28 Jan 2008
Listen … listen … the church bells are ringing! Will anyone hear? … Will anyone come? The doors are locked. The people must be somewhere else.
Across this beautiful country that we call Montenegro are hundreds of churches. … Many are centuries old. They are usually located in the center of town where all can see and hear the calling of their bells. Some are on islands or on hillsides while others are high on a mountain. There is a church along a wall used to protect a town from its enemies. Nearly all churches have bells mounted in their lofty towers. Sometimes there is only one bell. Other times there are several. Devoted followers ring the bells. The ringing sound always comes from the bells … not from loudspeakers like the wail from the tall minarets of the followers of Islam.
Centuries ago there was one church in Montenegro. This was the Roman Catholic Church and it dominated the religious and the political lives of the people. Eventually, the Eastern Orthodox Church came into power and today over 60 % of the people of Montenegro claim allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Church and less than 10% to the Catholic Church. The doctrinal teachings of these two churches are similar though each claims to be the only “true” church. Their major differences are in the leadership and the various icons and religious symbols. Both give Mary, the mother of Jesus, a God-like position in the church. In present day Montenegro, they coexist peacefully, but just over ten years ago ethnic and political tensions encouraged by religious leaders resulted in a horrific war. Religious hatred in the Balkans is centuries old and untold millions have died in the region because of differences in beliefs.
In the past, the government provided much of the funding for the church but today this funding is no more, consequently, many church buildings in desperate need of repair. Priests, nuns, and monks must make great sacrifices to continue their devotion to the church. The Montenegrin people, few of whom attend church at all, give only a pittance to support the religion they would fight and die for. On bulletin boards, death notices are posted with a clear statement of the deceased’s religious affiliation.
A visit with a dedicated monk as he explains the important symbols, the legacies and the principals of the Eastern Orthodox Church provides insight into this religious order. The sacred hand-made Bible, the crowns, the tapestries, the paintings and the frescoes are the treasures of the church. These are what the church holds dear. Each Sunday morning the monk preaches to a congregation of about 100 who stand for the entire three-hour liturgy. As they stand and listen, they are able to view images of the saints. It is these images of saints that provide a window to heaven through which their prayers are heard.
The Orthodox Church believes that after Jesus was crucified he was buried in a tomb containing the bones of Adam. The skull and cross bones on many grave markers symbolize this belief.
The Catholic Church in Montenegro like that of the Orthodox Church is severely under funded. In the city of Herceg Novi, there is a large Catholic Church building but only three dedicated and very accomodating nuns run it. This large church building has few worshippers despite the loving care given to the facilities. A priest only comes to this church for marriages, for funerals, and for baptisms.
The people of Montenegro have long since stopped attending the churches. To a Montenegrin, regular church attendance is considered to be one or two times a year. Easter and Christmas is when most people attend church. The bells, however, continue to ring but … they don’t make music that will awaken the hearts of the people.
There are a few in Montenegro that hear a different kind of bell … a bell of Truth. There is music. There is music that honors and worships Jesus. These faithful ones hear God’s Word proclaimed from the Bible. But their numbers are so few. These Montenegrins are called evangelical Christians. As of 2005, there were only three churches in all of Montenegro for evangelical Christians and a total of only about 120 followers out of the nearly 700,000 people in this country. There are no native pastors in these churches. Instead, two of the pastors are missionaries from nearby Serbia and the third is an American who returned to the land of his parents to start a church.
A new kind of bell … a new kind of music … is beginning to be heard in Montenegro. Will you pray that more people will hear? Will you pray that more people will come? Will you pray that the people of Montenegro will come to believe in the one true savior, Jesus Christ?
Herceg Novi HAIR-seeg NO-vee
Montenegro MAHN-teh- nee-gro
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