In the March-April issue of the 372nd Orthodox Missionary, the official missionary newsletter of the Serbian Orthodox Church for youth, an interview was published with hieromonk Dositej (Radivojević), the abbot of the Ćelije Monastery near Lajkovac in the Diocese of Šumadija. The interview was led by catechist Branislav Ilić, a member of the editorial board of this official missionary newsletter of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Abbot Dositej: Our goal is to become Godlike in this life!
Father Dositej, you spent many decades in Mount Athos serving the holy imperial lavra the Hilandar Monastery, and by the God’s providentia, you are now the hegumen of the holy family of the Ćelije Monastery near Lajkovac in the Diocese of Šumadija. First, how would you describe your life on Mount Athos?
As much as we talked about Mount Athos and life in it, some unspeakableness remains, as no beginner, middle and perfect will speak about it in the same way. St. Sava himself noted in the Hilandar Typikon: “I don’t think any place in the world can be compared to this.” For it is a place of assiduous serving, sacrifice, repentance, and prayer. It is a place of intense struggle against the devil’s temptations, but also a place where human temptations are not lacking. Mount Athos is a place where time stops and the reality of life touches the sky many times. This is exactly what St. Sava is talking about, that no place in the world is comparable by the way of life in this holy place, the sanctifying way of life. It is not the place but the way of life that sanctifies a person. I had a great doubt about where to start my monastic life, where will I best progress spiritually? I prayed to God to reason with me to choose the right place for my monastic endeavor. During one prayer, the thought of Scripture came to me when God said to Abraham, “ Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
So I recognized that for me it was Mount Athos. Staying out of home as a distance from your loved ones and your friends is extremely conducive to a good start, to lay a good foundation on which to live a monastic life. It is a special feeling of freedom that cannot be felt in the bustle of the world, and without which one cannot ascend to the spiritual heights. I reached Hilandar in that sacred silence in the winter of 1998 when very few people visited the monastery. This beginning is unforgettable, this spiritual birth and life in a monastic civilization is just like when a child is born and gets to know the world curiously. It is difficult to describe in a few sentences the 20 years of life in this holy family of Hilandar. It is about many days and nights spent in prayer wrestling with oneself to defeat that old man inside who enslaves to the deceptive desires luring and deceiving him, and to get dressed in Christ. It was day-to-day wrestling with myself, to make myself, as a monk, want, think and do what pleases God. Particularly unforgettable are the moments of taking monastic vows and gaining monastic boons, as well as of being consecrated to the sacred act and the priestly service. These moments of prayer in the Hilandar family and the secret joys it brings are unforgettable. I also had the blessing to try the quiet life in the Paterica cell, which St. Sava himself founded in Karyes and in which he worshiped and served in the liturgy. A great boon rests in places where the great saint lived and served. I was particularly impressed by the conversations with the elders in those cells, who avoided talking about anything that was not from the life of Mount Athos, politics, but also church life outside Mount Athos, they only talked about what concerned prayer, spiritual life. Even a few jokes they made were related to Mount Athos.
In the spirit of St. John of the Ladder words “Angels are a light for monks and the monastic life is a light for all men,” this is a nice opportunity for you to teach us the importance of monasticism?
We live in an anti-isichastic world, and therefore the monastic lifestyle is often very incomprehensible to people. We live in a world where a person is educated from a young age to live in comfort, self-reliance, individuality. The anti-Christian values have pretty much prevailed. Good spiritual role models are very important for our spiritual growth, but we are witnessing the words of Emperor David as if he wrote them for our time: “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men;” Therefore, the monastic life and sacrifice monks make for God and their neighbors is a testimony that the gospel is fully achievable in our time. Monastic life is one encouragement for troubled Christians not to wallow in the temptations of life and to relativize the truths of the gospel. Dostoevsky used to say for monks that “for the time being, they keep the image of Christ in solitude, beautiful and unspoiled, in the purity of the truth of God, as it has been since the most ancient fathers, apostles and martyrs, and when needed, they will reveal it to the wicked truth in the world.” In their personal endeavor, they grow up in the love of God, and for their neighbor they say, “My neighbor is my life,” in such an experience of the neighbor the deepest feeling is that of the Church.
Since we live in a time when the readiness of young people to take the blessed paths of monastic life is visible, in your opinion, is it a sign that we as a people have come to know the genuine, true and eternal values?
