Tens of thousands of mourners packed churches across Serbia to pray for the repose of the soul of His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, Archbishop of Pec and Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac, who fell asleep in the Lord on Sunday, November 15, 2009.
At 95 years of age, Patriarch Pavle was the oldest living primate of an autocephalous Orthodox Church. He was elected to the Patriarchal See on December 1, 1990.
Two years ago, Patriarch Pavle entered Belgrade’s Military Medical Academy, where he received treatment for heart and lung problems and died after suffering a cardiac arrest as he slept. The day after his repose, his body was taken to Belgrade’s main cathedral as thousands lined up to pay their final respects to the popular hierarch.
His Grace, Bishop Irenee of Quebec and Archimandrite Zacchaeus [Wood], representative of the Orthodox Church in America to the Moscow Patriarchate, will represent the OCA at Patriarch Pavle’s funeral, slated to be celebrated at a monastery in the Belgrade suburb of Rakovica on Thursday, November 19. His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the primates of world’s autocephalous Orthodox Churches and/or their representatives are expected to attend.
Patriarch Pavle’s death was first announced on state TV by His Eminence, Archbishop Amfilohije of Cetinje, Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, who served as the Serbian Church’s acting head during the Patriarch’s hospitalization. Serbian President Boris Tadic, who called Patriarch Pavle “one of those people who by their very existence brings together the entire nation,” announced three days of nationwide mourning.
Patriarch Pavle was born Gojko Stojcevic on September 11, 1914 in the village of Kucani, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but now in Croatia. After completing his primary and secondary education, he entered the Raca Monastery in central Serbia in 1944. Four years later, he received the monastic tonsure and was ordained to the diaconate. In 1950, he was appointed lecturer at the Prizren Seminary in Kosovo - a position he retained until his election to the Patriarchal See. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1955, he pursued postgraduate studies at the Orthodox Theological Faculty at the University of Athens.
Patriarch Pavle was widely recognized for his modesty and humility. It was not uncommon to find him utilizing public transportation in the nation’s capital. Despite the simplicity of his life-style, he was an outspoken proponent for peace during the ethnic wars that gripped the former Yugoslavia after the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. “God help us understand that we are human beings and that we must live as human beings, so that peace would come into our country and bring an end to the killing,” he appealed in 1991 as fighting raged over disputed territories in Croatia. “It is only the will of the devil that is served by this war,” he is quoted to have said the following year.
Members of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which claims some seven million members, will gather to elect Patriarch Pavle’s successor after the close of the official 40-day period of mourning.
May the memory of Patriarch Pavle, truly “a saint in our midst,” be eternal!