“No word can remain powerless with God, and those who are with God” (Lk. 1:37)
Vladyka Amfilohije really loved St. Basil of Ostrog. He would often tell us that when he was still in the womb of his mother, she decided to go to Ostrog Monastery to venerate the relics of St. Basil. And when she returned, his father said to her:
“You were in Ostrog? If we have a boy, then he’ll become a priest there!”
And that’s what happened.
Vladyka spoke a lot about his father and mother. They were very devout and pious. Although there were hard times then, Vladyka’s memories of his childhood were serene, thanks to his faith, his genuine Christian spirit, and the hope of his parents. And he was able, even as a monk himself, to transmit this spirit of true Christian domesticity to the youth and to people who may have already managed in some ways to take a few lumps in their family life. Many families honor him and are grateful to him for the strength of their marital ties. How many children were born by his blessing and prayers.
He, of course, called his flock to have many children, according to the commandment of God to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). Remember the words of Patriarch Pavle, that if a Serbian woman in Kosovo has seven abortions, and an Albanian gives birth to seven children, then God may decide that the Albanians are more in need of the Kosovo land…
Vladyka Amfilohije himself was from a large family—he had six brothers and two sisters, so this fullness of conciliarity and constant communication with many people was already familiar to him from childhood, we can say. He would recall about his mother that even though she had eight other children, she would tell him that she would like for him to become the head of a large family. And the Lord also fulfilled this word of his pious parents! His spiritual was posterity was hundreds of times larger than a family with many children (cf. Mk. 10:30).
A friend to saints and sinners
But Vladyka Amfilohije’s soul was entirely caught up in monasticism, in prayers before God. There he was near to the saints and he felt at home there. He will sit down next to St. Basil of Ostrog, take him by the hand, and sit and pray… Such friends.
And how he loved St. Mardarije (Uskoković)! This saint, who graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1916 with a PhD in theology, was close to the royal court. Later, St. Mardarije founded the Monastery of St. Sava in Libertyville in America, where he was the administrator of the Serbian parishes. He died young, at just forty-six, but he lived an extremely full life. He wrote a simply stunning book, The Unattainable Russia. This book is a revelation shared with us by Vladyka Amfilohije. It was through his efforts that the holy hierarch was canonized and his incorrupt relics were found, and our archpastor championed for as many people as possible to read Vladyka Mardarije’s book and publications about him.
Vladyka Amfilohije himself had a very large theological and even literary and philosophical heritage. Our archpastor wrote songs too. He was a poet, with a capital P. And how he loved Russian literature and interpreted Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Gogol; what contexts he put their ideas in. This was a man of incredible education. But at the same time, he was able to condescend to everyone in a motherly way.
One day, someone began to complain to him in my presence: “Your Eminence! I can’t read akathists. I can’t pray…” But Vladyka sought to clarify: “Well, can you read the morning prayers?” “I can’t!” “Evening?” “No! I can’t!” “Can you pray the Lord’s Prayer?” “No.” “Not even once?!” “I can’t!!” “Then at least say, ‘Lord, have mercy’ one time!”
That is, Vladyka understood and accepted people in any state in a friendly and sympathetic way. He didn’t heap any cumbersome rules on anyone, but only as much as that person could bear at the time—and not an ounce more! It is said: A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench (Mt. 12:20).
He didn’t command, didn’t dominate the inheritance of God!
Vladyka Amfilohije ordaining Fr. Vladimir (Palibrk) as a hieromonk Vladyka Amfilohije didn’t impose any prescriptions on anyone: You do this, you do that… He didn’t command the inheritance of God; he didn’t dominate, like others who seek to control every little step someone takes. Our Vladyka didn’t crush anyone or wring them out. He didn’t strangle the children of the Lord with his own will! Christ acquired every human being with His precious Blood on the Cross. For ye are bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20), the Apostle reminds us. So how can we twist and turn someone else? The Lord will exact from those who assert themselves, who usurp power over others, who abuse their place of service.
But Vladyka Amfilohije, as advised by his Athonite spiritual father Elder Paisios, removed that which was of him from every situation. He didn’t replace God with his “I,” he didn’t suppress others with his personality.
“Who am I?!” His Eminence said, waving me off as I approached him as abbot and metropolitan when I entered Ostrog Monastery. “No, no, don’t even listen to me!” he said, with a wave of his hand. “You are under obedience to St. Basil of Ostrog.”
And this would immediately raise you up to a previously unattainable height. He would simply set you before the saint, saying: “Listen to him.” And if you learn to listen to the saint, and speak with God—this is prayer. Wondrous is God in His saints (Ps. 67:36). And the people of God are wondrous precisely in that they don’t obscure God with themselves.
