Where All Doubts Disappear
It is difficult to find an unpublished detail about Jerusalem, the ancient city, the bellybutton of the world, cradle of Christianity… However, the internal feeling in the eruption of praying emotions is indescribable – midnight liturgy in the Church of the Resurrection, Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Golgotha, Via Dolorosa, Mount Zion, Tower of David, morning services in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, midnight liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, colorfulness on the Jerusalem market…

Text and Photo: Mišo Vujović

Mornings in Bethlehem are wonderful, deprived of daily traffic jams, car horns, yelling and shouting of temperamental inhabitants of the place of Christ’s birth. Our taxi driver, an Arab, addresses us cordially, asks a few polite questions. We ask him to drive us to the Church of the Nativity, to the cave above which a monumental stone temple was built. The construction of this edifice was commenced by Emperor Constantine in 326, upon the wish of his mother Helen. In its 1.700 years of existence, the church was destroyed, demolished, burned, turned into a mosque numerous times, and finally made in the form of a fortress, divided into Roman Catholic and Orthodox parts.
”Nativity”, said the taxi driver, crossing himself with three fingers, letting us know that he’s an Orthodox Christian as well. The door on the stone façade is so small that even a child couldn’t enter the church without bending. Judging by the remains on the stone façade, this holy edifice used to have a large entrance. It was made smaller several times in order to protect the church from conquerors. It was attacked with the same greed by both Crusaders and Mohammedans. The ”custom” of entering Christian sanctities on horses by Muslim bullies was exercised in the Church of the Nativity as well, which motivated its defenders to shrink the entrance. Since then, people enter the church by bending or bowing.
Services are held in Arabic, Greek, Russian languages... Sometimes a prayer to God is elevated also in Serbian and Romanian.
Every morning, each liturgy resembles a caldera. Orthodox Christians from around the world open their hearts here, approach with vibrant excitement the cradle where the Infant-God was placed after his birth. In any church, one is confronted with his own self in God’s mirror. Especially here. Before the Creator, in the altar of one’s own conscience, pride and human ego rapidly decrease. Disheveled narcissism, as a dominant feature of contemporary man, touches the cold marble of Christ’s church with its forehead. Russian grandmothers, Romanian old women with white or colorful scarves on their heads, our migrant workers led by a slightly feminized reader in a cassock, Russian oligarchs and their bodyguards covered with gold, reporters, judges, doctors, businessmen… all approach with the same fear.
A friendly doctor, Dragoljub Zubac, arrived from Scandinavia. He moves difficultly due to age, more due to his size, but conquers all physical obstacles with faith and persistence.
”From these holes”, he points to a marble pillar in the church, ”a swarm of wasps flew and killed the commander of Persian robbers. They rushed away in fear, and saved the temple from destruction.” This polite Christian was exiled by the war from Sarajevo to Norway, where he continued practicing his medical profession with success.
Mild-tempered Nebojša Novoselac, trophy winning athlete, coach of the German water polo national team for a decade and a half, joined the group from Montenegro, led by our wise and patient spiritual father, Bishop Joanikije, at this pilgrimage. Most of us were up early to attend the morning service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Our youngest member, ten-year-old Savo Pantović, was equally zealous.
After the service and taking communion in the Church of the Nativity, we feel enthusiastic, reborn.
”If anyone ever had any doubts, after the pilgrimage in Jerusalem, all doubts will disappear”, said brother Lule, seeing us off on St. Paraskevi day to our journey of enlightenment and salvation.


