Friday, September 04, 2009

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon on Kosovo

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon writes on Kosovo Lost and Found in the current Touchstone . He recently visited the area in the company of Nathan and Gabrielle Hoppe, well-known Orthodox Christian missionaries in Albania. Taken as a whole, the article offers a unique perspective on the contemporary situation there.

I do have a few quibbles with his account, however. I do not want to push them too far, for the fact remains that his observations are based on his personal experience on the ground in Kosovo, while my opinions come from following events from afar. That said, I submit the following reservations:

  • The imposition of an "independent" Kosovo is a diplomatic and foreign policy disaster in the making, the full implications of which are only just beginning to play out.
  • The tone of the article is decidedly pro-Albanian in tone. There is nothing wrong with that, but the first section of the story could have been just as easily put out by the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce.
  • I would posit that there is no such thing as "Albanian Kosovars." There are Albanians who live in Kosovo.
  • How do you write a lengthy article about Kosovo and not mention 1389? This would be like writing a comparable piece on Constantinople and not mentioning 1453.
  • In general, short-shrift is given to the historical claims of Serbia, while emphasizing the present reality of Albanian rule there.

Again, I am not really criticizing Fr. Patrick. This is an important subject, and one that is seldom discussed dispassionately. So, I appreciate his calm and measured contribution.

Fr. Patrick ends on a strong note, emphasizing two major considerations. First, he brings the subject of abortion to the forefront of the discussion. Secular Serbs under communism had a very high abortion rate, a tragedy that continues even today. Albanians have traditionally rejected birth control and abortion helping flip the region from majority Serbian to majority Albanian in the last half of the 20th century (that of course, and massive immigration from Albania proper.) Fr. Patrick contends that this weakens the moral high ground that the Serbians might assume in their arguments for the region. As he states, it is a spiritual and moral failure of the culture, insufficiently addressed from the pulpit and in pastoral pedagogy.

Second, Fr. Patrick finds hope in the approach of the monks at the beleaguered Decani Monastery, and their concern for the evangelization of Kosovo.

There is another part of the Church in Kosovo, however, which has already started preparing for the spread of the gospel to the rest of the region. These people are less concerned that Kosovo should become Serbian than that Kosovo as a whole should become Christian.

It seemed to me that the monks of Decani, some of whom have learned to speak Albanian, form something of a vanguard in this forward-looking movement. Although they insisted on the legitimacy of Serbia’s political claims in the region and showed not the slightest enthusiasm for Kosovo independence, the Decani monks manifested a greater interest in the salvation of souls—including Albanian souls.

Indeed, even during the war, the monastery of Decani was a beacon of hope and renewal. When hostile Albanians launched a mortar attack against the monastery, and bombs from American planes (evidently misdirected on purpose!) fell on the monastery’s apple orchard, the monks of Decani went on with their traditional routine: chanting the Psalms and hymnody in church, painting icons, studying the Bible, tilling fields, gathering honey, making cheese and butter, and so on.

And especially these monks loved their neighbors, regardless of race or religion. When the army sent from Yugoslavia was killing and pillaging all through the region, the monks of Decani received the fleeing Muslims and other Albanians into their cloister to protect them. These monks—never more than thirty in number, I think—fed the hungry and housed the homeless. When cursed, they blessed. Slapped on one cheek, they turned the other. That is to say, they did what Christians are supposed to do in the hour of the gospel’s testing. They placed the gospel first. If the spirit of the Decani monastery prevails in the Orthodox Church in Kosovo, I believe nothing is to be feared about the region’s future.

Fr. Patrick notes that the salvation of souls in Kosovo--Albanian and Serbian alike--is the proper concern of the Church, not the restoration of Serbian sovereignty there.

The missionary interests of the church are not co-terminal with the national aims of Serbia, nor is the political future of Kosovo as important—to God, the Lord of history—as the eternal salvation of those who live there.

And I tend to agree that this should be our guiding sentiment in this troubled region.


Steve Hayes said...

Perhaps the problem with both Kosovo and Abkhazia is the encouragement of separatism by external powers, and the external powers have also tried to exacerbate histility rather than promote reconciliation, as I have pointed out in my article on Nationalism, violence and reconciliation (though that link will not work beyond October 2009, owing to Yahoo's decision to close Geocities).

Anonymous said...

Steve, I don't want to seem argumentative, but the greatest threat posed to Christianity by nationalism is run-amok nationalist feelings right here in this country. I am speaking of the Christian Right, which has apparently confused Washington (when a sufficiently belligerent Republican is in the White House, of course) with the City of God. At the moment we are the tush hogs in the pen, and in the last forty years our benevolence has killed more innocent people (Indochina & Iraq being a prime examples) than all the brushfire nationalist movements in the world. If we truly are a country where Christianity is the dominant religion, then we need to do some soul searching. And those Christians who don't fall into lockstep with the dispensationalists need to get louder and more aggressive.

Milton T. Burton said...

Steve, the previous comment was by me. I did not intend to post without my name.

Milton T. Burton

G Sanchez said...


I made some further critical remarks about the Reardon piece on my blog here. I won't bother to repeat them here, but as for your other points...

I think you are absolutely correct about the problem of Kosovo Statehood. Considering Reardon's piece was supposed to be a "report," I don't understand why it wasn't given proper attention. Fr. Patrick is intelligent enough to know the dynamics, but also bright enough to keep silent when matters won't help his cause.

As for that cause, the pro-Albanian tone is clear enough. This makes since since missionaries from his parish (including his daughter and her family) have been active in Albania for some time. I do not believe it is unwarranted to read the article as self-serving in that respect.

1389 and the full ramifications of it undercuts the article's apologetic point and is therefore dropped. Fr. Patrick is also writing for a most non-Orthodox Touchstone audience which would have little-to-no regard for St. Lazar.

My point of criticism with your read of the article is that I do not believe it is "calm and measured." It certainly takes that tone, but Fr. Patrick's choice to omit certain facts and emphasize others isn't accidental. One would have no sense from reading it of the very public statements of Patriarch Pavle concerning abortion and demographic decline. The impression it would leave on Orthodox or non-Orthodox unfamiliar with the situation is that the Serbian Church doesn't really care about abortion and now their failure to care is coming back and biting the whole of Serbia in the rear. Really? It's a queer impression for an Orthodox priest to leave his readers with.

Terry (John) said...


I posted on your blog before seeing your comments here. Your point is well-taken. You might say I was leaning over backwards to avoid criticizing one of our priests. My use of the term "calm and measured" was meant in the sense that Fr. Patrick's article was not overtly disputative, and he did in fact set down with representatives from both sides.

Benedict Seraphim said...

Gabe and John:

I've responded to certain of Gabe's criticisms in a reply to his third, postscript entry to his "modest reply" series. I hope they are worthy of your consideration.