“I hardly know anyone who would not be healed here,” says the abbot of the monastery.
Black chickens roam in the courtyard of Sts Cosmas and Damian Monastery in Zočište (Kosovo). They have been brought here as an offering from the grateful Albanians, who, alongside Orthodox Serbs, come to the monastery hoping for a miracle of healing at the relics of the holy miracle workers. Despite the fact that in 1999 the ancient Serbian monastery was blown up by Albanian terrorists from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), today the brethren do not refuse anyone to visit the restored shrine.
The monastery of the Raška and Prizren Eparchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the village of Zočište is located between two Serbian enclaves in Kosovo and Metohija – Orahovac and Velika Hoča. It has always been visited by numerous pilgrims, including Kosovo Albanians. They even came to the ashes that were here when the KLA destroyed the ancient shrine.
“Sick people would come or sometimes they would bring a child. Albanians often ask to read a prayer to them, but this is impossible, because they are not baptized and mostly Muslims. If they insist, we try to meet their needs and read the psalter over them while they are lying under the relics of Sts Cosmas and Damian. Believe it or not, I hardly know anyone who would not be healed here,” says Archimandrite Stefan, abbot of Zočište.
According to him, the Kosovars venerate the shrine in the same way as the Orthodox, and rely on the help from above, “when earthly doctors are powerless to help a person with the help of traditional medicine.”
“For example, a mute child will speak after reading prayers before the relics, regardless of whether he is a baptized Christian or a Muslim,” the rector explains. In Zočište, he became a witness to God’s miracles more than once.
He adds that the relics of Cosmas and Damian cure all ailments – both mental and physical. Mute children begin to speak, and childless couples conceive. People often hasten to inform the brethren about the miracle that has happened, coming back to the monastery in person or forwarding the good news through their friends.
Albanians often speak Serbian, and if they cannot, then they bring with them someone from the older people who know the language.
“These people are very obedient; we usually tell them to lie on the rug under the relics. According to custom, it is good to lie down for about twenty minutes. We consider falling asleep a good sign. Usually if a sick person falls asleep before the relics, he does not have to come here a second or third time, ”says Father Stefan.
He stresses that the brethren never take a penny from those who come to the holy unmercenaries for healing, but all the pilgrims try to leave something for the monastery. Albanians have a notable tradition to donate chickens, particularly black ones.
“I don’t know why they prefer black chickens over all other colors. We never ask them about it; perhaps it means something to them, because they hardly ever choose any other color. We used to distribute them among people, because we don’t eat meat, but in the last three or four years we began to keep some of them for the eggs,” says the archimandrite.
Some of the visitors may put a few Euros in the donation box (especially those who work abroad); others buy candles, and thus leave their contribution. One Albanian, whose daughter was healed, once presented the monastery with fifteen thuja seedlings.
After the devastation in the 90s, the monastery is slowly regaining its former appearance. Documents show that it was built in the XIV century, during the reign of the Nemanjić dynasty. In 1999, before NATO began bombing Yugoslavia, four monks lived in the monastery. In June of that year, the Albanians burned down the monastery dormitory. The relics of Saints Cosmas and Damian were transferred to Sopochany, and the brethren moved to the Duboki Potok monastery. In September, Albanians blew up both monastic churches, with their valuable frescoes and icons, and destroyed the Orthodox cemetery and the Serbians’ houses.
Two years later, the monks returned to Zočište under the protection of the KFOR international forces. By 2006, the monastery dormitory and the Church of Cosmas and Damian were restored. During the renovation of the church, stones from the old temple were used, so the new building looks almost identical to the destroyed one. The monastery remains a monument of the Serbian cultural heritage. Today three monks live there, besides the abbot.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds