Decani Monastery

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Visoki Decani Monastery is situated in the western part of the UN administered Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohia. It was built between 1327 and 1335 by the Serbian medieval king St. Stephen of Decani and was dedicated to the Ascension of the Lord. The monastery is settled in the picturesque valley of the Bistrica river surrounded by the mountains and forests of the Prokletije mountain range It is the largest and best preserved medieval monastery in Serbia. During its turbulent history the Monastery was an important spiritual centre with developed artistic and intellectual activities. Although the monastery buildings suffered damage from the Turkish occupation, the church has been completely preserved with beautiful 14th century fresco paintings. Today a young brotherhood of 30 brethren lives in the monastery continuing the centuries old tradition of the past. The brotherhood has developed various activities: wood carving, icon painting, book publishing and is also active in the missionary work. The beautiful monastic services are served according to the typicon of Mount Athos.

In 2004, UNESCO listed the monastery on the World Heritage List, citing its frescoes as "one of the most valued examples of the so-called Palaeologan renaissance in Byzantine painting" and "a valuable record of the life in the 14th century".

The history of Visoki Dečani Monastery begins in the beginning of the 14th century and the reign of Saint King Stephen III. Stephan Uroš III of Dečani (1321-1331) was born around 1285. His father was the Serbian Saint King Stefan Uroš II Milutin . As a boy, Stephan spent some time as a hostage in the camp of the Tartars' Chan Nogay. From 1309-1314 he was governor of Zeta (today Montenegro). With his first wife Theodora, Bulgarian princess, he had two sons, Dušan and Dušman. In 1314 he came into conflict with his father who sent him off to Constantinople in exile. Six years later, King Milutin brought his son Stephan Uroš to Serbia and appointed him administrator of a province. Following his father's death, Stephan Uroš defeated various pretenders to the throne and became King of Serbia in 1321. The construction of the Church of Monastery Dečani devoted to Jesus Christ the Pantocrator (the Omnipotent) bagan in 1327. The founder Stefan Uros III known as Dečanski (of Dečani) commissioned for this work a group of master-builders headed by master Vitus of Kotor, while the supervision was taken over by the Serb Archbishop Saint Daniel II. And already in 1330, Stefan Dečanski granted his Charter to this pious endowment of his (foundation) together with his rich donations. During his ten year rule he led Serbia in several wars, the most significant of which was the conflict with the Bulgarians, whom he defeated in the battle of Velbužd (Ćustendil today) in 1330. His son, the Prince Dušan, was a prominent soldier in that battle. Soon after the victory, a dissatisfied nobility instigated a conflict between father and son. The old king was outmanoeuvred and imprisoned in the fortified town Zvecan (near Kosovska Mitrovica) where he died a violent death. Stephan’s remains have been preserved in the Decani church in a coffin at the head of the altar. The Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates his blessed memory on November 11 in Julian Calendar. After the death of King Stefan, who was buried in the church of Dečani Monastery, his son Stefan Uros IV Dušan, known as "Dušan the Mighty," became the king and later Emperor of Serbia. Dušan had the construction of the church continued, and this work came to an end in 1335. Likewise, he confirmed his father's Charter given to the monastery. During their work on this project, the builders had also constructed a monumental refectory and cells for the monks and had raised around the building tall defence walls with a pirg (tower) at the entrance; and in the vicinity of Monastery of Dečani, a hospital had also been erected. This project was for the most part accomplished by the renowned Serb master-builders: the Protomaster (the chief master-builder) George assisted by his brothers Dobrosav and Nikola; and for this work they were richly recompensed. The wall-painting project in the church began soon after the erection of the building and lasted right down to 1350. The names of the painters - of which there are a great number - are not known except for "Sergius the Sinful," who signed his name in red on the pillar of the church. Judging by the name, but much more by the stylistic characteristics of the Decani painting, we may conclude that King Dušan brought in fresco artists from the Serbian Coastline who belonged to the so-called "Greek School" (pictores graeci). Emperor Dušan died suddenly in 1355 and was buried in the church he built, the monastery of Holy Archangels near Prizren. The monastery is now in ruins.

