Blesok no. 67-68, July-October, 2009
Prose


Words of Bile, Words of Sorrow
• Živko Čingo award, 2009 •

Blaže Minevski


There, you have finally discovered the little case with 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 the St. Clement 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, and they used to spend most of the year in Constantinople. They all wanted Arsenios persecuted from Ohrid, but only the two former two were spies of the vizier.
    As they lit candles before the icon of the Three Handed Mother of God they came with a shrewd plot; they found some forged money and buried part of them in the archbishopric yard, while distributing part of them around the city. After several days they informed the authorities that some false money of the patriarch was being spent around. The authorities searched Arsenios's home and they 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, who was the administrator of the city, ruled with oppression and high taxes. In order to save the people from him, the same dignitaries who invented the money deception sent a plea to the sultan to remove the pasha from Ohrid. Of course, the plea was but a mean coax, for it was not against the pasha but against the patriarch.
    Read along now, for this is how it happened:
    The plea against Arsenios was written in Turkish, and the people of Ohrid did not know this language, so they were deceived. Immediately after the request to replace the pasha, the command came to remove Arsenios and therefore it was clear what kind of a plea the people of Ohrid had sent to Constantinople. By the way, 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 because it pleased them so. However, let us be clear, the fact that they did not know what they were sending to Constantinople does not excuse the people for the 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 with 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 served in the St. Clement church before many people, and neither he nor the people knew that the sermon was for the traitors. The last Ohrid patriarch publicly cursed only Nejko Celebi, Stance Bey and Bujar Ligdo; 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 bit different truth, showing me the cell where Arsenios had died. Later, under a fig tree, as quietly as he could, he told me that the patriarch was very sad, disappointed by the closing of the archbishopric, and therefore he went alone with his nephew Georgi to Constantinople to protect his rights and save his people from the disaster they themselves were not aware of. Which people? Those who betrayed him, not knowing that they did? He carried many chrysobulls and a load of other manuscripts with him. Going to Constantinople, he shortly stopped at Mount Athos to pray, and he 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 had known it well already. Now I knew that he had left for Constantinople to fight, to save the Ohrid Archbishopric if he could, but he never reached the sultan, he was imprisoned to 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 flew 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 rode on his horse and left Ohrid forever. As the song said, then, all of a sudden, as if they never existed, the families of the cursed ones disappeared; the spiders waved their webs in their houses and awls sang under their roofs. Let me not go on, for you must have seen that the song only mentions three of the traders who sold Arsenios. Why is the fourth one not mentioned?



Read along now, for this is how it happened:
    Arsenios left; the people looked at him 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 on 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 me, of course. They concerned the resignation on the position of Ohrid archbishop, and removal from the Pelagonia eparchy, where he was supposed to withdraw and reside after leaving the Ohrid throne. He wrote the second letter before leaving for Constantinople, but he might have written it at Mount Athos as well, which means that he knew what would happen with 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; they were all slightly bent 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 attacked the archbishopric and harm and offend the included metropolises and their poor people, and because my Christian people can not otherwise escape these hands, except via 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 provide my food and other needs. With such an agreement with the holy brothers 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 can not leave there because of the untrustworthy moves 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 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 they 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 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 Hilandarion monastery was brought to my place. 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 to tell what to do so that there is nothing left. And you shall do it. And you shall trust again those who speak on somebody else's behalf, and whoever speaks on somebody else'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, and we used to be a big, rich family; I was the patron of three churches in Ohrid, and now the spiders wave their webs in our house; the awls sings under the eaves and I am dying listening to lake waves. 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 of bile and of sorrow.

Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska




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