Blaže Minevski

Ddevice_video still by OPA
Translated from the Macedonian by Elizabeta Bakovska

There, you have finally discovered the little case containing this letter I wrote, inside the grave of my only daughter Jola.

Read along now, for this is how it happened:

The old Ohrid priest, Apostol Mizo, opened St. Clement’s church to let the Ohrid dignitaries - Nejko Celebi, Stance Bey, Bujar Ligdo and Malecko Bey - enter. Then, at the time of the archbishop Arsenios, they were rich furriers, spending most of the year in Constantinople. They all wanted Arsenios driven from Ohrid, but only the former two were spies of the vizier.

As they lit candles before the icon of the Three Handed Mother of God they came up with a shrewd plot; they found forged money and buried some in the archbishopric yard, while distributing the rest around the city. After several days they informed the authorities that forged money belonging to the patriarch was being spent widely. The authorities searched Arsenios's home and found the money buried in the yard.

Read along now, for this is how it happened:

Although Arsenios was not immediately removed, his end was near. It was just that Nejko Celebi, Stance Bey, Bujar Ligdo and Malecko Bey did not want it to happen immediately. That is why they invented another trick. Selim Eri-pasha, the administrator of the city, ruled by oppression and high taxes. In order to save the people, these same dignitaries who invented the money deception proposed a plea to the sultan to remove the pasha from Ohrid. Of course, this was but a ruse, for the actual subject of the plea would not be the pasha, but the patriarch.

Read along now, for this is how it happened:

This plea against Arsenios was written in Turkish, and the people of Ohrid did not know this language, so they were deceived. But immediately after the request to replace the pasha was made, the command came to remove Arsenios, and it became clear what kind of a plea the people of Ohrid had sent to Constantinople. So Nejko Celebi, Stance Bey, Bujar Ligdo and Malecko Bey finished their business as they had planned. Celebi and Stance did it for the money, and Ligdo and Malecko simply because it pleased them so. However, let us be clear, the fact that the people of Ohrid didn’t know what they were sending to Constantinople does not excuse them for their treachery to their patriarch Arsenios. The old man was very surprised, he opposed this command, but in the end he had to leave. What I want to say is: be careful when it comes to the pleas that are sent on your behalf by those who can sell you with a trick.

Read along now, for this is how it happened:

Before leaving for Constantinople, in the summer of 1767, Arsenios led the service in St. Clement’s church before many people, and neither he nor the people realised that his sermon addressed the real traitors. The last Ohrid patriarch publicly cursed Nejko Celebi, Stance Bey and Bujar Ligdo; then two weeks later, when the Constantinople emissaries reached Top-kapi with the patriarch and his nephew Georgi Belascev, the guards immediately surrounded them on the bridge before the gate and sent them by a coal merchant ship to Mount Athos.

Ten years later, an old man from Zografos monastery told me a different version of the story, showing me the cell where Arsenios had died. Later, under a fig tree, as quietly as he could, he told me that the patriarch had been very sad and disappointed by the closing of the archbishopric, and that he went alone with his nephew Georgi to Constantinople to protect his rights and to save his people from a disaster they themselves were not aware of. Which people? Those who betrayed him, not knowing that they did? He carried many chrysobulls and other manuscripts with him. On his journey he stopped briefly at Mount Athos to pray, but was kept there for several months, waiting to be called to Constantinople. Once a coal merchant ship came, but he did not leave with it. The ship only came to see if Arsenios was still alive. Several days later, the patriarch died in a Zografos cell; the same cell that the old man showed me, although I knew it well already. Now I knew that he had left for Constantinople to fight, to save the Ohrid Archbishopric if he could, but that he never reached the sultan, and was imprisoned until his death at Zografos monastery on Mount Athos.

Read along now, for this is how it happened:

When I returned to Ohrid, they were already singing a song about him. In this song, the patriarch cried before his people in the yard of St. Clement's church and hot tears ran down his beard. The people cried too, he hugged them all, one by one, they kissed his hand and tears poured from his hand as from a spring. It lasted for several hours, and then Arsenios closed his hands, looked at the skied and cursed Nejko Celebi, Stance Bey and Bujar Ligdo. At that moment the cries of the people tore the skies and Arsenios mounted his horse and left Ohrid forever. Then, as the song goes, all of a sudden, the families of the cursed ones disappeared as if they never existed; the spiders wove their webs in their houses and owls sang under their roofs. Let me not go on, for you must have seen that the song only mentions three of the traders who betrayed Arsenios. Why is the fourth one not mentioned?

