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Monastery Ostrog

The life of Saint Basil of Ostrog

According to legend, Saint Basil of Ostrog was born in Herzegovina, in the village of Mrkonjic in Popovo field, on 28th of December, 1610 with the Baptist name of Stojan. From early childhood he was deeply filled with love towards God, and soon became a monk of the monastery Zavala. His Christian name Basil he received at a monastery in the city of Trebinje, and in a monastery in the town of Cetinje where, according to legend, he had disagreements with the Montenegro archbishop of that time, Mardariem. The young monk Basil was against discussions with the agents of the Pope about an agreement, a union of sorts, between the Catholics and orthodox, and was therefore shunned out of Montenegro.

His first influence about Christianity and God the young Stojan received from his home. Born to a deeply faithful and religions family, early on he devoted himself to fasting, praying and the church. With this deep faith and love for God he became known as a calm, serious man with a deeply warm soul. Regardless of the hard time his family and the entire community lived at the time, young Stojan became know as one of the most selfish young people in the area. These bad influences came directly from other so called members of the church. To spear him of these bad influences, and get him closer to the word of God and faith, his parents took him to the “Ascension of the mother of God” monastery Zavala. Under the guidance of his uncle Seraphim, young Stojan spend a lot of time with books and educated people, and got to know the spirit of the word and the basics of science. During this time his with to become a monk was born.

While staying at the monastery Tvrdos in Trebinje his love for fasting and prayer was crowned with a monk name with which he became famous – Basil. He picked this name to symbolize is intent to immolate his life to the achievements of Basic the Great. Shortly after receiving his new name he received his church titles.

In the monastery Tvdos the received the title of archpriest which signaled the start of the travels to the centers of the orthodox church around the world, finalized with a visit to the Holy Mountain and to Russia where he stayed a number of months. Upon return from his travels he always arrived with important and expensive gifts for the poor churches of Herzegovina. He gave books, artifacts and money to churches and poor people. Additionally, he devoted his time to the rebuilding or up building of old churches, and many schools on this territory. He spends much time in the Holy Mountains, known as the epicenter of the Orthodox Church and faith. His travels took him over the town of Niksic, the monastery Moraca, monastery Djurdjevi Stupovi to the town of Pec, during which he spoke to church leaders as well as regular people about the struggles of the Serbian people in Herzegovina, about the violence of the Turkish and Latin propaganda. In the Holy Mountains he accumulated much knowledge from church leaders and other holy travelers. He spends a lot of time in the Serbian monastery of Hilandar in the town of Pec where he was promoted again in 1638 to church leadership status. Not yet thirty years old, he became bishop due to his elevated spirit and a Christian live only a spiritual been could live.

Upon Bishop Basils return to the Herzegovina he became on of the largest spiritual leaders for the freedom of the Yugoslav people. With prayer and the spread of Gods world thru the entire area, unnatural healings of spirit and body occurred and young Basil became the deliverer of wonders. The people of the time already treated Basil like a saint and came to him for help and consolment from their troubles. It is said, that with his spiritual advice he helped many of his people.

The times in which Basil lived where not positive for the people nor their church. With a number of wars being fought on its territory, the people became manipulated like peons by the interest of the current powers. The Orthodox Church, headed by spiritual leaders including Bishop Basil, focused on the people and the spiritual support that was needed, but got involved on a political level as well getting Christian support from all over to help against the Turkish rule. During the war between Venice and the Turks, the people and church aligned with the first, and this gave the Catholics a window of opportunity to spread the Catholic faith throughout the territory of Herzegovina and Montenegro. Even under this enormous pressure form the missionaries of the Pope, Bishop Basil with help of the patriarch Pajsije continued fighting for the salvation of the orthodox faith in the people. Because of this fight, as well as thru his entire life, the Catholics constantly accused Basil and attacked his faith and his way of believing. Nevertheless, with his expert private and political negotiations, Basil managed to save the people and the faith of the constant military and political pressures from the world superpowers of the time. Amongst the people Basil was known as a fierce defender or orthodoxy and the leader of the peoples fight for independence. A large number of actions for freedom of the Niksic and Herzegovina region where lead by him, with created a strong emotional connection between him and the people.