Without a spiritual father, in our case bishop, walking the Holy Land, the paths of Christ and his apostles, would be like watching a play in front of the theater. Guides are very professional, with more or less narratives or ability to describe the event to their listeners as illustratively as possible. Our guide Milan did his informative part of the job successfully, the local guide – Galina, with a colorful umbrella, served as a landmark in an ocean of tourists and pilgrims.
However, the theological or dogmatic aspect is unfathomable to a layman, only to people whose religiosity touched the mysteries of interpreting the Bible and Gospels. Our daily artificiality is more receptive to the short chronological form than a serious spiritual analysis, which substantively opens new paths of thinking and reviving numb senses of contemporary man. Better to say addict of various mental electronic prostheses related to global communications, which give us information, but substantively form our consciousness, creating physiological and technical beings deprived of spirituality and emotions.
”Children feel the mercy and power of God best. We are often surprised by some of their thoughts”, said Old Mitrofan, wise monk from Chilandar. I saw it myself by watching the behavior and reactions of the youngest member of our group – ten-year-old Savo Pantović. His didn’t move from midnight to dawn. He attended the entire liturgy in the Church of the Nativity without a blink of his eye. Like a real soldier of Christ, he was waking up before dawn, walking with a backpack, prayed with monastic zeal.
While we were traveling towards Mount Tabor, Bishop Joanikije explained the transfiguration light of Christ’s face and body.
”Roman Catholics interpret it as a contemporary or created light, as a sun radiating from his face in the middle of the night. We, Orthodox Christians, see it as a possibility of each Christian to have divine light shine in his soul through his faith. To illuminate his soul and his body. Why do we respect the relics of holy people? They took the light from Christ, with whom we unite. That is why we respect the relics of St. Basil of Ostrog and other holy martyrs, numerous apostles of Christ and all those who pleased the Lord. Holy are their souls, their bodies and their bones, because everything stays in the bones. We, Christians, as our holy faith teaches us, celebrate Christ, through whose body his deity shined and we take that eternal light as communion. The celebration of Transfiguration is one of the biggest celebrations of our church”, tells bishop Joanikije, our shepherd in the Holy Land. Mild-tempered and upright. A man of gentle words and unwavering attitudes.
According to the legend, Christ set off with the apostles from Galilee to Tabor. In the foot of the mountain, where today there is a parking lot for buses, a restaurant, souvenir shop and starting point for transport vans to the top of the hill, he took apostles Peter, John and Jacob with him and told the others to wait. Christ climbed up Mount Tabor with the three most zealous apostles on foot. In our group, the few kilometers of wet and muddy uphill were conquered only by Saša Simonović, professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, and Nebojša Novoselac, coach of all German water polo national teams. The rest of the group chose to take a more comfortable means of transport.
”Languishing is our constant”, joked Rade, multiple pilgrim-returnee.
After climbing up Mount Tabor, Christ went away from the three apostles and started praying. The three of them fell asleep during the prayer. When they woke up, the light of Jesus’ face and body shone upon them. Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah were standing next to him.
Today there are two monasteries on top of Tabor – Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Nuns from Romania are living in the Orthodox one, led by a Greek archimandrite. He greeted us at the gate and blessed us. The landscaped stone edifice, with a golden iconostasis on a green background, has painted scenes from Christ’s life in the dome, saints on the walls and a mosaic on the marble floor.


We are entering Nazareth at dusk. A church made on the spring of Annunciation is located on one of the higher grounds. According to the legend, Archangel Gabriel appeared before young Mary on that miracle-working water spring, bringing her news that she will be pregnant, give birth to a son and name him Jesus. In the place of the Annunciation, there is a Russian monastery of Holy Archangel Gabriel with a spring of salutary water inside the church. As in any other Orthodox temple, our bishop Joanikije and father Evstatije start a prayer. Most of us are tired. Twenty hours have passed since our meeting at the ”Nikola Tesla” Airport in Belgrade. The night flight, morning with serious safety controls at the ”Ben Gurion” Airport. We chased away the morning sleepiness by visiting the Church of St. George in Lod, not far from Tel Aviv, with the myrrh-streaming grave of Holy Martyr George. The bishop anoints us with the holy myrrh. We are praying to the holy victorious. Our friends and family, who celebrate this saint, very popular in the Serbian nation, as their family guardian, are in our thoughts. Most Serbs celebrate St. George and St. Nicholas. We light candles, for happiness, health, salvation, for the souls of our deceased ones. It is a strange feeling in the Holy Land, above relics of a saint described in many folk poems, helper of the unfortunate and weak, protector of both the poor and aristocrats, several states and many cities. The family saint of the holy Nemanjić dynasty and the Petrović Njegoš dynasty. My dear Kusmuk, Zlatar, Tomić, Knežević, Obradović, Stanojević, Jevtović families…
Stefan Nemanja raised Đurđevi Stupovi to honor him, after he was saved from his brother’s imprisonment.
We are praying above this myrrh-streaming stone plate in the church crypt. St. George – warrior, hero and martyr. Someone hit his head against the low plate under which we are passing through. The marble sarcophagus seems small compared to the saint’s grandeur. There are also chains he was put in during Emperor Diocletian, who promoted him, a young man, from ordinary soldier to the rank of duke. After rejecting to participate in the persecution of Christians and admitting the Emperor that he was Christian as well, after several days of torturing, stretching on barb wheels, tormenting and whipping, being buried into quicklime, with unbreakable will, he was taken to the guillotine and assassinated on May 6, 303.
Jesus Christ spent his childhood in the home of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth, Arabic capital of Israel, which makes Nazareth one of the must-visit places of any pilgrimage.
Tired, we recuperate with the water from the spring. We feel refreshed and our strength returning. Bishop Joanikije is speaking, stating examples from the Gospels.
”Here, on this spring, Archangel Gabriel visited Virgin Mary, telling her that the holy ghost will overshadow her and that she will thus, supernaturally, conceive and give birth to a son named Christ, translated as – the Savior. Mary was startled. Ever since her early childhood, she served God and was ready to dedicate her entire life to the service of God”, tells the Bishop. He emphasized that a church was built above this spring already in the old Christian times. In time, it changed its form, just like Nazareth, mostly due to pilgrims, developed from a small town to a beautiful city with 23 churches and monasteries. Roman Catholics built a monumental structure on the remains of John’s house, so as to dominate the space, in order to create counterbalance to this edifice, built on the spring of Annunciation. Besides Christian churches, the majority Arabic population built a great number of mosques, the White Mosque being the oldest among them, located in the Mosque Quarter near the oldest market of this city.
It’s interesting that the name of Nazareth is Nasira, so Jesus was called Al Nasiri because of the old Arabic custom of adding a geographic determinant to the name.


