Sunday, June 29, 2008

Vidovdan in America

Speech Given on Vidovdan
by MV Pejakovich
Saturday, 6/28/08
Serbian Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Fair Oaks, CA

Today is Vidovdan. Commemorating the day, 619 years ago, when Serbian Prince Lazar and a Serb Christian army defended themselves and Christian Europe from the onslaught of an army of Turkish Islamic invaders at the battlefield of Kosovo Polje.

Sadly, on the battlefield, this day that we honor was not a battle won for Czar Lazar and these brave men, but rather a physical battle lost, as Prince Lazar and all his Christian soldiers died. And, as a result, the Serbs were to spend the next five hundred years in Ottoman chains, forced to understand the literal meaning of the invader’s religion -- “Islam” – which means “Submission”.

Yet, at the same time, by their sacrifice, Czar Lazar and his brave knights forged in the Serb heart and soul a spiritual victory that could not have been won any other way. And this noble deed, would sustain generation after generation of Serbs, for 500 years, to never give up hope, to never give up who they were, to never give up on that which Czar Lazar and his knights sacrificed themselves for.

For the Holy Cross and Golden Freedom!

The courage that was shown by Czar Lazar, the spirit of resistance and sacrifice that was born that day at Kosovo Polje also stood as a Christian witness to the world. Historians and scholars, in both the East and West, saw this great deed and praised the impressive sacrifice the Serbs made to defend European Christianity and their own Christian identity. The Battle of Kosovo on the Field of Blackbirds, was admired for centuries as an ideal of bravery and Christian sacrifice.

Yet today uninformed non-Serbs (an not a few who call themselves “Serbs”) who don’t understand can say, “Why should you commemorate such a day? Why would you choose to remember every year the day you were defeated?”

The intellectual answer to that question is long and complex, and does not really answer the always thirsty mind. But the spiritual answer is simple and true, and fills the soul,

“For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:25.

For these Christian soldiers didn’t just die to preserve their wealth or their real estate. They could have done that by giving up their Christian Faith and without a fight – a fight that in this case they knew that they would lose against superior numbers of the heavily armed Ottoman Turks.

How different the Western world would be if they had given up – if the Gates of Vienna had been “the first line of defense” against the spread of Allah by the sword, instead of the last line of defense for the rest of Europe!

Nor did Lazar and these brave soldiers, as some have suggested, “Commit suicide”. Because suicide means giving up on life – and these soldiers did just the opposite – they embraced life – the life that transcends this earthly kingdom for the Heavenly Kingdom. They looked death in the face and saw through their physical death to the Life Beyond – and this freed them. The freedom of the spirit far exceeds the freedom of the body, as it can see beyond itself and its own death without fear! Therefore these knights could loudly proclaim, “Bolje Grob Nego Rob!” (“Better a Grave than a Slave!”)

These Serb Christian soldiers died to save their souls and the souls of their people, as our Lord Jesus Christ had done, and it gave our people courage to sustain them through the 500 years of slavery that was to come. Czar Lazar & his soldiers walked in the path that Our Lord, Jesus Christ had made for them—to the Cross and the Life beyond–as Our Lord had walked more than a thousand years before them.

Future generations of Serbs & other Christians found their life and their real Christian identity that day at Kosovo Polje, as Czar Lazar and his troops lost their earthly lives there on the battlefield to win this great prize for them – to win it for us!

Serbian Poetry expressed the spiritual meaning of the Battle of Kosovo:

..”From Jerusalem, the holy city,
Flying came a swift grey bird, a falcon,
And he carried in his beak a swallow.

But behold and see! 'Tis not a falcon,
'Tis the holy man of God, Elias,
And he does not bear with him a swallow,
But a letter from God's Holy Mother.
Lo, he bears the letter to Kosovo,
Drops it on the Tsar's knees from the heavens,
And thus speaks the letter to the monarch:
"Tsar Lazar, thou Prince of noble lineage,
What wilt thou now choose to be thy kingdom?
Say, dost thou desire a Heavenly kingdom,
Or dost thou prefer an earthly kingdom?
If thou should now choose an earthly kingdom,
Knights may girdle swords and saddle horses,
Tighten saddle-girths and ride to battle--
You will charge the Turks and crush their army!

But if thou prefer a Heavenly kingdom,
Build thyself a church upon Kosovo,
Let not the foundations be of marble,
Let them be of silk and of scarlet....
And to all thy warriors and their leaders
Thou shalt give the Sacraments and orders,
For thine army shall most surely perish,
And thou too, shalt perish with thine army."

