Barbed wire on the wall of the monastery of Gracanica

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The Serbian Orthodox Church, confession that brings together almost all of the remaining Serb population in Kosovo, has been a leading advocate of the membership of the territory of Kosovo to the Republic of Serbia.

In 2004, due to systematic destruction of Orthodox churches and monasteries by the Kosovo Albanian side, and because its historical importance, UNESCO declared the Visoki Dečani monastery as World Heritage Site. In 2006, this statement was expanded to three new Orthodox religious sites: the monastery of Gračanica, the Patriarchate of Peć and the church of the Holy Virgin Ljeviša in Prizren, and also inscribed them into the List of World Heritage in danger. In fact, currently only the monasteries of Gračanica and Dečani and the Patriarchate of Peć, maintain the worship. Until now, these monasteries are protected by KFOR (the NATO troops deployed in the area) because they are located in the West part of the Kosovo territory, an albanian-kosovar majority area. In fact, they are isolated island where time has stopped, while a new and antagonic country is born and growing around.

At the end of April 2013, the governments of Serbia and Kosovo have signed a normalization agreement that excludes these small monastic communities, relegating them to a real danger. Their safety depends on the protection offered by international NATO troops in Kosovo (KFOR). For gaining access to the monasteries and their celebrations, I reached to be embedded with the Italian contingent, directly responsible of these enclaves.

Currently, the monastery of Dečani is inhabited by 23 monks from central Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and another parts of Kosovo. The Easter is a great night. At 12 p.m. they celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Monks, their relatives, a few pilgrims and even KFOR officers want to live it with all the solemnity of this magical place. After some initial prayers, a procession goes outside to walk the perimeter three times: the Trinity.

After the procession, a new prayer at the church doors. “Christ is risen”, people screams. The monks opened the door and the darkness, that enveloped everything, becomes a wonderful moving luminary candles. The impressive lampadario turns on itself harmoniously, motion accompanied by several candelabra that oscillate as a pendulum. “Christ has risen!” shout the monks, being answered by the crowd: “truly risen!” From this point, the ritual includes prayers and chants, comings and goings of the monks, dressed in white for the occasion, bearing censers, and that run to every corner of the church in a kind of irradiation of the good news. Attendees follow the ceremony: women to the left, men to the right.

Same celebration in the Patriarchate of Peć, a bit later (4 a.m.). There, a few nuns accompany the bishop in the ritual. No pilgrims, only the workers of the monastery.

Finished the celebrations, back to normal. A new cycle begins in these enclaves, perhaps it could be the last Easter under siege.