Later years

In the time following the Battle of Kosovo (1389), Monastery Decani was in decay and, therefore, Princess Milica, the wife of the noble prince Lazar of Kosovo, having come with her sons to the Monastery, in 1397, issued a Charter by which the seized estates were returned to the brethren. She also gave rich gifts to the monastery. In the early 15th century, the Igumen of the Monastery was Gregory Camblak, who will later write the biography of Stefan Dečanski.

Under Turkish yoke

After the Turkish final conquest of the country in the middle of the 15th century, Monasteiy Dečani painfully but successfully survived in new circumstances. A great swing in the Monastery's life, particularly the artistic one, began in the second half of the I6th century, after the restoration of the Serbian Patriarchate in Peć. In the period of time between the 16th and the 17th century, the treasury of Decani was becoming ever richer in many objects of art and, among other things, in books - manuscripts which were copied there. In the time of the Great Migration, in the late 17th century, the Monastry was looted again by the Turks and the living quarters were burned. It experienced a similar fate in the middle of the 18th century. When Danilo Paštrović Kažanegra took administration of the monastery in 1764, he found Dečani almost in ruins. The monastery did not have a fortress or a refectory, and only one monk was in residence. He undertook the difficult task of reconstruction of the monastery compound. Under his direction, he had a new iconostasis made, which is in the church to this day. Thanks to his efforts, the monastery once again reborn. As a result of his efforts, Igumen Daniel was recognized as second founder of the Decani monastery. In the first half of the 18th century a substantial support came at that time, and oven later, from the Serbian charitable contributors who lived in the southern Austro-Hungary. Those were the emigrants from Kosovo after the Great Migration of the Serbian people. In the second half of the same century, the monastery buildings and the walls around them were restored. Dečani monks and their benefactors continued rebuilding of the monastery in the beginning of the 19th century. Simeon Lazovic and his son Aleksije, artists from Bijelo Polje, painted icons on the iconostascs in the chapels of St. Demetrius and St. Nicholas. With the consolidation of the Serbian State after the First and Second Serbian Uprisings, the Serbian rulers also began supporting the Monastery: in 1836, Prince Miloš Obrenović commissioned the building of the new residental quarters and Prince Aleksandar Karađorđević in 1857 presented a reliquary for the relics of St. Stefan Decanski. He also payed for the new roof on the church. The monks themselves managed to restore some old and construct some new buildings within the Monastery. In this time Dečani monks travelled as far as St. Petersburg and Moscow bringing rich gifts from the Russian Church and powerful Russian emperors. The end of the 19th century was a painful period of struggle of the Serb Orthodox people and our Church to survive in very difficult circumstances. The Ottoman rule was very weak and the local Albanians committed many crimes against the Christian population especially terrorizing Serbian monasteries. Due to increasing level of violence against Christian Serbs Turkish authorities brought additional troops - Nizams - to keep the order. A unit of Turkish soldiers was assigned to Decani Monastery too in order to protect it from threats of local Albanians. In 1878 Kosovo Albanians gathered in the Prizren League established their national ideology which had a goal to create an Albanian state on "ancestral territories" as soon as the Ottomans power declines.

After liberation

Kosovo was soon found again within the Kingdom of Serbia, after the Balkan wars 1912-1913. In the beginning of the century the Russian brotherhood from Mount Athos came to live in the monastery on the invitation of the Serbian bischops. This was an attpempt to rejuvenate the brotherhood and increase the level of the spiritual life of the community. This brotherhood lived in Decani until 1916 when they were deported by Bulgarian police out of Serbia.

