathedral in Belgrade.
In 2013, in accordance with the protocol, a Russian-Serbian work team was set up for coordination of further joint work on the decoration of St. Sava’s. The task team chose members of the jury which, in its turn, was to choose the best proposal of decoration for the cathedral interior. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk along with Ivica Dacic, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, were elected as the jury’s co-chairpersons.
In the summer of 2014, an all-Russian open contest for decorating St. Sava's was announced. On October 6, 2014, the jury under the chairmanship of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk and I. Dacic chose the contest’s winners. The project of the International Foundation for Support to UNESCO, prepared by composite authors headed by Russian people’s artist N. Mukhin was ranked first. The project of Belarusian mosaic artists, prepared by the fresco workshop of the Convent of St. Elisabeth the New Martyr in Minsk, was ranked second.