Metropolitan Porfirije: There will be Challenges, but we will Never Lose Faith that God is With Us

Church of Serbia – 19/01/21

From the first day, the Metropolitan Porfirije of Zagreb- Ljubljana was with the people who suffered terrible losses after a series of devastating earthquakes in Sisak, Glina and Petrinja, as well as the surrounding villages in Croatia.

In these difficult days, once again, as he says, it has been shown that tragedies unite people and that the Serbian Orthodox Church does not look at who is of which nationality and religion, but offers solidarity and love to everyone. In an interview with the daily newspaper Kurir, Metropolitan Porfirije says that he will not forget the faces of people, especially of children, full of fear and anxiety, after they had lost everything they had in just a few minutes. He points out that he was moved by the speed with which the institutions from Serbia reacted to help the endangered.

What is the situation in these places after the earthquake?

– Many people were left without homes, and since the earthquakes continue, the ground does not calm down, the anxiety does not stop. For the first few days, people slept in cars or had to leave the area altogether.

You went to the scene immediately after the tragedy, you visited the people, you said that these were scenes like the “biblical cataclysm” … What did you see in their eyes, on their faces?

– There were two dominant impressions and feelings. One is – a deep fear that borders on horror, especially in children. Huge anxiety. The second is – the horror of the fact that everything you had is gone. That at one point you have, and at another, you don’t. A large number of people from those areas have already experienced that. Returnees who had already moved in the wars live in the villages, so now this tragedy has happened again.

How much did your presence spiritually mean to people?

– That awakened a kind of hope, regardless of the fact that we came at the first moment just to see what the situation was like. People felt it seems to me, a kind of a relief because they realized that they would not be alone. Emergency assistance in the form of mobile homes and containers quickly began to be provided. It takes 1,000 houses to accommodate everyone in a warm and more or less safe place. We, as the Church, by the nature of things, made ourselves available and engaged and were with the people, not making a difference between people depending on nationality and religion. Just as natural disasters, whether called a corona or an earthquake, do not choose people by nationality and religion. It is even more important that we as people, especially in such moments, feel that we need each other and that everyone, above all, is a human being, and that in every trouble and temptation a human being needs another human being.

Who called for help? Has this tragic situation awakened solidarity?

– Emotions and solidarity awoke and we all tried to be useful. As Church, we were amazed and moved by the fact that many institutions from Serbia immediately felt the need to help someone, starting with the Government of Serbia, the appeal of the City of Belgrade which provided 200,000 euros, the City of Novi Sad which provided 35,000 euros, the Executive Council Vojvodina, which helped with 100,000 euros, was then helped by our two dioceses, other institutions. Even after the appeal, not only goodwill remained, but the help was immediately realized. So far, about 70 mobile homes have been provided and they have what is most needed, a toilet, a table and a place where you can put your head. And if God allows the earthquakes to calm down, we will do our best to help people get a new house, a new home. We feel great gratitude to everyone who felt the need to help.

Great help came from Serbia. How did Croatian officials react to that? Was this an opportunity to reduce tensions?

– It should be said that the state of Croatia is maximally engaged in supplying people who have been left homeless. My impression is that lately there have been efforts, and even concrete steps coming from the direction of Serbia to Croatia and vice versa, from Croatia to Serbia, to create conditions that will be normal for the life of the Serbian minority in Croatia and the Croatian minority in Serbia, which I think, however, for years now, there is no such kind of temptation and problems that the Serbian people have faced for years in Croatia. At the moment, there is positive and good progress in terms of establishing mutual communication between the two countries. This cataclysmic earthquake is an opportunity to understand even better that we need each other and that we cannot do without each other. And let everyone in their political and state sense go as they wish, but it is important that we understand the truth at the same time, and the truth is that it is necessary and important that we, at least, talk in a civilized way. Thank God, I see that this is how it works politically.

A difficult year is behind us, and the Serbian Orthodox Church has suffered great losses, great church figures have left us. What are the challenges facing the Serbian Orthodox Church now?

– Besides our Patriarch Irinej, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral and Bishop Milutin of Valjevo went to the Kingdom of God. In a human sense, you feel sadness and loss. It is true that death is defeated by death, and when we look at the repose of any of us from that perspective, we realize that it is going into the arms of God, and we are then filled with immense hope and optimism in the love of God. We need to experience each person as our brother and our neighbor.

Do people in the modern world succeed in that?

– Often not. We still need to grow and learn, to begin with, to talk, not to look at each other through the sights and not to experience each other as enemies, that is always a challenge and a temptation. And we as individuals should not be filled with selfishness and self-love, greed and perceive another person as an obstacle to achieving our goals. It is not only the opposite of the spirit, the Gospel and the Church, but it is also the opposite of human nature itself. Man exists as a being of the community. Man does not really exist by himself. I do not exist without you and you do not exist without me.

With the departure of Patriarch Irinej, Metropolitan Amfilohije, Bishop Milutin, the Serbian Orthodox Church suffered a great loss. How further?

– They have contributed a lot to the Church. God sooner or later calls everyone in the way he thinks is best and at the best time for each of us. Whatever the problems and temptations, if our goal is service to people and service to God, if our goal is community, overcoming egoism, overcoming self-love, then the difficulties will be the polygons on which we examine ourselves. We are not guilty or deserving of being born in these times. Everyone has the greatest pain, but everyone has the task of resolving that specific pain and growing through it, as an individual, but also to grow together. There will be challenges, but we will never lose faith that God is with us.

Patriarch Irinej was characterized as the unifier of all Serbs …

– It is true what you say about our blessed patriarch. He heard the word of Christ: “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, and that ye all be of the same mind.” This does not mean that we do not have the right to an opinion, we have our views and opinions, but for us Serbs, this is an invitation to talk to each other to discuss every topic and problem from every aspect but to have the same word and the same thought. To overcome the need that the modern world has – to want to leave our personal mark. If we have a goal to leave our personal mark, then it does not come from the existential roots of our whole being, but comes from raids and has a personal interest that will often not be in harmony with the gifts of God.

Enormous damage to God’s shrines as well. The churches will be rebuilt over the years.

The churches were also damaged … When will it be their turn to rebuild?

– Eight churches were damaged, two were completely destroyed. Now we are helping people, we are doing everything to give people homes, and when that is over, we will have to cope with the renovation of the churches. The damage is great, the renovations will take years.

 kurir.rs, Silvija Slamnig

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