Life is made of questioning. Man’s existence is a temptation, from the mirror in the mother’s warm pupils to Apostle Peter’s scale after the liberation from earthly armors. A war of temptations and testings is raging in a man during his entire life. Both external and internal.
”Look at this desert which people have been fighting over for two thousand years. Tens of millions of people have died for this infertile, waterless sand in the past two millennia”, says Rade, pointing to Jericho from the gondola, while we’re climbing the Mount of Temptations. Underneath us, in the desert, stands a city inhabited already in the Neolithic. An enormous Islamic temple with a green dome is prevailing. Consequences of conflicts, whose escalation is initiated by the slightest movement on the global political map, are still visible in the periphery.
After his baptizing, in the inaccessible desert rocks, Christ spent forty nights and days in prayer, just like Moses, who fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai.
”There are three kinds of temptations which all people on the world experience.
The first temptation, excellently described by Dostoyevsky, is the temptation of bread, hunger, food necessary for physical survival”, starts our Bishop Joanikije his sermon in the cave. ”The devil tells him: ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into bread!’ ‘You don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’, replied Christ. That is exactly what we should know about our faith: that life on this earth is not conditioned only with bread, but with God’s blessing, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s power, God’s energy and certainly the words we are taught. This gives life to the soul. Therefore, the soul needs to be fed. If the soul is fed with the word of God, it will refresh the body as well. This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t need bread, but that he doesn’t live only on bread.
The second temptation is the temptation of power or the temptation of pride. ‘If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from this rock. For it is written that God will command His angels concerning you, they will lift you up on their wings and nothing will happen to you’, the devil continued tempting. But it was also written: do not put the Lord your God to the test. Don’t boost over your abilities. He was actually winning the temptations attacking man. A man can become proud, exalt himself high, think that everything is available, that he has pleased God so much that God has the duty to protect him. Thus, Christ replies with the lesson from the Holy Bible: do not put the Lord your God to the test. Do not exalt over your abilities. Calm your passions.
The third, the most voluminous, the most comprehensive temptation attacking man is the temptation of possessing. ‘I will give you the entire world if you bow down and worship me’, is the new offer of the devil, who believes he’s ruling this world. Christ rejects the offer to sell his soul with the words: ‘Away from me, Satan.’ He refuses to rule the world in that way.
All temptations attacking man in this world are told through Christ. And he is the one who gives us directions how to conquer them with his mercy and power. The biggest temptation is actually the devil separating us from God. Therefore, everyone has a choice. With its cruelty, this place testifies about the power of spirit his human nature is dressed in. By following Christ, we can also dress that power. The equivalent is Adam in paradise, who succumbed to temptation despite all the blessings he had, and Christ, who overcame them in a desert without anything.”


