Monks are angels in the human body
“For me, they were not the people of this world. That incredible picture I will always remember in my heart and mind,” says archimandrite Gabriel, Abbot of the monastery Lepavina, as he remembers his childhood and his novice days in the monastery Tuman.
Archimandrite Gabriel (Vuckovic), Abbot of the monastery Lepavina in Croatia, is talking about his monastic path, family, his departure to the monastery Tuman, and then, about his plans to go to the monastery Rajinovac. With incredible accuracy he remembers events and people from his youth, and, as he once said, he feels the scents of the Holy Mount even today. His memories are precious witnesses of past, the monks he encountered and things he learned about faith. The details of this testimony: father Gabriel, in a touching way, describes his enormous love toward God and his desire to walk Christ’s path, to depart from this world, to be tonsured and to devote his whole life to God and people.
This time he spoke about monastery Tuman, which history is very interesting. Tradition says that Milos Obilic, well known hero from Kosovo, had a castle in this region. On one occasion, while he was hunting, he wounded hermit Zosim of Sinai, who lived as ascetic in nearby mountain. Milos wanted to climb him on his horse and to take him to the healer, but Zosim felt that the hour of his death is close and said: “Build the church here!” (Tu mani.) Milos began to build endowment, the monastery in which he wished to lay Zosim’s relics, but he went on Kosovo and he never finished monastery. Monastery was mentioned in written records in 1572 for the first time. Monastery is nunnery now, and relics of hermit Zosim are kept there.
“After almost two months of my novice life in the monastery Tuman, I started to think that same thing may happen to me as it happened to my uncle Seraphim, who was tonsured and got name Pachomius before his death. As I said in the previous radio interview, I was not of legal age, and my grandfather Marinko had a guardianship over me. Before state and the church law, he was responsible for me, so he could come and take me home. Monastery Tuman was relatively close to my village Duboka, near Kucevo.
So, I thought that it may happen with my youthful wisdom. But the will of God was to move me on my life journey, on which Lord directed me, because if my grandfather wanted to take me back home, he would come to Rajinovac, too. One folk proverb says: “Man proposes, but God appoints.” At that time, nun Seraphima lived in monastery Tuman. I confided to her that I want to transfer to another monastery, which would be located far away from my village. My fears were unfounded; it seems that my grandfather did not care for me as he cared for his son Seraphim. When I confided to nun Seraphima, who is still alive and she was the Abbess of monastery Tuman, she told me in confidence that she knows a young Abbot in one monastery near Belgrade, and she asked me if I would like to transfer to that monastery. I said that I would. It was a monastery Rajinovac and Abbot was young hieromonk Germanos, who was about 24-25 years old. When decision was made that I want to move to the monastery Rajinovac, she asked Abbot of the monastery Tuman, father Michael, for blessing to go and visit her mother Zlata, who lived in Veliko Gradiste. She received the blessing, but instead to go to her hometown, she went to talk with father Germanos. She asked him if he would accept me for novice in monastery Rajinovac. Now, I can’t say if she made phone call or she went to monastery Rajinovac and introduced me and said something about me. Mother Seraphima knows how it was, if she did not forget, because she is almost 80 years old.
Prayer and the sense of the linden blossom
I had to take care of the pigs at the monastery Tuman. That obedience I took over from the father Simon. I had to take good care of the pigs so they do not wonder off and do not do any harm. But I was a little absentminded; I loved to plunge into the monastery silence and to surrender to the Lord in prayer, breathing the scents of wild nature, but mostly to smell linden blossoms.
The dense forest on the way to the hermitage of St. Zosim of Tuman
The same happened that late afternoon, just before the sunset, while linden bloomed in woods around the monastery and I listened the buzzing of the bees. It seemed that they glorified the Lord in their monastic obedience, collecting nectar from linden blossom. Monastery was poor, and had hives, so selling honey was one of the main monastery’s sources of income. That natural beauty before sunset reminded me on my first encounter with the monastery Tuman.
View of the part of the monastery cemetery and hives (monastic residence is in the back)
Large monastic residence (23h9m) was built in 1934-37 for needs of monks whose number was great. There are 11 small monastic cells on the first floor. On the same floor is the chapel dedicated to the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, rooms for the Bishop, spiritual father and workshop (click on the photo to enlarge)
I first came to the monastery on the holiday of Transfiguration of the Lord. Many people gathered to celebrate this holiday the night before; they did not sleep all night. Then, for the first time, I saw how monks are ministering and how they are singing beautifully on the Holy Liturgy. It was a male monastery. I think that there were ten monks, headed by the monastery superior, father Peter, later megaloschemos Pachomius”, says father Gabriel.
