For my brother and me, the autumn of 1990 was full of existential dilemmas and emotional turmoil. We abandoned our studies in the United States with the intention to find a secluded place and "dedicate ourselves to God," even though, without any spiritual experience, we didn't even know the exact meaning of those words. So, we flew back to our hometown, Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, to say goodbye to our widowed mother, who was living by herself and whose greatest wish was to see her sons get university degrees.
Uncertain about our plans for the future, we went to see our parish priest the very morning after our arrival, and told him we want to go live in a monastery. He, somewhat suspicious of the new bishop, arranged for us to meet Bishop Savas of Šumadija in Kragujevac, central Serbia.
The late Bishop, a very learned man, received us warmly in his residence. Upon hearing about our wishes and confusion, he told us a little about monastic life, and then sent us to spend a night in a monastery 10 kilometers outside the city, named Divostin. There we met a young hieromonk, Father Philemon, who told us about an elder from the monastery of Vitovnica, his spiritual father, and suggested we go there to seek his advice.
We had heard about Elder Thaddeus just a few days earlier from a friend whose mother went to talk to him and came back home full of praises about "the wonderful monk." We decided to visit him. I imagined him as some kind of soothsayer who could help us make crucial decisions about our future life.
The next morning, we had to change three buses on our way to Petrovac na Mlavi, and then, instead of waiting for the rare bus, we decided to walk the final distance of about seven kilometers of rolling hills on foot. When we walked through the small village of Vitovnica, an amazing sight opened up before our eyes. There was a white monastery on a hill next to a high rock, from which, a little lower, a spring burst, turning into a stream that flowed through a beautiful grove, and then along the entire village we had just left behind.
When we climbed the hill and entered the monastery, we approached the only person there, a short monk with white beard and a wide smile, who was standing in front of the church and watching us. He was waiting for us. One of us asked where we could find Father Thaddeus, but I could already sense we were talking to him. When we asked him if we could have a talk with him, he suggested we sit a little farther, at a wooden table under a black cherry tree on a small plateau overlooking the Vitovnica valley.
He meekly and patiently listened while we told him in a few sentences about our perplexity and internal conflicts. Then a rarely interrupted monologue of about an hour and a half followed. He talked quietly but clearly, mostly looking down, only occasionally looking up at us and showing his grace-filled eyes. My brother and I listened to him carefully, at times laughing, at times letting a tear roll down our cheeks. During the conversation, it felt as if someone from above was removing a dark veil over our eyes, over our prodigal souls.
Father Thaddeus just told us little stories from the lives of other people, which would start like, "There is a man here, in Kragujevac, who...", or "I knew a woman once...", but they were all, we firmly knew, directed at us, and they hit us straight into our hearts. For the first time in our lives, God's will was revealed to us in this way, and that was an indescribable experience.
After the end of the conversation, when I felt like embracing the entire world, the elder offered us to stay in the monastery overnight and attend the Liturgy the next morning. Impatient to pass the grace on to our mother, however, we received his blessing, wished him goodbye, ran down the hill and took a bus back home to Novi Sad.
Father Thaddeus' main message to us was not to go to a monastery because of two reasons. The first one was that we didn't have our parent's blessing (out father had died when we were only ten years old). The second one was the rapid decline of Serbian monastic life, with very little true spiritual struggle left in the monasteries. Until the end of the 20th century, as he told us through an allegory, it would be easier to find a spiritual person in the world than in a monastery. He advised us, therefore, to be "monks in the world."
He also told us about the danger of Eastern teachings and religions, towards which he felt we were inclined. He said that the ultimate goal in Orthodox Christianity was not miracles or "enlightenment," but achieving internal peace through prayer and humbleness.
After this first meeting, a hitherto inexperienced euphoria could not leave me for seven days. Everything in life seemed so simple and comprehensible. Alas, this event did not permanently direct me toward a life in the Church, according to God's commandments, but this is already another story.
My second and last meeting with Elder Thaddeus took place a few weeks later, at the end the year 1990. He was sick, he wasn't feeling well, and he almost did not receive us. Since it was cold and damp outside, we talked in his modestly furnished bedroom. He wasn't as cheerful as the first time, he even lightly admonished us, but this second conversation was just as beneficial.
Since the interethnic tension was on the rise in the country, I remember asking him, among other things, about the fate of our nation. He told me that if the Croats don't cease persecuting and mistreating Serbs, they will one day dearly pay for it.
The next time I came to Vitovnica was not until after Elder Thaddeus's repose, which occurred in 2003, and I only prayed on his grave and lighted a few candles in the church. The monk I talked to in the church had not even met him.
In the next few months after those two visits, I felt reluctant to bother him again with my insignificant problems. When the war broke out the next year, my brother and I returned to the United States to complete our studies. Upon coming back to Serbia, I heard he was staying in a private house 40 kilometers from Novi Sad. I was told he was very feeble, and he only talked to the clergy. It wasn't until much later that I found out his stay in that house was connected to maltreatment by the ecclesiastic authority caused by jealousy. The elder accepted the new circumstance gracefully and self-effacingly.
I don't know if there are still such elders in Serbia, or in the world for that matter, but I am only one among many who have testified that Father Thaddeus was a true bearer of the Holy Spirit. With his loving advice and prayer, he has helped thousands of visitors. For his unreserved devotion to the Lord and his tireless commitment to his fellow neighbour, he has received many gifts from God, among them clairvoyance and a grace-filled soul.
So, we who have met him and talked to him, as well as those who have felt his holiness after being told or reading about him, we know that we have a powerful intercessor in the heavens. Father Thaddeus, pray to God for us!