Night is falling over Lake Galilee. They also call it Sea of Galilee, clear and pure like the prayer of Christ. Peace is covering the holy lake, the words of preachers is echoing in the dusk, while languages of different colors are mixing in a praying murmur of searching for meaning and elevating towards the mount of peace and salvation. Everything here is imbued with holy peace, fumigated with the spirit of the righteous, as a last altar of hope in the eternal search for the essence and meaning of earthly existence. All of us here are searching for our self. For a meaning sliding from our hands like an eel from a drunken fisherman, in the moment he was certain it was his. Who possess the meaning man is searching for from his first blink to the last heartbeat in the already deserted body?
While preaching on the Mount of Blessing, Bishop Joanikije asked himself how much is contemporary man capable of living according to Christ’s commandments, and believes that correcting habits is necessary.
”The ten rules, known as ten blessings, stand together with Ten Commandments. Christ didn’t cancel Moses’ Old Testament commandments. He amended them, improved them, designed them in a new way. The first commandment states: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Dostoyevsky best understood this commandment and said: ‘Calm your passions, proud man. You are too proud, too full of yourself. You have an unrealistic opinion about yourself. You are lulled by the achievements of technology. It’s all smoke and dust. Understand that all that is temporary, that it’s not a stronghold for realizing yourself as a person. Understand that you should be filled with faith and faith is actually humbleness. Start thinking in a different way. Start climbing the ladder of blessing.’ Certain people reach that objective, others to some extent, while many never even come close to it. It is a journey that lasts the entire lifetime”, emphasized our spiritual father on this journey, His Grace Bishop Joanikije, an example of the shepherd’s strength in fulfilling the commandments as fundamental norms in shaping human spirituality.
The meaning of life is best reflected in this cruel barren land, where the battle for fallow ground, bordered by myths, has been going on for centuries. No one here will denounce his real or fictive mythology. While David’s star merges with the Palestinian crescent moon in Christ’s footsteps in most part of the land of Israel, a road of hope and salvation for millions of Christ’s followers is reflected from Gethsemane to Golgotha. There, on Mount of Olives, in Gethsemane, purchased in the past from three brothers from Sarajevo and gifted to the Franciscan fraternity, where it still lives today, Christ spend his last night awake, praying. He was saying goodbye to his earthly life, preparing to carry his cross to Golgotha gracefully, where he will be crucified by the same people who are today crucifying their sin, prosecuting in his name the few remaining ones faithful to his teaching and testament. The road from Mount of Olives to Golgotha paved the fate of the world plummeted by greed of contemporary Pilates, plastered uniformed Pharisees, whose wealth is measured with scales of mass hopelessness and anxiety. Temples are separated and physically touching, religions are colliding and intersecting, the Levantine east and pragmatic west, alienated Rome and tumultuous Universe. Still boiling is constant hatred in the name of the Pope, Jesus Christ, Allah or David, as a consequence of a centuries-old conflict between sense and senselessness.
If anyone had any doubts, and doubting is one of the vital levers of life, after feeling the strength of the Jordan and benefits of Lake Galilee, the power of Jerusalem and Mount of Olives, every doubt will disperse. This is not just a visit to holy places, a comfortable pilgrimage or tourist experience. It is a bit of everything, but it is mainly drinking on the source of life.
We were reproached in a fatherly manner, and told to watch out for what is separating us from the mass. Bishop Joanikije scolded our tendency to look for an altar at the bar. However, as our late poet, peasant, salutary and melodic Dobrica Erić used to say, a toast to health and advancement is not a sin.


Theophilos III: Serbs, Don’t Look Forward to the Union
After welcoming a group of pilgrims from Serbia and Montenegro, led by Bishop of Budimlja and Nikšić Joanikije, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem mentioned the political circumstances in the region, emphasizing the complexity of the Kosovo and Metohija issue.
”I once told your prime minister to accept anything that is offered to him, otherwise you will lose everything. That’s the language of power…” said Patriarch Theophilos, telling the Serbian nation not to be too eager to enter the European Union. ”The road to the European Union is presented to Serbia as a road to paradise, however it means accepting globalism, a place where identity is lost, a place where the rights of animals and pets are more important than the rights of humans!”


Eyes Full of Sunshine
While riding in vans from the Monastery of St. Theodosius to the Monastery of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, we passed through an extremely poor Palestinian settlement. Dwelling in the desert, for which various Arabic tribes, lately also Jews and Palestinians, have been fighting for centuries, didn’t reduce the joy of life on the face of a Palestinian boy. With an expression of pure children’s happiness, he waved us while we were passing through the desolated and ruined landscape he was living in.
”What is the purpose of religions preaching love, if they are carrying it on the swords of hatred?! Is all the wealth of the world worth of only one tear of this joyful little boy, from whose eyes the sun is shining?” asked Nebojša Novoselac, while we were trying to capture the joyfulness with our mobile phone camera, which radically changed the life of man, taking away the little intimacy left after numerous existential challenges.


Saint Sabbas the Sanctified
Serbs are always dear and welcome guests in the Monastery of St. Sabbas the Sanctified in the Palestinian desert. Legend state and father superior of the Monastery confirms great charities of Serbian aristocrats, from St. Sava to King Milutin. During his visit to this shrine, according to the testament of his famous namesake, St. Sava of Serbia received miracle-working icons as gift – Virgin Nursing the Child and Three-Handed Virgin, as well as the father superior’s scepter of St. Sava the Sanctified. According to father superior Evdokim, whose gentility and humbleness disarms the coldest hearts, St. Sava endowed the Monastery by paying all the debts of the monastic fraternity.


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