In a small, humble village in Kosovo, a great event in the life of the Church took place on Sunday, May 20. On this day, the first Divine Liturgy glorifying the memory of the newly-canonized St. Bosiljka the Martyr of Pasjane was held, with the local bishop, His Grace Teodosije of Raška-Prizren, along with many priests, monks, nuns, and a multitude of the faithful in attendance. At the most recent Holy Synod meeting in Belgrade, Martyr Bosiljka, who has been venerated by the local faithful for many years, was finally officially canonized. With great joy, the faithful for the first time sang the troparion and kontakion to the saint they had for many decades venerated locally, and her holy presence and protection were strongly felt by all.
The Holy Martyr Bosiljka lived in the mid-nineteenth century in the village of Pasjane, near the town of Gnjilane, in eastern Kosovo. Her family was poor, and she lived an average peasant life, helping her family harvest their crops and tend to the farm animals. Due to the Ottoman oppression of Christians, the village no longer had a church, but Bosiljka’s family was known for their piety. She often walked about eleven miles each way to Draganac Monastery, a refuge for local Christians hidden in the mountains, in order to pray and receive the Holy Mysteries.
When Bosiljka was seventeen years old, however, her quiet life in the village was to come to an end as she would respond with faith and courage to a higher calling. One year, her family decided to go into the town of Gnjilane, where there was still a functioning Orthodox parish, for the feast of St. Elijah. Unfortunately, as often happened under Ottoman rule at the time, a Muslim Albanian saw the beauty of young Bosiljka, and charmed by her innocence begged her to convert to Islam and be his wife. Bosiljka rebuked his advances, and to his requests that she become a Muslim and promises of many gifts she said that she needed no other faith than that of Christ and that nothing is more beautiful than Him.
The Muslim was very offended that a young girl would act with such boldness towards him, and so he kidnapped her and took her to his home. He tried starving her into submission, but to no avail. Bosiljka remained firm that Christ was all she required, and that no torture or deprivation could take her from Him and His love. The Muslim then took her to speak with another previously-Orthodox Christian Serbian woman who had converted to Islam, who tried to convince her to accept Islam for the sake of her own life and for the safety of her family. Young Bosiljka responded again that she needed no faith other than that of the Orthodox, and that as for a husband—she already had one. Curious, the Muslim Serbian woman asked her who this husband is, to which Bosiljka said, “Christ, of course! He is my bridegroom, I belong to Him alone, and I will not renounce Him or my Holy Faith, unlike you, whom I pity.”
The Muslim Serb responded, “Don’t be so stubborn, convert and save your soul!” to which Bosiljka firmly responded, “That’s not how you save your soul, but rather, how you lose it.”
Frustrated, the Muslim Serbian woman returned Bosiljka to the Albanian Muslim who had fallen in love with her, who again tried to convince her to convert and marry him. Failing utterly, further tortures awaited Bosiljka, which she bore with bravery, strength, and great faith in Christ. They held her face above a chimney to choke her with the smoke, then threw hot coals on her. To this, Bosiljka’s only response was “Kill me, all you can do is kill my body, but I will remain an Orthodox Christian, I will remain with Christ, I will remain pure, and this you cannot take from me!”
Humiliated at his inability to make the seventeen-year-old girl change her mind, the Albanian Muslim tied Bosiljka to a horse and dragged her to the edge of the town, where he and several of his friends slowly cut the martyr into pieces while she was yet living, as they screamed “Death to the filthy Serb!” The whole time, Bosiljka is said to have just repeated the words “God, grant me to endure to the end, don’t let me give in, help me to endure to the end!” Her final words were “This is not my death, this is not my end, rather, this is the beginning of my eternal life. It is you, rather, who have died for eternity.” And thus, she gave up her soul to Christ her Bridegroom, after many tortures, showing much courage and giving a great witness to the love and truth of Christ.
Her family was able to retrieve her earthly remains from the Turkish authorities, and they buried them in the ruins of the ancient village church. Several decades later, when the Tanzimat Reforms were enacted in the Ottoman Empire and Christians could once again build churches, the village of Pasjane restored their church and enshrined Bosiljka’s holy relics within a stone column in the church. Placing relics within a stone column or foundation to protect them had become common in Ottoman Serbia, as too often the Turks or Albanians had desecrated relics that had been left out in the open. In this way many relics, including those of Holy Martyr Bosiljka, have been preserved to the present day.
And so the life of a teenage girl from a small village in Kosovo, who otherwise would probably have been long since forgotten, has entered into eternity, and has come to warm our hearts today. Holy Martyr Bosiljka, along with many other New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke, was an average person: She was not a nun, nor a great ascetic, nor a theologian; her village did not even have a church during her lifetime. And yet, when it was asked of her, she gave her life for Christ, and that with much pain and suffering. Her life cries out to us through the centuries as a witness to the great love and power of Christ, of the great glories awaiting those who are faithful to Him, and to the reality that every person can be a saint. It is not only monks and nuns who are called to sanctity, but all Christians—from a seventeen-year-old girl, as in the case of Bosiljka, to bakers, gardeners, and shopkeepers, as in the case of other martyrs of the Ottoman Yoke. The life of this girl from a small village in Kosovo proclaims to all of us, throughout the world, throughout time, that we can all be holy, and that not only is this a possibility, but it is what is required of us.