Read along now, for this is how it happened:

Arsenios left; the people watched him go as far as they could, and they cried, they tore the skies. If they cried for him or for themselves, I leave it to you to decide. On the seventh day Arsenios deviated from Via Egnatia and reached Mount Athos. I do not believe that he did it of his free will, because he was accompanied by twelve emissaries of the sultan, who were supposed to bring him to Constantinople alive. Most probably, this was a plan prepared by someone in advance, and the two letters that I found in the Zografos monastery cell after his death show that he was aware that he would not return to Ohrid alive. As the old man lit the torch in the cell, I took the letters hidden in a crack in the stone, without him noticing, of course. They concerned his resignation of the position of Ohrid archbishop, and his removal from the Pelagonia eparchy, where he was supposed to reside after leaving the Ohrid throne. He seems to have written the second letter before leaving for Constantinople, but he could have written it at Mount Athos, after what had happened to him on the road, or in Zografos monastery. Although, at the end of the two resignations, written in his clear handwriting, he wrote that he offered his voluntary and unforced resignation, the letters indicated something else; the handwriting tilted backwards, as if somebody had pushed the pen to write faster. This is how it went: "With this voluntary and unforced resignation, I, Arsenios, the undersigned, state that I do not have the force to manage and repair the needs of the Ohrid Archbishopric, which occurred..." he crossed over occurred and wrote happened, and then continued "one after another before us and in the course of our days, and gave many reasons for the evil doers to attack the archbishopric and harm and offend the included metropolises and their poor people, and because my Christian people can not otherwise escape, except via my destroying the Archbishopric, I hereby relinquish the Ohrid Archbishopric, except my former Pelagonia eparchy, which I shall have as long as I live so that I am provided my food and other needs. With such an agreement with the holy brothers the archbishops I hereby offer this voluntary and unforced resignation, which should be put in the holy code of the Great Church of Christ, and via this before Parthenios, the blessed patriarch of Jerusalem." The date of 16 January 1767 is placed under the letter.

If one carefully reads what is written, one can immediately notice that the same words voluntarily and unforced are repeated twice in the letter, in the beginning and in the end. Who asked for this to be written twice, and in such a manner, in his last letter as the first man of the Ohrid Archbishopric, which was all of a sudden to be closed after eight hundred years? And why was no other archbishopric later cancelled voluntarily and unforced?

The second letter was Arsenios's resignation from his Pelagonia eparchy, where he planned to live if he was to return from Constantinople: "With this voluntary resignation I state that I cannot live there because of the untrustworthy behaviour of the dignitaries, and therefore I, voluntarily and unforced, give up my Pelagonia eparchy in the name of his holiness the Metropolitan of Meglen, my beloved brother Nathaniel, as worthy and capable of running this eparchy. Therefore I honestly ask that the holy and honorable master, and the holy archbishops of the Holy Synod agree to this solution I have reached and appoint his holiness, and not another person, to this metropolitan district. As a proof and in support of this I hereby offer my voluntary resignation, supported by my signature and seal." Next to the seal there was the date, 24 July 1767, and immediately under it the note that the letter was written by the former archbishop of Pelagonia, Arsenios.
Eight days later he was already dead.

Read along now, for this is how it happened:

It was I who poisoned Arsenios. I had been sent from Constantinople to the Zografos monastery three days before he arrived. I was told to pretend to be a hermit-monk and receive him, show him his cell and be at his service whenever he needed me. He was not to reach the sultan, for then the real reason for the closing of the Ohrid Archbishopric would become known. For this service, for the poison hemlock tea, I was well paid by the Romeian patriarch Jeremiah, who had already agreed that the Peć patriarchy was to take its place. On the day Arsenios died, I left with a coal merchant ship to Constantinople, and an old man from the Hilandarion monastery was sent to replace me. It was the same old man who received me some ten years later to show me the cell of patriarch Arsenios at the Zografos monastery.

After so many years, looking at these letters of Arsenios now, I know that we do not need anybody else against us but ourselves. That is why the coal merchant ship will come again with instructions so that there is nothing left. And you will do it. And you will again trust those who speak on another's behalf - and whoever speaks on another's behalf always lies. Still, the truth must prevail one day. Just like this case that I place in the grave of my only daughter Jola. I have remained alone, though we used to be a big, rich family; I was the patron of three churches in Ohrid, and now the spiders weave their webs in our house; the owls sings under the eaves and I am dying, listening to waves on the lake. Oh, words of bile, words of sorrow!

Be quiet now, for this is how it happened:

I am Malecko Bey, one of the four traders who betrayed Arsenios. I was not mentioned by the honest patriarch at St. Clement church, but I too existed, both in bile and in sorrow.

© University of Wales, Aberystwyth 2002-2009       home  |  e-mail us  |  back to top
site by CHL