World War one

During the First World War the part of Kosovo in which Dečani monastery is situated was first occupied by Bulgarians and then by Austrian Army. Bulgarian soldiers stole some valuables from the monastery and made an attempt to even take the relics of St. Stefan and transfer them to Bulgaria. This was prevented by a miracle of the Saint. The truck in which the relics had to be transported broke down and could not be repaired. In the meantime the Serbs called Austrian cavalry to take the control of the monastery. The monastery was under Austrian military control until the liberation in 1918.

Between Wars

After the end of the war the brotherhoood of Dečani could resume its regular monastic life in much more favourable conditions. The period between two wars was the period of spiritual flourishing of the monastery under the wise leadership of igumen Leontije Ninković. The monastery was also financially suported by the Royal House of Karađorđević. In 1925 King Aleksandar of Yugoslavia and Queen Marija visited the Monastery and left their rich gifts to the brotherhood. In the thirties the Serbian Orthodox Church opened a Seminary in the monastery of Decani and many young candidates for priesthood were spiritually trained under the vaults of the ancient Decani church.

World War Two

During the Second World War the monastery brotherhood passed through the difficult days of Albanian violence and persecution. Thousands of Serbs from the area of Dečani were forced out of Kosovo in 1941 and many were killed or abducted. Kosovo Albanian militants organized by Balli Combetar organiaztion planned to destroy the monastery. It was only in the last moment that hieromonk Makarije secretly managed to reach Pec and call Italian Carabinieri to protect the monastery. From then on the Italian Army protected the monastery from Kosovo Albanians.

After WW II

After the Second World War the monastery property was confiscated by the new communist authorities who were very hostile towards the Serbian Orthodox Church. Even one of the monastery buildings - Prizren konak - was turned into a political school. After many misdeeds commited by the atheists - both Albanian and Serbs - this building was destroyed in a fire in 1948. After that the communists left the monastery which continued living in very humble conditions without support neither from the state nor from the Church which had been completely impoverished by the communist repressive laws.

Monastery Today

In 1992 the new brotherhood led by Fr. Teodosije replaced the older brethren who retired to coastal monasteries of Montenegro. The monastic brotherhood has also developed various monastic activities: woodcarving, painting of icons, translating and publishing books. Although completely surrounded by Muslim Albanians, the monastery of Visoki Dečani thus became an important spiritual centre not only for Orthodox Christians of Kosovo and Metohija, but for our entire country and Orthodox followers worldwide. In September of 1992, over 2,000 people were christened in the Bistrica river. That was probably the first time - since the mass conversion of Slavs to Christianity in the 7th century - that so many people accepted the Christian Orthodox faith of their forefathers.

During the Kosovo conflict 1998-1999 the Monastery brotherhood openly stood against the violence as a way of resolving the conflict. Both Milosevic repressive policy and Kosovo Albanian rebellion were sharply criticized. The monastery sheltered refugees of different ethnicities and distributed food parcels in the area all the time during the conflict. Today, the monastery is a thriving brotherhood with 30 young monks from all parts of our country who continue living under the constant protection of the Italian peacekeepers - KFOR. Despite isolation and everyday threat of Albanian extremists, without basic freedom of movement Dečani monks continue with their everyday spiritual activities with firm hope that God will protect this monastery as many times in its turbulent history.

Holy services in Decani Monastery are known for their solemn beauty. They are performed according to the traditional monastic liturgical rules of Mount Athos and attract numerous pilgrims and faithful who come to worship at the monastery. The most sacred moment during the year is the Feast day of the Patron Saint - St. King Stephen of Decani when numerous priests, monks, nuns and lay people gather in the monastery to celebrate their beloved protector. Monastery has begun the publishing program.

In the presence of several hundred faithful from throughout Serbia and Montenegro, Serbian Patriarch Pavle with 17 hierarchs of the Serbian and Greek Orthodox Churches served Holy Hierarchal Liturgy at Visoki Decani Monastery on June 20 (Sunday) 2004, consecrating as the new Bishop of Lipljan and auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, Teodosije (Sibalic), Igumen of Decani Monastery.