“Father Pachomius lead ascetic life in the hermitage of St. Zosim of Tuman when I arrived to the monastery to become novice. There, he was killed as a martyr. They found him dead in the cave. Case of his death was never completely understood. However, it was not much explored.
Hermitage of St. Zosim of Tuman
There were some assumption, but the case of his death remained a mystery. The truth is known only to the Lord. I still have an article from the newspaper; it was published in the daily newspaper “Evening News” on Friday, June 18 1965. The title was “The mysterious death of ascetic.” It was written: “Zarije Novakovic, 67 year old monk, who replaced his birth name with monastic Peter, lived as ascetic in the cave hill Kamenica, two kilometers behind the monastery Tuman near Golubac for many years. The old hermit went from home to home of surrounding villages and collected money to raise a small bell tower. Few days before his death, he started the bell tower. Somebody from the village worked voluntarily with monk Peter. On Tuesday, June 10, Nestor Vujicic, 58 year old resident from the neighboring village Krivaca, supposes to work with him. Prevented by some work, Nestor, instead on Thursday, went to the cave in which monk lived the next day, June 11. At the entrance of the cave, he called Peter several times, but he did not answer. He entered the cave and saw Peter on the bad, covered with the sheepskin coat. Thinking that he is still sleeping, he came closer to wake him up. Approaching him, he felt unpleasant odor. He realized that the old man is dead. He was lying on his back. He had a double-wrapped and tensioned fabric around his neck; other end of that fabric was at his back and under his left arm on which he laid. Frightened, Nestor rushed to the monastery and informed Abbot, father Theodore Arsic, who soon rushed with horses to Police station in Golubac, to report unexplained death of old hermit. By abduction, which was performed on Saturday, it was determined that a death had occurred on Tuesday, June 8, three days before the corpse was discovered. The investigation is ongoing and mysterious death of an old monk should be explained soon. “
Hieromonk Petar, megaloschemous Pachomius, with the previous name Zarije, whom people from the surrounding villages called Peter, was married before he became monk. He had three children, two sons and a daughter. After the death of his wife, he decided to go to the monastery and to be tonsured. He took with him his children, two boys. He gave his daughter to a nunnery, to Abbes Paraskevi. This was immediately after World War II. Now, I would not know in which monasteries they went, but I heard that Abbess Paraskevi settled with the sisterhood in a tower of the Holy Cross, in Zemun. There, my aunt Petrija, later nun Ephrosinia, was novice. She was from Neresnica village, where my mother’s family lived. Two sisters also become novices in sisterhood of Abbess Paraskevi, in the same tower, in Zemun. Therefore, father Peter also gave his daughter there. I do not know what her secular name was. I just know that her monastic name was Fevronia, and she recently reposed. And those two sisters in monastic were called Theodora (older sister is still alive and she is in monastery Miljkovo right now) and Catherine (the younger sister, reposed long ago. She suffered from cancer). One of two father Peter’s boys was tonsured, his name was Sergei, and the other, as novice, left the monastery and got married; his family lives in Trieste, his name is Ljubiša. Well, three of them, father and two sons were in monastery Tuman, father Peter, father Sergei, and novice Ljubiša. Father Sergei had been spiritual father of the monastery Manasija for a long, and he held monastery parish, but he reposed. I want to mention that Russian monks lived in monastery Tuman before the World War II. Abbot of the monastery was father Luke, who was Russian. Brotherhood numbered 40 monks. There was strict monastic order in the monastery.”
Archimandrite Gabriel wrote his monastic diary on Mount Athos for years. In that diary he wrote about his going to the monastery. He says: “In my monastic diary, in the first notebook from 1979, on pages 17 and 18, I wrote: “In my childhood, when I felt internal spark for the path I already walk, when I thought about monasticism and monastic life, when for the first and second time I visited monastery Tuman and when I saw monks of this Holy Community, I watched them, and before my eyes and in my mind they were not the people from this world, but angles in the human body.”
