A Russian Bell with the White Angel
People say that it is the largest bell in Serbia now. Weighing nine tons, cast in Kaminsk in the Ural, from local ore. It was gifted by the devout Russian Andrei A. Kositzin and consecrated, on the day of the Holy King Vladislav (October 7), by Patriarch of Serbia Irinej. Its manufacturing cost half a million Euros, the transport from Ural to Mileševa another 20.000. Can we hear what it announces and where this wondrous bell echoes from?

Text and Photo: Jovo Bajić

Mileševa received another mark it will be remembered for. Besides the White Angel and the place where the relics of St. Sava used to rest, it now also has a big bell from Russia weighing nine tons, the biggest and loudest one in Serbia. When it rings from the bell tower rising above the new Monastery quarters, the powerful and indescribable holy sound completely fills and pervades the valley of the Mileševka. Then, from the surrounding mountains, the sound returns multiplied, even more powerful and different. The whole Monastery seems to vibrate in that sound, light and immaterial. The ancient church of the Holy Ascension pulsates, so do the frescoes of Holy King Vladislav and St. Sava painted during their lifetime. The White Angel trembles, Virgin Mary with the spindle, and Russian saints Boris and Gleba painted on the wall. The whole area reverberates, the light above the Mileševka, the water in its bed, the surrounding hills.
The powerful sound of the new bell also greeted His Holiness Patriarch of Serbia Irinej on that October 6th sunny afternoon. He came on the eve of the Monastery saint day, to serve liturgy the next day, on the day of Holy King Vladislav Nemanjić (October 7th), founder and protector of Mileševa, to cut the saint day cake and consecrate the bell from Russia.
The great donor of the bell, devout Russian Andrei A. Kositzin from Ural, one of the most successful businessmen in Russia, was also expected to come to the celebration. The big bell was cast in the ”Petkov and Company” foundry, in the city of Kaminsk in Ural. The casting of the bell cost half a million Euros and the transport to Mileševa another 20.000.
Whether due to numerous obligations or due to humbleness and modesty (forcing away vanity and avoiding self-demonstration), the big-hearted Russian did not come to Serbia that day. His emissaries received the praise and ordains for him. The television crew, reporters, photo-reporters arrived from Russia. They recorded the great ceremony and will report about it in their country.


Another guest arrived from Russia, the emissary of the Patriarch of Russia Cyril, the Vicar Bishop Sava. As if Patriarch Cyril wanted to emphasize how much the name of St. Sava of Serbia is still respected in Russia by choosing among his bishops the one named Sava. (Since here, in Mileševa, St. Sava of Serbia used to dwell, his most authentic portrait is on the wall; this is where his relics rested until the Ottomans burned them in Belgrade Vračar.) Besides Bishop Sava, father Vitaly Tarasiev, head of the Podvorie of the Moscow Orthodox Church in Belgrade, and Ambassador of Russia in Serbia Alexander Konuzin also arrived.
The beautiful Indian summer in the valleys of the Lim and Mileševka only complemented this grand religious and folk ceremony. Although it was a Friday, a working day, the guests started arriving from early morning. Mostly people from the cities and villages of the Mileševa Eparchy, also spreading over the newly established state border with Montenegro. Patriarch Irinej held a sermon to the gathered people talking about his passing through their beautiful villages and cities recently and reminded them that ”they are walking the Biblical land, which members of the holy Nemanjić dynasty also walked on”. Russian Ambassador Konuzin held a toast and pointed out the expressiveness and beauty of those Raška faces.
Mileševa celebrated its saint day with three new quarters. The third, eastern one was consecrated by the Patriarch at the end of May, when he visited the Mileševa Eparchy for the first time. Now the liturgy and service for the consecration of the Russian bell, as well as the cutting of the saint day cake, were done on a large sheltered stage next to the eastern gate of the monastery, by the river of Mileševka. Bishop Sava, emissary of the Russian Patriarch Cyril, served the liturgy with Patriarch Irinej and four Serbian bishops (Bishop of Zvornik and Tuzla Vasilije, Bishop of Vranje Pahomije, Bishop of Bačka Irinej, Bishop of Mileševa Filaret).
Slavenko Terzić, PhD, from the SASA Institute of History, born in these lands, held a speech. Mainly about the connections between Serbia and Russia and the Russian aid to the monks of Mileševa at the time of Serbian slavery under the Ottomans. Then spoke Ambassador Alexander Konuzin. ”Deep is the symbolism of the fact that Serbs gather accompanied by the ringing of a Russian bell in a church in which numerous religious people pray under the auspices of the White Angel and St. Sava. May that sound strengthen your faith, love and hope that truth will conquer force. The Russians will return your love for Russia multiplied.”


