ONE @ 50: Praying Behind Barbed Wire

In honor of ONE magazine’s 50th-anniversary year, the CNEWA blog series, ONE @ 50: From the Vault, aims to revive and explore the wealth of articles published in ONE magazine throughout its history. Learn about the Serbian Orthodox nuns living out their calling in Kosovo, surrounded by conflict and strife in this article, originally published in May 2012.

Read an excerpt from “Praying Behind Barbed Wire” below, then read the full story.

“It doesn’t matter much to me. I just want to live here,” says Sister Anastasija, standing outside the Gorioc Monastery, which is located outside Kosovo’s northwestern town of Istok. The 25-year-old Orthodox nun points through the barbed-wire fence enclosing the property to a vista of the snow-covered valley below. “It’s hard,” she says, glancing at the fence. “But beauty is where the suffering is.”

The new recruit entered the monastery in August 2010. She refers to the area as Metohija Valley, its Serbian name, still unaware that locals, most of whom are Albanian Kosovars, consider the term a provocative reminder of past Serbian oppression. They prefer to call it by its Albanian name, the Dukagjin Valley. This seemingly minor discrepancy epitomizes the tightrope the young nun walks in her new life in Kosovo.

With four other women, she is striving to do something not only radical, but almost impossible: to live a life of prayer and peace in a wounded corner of world that has been torn apart by conflict and ethnic strife.

Armed policemen guard the monastery. (photo: Laura Boushnak)

Gorioc Monastery traces its origins to the 14th-century Serbian king, Stephen Uros III of Decani. The eldest son of King Stephen Uros II Milutin, he was the throne’s heir apparent from birth. But after his father remarried, the family feuded over whom should succeed the king. In 1314, the king sent his son to prison in Constantinople, where he was to be blinded.

According to tradition, the pious prince entrusted his fate to God. When he arrived in Constantinople, the guards poked his eyes with a red-hot metal rod and placed him in a cell. That night, St. Nicholas appeared to him in a dream and told him not to fear, for he held the prince’s eyes in his hands.

Five years later, the aging king wished to make amends with his son and summoned him back to Serbia. The night before leaving Constantinople, St. Nicholas appeared again in a dream, this time holding before him the prince’s eyes. When he awoke in the morning, his eyesight was restored miraculously.

Three years later, his father died and Stephen Uros III was crowned king of Serbia. As a gesture of gratitude, he established a church and monastery at Gorioc dedicated to St. Nicholas.

Read more.

Based in Serbia, Joost van Egmond reports on events in southeast Europe.

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