Monday, January 10, 2011

Brave Nuns in the Center of a Muslim World

It has been two years since I last visited Kosovo. It's a Muslim country, part of the former Yugoslavia, situated north of Greece and east of Italy, along with a couple of other countries that you might not recognize the names of. The first time I spent any time here was in 1990, it was still part of Serbia and steeped deep in tradition. Not so anymore.

Today Kosovo is a contradition in ideas, as mini-skirts and free love walk down the same sidewalks with rapidly radicalizing Moslems. The only thing everybody seems to agree on is their united hatred for Serbs. I can't blame them; I have personally seen the horror that many Albanians suffered at Serbian hands. But I've also seen the unjustices that many Kosovo remaining Catholic Orthodox Serbs have suffered by Muslim Albanian hands.

But rather than focus on the open wounds afflicted by both sides, I'd like to praise the most amazing women I've come into contact with in years, quite possibly in my life; the nuns of Gracanica Monastery.

A mere 5 kilometers from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, sits a 13th century Orthodox Catholic Monastery. The existing monastery was built over the remains of a 6th century monastery and is a tear evoking example of Byzantine architecture. The nuns residing there, lead a simple life, devoid of politics. There ancient doors are open and welcome to peoples of all faiths and their innocent trust shines through their aged eyes. As I walked through the stone nave with its frescoes blackening and crumbling away, my soul was cleansed and my heart was filled with wonder at the sacrifice these women make to uphold their belief in God and ultimately humanity.

I wish I could say that they have remained unscathed by the hatred flowing through this small country, but not so. Gracanica has seen several attacks over the centuries, but apparently you can't keep a good monk down. The monastery housed monks until WWII when the monks fled or were killed and the sisters moved in. In the last Battle of Kosovo 1999 they were once again attacked, but bravely stood their ground, only losing some of their sacred documents.

I am not a person of faith, I'm afraid my childhood in a religious cult, scarred me forever against organized faiths. But these sweet women with their self-denying peaceful existence, gives me a new faith. A faith in the power of forgiveness and hope for the future.

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