Every winter, the feast day of our winter chapel dedicated to Hieromartyr Habbakuk (+Dec 17,1814) offers us courage and consolation. This saint is very close to us. He met his death for Christ right around the age that many of us died to the world out of love for Christ.
Dedicating our winter chapel to him was the perfect choice, as his feastday is celebrated in wintertime. He is also close to our monastery because he set out from our historical 14th-century monastery Stjenik to the uprising in which he suffered. The simultaneously poignant and triumphant hymns of the service cannot but inspire and edify.
"Rejoice, o ye heavens! All ye lovers of fatherland, make ye glad on the earth! Danube and Sava rivers, let your streams dance, for this day a beautiful warrior of Christ, the stalwart Hierodeacon Habbakuk refused to deny Christ, going courageously to death, not fearing the deadly stake which he bore on his shoulders, singing with a great voice, 'There is no faith better than the Christian faith. A Serb is Christ's, he rejoices at death. God's terrible judgment awaits the Hagarenes. Do as you will with me. Soon the Turks will meet their doom. God is your enemy; justice is God's.' Thus he mocked the cruelty of the Hagarenes, and now rejoices forever in the heavenly kingdom..." (Vespers of the Feast, "Glory")
Singing these words, though we seem alone on our mountain in the middle of nowhere, we feel the majesty of the great community to whom we belong. From the Danube and Sava, the double beating heart of our nation, over our Balkan hills, plains and valleys where we were born, rises up a song of praise for our brother in blood as well as spirit. From the most humble beginning, poverty, orphanhood, suffering and finally a torturous death, he was lifted up to the highest heavens. Our little voices chime in from our desert mountain to the highest heavens where his praises are being sung in a way whose beauty and joy we cannot imagine. Leaving aside all earthly cares - of which we too, like everyone else, have our share - in moments like this we have a tiny taste of God's eternity.
Usually this is our private little monastic celebration, as more often than not the winter conditions prevent any visitors from coming. This year, though this winter's mild weather did not treat us to the sort of radiant snow that we are used to at this time of year, it did bring us another, greater gift - the surprise visit of our sisters from our metochion Uteshiteljevo. It was a most welcome surprise and our hearts were full as we celebrated the memory of our beloved saint together.
Our sisters arrived in time for the solemn Vespers service and pitched in afterward for more last-minute preparations for the coming day.
Matins and Holy Liturgy on the day of the feast were conducted with peace and concentration by clergymen from our neighboring brother skete.
After a cordial agape meal, we spent the rest of the day enjoying each other's company, as our chances to be together are rare.
For a special treat, we took a walk with our visiting sisters, who enjoyed their much-missed wilderness for at least one day before having to return to Uteshiteljevo for that weekend's services.
Though the mountain was wearing a rather somber grey coat, the warmth and sunshine that day seemed to reflect the great joy that we felt, like a ray of sunshine piercing into a quiet, somber room.
Every feast day brings a gift of grace that reminds us, if even faintly, of the immeasurable blessedness of those in the heavenly kingdom, those who have completed the race upon which we have all embarked.