The Balkans from within,
Reginald Wyon



THE bells of the Monastery church at Ostrog are ringing violently and suddenly. The noise after the calm of the preceding moments is jarring, and I am still more displeased when Stefan bursts unceremoniously into my room. He seizes my cap and gives it to me, saying breathlessly "The Bishop."

A minute later, and I am standing with bared head before the tiny church, at whose portal, in gorgeous cope and bearing a jewelled cross, waits the little Archimandrite. Other priests support him on either side, their long hair flowing over their shoulders, men with weather-beaten faces speaking more of work in the fields in wind, rain, and fierce sun, than of the seclusion and studious lives of the monks of other lands. Two sturdy Montenegrins hold banners, but beyond two or three peasants the little square is empty.

A string of carriages enters the gate, driving rapidly with steaming horses, towards this resplendent group, which now moves slowly forward. The first carriage stops, and a small slightly made man of benevolent aspect alights. He removes his little blue Montenegrin cap and approaches the waiting priests, his plain black cassock relieved only by a broad purple sash; and a tiny jewelled crucifix hanging from a chain on his breast contrasts sharply with the heavy gold-embroidered copes of the others. He kisses the cross, and then they all go into the church. That little man, whose


kindly, unmistakably good face would mark him anywhere as a man of distinction, is the Vladika (bishop) of Montenegro. Another old man follows him closely, gorgeous in the white, blue, and gold gala dress of the country, with many orders sparkling on his breast. He is the Minister of War; and then comes a third stately man dressed as a priest - the secretary of the Metropolitan.

An attendant train of black-robed priests and smart red-jacketed orderlies complete the picture, and the chanting of the priests within the church proclaims that the ceremonial reception has commenced.

With my arms on the parapet overlooking the great valley, I fall a-musing. I remember how once Father Filip and I sat together one afternoon and talked. Father Filip is the secretary and the Bishop's right hand, a big man with wonderfully expressive eyes. In the morning there had been some great Church festival, and he still wore on his broad breast a multitude of orders and medals. We had been talking politics - Montenegrins love to talk politics - and were discussing the next war, when Father Filip tapped his medals, saying

"I should fight again, too. We priests, all of us, fight whenever danger threatens our country."

I nod, for this I know, but I encourage him to talk of past days, and, nothing loth, he gives me a graphic description of the battles before Antivari, when the Montenegrins captured that formidable fortress, and won the long-coveted way to the sea. I knew well those steep slopes, and had stood upon the shot-riddled walls of the now ruined stronghold of Antivari.

"And thus shall we carry everything before us, whoever shall be our enemy."


"The western nations, too, are brave," I hazard, more to provoke him further than otherwise. "They have done even such deeds of daring as ye. Take thy friends, the Russians, for instance." I would have cited famous battles of Turk and Russian, but he smilingly shook his head.

"They, too, are brave," he says. "When we stormed Antivari we had a Russian general with us. We took great care of him, as is our wont with strangers, but he became angry, saying, 'We Russians fear not the bullet more than the Montenegrins,' and rode his horse to a place where the bullets flew thickest. 'Thou art brave,' I answered, 'but not so brave as are the Montenegrins,' and I ran forward alone to within fifty yards of the walls of the Turkish fortress. It was even as I said: the Russian held his ground and came not. Laughing, I then ran back to him and said, 'What I have done any Montenegrin would do'; and the Russian spoke no more of bravery.

"Not only are our men brave," went on Father Filip, "but our women too. What sayest thou of a woman who having lost her husband and all her four sons in battle, refused to weep, saying she rejoiced rather that her dearest ones had died the death of heroes? 'What greater honour can befall me,' she said, 'than that my husband and my sons should give their lives for the land of their birth? Nay, I am proud, lonely and desolate as will be my life without them.' "

And my thoughts wander back to the time I visited the Monastery of Moraca, far away in the mountains of the Brda. Perched on the summit of a high cliff, at whose base tears and races the foaming river from which the monastery takes its name; surrounded by lofty mountains and.dense forests,


far away from roads and towns, there too I had listened to tales of blood and war. The venerable Archimandrite Michel Dozic had peopled those slopes again with yelling Moslems, the sweet air was rent once more with the rattle of musketry, and the peaceful courtyard, now grass-grown and neglected, he filled with headless corpses. A handful of Montenegrins are standing at the only entrance and, enticed by great cunning, a company of Turks are being admitted one by one. Once inside, the unhappy Turk finds not a few monks, but a score of Montenegrins, and instead of flinging open the gate, his head goes to swell the gory heap. The handjars are dripping blood, and the other Turks waiting at the gate scent treachery and rush back to the main body. Then Mehemet Ali places guns to bombard the sacred buildings, while in the church kneels the then Archimandrite Mitrofan, praying for succour ere it be too late. It is the present bishop who kneels there, and his prayer is answered by the tall, grave man, Michel Dozic, at whose table I was sitting. He, at the head of his battalion, relieved the monastery which he now governs as abbot. As at Ostrog, the Turks were caught, surrounded, and slaughtered in thousands by a numerically far inferior army of the most reckless fighters that the world has ever seen.

And again here at Ostrog, the little Archimandrite, so oddly small for a Montenegrin, who in gorgeous cope has just received the bishop - was one of the little band whose heroic defence of the Upper Monastery is one of Montenegro's most glorious feats. The chanting in the church ceases, and I turn to see the venerable bishop leaving, followed by his train of priests. He sees me and beckons me to come to him. He inquires if everything is as I wish, for I am his guest.


"I am glad thou lovest Ostrog. Stay as long as thou wilt, for thou art very welcome."

Then he passes on, the little knot of peasants pushing forward to kiss his hand and the cross hanging on his breast.

"This afternoon I will come to thee," says Father Filip, pressing my hand. " I have much to talk to thee about."

I smile, for I know we shall speak of Russia's friendship, of the danger from Austria and the moral right that Montenegro holds to rule the Herzegovina.

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