Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Saint Basil of Ostrog

St. Basil of Ostrog

When we lived in Banja Luka, we had a nanny/housekeeper named Brana. She had (and still has) two daughters. Maja, the older of the two was in college at the time. She later married an Orthodox deacon and moved to Australia, where they still live today. Maja's husband is an assistant to one of the Serbian Orthodox bishops in Australia.

Recently I received a surprise package in the mail (always a good experience, as long as the package is not ticking...). The package was from Maja. It contained two books, one of which was a beautiful coffee-table book published in Montenegro. The book was about a saint who is very well-known in Serbia and Montenegro, but whom I had never heard of: St. Basil of Ostrog. The book contained a detailed biography of this holy man, along with many stories about how he has continued to minister to people down to the present time. Also figuring prominently in the book are stories about the monastery that the saint founded, with stories about the monastery and words of wisdom of the monks that live there.

Being a coffee-table book, the book obviously had huge pages...300 to be precise. And even though quite a few of the pages contain full-size (beautiful) pictures, it still took me forever to read it. But it was well-worth it. I thought I would share with you a brief biography of St. Basil (from Wikipedia), and then one of the many miracle stories from the book (this one was my personal favorite). I hope you enjoy them.

Basil of Ostrog was Bishop of Zahumlje in Herzegovina. He was born in Popovo Selo, Herzegovina on December 12, 1610, and became a monk at the Monastery of the Dormition TvrdoŇ° near Trebinje.

His modesty forbidding him to push himself forward to occupy the high positions his piety and capabilities recommended him for, he was elected as Bishop of Zahumlje and Skenderia against his will.

After his death in 1671 he was buried at the Ostrog Monastery he had founded in Montenegro, and his tomb in a cave-church soon became a site of pilgrimage for Christians (both Orthodox and Roman Catholic) and Muslims drawn by reports of miracles occurring through the intercession of the saint. The Monastery of Ostrog is now one of the major pilgrimage sites in the Balkans, and large numbers of pilgrims gather particularly at Pentecost. St. Basil of Ostrog is commemorated in the Serbian orthodox liturgical calendar on April 29.

Now, here is the miracle story from the book. It is being told by a young pilgrim to the monastery who is relating a story his grandfather used to tell him.

"...it was sometime around the Feast of St. Elijah in 1921 when a great plague of locusts came upon the land from the direction of Byelopavlichi and Chevo to our side of the mountain, at Tsutse. Wherever the locusts settled, they devoured everything: the fields, the orchards, anything that had a green leaf or a tender fruit on it! The people tried to defend themselves from this attack, killing the locusts as they could, but it was no good. They just came and came.

Now, my Grandfather had planted corn, wheat and some rye in his field. They were poor; it was all he had to feed his family and he was afraid that if the locusts ate everything, his family would go hungry. One day, he had just let the sheep out to graze in the meadows when they were startled by something and came running back. He looked and saw a terrible sight: a sea of locusts was on its way across the land towards his crops!

My Grandfather then ran into the house, and, hospitable as he was and full of the fear of God, he took a tray with some bread and salt on it. Telling his family not to do anything bad to the locusts, he ran out with the bread and salt and put it down on the boundry line of his property for the first locusts to eat. Then he turned towards the East, crossed himself and prayed to God that this plague might be taken away from him. As the first locusts crawled onto his land, he greeted them as though they were real guests! 'Come, locusts,' he said. 'No one will bother you, for I know that you have been sent by God as a punishment for our sins. Eat your fill but do not leave us hungry!'

The swarm of locusts fell upon his crop and what did my Grandfather do? He ran back to the house and brought out an icon of St. Basil [of Ostrog], glory and mercy be upon him, which he hung up on the branches of a tree in the middle of his field. And so he put his life into the hands of God and St. Basil.

The locusts stayed on his property for three full days. When they left his property and flew away, there were so many of them that they blocked out the sun. They had not touched the rye, corn or other crops. After a few days my Grandfather and his sons went to reap the crop and saw that the year's crop was of better quality than any other year. There was a tiny hole at the top of each grain of wheat, as though someone had pricked it with the point of a needle.

They say that the word about this miracle spread all over the place and that even some police officers from Tsetinye came to see Grandfather and learn more about the miracle."

Pretty cool, eh? Reading this book has been a great blessing to me. It has also made me want to visit the historic monastery at Ostrog, and to venerate the relics of this great saint. May God grant that this will one day be a reality.

Metropolitan AMFILOHIJE of Montenegro and the Littoral in front of the relics of St. Basil (at the Ostrog Monastery)


elizabeth said...

that is really lovely and encouraging. Thank you so much for posting this.

what a lovely gift as well, for you.

tamtam said...

What a wonderful story!

What, may I ask, is the title of the book? I think I may have that same book at home.

Fr. James Early said...

Tam tam,

The title of the book is The Mystery of the Wonder-Worker of Ostrog. It was published in Montenegro.