HILANDAR’S OCTOCENTENARY: BY WILLIAM DORICH
Octocentenary… simply stated means 800th aniversary. But the historic commemoration of Hilandar, the Serbian Orthodox monastery on the Holy Mountain of Athos, is replete with complexity.
Over the centuries, Serbian rulers, unlike their contemporaries in the West, did not build enduring castles… each one of them felt duty-bound to build monasteries and churches and hundreds were founded. Serbian kings were not praised in their biographies for conquest, but for their piety and their generous endowments that were established with the intent to achieve personal salvation while benefiting their people in a lasting way.
Stefan Nemanja set a precedent to be followed by the other members of the Nemanjic dynasty, their noblemen, and their high clergy. The results are a legacy of incomparable religious, architectural, cultural, and scholarly riches. These accomplishments are not there for us to merely admire, but, rather, to emulate in each consecutive generation. In this spirit, Stefan Nemanja (1168-1196) followed his son Rastko in forsaking his throne to enter a Serbian Orthodox monastery, which he built and in which he died. SS Simeon and Sava were followed by the entire Holy Dynasty of Serbian rulers from the Houses of Nemanjic, Lazarevic, and Brankovic, including a multitude of Church leaders, archbishops and patriarchs, many of whom are venerated today as saints… some died as martyrs.
In spite of five centuries of Ottoman slavery in which Serbian churches, icons and frescoes were destroyed by enemies of the Serbian people and Orthodoxy, we remain endowed with an incredible wealth of documentation about the life of St. Sava, Hilandar and the founding of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the 12th century. St. Sava and Hilandar are synonymous with Serbian Orthodoxy, just as Hilandar and the Holy Mountain of Athos are essential to Orthodox Christianity. St. Sava’s contribution and influence are incalculable.
Eight centuries after his death scholars from around the world continue to study St. Sava and the virtues he bequeathed to his people and all mankind.
I have respectfully dedicated this volume to the Very Rev. Dr. Mateja Matejic, a priest, a scholar, and an enlightener who has spent his life preserving the archives of Hilandar so that this, and future generations, will continue to benefit from his devoted work. Dr. Matejic received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and was full professor at Ohio State University from 1971-1990. He was also director of the Resource Center for Medieval Slavic Studies… the largest repository of Slavic documents in the Western Hemisphere. Dr. Matejic was editor of The Path of Orthodoxy, the official periodical of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the West. He has been director of the Kosovo Publishing Company since 1968. Author of more than 25 books and 230 articles in various languages, he has lectured and presented papers in more than 15 countries. Father Matejic was a guiding hand in my authoring the 1992 book Kosovo and this volume. I am honored to call him my friend.
It would be impossible and a great disservice to attempt to pay tribute to Hilandar or to Dr. Matejic in a mere sixty-eight page presentation. Rather, the intent of this book was to bring the reader’s attention to the most important aspects of Hilandar on this memorable occasion, and to inspire interest in the Holy Mountain and its spiritual significance for Orthodoxy.
Hilandar tells its own story without embellishment or much effort… as the hard work was done eight hundred years ago by a monk called Rastko, who is now venerate as St. Sava. It is part of his heritage to which this book is dedicated.