Fresco of St. Zosim of Tuman and kivot with his holy relics
Beautiful divine service, holy relics of St. Zosim of Tuman and all the ambience of the monastery attracted me like a magnet, and I remembered that incredible picture in my heart and mind.” When he came to the monastery Tuman, father Gabriel was afraid that his grandfather may come to take him home. “I remember it was one evening before sunset, when woman called Persa appeared in front of me. She was from village Krivaca. That is the village next to the monastery. Persa lived alone in her house. She often came to the monastery and helped with washing and cleaning. She approached me and said: “One monk and nun Seraphima are in my house and they told me that I inform you that you can go with him.” I already knew what was going on, so I closed pigs in the pigsty and went to Abbot, father Michael, to ask for blessing, to go to another monastery. I do not remember if I got that blessing or not. When someone is leaving monastic family on his own, than he may not receive blessing. If somebody, who is problematic and recalcitrant and who does not respect monastic order wants to leave, he will get blessing with both hands, just to leave the monastery. I remember, when I asked for blessing, father Michael told me: “Go, go, but wherever you go, you will find temptation; devils exist there too.” This is indeed the case, I convinced myself in what he told me, and that is written by one holy father, who said that when monk intend to leave monastery, not only because of some injustice, which is done to him, the devil already packed his things and while brother is still on his path to another monastery, the demon is already there with his troop,” said archimandrite Gabriel.
Jacob whom Persa sold for hundred dinars
So I again packed my bag and I went to Persa’s house. There, as she told me, nun Seraphima and father Germanos, Abbot of the monatery Rajinovac, waited for me and took me to his monastery. Father Germanos, nun Seraphima and I walked to village Turija, and since it was already dark, we spent the night with hieromonk, father Matthew, who served in Turija’s parish. From there, early in the morning, we set off on the train to Belgrade, direct to monastery Rajinovac. I do not remember if nun Seraphima came with us to monastery Rajinovac or she returned to monastery Tuman. Well, now, there is something interesting. Those sixties were scarce years for monkhood. Someone would rarely decide to go to the monastery. Today, it is not the case. Young people often go to monasteries to become monks. When I arrived in monastery Tuman, to become novice, Abbot of the monastery, father Michel, informed the bishop Chrisostom that someone form that region came to become novice in monastery Tuman. Bishop was overjoyed and probably he thought it would be a future for the monastery that finally someone from that region wants to become monk, but when he heard that I left the Tuman, he was sad. Later, bishop heard for the whole story. When Persa took me out from the monastery and returned home with me, father Germanos gave her hundred dinars for hospitality and blessing or as a reward for successfully carried “mission” of my transfer to monastery Rajinovac. When Bishop Chrisostom, who was very witty, heard that Persa received one hundred dinars as a reward for her part, wherever he saw me, he would always say alone or in the presence of others: “Here is Jacob whom Persa sold for one hundred dinars.” While he was alive, he never forgot that,” said Archimandrite Gabriel, sharing his wonderful memories of his novice life in the radio program “Mala Crkva”, on radio “Slovo Ljubve.”
Ljiljana Sindjelic Nikolic
COMMENTS FROM FATHER’S GABRIEL FACEBOOK PROFILE
I had a great opportunity to visit your holy monastery with the group of pilgrims from Ugljevik…the late autumn…I made a couple of photos, but I did not manage to post it on your facebook wall…beautiful…blessing at every step…your words of comfort and admonition…who has ears to hear…bless and forgive and mention me in your prayers.
I was especially impressed with the cave Kamenica, the hermitage of St Zosim of Tuman, which is twenty minutes away from the monastery Tuman. What jewels were hidden in this region at the time of Tsar Lazar, when the monks from Mount Athos and Mount Sinai were fleeing and hided in Serbian mountains and rocks from the Turks. Those monks of eastern cast left their spiritual mark; they straightened orthodox faith in these places at that time. So father Gabriel, as a novice, walked the paths of the saints, and through his reminiscence of his novice days, he took us on the same journey.
I would never forget the first trip to the monastery Lepavina. I remember that I stared at the church; I wanted as soon as possible to venerate the most holy Theotokos of Lepavina. I felt such a beautiful fragrance, but I did not know that just few minutes ago myrrh steaming icon of the Holy Theotokos of Lepavina was placed in the church. Icon belonged to one faithful family, I think they were from Austria, I venerated the icon of Holy Theotokos of Lepavina. I started to cry. That is unforgettable feeling, and it is the felling for the whole life. Especially nice was meeting with father Gabriel and brotherhood. That was ten years ago, but I felt as it was yesterday. I came with my family. Father Gabriel came to meet us, as a real father, and monks also came, we stayed for a long time, chatting about everything. They are like family to me. It is enough to say Lepavina and my heart will start to beat faster. Father, I thank you for your smile, which I will always remember, for love and understanding; I thank Lord because He has chosen you!
Vladislava Vasic Thiel:
Very nice and exciting narrative; we are waiting for the next part.
Translated from Serbian by prof Bojana Popovic