During his youth, as well as thru the hard days when he had to make important decisions, Basil lead a calm secluded life, spending much of his time alone in prayers. Because of the disagreements with church leadership in the monastery in Trebinje in his early days, he chooses Ostrog as his primary residence and he became the bishop of Ostrog in 1651. Exactly when the move from the monastery Tvrdos to Ostrog happened is not known. Some legends say that he spend some time in a little village named Pope and then in a cave called Milica in the town of Pjesivcima, and then he arrived in Ostrog where he found a old faithful man named Isaiah, and where a small church was located. The name of this faithful man was so well known among the people that the Turks, as soon as he died, burned his bones on the spit to attempt to shack the orthodox faith. Exactly from the cave/church of this faithful man Isaiah, Basil managed the area for fifteen years. He was always surrounded by many monks. In his writings form 1666 he stated he remodeled, not rebuild, the monastery of Ostrog with some “work and assets”.

The works of Bishop Basil from Ostrog where not well documented. He remodeled the Lower monastery Vavedenje “the church of God’s Mother”, purchased a couple of adjacent properties and worked on spreading the faith. A little later he erected the church “Saint Crucifix” high in the Ostrog cliffs. His dream to create turned the Ostrog caves into a monastery as a well of faith for the Orthodox Church was unstoppable. During the building of the Upper monastery he carried stones and prayed constantly, all the while performing his church services. With his hard work and the thing he created he became know as the largest church leader of the times.

From the Ostrog cliffs, like a spiritual shepherd, he descended into the beautiful Bjelopavlic valley bellow comforting people and giving spiritual advice. Often the people came for this advice to the monastery to talk to Basil. To hide from the uncountable number of Turkish offenses toward the people many came here to seek shelter and may stayed for a while under the monasteries protection.

A number of predictions of Saint Basil in time proved to come true. For example, Basil told duke Raic that he will not have children due to his nonspiritual life lead by pride. When this really happened came to see Basil, who told him that if he changed his life and infused his life with prayer, fasting and spirituality children would come. This like many other predictions came true.

Saint Basil of Ostrog died 29th of April, 1671 in his room in the Ostrog monastery. According to legend, at his departure an unnatural light filled the room. The body of Saint Basil was buried in a grave at the foot of the Lower monastery Vavedenje.

Basil’s grave remained a place visited by many not only from the Herzegovina region, but from all corners of the world. Even today, the people speak of legends of wonders and healings when they visit Ostrog.

It is said in legends those seven years after his death Saint Basil showed up in the dreams of the prior of the monastery with request that his body be dug up. When the prior told the clergy about the dream they did not believe him, and only when Saint Basil made a third appearance and left burn marks on the forehead of the prior did the clergy pray and fast for seven days and nights, and then grab their shovels and dig the completely intact body out of the grave and move it to the reliquary of the Upper monastery where it is located today. Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic documented that liturgy is served here besides his body on Christmas Day, on Easter, on big Thursday and on every 29th of April, the anniversary of his death.

Throughout the turbulent history of this region the remains of Saint Basil did not rest in peace, but where a number of times to protect them from the enemy moved. The 1st time it was moved was before the attack of the brutal leader of the Turkish army, Numan pasa Cuprilica. This was the year of 1714, and all valued religious relics as well as the remains of Saint Basil where buried under the monastery near the river Zeta, and even thou this river floods its banks every year, all items remained intact an entire year. The 2nd time the body was moved was 1852 before the arrival of Omer pase Latasa. Local Montenegrins buried the remains underneath a nearby church Rozdestva “Holy mother of God” in Cetinje together with remains of another Montenegrin saint, Saint Peter of Cetinje. In the spring of the following year Saint Basil was moved back to Ostrog. The 3rd and final time the remains where moved was 1876 during the Big War, again to Cetinje. In 1878 with a large ceremony the remains where moved back to Ostrog and the coffin was carried by the current Montenegro king Nikola.

During World War II was moved from the church into the dept of the cave to protect it from the many bombardments of Ostrog. Luckily, not one bomb did any damage to the monastery.

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