Monstar

An evening in Mostar

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An evening in Mostar. But not an evening in our century. In my imagination I set out for the Mostar of the ninth century, even then an ancient city, dating back to Roman times. Here we find one of the most important centre stages of an equally old but always re-emerging pure Christian faith.

I follow a small group of simply dressed Bosnians through the narrow streets of their town. On every street corner colourfully dressed men and women pass each other by - either on their way to the Greek Orthodox Church, a church with bright rituals and heavy music, or heading for the theatre, adorned just as flamboyantly. Distinguishing between Church and theatre is hard, because both groups are laughing merrily and they are equally splendidly decked out.

The men and women which I follow are quiet, unpretensious and not distracted by it. With determination they cross the magnificent bridge of Trajan, with a single stone arch spanning the rapidly flowing and rock-strewn stream of the Narenta.

They stop at a barn-like building of austere stone walls and a thatched roof, not at all suggestive of a temple behind its doors, a temple dedicated to the most Supreme...

They step inside and I follow them.

The large, bright space with its white-washed walls and rough-wooden benches is soon filled with more of these quiet, friendly people, men and women together.

There are neither columns or pillars, nor decorations, pictures or icons. We will not find a richly decorated altar here with golden chandeliers and chalices. But at the very back of the area a wide table is set up, covered with a white linen cloth.

The only object on the table is a hand-written New Testament and a rolled out parchment, containing some of the inspired hymns from the old apostolic church – the only signs from which one can deduce where the leader of the congregation may be found.

An old man, whose white hair cascades in curly locks onto his shoulders, sits beside the table. He also wears the same simple Bosnian farmers clothing of those days and in no way differs from the other men of his age. His finely featured wise face is somewhat hidden by his hands. Posture and gesture suggest that he is engaged in prayer.

Then he stands up, kneels - followed by all those present - and greets them sincerely with a glowingly clear prayer, full of strength and dedication, perfectly showing he is worthy of his name Bogomil – 'the man who prays'. His name may also be translated as 'Friend of God'.

At the end of his prayer, the congregation joins him in the Our Father, which is affirmed with a clearly audible 'amen'.

Then a song in a beautiful rhythm of tones is raised, returning to the same melodies that were sung by the Apostles and Mani. This is followed by a reading from the stories of the New Testament.

After he has returned the invaluable manuscript to its place, he continues to explain to his finely tuned audience the character and the symbolism of their great example, Jesus-the-Lord.

He tells of his non-ownership, how he was rejected by his own people, how he always pointed to the coming Kingdom – immanent, within man.

He talks about the inner meaning of the cross and the crucifixion and his return in the clouds of heaven, which every human being must imagine and realise in their innermost self.

He talks about how this spiritual being walked on earth in a semi-glorified body for six weeks, learning, teaching and radiating power.

And as he describes how Christ realised ´the end of all death´, it is as if the congregation, like Stephen, sees the gates of Heaven open.

And he quotes Hymn 24:

"Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors;

and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;

and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory?

The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory."


In serenity and strength this Bogomil describes to them the inner Kingdom and he outlines the richness of the spiritual life, compared to which the scorn, the interrogations and the persecution of those days sink into nothing.

And in all of this there is no element of raising the emotions, no erotic sublimation or personal satisfaction, but an atmosphere so spiritual, so pure and truly sacred, that no one but the 'pure of heart' can enter.

And after another 'Our Father', the brothers and sisters of the brotherhood of Bogomils depart. Again they cross the bridge that spans the Narente, still full of the pure experience, still full of the living Gnostic Word, still full of the certainty that they, too, from within, belong to the Kingdom.

And as they disappear into the narrow streets of Mostar city, I travel back to my twenty-first century.
This is what they prayed at the end of such a glowing, simple pure Bogomil meeting, inwardly resonating with the Gnostic Our Father:

God Almighty
Whose foot rests on the highest firmament
Great mover of the universe
and all the powers therein
Hear the prayer of your servants

who put all their trust in you

We pray that you
Will allow us day by day to receive your divine life essence,
for comfort and strength,
for your glory, and
for the salvation of mankind

Forgive us when so often we deviate from your ways,
as we forgive our brothers and sisters
Be near
and in us
Strengthen and sustain us, as we are but instruments in your hands

Protect us in danger and evil
and
do not leave us in our temptation
May your mighty power for ever
sustain and protect us

You are the great Source of Gnosis and wisdom
Teach your servants by your holy presence
and lead us, now and always

 

Amen

 

Footnotes:

[1] Bogomiles are the followers of pope Bogomil who began to spread his teachings from the village of Bogomila in present-day Macedonia from the beginning of the tenth century. Another version of the genesis has it that bogomilism started from the then Bulgarian capital Preslav in 927 under the impulse of Boyan (Benjamin) the Magus, the son of Tsar Simeon. Boyan had his education at the famous Magnauer University of Constantinople where the seven principles of Hermes Tresmegistos occupied a central place.

The literal meaning of bogomiles is "the beloved by God"; they have been very active except for periods of heavy persecution as a brotherhood of "true Christians" until about 1450. They are closely related to the Cathars, to whom they had a great influence and are therefore sometimes called the Cathars from the East . They got a lot of support from the population because of the unwavering and clean appearance of their parfaits. The peaceful, modest manner in which they lived the path of self-salvation made a great impression.

Mostar and surroundings were an important proclamation place for the bogomiles. This can still be seen in the countless bogomile gravestones provided with profound symbolism (the so-called "stecci") that can still be found there in the wide area.

[2] The Our Father was the only prayer that the bogomiles recognized. The other prayers and hymns they found mnogoglagolanja = needlessly chatter. A key phrase from bogomile teaching: "The true Church of Christ is in the heart of man".

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