On Sunday, November 1, the Orthodox world bid farewell to Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović) of Montenegro and the Littoral, a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church and well-known theologian, who has found his last shelter before the Second Coming of the Lord in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Podgorica.
Although the archpastor died from complications from COVID-19, his preaching was that there is a virus that is far more dangerous…
Hieromonk Vladimir (Palibrk) of Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro, headed by His Eminence, remembers his spiritual father, abbot, and metropolitan.
How the Holy Scriptures are repeated over and over again in our day
Vladyka was our abbot in Ostrog Monastery and the beloved archpastor-metropolitan of all our people. I am grateful to God that I could grow up at the feet of such a spiritual giant and accept ordination into the monastic priesthood from him. He was an outstanding theologian; one of the most educated modern hierarchs. He taught in Athens, in Paris, in Rome, and so on. Vladyka Amfilohije is our sun. For us, he was Heaven, incarnated on Earth.
He restored so many churches and monasteries and revived monastic life itself in Montenegro. Everything had been destroyed here. When Vladyka was elevated as Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, Zetsko-Brda, and Skenderija in 1991, there were animals being kept in our churches. As the Lord had once been born in a manger, so our holy sites were turned into the same kind of animal pens by the destruction of the communists.
The same thing was happening in Russia, although, as Vladyka Amfilohije said, if you look at percentages, even a larger part of the people suffered under the God-fighting communists in Montenegro. Just as God once saved his people through Moses after the Egyptian captivity, when Pharaoh, in agony over his lost power, raged to kill the people of God, so He has acted in our day through Vladyka Amfilohije.
But Vladyka Amfilohije led his flock further, through the entire New Testament. He didn’t stop somewhere in the middle; he wasn’t distracted by secondary things. He sought the Kingdom of God, and everything else was added unto him (cf. Mt. 6:33). Read his book, Crucified Kosovo. It’s the Serbian Golgotha. More than 150 churches have already been destroyed there in our days. Hundreds of clergy and Christians have been buried. Vladyka held this pain in his heart. He defended Kosovo and Metohije as our Serbian Jerusalem.
An example of the defense of Orthodoxy
Now, this year, when the state again began to seize churches in Montenegro, it was Vladyka Amfilohije who was able to raise the people up to defend the Church and Orthodoxy. The 83-year-old elder himself stood at the head of this people’s liberation movement. And hundreds of thousands of people in various cities followed after him—they all rose up! They were ready to give their lives.
How he worried about Vladyka Joanikije (Mićović) of Budimlja and Nikšić, when he and seven priests were detained and put in prison for three months. Vladyka Amfilohije was always ready to take all responsibility upon himself—he proposed that he be the one to be tried. So they took him into custody too! The father of the people! What sort of idiots are they? For six hours they held this elder, revered by all the people, at the station, interrogating this holy hierarch! And he just humbly sat there, answering their stupid questions, like a criminal. As the Scriptures say: He was numbered with the transgressors (Is. 53:12, Mk. 15:28). Something like this happened to us just a few months ago! If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (Jn. 15:20). It’s all right there in Scripture: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Mt. 5:10).
But this godless government lost the election because it had started a war against the Church. But the Church, headed by a wise hierarch, rose up and managed to defend itself. He gave us all an example of protecting Orthodoxy in our days. It broke down the boundaries between fraternal peoples, as well as between all people of good will, and they greatly multiplied in number.
How Vladyka broke down our egotistical “love”
Only now will we really learn about what kind of person he was—what his works means to all of us, how he spoke with people from all countries, from all strata of society. He was always late for official events, regardless of how important they were, because along the way he would meet some elderly woman with her grandson who needed help, or a mother of many children who was in despair and urgently needed help! He had to stop with every step. The evangelical life was embodied in this man.
He was an outstanding theologian of our times; what mysteries of God he contemplated! His dissertation was titled, “The Mysteries of the Holy Trinity in the Teaching of St. Gregory Palamas.” But it wasn’t just some scholastic work, written just to get his degree—he lived in this theological depth. In his homilies and conversations, he always explained to us what it means to break down our self-enclosed egotistic love and refashion it after the image of the Holy Trinity. It’s not that I choose one person to love, and the next person I don’t. The Trinity embraces all with love. And he was able to convey this Truth of the Trinity’s existence to everyone. This Truth is above borders and divisions. Having understood this essence of our faith, with his preaching he reached to the core of many, who then became Christians or converted to Orthodoxy.