Food was prepared for everyone. The guesthouse was also open, in the building in front of the main gate. For important guests, the table was prepared in the new treasury (the ground floor of the northern quarters). Patriarch Irinej was sitting at the head of the table, next to him guests from Russia, Serbian bishops, politicians and public workers, reporters… It is Friday, the food is meatless but nice. Russian reporters from Caucasus are sitting across the table from us. This is their first time to try dishes of the Serbian monastic cuisine. Our guest from the Ural, photographer Pavel Kozionov, tries the golden Mileševa brandy, stops, asks about it. Thus he finds out about the barrel preserved for the 800th anniversary of the monastery, from which a little was taken for this great day.
Around the table, on the walls and glass cases of the Mileševa treasury, stand valuable ecclesiastic art and liturgy objects, old icons, paintings and engravings, mainly from the XVIII, XIX and first half of the XX century, collected mostly from old churches and monasteries of the Mileševa Eparchy. In corners we see the remains of the medieval stone plastics that ornamented Mileševa at the peak of the Serbian ”golden age”.
The new quarters, new library and new treasury in Mileševa, where guests were sitting at the ceremonial table, were built on the remains of the medieval quarters. Parts of their foundations could have been seen until recently. The famous monastery treasury and library at the time of the greatest brilliance of Mileševa were probably in those old quarters.
At the time when the relics of St. Sava rested here in a golden and silver shrine, Mileševa was a famous place of pilgrimage. It received gifts, precious clerical dishes, clothing, icons and relics. Important books were copied. In mid-XVI century, the monks of Mileševa purchased printing presses, so there was a printing house working here too.
The wealth of Mileševa was measured in hundreds of loads. A western travel-log writer notes that this monastery, with its 150 monks in 1559, was the most powerful spiritual center of Orthodox Christianity in the Balkans, where Orthodox Serbs, above the relics of St. Sava, dreamed the dream of liberation from Ottoman slavery and renewal of the Serbian state.


Frequent Ottoman plundering followed in the XVII and XVIII century. Chronicle writers noted that the monastery was plundered and destroyed in 1688, 1735 and 1743, but the monks, as soon as circumstances would allow, would return and renew it. Nothing however could compare with the destruction in 1782. The Ottomans plundered heavily that year. They burned temples in this part of the Lim valley, destroyed them. Perhaps on a day similar to this one, or one starry night, the monks of Mileševa loaded their horses with all valuables and started off one of the hidden paths winding in the mountains over the Monastery. They moved from the Monastery, saving what could be saved.
The valuables from the Mileševa treasury were moved to numerous Serbian monasteries and around the world. Some handwritten books went to big world libraries. Most of the valuables from Mileševa were preserved in the Monastery of Savin, in Herceg-Novi. The books from the former Mileševa library are kept in Piva, Holy Trinity in Pljevlja, Dovolja, Žitomislić, Dečani, Gomionica, Pakra, Lepavina, Orahovica, Zagreb, Sremski Karlovci, Sarajevo and Belgrade. Some are also in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Vuk’s collection in Berlin, Venice, Vienna, Bucharest, Kiev, at Mt. Athos.
The new Monastery library is one floor above the present treasury, where the ceremonial lunch was held. It was designed up-to-date, it is spacious, allowing holding of scientific meetings. In the past decade, more than ten thousand books were collected and stored in it according to librarian rules. Unfortunately none of those books are from the old Mileševa library or printing house.
While building the new quarters in Mileševa, preparing for the anniversary in 2019, the Bishop of Mileševa Filaret often mentioned that Mileševa should have its previous spiritual importance returned. One of the preconditions for it was new quarters, treasury, library. So people could gather together. Perhaps the time for it has come. Perhaps the time of a new significance and meaning of Mileševa in the spiritual life of the Serbs is announced by the big Russian bell.


Andrej A. Kositzin was born, raised and educated in the Sverdlovska area in the Ural, in the heart of Russian mining and metallurgy. He studied mining and metallurgy and holds a PhD degree in economics. He is head of the ”UGMK Holding”. He gives a large part of his wealth to charity. He is head of the ”Children of Russia” Foundation, and often supports the Russian Orthodox Church. There is almost not a single important Russian church ordain not decorating his chest. Now he also has two Serbian ones: Ordain of St. Sava of the First Degree, the highest ordain of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the Ordain of the White Angel, the newly established highest recognition of the Mileševa Eparchy.


A Barrel for Centuries
Mileševa is already thinking about the preparation of the Monastery’s eight centuries anniversary in 2019. There will surely be many people for the occasion. And all of them must be taken care of. And not just like that. Therefore a big barrel in the Monastery was filled with plum brandy a few years ago. To rest. Since the well sealed barrel misses several liters of brandy every year (most of it soaked up by the wood), each autumn the barrel is supplemented with new brandy. For the occasion of the arrival of the Patriarch, the saint day and consecration of the Russian bell, some brandy was taken from the barrel. To taste. It was not just any day.


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