Swallows of Christ is the title of a documentary about the history and modern life of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro released in March 2022. Today, the director of the film, Yulia Bocharova, speaks of the Serbian people and their spiritual pastor, Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radovic) of Montenegro and the Littoral.
Bishop Amfilohije (Radovic) grew up in a large family. His father was a very religious person. The Communists exhorted him to renounce his faith, threatening that they would destroy his entire family and children. He said, "I would rather let my children be martyrs than betray God." The Metropolitan always spoke of his parents with great love, saying that they were very profound people who were able to raise him in the Orthodox faith.
When, on December 27, 2019, the Parliament of Montenegro adopted a bill legalising the seizure of all property belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church, Vladyka was able to inspire thousands of believers to pray. People went out to pray twice a week for several months. Standing on the bell tower, I could see literally the whole city gathering in and around the cathedral church of Podgorica. The entire square and neighbouring streets were occupied by people. This was a real profession of Christian faith lived in our day and age.
In our film Swallows of Christ, besides showing the scale of the fateful events in modern Montenegro, I wanted to tell people about the Church and the Metropolia through love and beauty, to show exactly what the people issuing this law wanted to destroy.
Serbs are an amazing nation. These people love their Fatherland, know their history, keep their traditions and protect the most precious thing they have - their Orthodox faith.
They truly have fervent faith in God. Everyone that I have met was a sincere, honest, open, genuine and lively person. They love and make friends like there is no tomorrow; they live for today and rejoice. It seems to me that it is with their childish ingenuous faith that they were able to defend their Church. The Metropolitan once said (this is actually in the film) that the Serbs need to learn repentance from the Russians, and the Russians need to learn joy from the Serbs. The Serbian people have lived through a lot; besides the Yugoslav events, there were also wars with the Turks, when they were literally massacred.
One of the heroes in our film is Bora Djukic, the first honorary consul of Russia in Montenegro and now also my great friend and brother. We were supposed to film an interview with him after a vigil service and a procession. It was already 12 o'clock at night, and he was waiting for us. I thought that he would be upset about such a late visit, but he and his whole family met us as the closest friends: they fed us, greeted us and embraced us with their warmth. We were recording the interview until two in the morning, and then Bora said to me, "Come with me to the balcony, I'll show you something." He opened the door, and showed me six Russian birches growing underneath his windows. He planted them according to the number of his children. I saw a fluttering Russian flag on the rooftop of his house in the center of Podgorica. It impressed me a lot.
Vladyka Amfilohije was able to turn the Metropolia into a family. He personally tonsured and knew by name every monk and every nun (this is surprising, considering the size of his see). The Metropolitan was caring, ardent and compassionate. He was a real warrior of Christ, a rock in the ocean of ignorance and disbelief. He lived with God and loved Him so much that God could be seen through his pure heart, like through a piece of glass. Through his personality, one became closer to God, because he himself absolutely succeeded in this.
After the collapse of Yugoslavia, Vladyka was left with a completely ruined metropolia. The previous metropolitan, as well as many abbots, monks and believers were killed. When he began to build the Cathedral in Podgorica, which now accommodates several thousand people, people told him, "Why build such a big church? There are no believers in the Metropolia." There is a remarkable photograph where he is standing alone in the pit for the foundation of the future cathedral. He said that this church was definitely needed. Now we can see how people do not fit inside it.
The upholding of the Orthodox faith is the apogee, the apotheosis of Metropolitan Amfilohije's service. In 30 years of his ministry, he restored and built 700 churches and monasteries. However, it is not only churches that were restored, but also the human souls that he managed to transform.
The people who went out to pray really believed their bishop, who, together with them, witnessed the loss of Kosovo before his own eyes, saving the Serbs under fire, collecting their remains and burying them, even though it was very dangerous. This man has always been with the people. People remembered this and believed him.
Serbs were really looking forward to the release of our film; they said that we deserved a monument in Serbia (laughs). It means a lot to them that Russians filmed such a story about them, to hymn their people. Of course, they are very grateful. They are our real brothers. Today we see how the Serbs support Russia. They are probably the only people in Europe who are not throwing stones at us.
Metropolitan Amfilohije was very fond of the Russian people and our country. He revered the Royal Family and sincerely believed that the Serbs and Russians truly are fraternal peoples that should always remain together. Serbs once confided that they were jealous when the Metropolitan gave all his attention to Russian visitors.
They told me a story about one Russian nun who came on a pilgrimage to Montenegro and fell ill. She had problems with money. When Vladyka found out about it, he did everything to help her. He even personally came to visit her, despite his busy schedule. This incident shows with what love he treated people. It has always been amazing...
When Vladyka was admitted to the hospital, everyone was worried and prayed for him. When it became clear that he was already leaving, his cell-attendant said, “Vladyka, wait, don’t leave. A priest will soon come and bring the Holy Gifts.” By that time, Vladyka's vital signs were already going down. His blood pressure was going 60, 50, 40, 20... Too low for a person to live. When Vladyka heard about Communion, his pressure began to recover. When it returned to normal, he opened his mouth, took communion, and said, “Ready.” It was similar to the Lord's words “It is finished.” that He said on the Cross. After that, Vladyka peacefully departed to the Lord.
Shortly before that, he said that he would come to the Cetinje monastery dead or alive for the feast of St Peter of Cetinje. Vladyka deeply revered St Peter of Cetinje and always cited his teachings. No one remembered these words, but in the end, he kept his promise. He was buried at the Cetinje Monastery on the feast of St Peter of Cetinje, Metropolitan and ruler of Montenegro in the 19th century.
Vladyka often recalled an incident: When St Peter of Cetinje was dying and handing over his see to Peter II, the former asked, "What am I going to do? What have you left me with?" St Peter answered, "Hold on to Russia and God."
When Vladyka Amfilohije departed, Montenegro mourned. She was orphaned, lost her father, grandfather and apostle. Vladyka was buried by Metropolitan Mark (Arndt) of Berlin and Germany. Metropolitan Mark shared that the Paschal feeling of joy and absence of death would not leave him, because one more saint entered the Kingdom of Heaven. He added that the poor and the homeless were crying at the funeral, because no one would treat them with as much attention as Vladyka. Metropolitan Amfilohije never despised them. He gave them his last money and food, helping them both in word and deed.
Vladyka was very fond of the elderly and children, treating them with special warmth. He could spend hours talking to elderly people, for whom he had great respect. Even if he was in a hurry, some old woman could stop him by saying, “Vladyka, I have an urgent question…” They would say, “Vladyka, why are you stopping? We have an event; they are waiting for you; this is important...” He always answered, "I am here for the people." He felt needed...
Photos from the personal archive of Yulia Bocharova