He really loved to meet with students! He was an intellectual, a theologian, a philosopher, an historian. And how we all loved to listen to him! All of his theology flowed from the source of “living water” (cf. Is. 12:3, Joel 3:19, Jn. 7:37) precisely because of his pastoral responsibility and care for us. It is that very womb which apostolically bears others into eternal life of which the Lord spoke (Jn. 7:38).
Heir to the great holy hierarchs, standing with them in eternity
Montenegro is a special country. Some feel like Montenegrins here, and others like Serbs. They’re always trying to tear us—a united Orthodox people—apart. It’s basically the same as what they’re trying to do to Russians and Ukrainians. It’s a colossally heavy cross to be the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral. It’s historically been this way. Just read the epistles of St. Peter of Cetinje—how much he endured back in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. He had a message that was fierce and prophetic. He wrote in his last will and testament:
“Cursed be he who would undertake to divert you from loyalty to the pious and Christ-loving Russia; and to every one of you Montenegrins who would go against Russia, one with us in blood and faith, may God grant that the flesh fall from your living bones, and that you know no good things either in this life or in the next.”
Vladyka Amfilohije was his successor, his heir in the spirit. The Lord called Vladyka Amfilohije to Himself precisely on the eve of the feast of St. Peter of Cetinje. Such a succession: 10/30—the holy hierarch Amfilohije; 10/31—the Holy Hierarch Peter of Cetinje; 11/1—the Holy Hierarch Peter Petrović-Njegoš—for Serbs, this says it all.
Vladyka Amfilohije also had a strict word at times. I won’t say “punishing,” but formidably warning. For example, he always openly criticized western stooges in power for Montenegro joining NATO against the will of the people. How he grieved over it! He constantly expressed his bewilderment: “What for?!” It’s a betrayal of love for Russia.
Many did not understand his directness, although they respected him all the same. And there were atheists who were stung by him, who didn’t love him, but they couldn’t help but respect him. He was a universal man. Everyone respected him. He met with representatives of various nationalities, various faiths. He was always ready for dialogue. But he wouldn’t concede an iota to anyone in matters of faith.
He easily upbraided the powers that be who fought against God. But he always encouraged us all with optimism: No one can actually do anything against Christ, against the Church. The gates of hell, it is said, shall not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18). Vladyka encouraged us:
“We have to endure, and God will reveal His glory, power, and victory.”
And so He did.
A virus more dangerous than COVID
Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, a man of holy life, greatly loved Vladyka Amfilohije. When the Holy Synod had to make a decision and Vladyka Amfilohije was running late as always, consoling someone he had met along the way, then His Holiness, who always walked everywhere or took public transportation, would respond to the demand of those present that it was time to examine this or that issue, reasoning with them:
“We have to wait for brother Amfilohije!”—so much did he respect him as a theologian, as a hierarch, as a liturgist, as a brother in Christ.
With what a profound awareness of the presence of God would Vladyka Amfilohije stand before the altar. He was always entirely absorbed by the Liturgy—so deeply did he live the event of the Bloodless Sacrifice—the love of God for this fallen world. When he would go out to the ambo, time stopped—he truly lost sense of these fleeting minutes and hours. He could preach for forty minutes or even longer. And having passed through the crucible of his words, life was as if cleansed from all the impurities of sin and unrighteousness.
And with what joy he was always illumined after Liturgy! The Lord thus transfigured him. No matter what happened before Liturgy—problems with the authorities or whatever else—he would serve and radiate light! Some breath of the Holy Spirit would always melt and comfort him anew. He would leave the altar with such a bright and carefree face. He would sit and drink coffee and speak with everyone.
He could speak to people all day long, listening to everyone, not pushing anyone away. He tried to materially support everyone whenever he heard about their needs or problems. He was always responsive. He had such a sympathetic, archpastoral heart.
I always marveled at how much energy he had! He almost never rested. I know a woman who cleaned his residence, and she testifies that he wouldn’t sleep for nights on end. He prayed, and he served nighttime services. And if not at night, then he served Liturgy every morning, like St. John of Kronstadt. I’m forty—he was more than twice my age. You serve and you get so tired that sometimes you can’t even move, but he even wanted to talk with every person after the service, to encourage some of the exhausted youth. He joked a lot. He’d suddenly say something witty, and at first you’d laugh, then you’d start to think.
“Everyone fears the coronavirus now, but there’s a virus much scarier,” he said, sobering us up: “hatred of God; hatred of brother! That’s much more dangerous.”
To be continued…