We are far from having many young people choose to take the monastic life, but awakening for monastic life is certainly very significant. In its history monasticism records both ups and downs. In this age of materialism and aggressive liberalism, the readiness for such self-denial the monastic life entails is admirable. The abundance of spiritual literature in our time is a true blessing, and it is the responsibility of the pastors of our Church to teach the faithful people the knowledge of genuine, true, and eternal values. The Hilandar Monastery I come from has undergone a significant revival in every sense. When in 1998 I went to Hilandar I found 19 monks, half of them being old men. And now the number of monks in Hilandar reaches 50. I hope that Hilandar and other SOC monasteries will give birth to monks capable of being salt to the earth and light to the world.
The final proclamation of the Great Ekteneia invites us to surrender ourselves, each other, and all our lives to Christ the God. In the spirit of these words, which we can interpret as the imperative of every Christian life, I would ask you to tell us, based on your monastic ethos, how is it possible, in this world, here and now, to truly see ourselves through the eyes of eternity?
“Ourselves and each other” means that we care not only for our own salvation but also for the salvation of our fellow men, as monks from Mount Athos say, “My neighbor is my life,” and this is prompted by God’s commandment for the love of our neighbor. Our goal in this life is to become Godlike, but becoming Godlike does not happen only through asceticism, but also through the love of our neighbor, when our mutual love resembles that of the intertrinity love of Father and Son and the Holy Spirit. The power of love for our neighbor is great, it is the pledge of our eternal life. The more we love our neighbor, the more life we have in ourselves.
The mystery of our salvation is best realized in the Holy Eucharist, which is the center of all church life. It is the Secret of secrets, the foundation and crown of the life of every Orthodox Christian. Dear Father, how is it possible to preserve the liturgical joy and blessed peace, when we are faced with numerous temptations?
The joy of man is something heavenly in man as joy cannot be kept to oneself, a joyful man always wants to share his joy with others. The joy of faith is especially great, as it comes from turning our soul to God, and this movement of our soul towards God also entails the mysterious encounter with God, which gives the soul the joy of faith. This liturgical joy and peace of God are lost only due to man’s inattention, when the transient and null things of this world capture man’s attention. As long as one keeps the memory of God, the memory of His goodness, he will have the joy and peace of soul. It is especially significant to life in a liturgical manner in order to preserve our Christian consciousness.
Can we say that one of the basic tasks of the Eucharistic rite is to involve man in the congregational unity of the Church, so that both the earthly and the heavenly Church can glorify and confess to God with one mouth and one heart?
Liturgical rite is the gathering of the people of God around the Messiah Christ. The Eucharist is the way, the path to come to God the Father as his sons. The words of Christ, “Do this in my remembrance,” refer to the congregation, but not to any congregation, but to the congregation of Godlike beings who thank God, who praise and confess to God.
Dear Father, spiritual gatherings are regularly held in your holy family in the form of instructive lectures, which are an organic continuation of the Liturgy. I would like to ask you to introduce us to the catechisms and the missionary activity of the Ćelije Monastery in general?
The monastery of St. George the Great Martyr, or shorter Kolubara Ćelije near Lajkovac and Lazarevac, dates from the fourteenth century, but just like our people, it had a difficult history and faced desolation. With the care of the Reverend Vladika Jovan, the Bishop of Šumadija, the restoration of the old glory to this shrine began. The first and basic mission of each monastery is prayer and gospel life. On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, a great number of people come to the monastery to service, and this is an opportunity to direct their minds in spiritual conversations into thinking about Divine things. People leave with their faces glowing and with spiritual benefit, and there is a growing community of people coming to the monastery. The monastery is limited in mission by a small space, but we are planning to increase the inn and build a chapel dedicated to the Unity of the Holy Fathers of Hilandar soon. Last summer I held at the monastery yard spiritual evenings, a total of six lectures on various spiritual topics. Occasionally, I also give a few lectures or words upon invitation and in other places. We have also recently created a website for the Ćelije Monastery (www.manastircelije.com), which also opens up various possibilities and opportunities for the mission of the Church.
Lastly, what would be your message to the readers of the Orthodox Missionary?
In this troubled time in which we live, not to be unbelieving and filled with worries and fears and to rely on God in everything. To beware of all that distinguishes love of our neighbor, to beware of gossip, evil talk, divisions, as Christ will recognize us as his disciples only if we have mutual love. It is our Christian responsibility, because if we do not sustain in love and harmony then we have failed as Christians. If we sustain in love, we will be invincible.
Published in January-February issue of the 372nd Orthodox Missionary (pp. 4-8)