He looked at every person through the prism of the love of God
Vladyka was an experienced psychologist—he knew the human soul. He clearly saw the soul of every person: What does this person really need; why has the Lord placed him before you?
And Vladyka always spoke with love. He looked at every person through the prism of the love of God—the way that God the Father looks at us through the sacrifice of God the Son. We are saved by the Cross of Christ, redeemed by His blood from slavery to the demons and to our own and others’ sins and passions. This mustn’t be forgotten. How people’s eyes opened in communication with this loving hierarch! This is the very freedom in love promised us by the Lord: And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (Jn. 8:32). And hearts responded.
Sometimes we look at other people as if they owe us something: They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers (Mt. 23:4). But, on the contrary, Vladyka took burdens upon himself (cf. Gal. 6:2), and he cared for everyone as a nanny: how much could each person endure, what step to take next, how to support them so they wouldn’t fall flat on their faces…
And how many people and how much of everything Vladyka bore on his own back!
The angels accompany such people: on Orthodoxy without borders
If only you knew how we have been threatened. Imagine, they wanted to introduce laws to take everything away from the Orthodox Church and hand it to schismatics. Only the authority of Metropolitan Amfilohije could raise the entire country to the defense of Orthodoxy. Tens of thousands of people! In the cold, in the rain, both old and young defended their churches. After such a victory against the theomachists, the Lord called Vladyka Amfilohije. The angels accompany such people!
It will be difficult for his successor, as Vladyka Amfilohije set a very high bar. No matter how he bowed to us, diminished himself down to our level, condescended to all our infirmities, we sensed how high he really was. There are no longer any borders there.
I remember when Vladyka was awarded an honorary doctorate at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy (he had the same degree from the Moscow Theological Academy), how the journalists surrounded him, and he declared:
“I wish we had one country, from Cetinje to Vladivostok; that there would be no borders and we would all live together.”
Gratitude to Russia
Vladyka Amfilohije really loved Russia, the Russian Church, the Russian Patriarch Kirill, and he spoke with, valued, respected, and revered the former patriarchs. He was nurtured by St. Paisios the Athonite on Mt. Athos, who in turned was brought up by a Russian spiritual father—Elder Tikhon. Vladyka Amfilohije imbibed the best traditions of Mt. Athos, Greece, and Russia. For me, who received my spiritual education in Russia, to learn theology from him was a great joy.
He greatly respected the Russian theological tradition, especially of the twentieth century (as he was a teacher in Paris, at the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute). He was personally acquainted with Archpriest George Florovsky, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern), and Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, as well as Solzhenitsyn, for example, and many other Russian people. He communicated with the living and did not interrupt his prayerful conversation with the dead and his intercession for them before the saints, before God. He often served in the Russian cemetery at the Church of St. Theodore Ushakov in the city of Herceg Novi.
Vladyka Amfilohije understood the significance of Christ-loving Russia for the entire Orthodox world. Russia has always been the defender of Orthodoxy throughout the whole world. He prayed that it would be strong, so Orthodox people everywhere, of all countries could hope in it.
Vladyka Amfilohije was very well versed in geopolitics. He knew history, and Russia constantly helped us, like many other peoples. And he maintained gratitude.
Love that sweeps away all cordons, legal obstacles, and borders
Vladyka Amfilohije blessed many people to travel to Russia, and young people to go study there. Those who fulfilled his ever-present blessing, he instructed to commemorate their native Serbs there, always emphasizing this connection between our peoples.
“If you’re going to be in St. Petersburg,” he would say, “definitely visit the graves of Metropolitan Vasilije (Petrović-Njegoš) of Montenegro and Patriarch Vasilije (Jovanović-Brkić) of Serbia. They are buried in the crypt of the Annunciation Church at the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra.
Many people are calling now, including from Russia. People are weeping. Vladyka Amfilohije was greatly loved everywhere, not to mention Montenegro, where Vladyka dared to sweep away these legislative obstacles with the new God-fighting power authorities that wanted to establish them! People have seen how the power of God acted through Vladyka. Our hierarch earned great respect among the people.
Unfortunately, there’s the epidemic now. Otherwise, there would have been as many people who were grateful and who loved Vladyka Amfilohije as there were for the funeral of Patriarch Pavle. People are already coming and coming to the place of his funeral and burial, although the authorities are resisting. But the people can’t be stopped. When the people love someone, they can’t be stopped. Love is higher than death.
May you inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, dear Vladyka!