When the Tsar had read the holy letter,
Pondered he, and pondered in this manner:
"Mighty God, what now shall this my choice be!
Shall I choose to have a Hevenly kingdom?
Shall I choose to have an earthly kingdom?
If I now should choose an earthly kingdom,
Lo, an earthly kingdom is but fleeting,
But God's Kingdom shall endure for ever."

And Lazar chose Heaven.”…

Unfortunately, there are those today – who out of ignorance or either as conscious way of trying to demoralize Serbs-- call Czar’s sacrifice and this poetry, “a myth”. There are those who only see the Battle of Kosovo as some kind of Balkan Camelot that never existed, as Camelot in the West never existed – or as some kind of historical event that has no relevance to today.

But these people are blind, because Czar Lazar’s sacrifice was very real, and the poetry is not “myth” but Christian allegory expressing in prose what those who sacrificed their own lives could not tell us in their own words:

Uncover every line of that poetry and of those events at Kosovo Polje, and there is the shining light of Our Lord, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us, there is the Bible, there is the courage it takes to be a real Christian.

But why has this fate fallen to the Serbs? With all the Christians in Europe, why should it have been the Serbs who had to face this again?

"For many are called, but few are chosen." Matthew 22:14.

It’s God Choice, God’s timing, God’s Plans, not ours. We wouldn’t be asking, “Why us?” if it was His choice was that we all win the lottery. So a better question would be, “Why not us?”. Timing, geography, politics. Take your pick. We might be the first to pay such a terrible price again, but it’s doubtful that we will be the last to face such a terrible choice and fate.

But I will tell you this – in the last 600 years – we have never stood closer to Czar Lazar and his courageous sacrifice than we Serbs are standing right now. Because the Kosovo cycle has begun once again – and we are presented with the same question, both as Serbs and as Americans: “Do we wish an earthly kingdom or do we wish a Heavenly one?” Because it is becoming more and more clear that we cannot have both – either on this side of the Atlantic or beyond it.

Some would say that things are too different to compare to Lazar’s choice. We have traitors in our midst, some leaders who are own people who betray us for a few pieces of silver and deliver us to our enemies. And so did Lazar, as did Our Lord Jesus Christ who had Judas do the same thing to him before Lazar.

Some would say, that we have been vilified & demonized so much that it is too hard to endure the emotional abuse of staying the course as Serbian Orthodox Christians.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was lied about repeatedly. Early Christians were accused of killing children to use their blood for the Holy Communion. And our Serbian people suffered the abuse for 500 years of having their Christian children stolen from them and returned to them as Moslem rulers over them; of having their family names stolen from and of having to answer to, “Donkey and potato”, and other names designed to humiliate them, break their will and force them to give up their Christian Faith. Many gave in, but we are descended from those who did not.

“Blessed are you, when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you for my sake. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they also persecuted the prophets who came before you. Matthew 5:11-12

The physical and spiritual trials of those Serbs still living in Kosovo today are equally as great as the trials of those who came before them.

But for those of us living outside of Kosovo – and outside of Serbia –these slights and insults may annoy us & hurt our feelings, but we are not enslaved by anything other than our own pride.

As we have opened the 21st century, we Serbs are still warriors. Warriors for the Golden Cross and Holy Freedom. But this cycle of Kosovo, it is for us here away from Kosovo, a spiritual fight, not a military one. As Bill Dorich described the 21st century Christian warrior hero – “these heroes will fight the lonely battles of conscience, resistance to tyranny and a sacrifice of ego.” They will lose their life in another way, to find it again through Christ. Because this is the only way to find true freedom.

And we Serbian Orthodox Christians are called to lead, not by pride or arrogance, but by Christian example, aiding those in need – because we know the sacrifices that are to come in this world when many of those Christians in our midst do not.

Some may think that the timing of wars that shook the Balkans and what happened here in the US in New York City on 9/11, just two years later, are unrelated. And the Serbs, once called “Guardians of the Gate of Christianity” are no longer needed to fill that role anymore, because NATO will take care of guarding what needs guarded for us in the West.

But NATO cannot protect our spirits, NATO cannot save our souls, NATO cannot save our real lives – only God can.

And if the leaders of this world should one day turn against us, as they have many times in the past to others before us, then what shall we do? What choice will we make? The earthly kingdom to save our physical lives or the Heavenly one to save our spiritual lives?

Many empires, governments and leaders have risen and fallen over the last 2,000, and yet Our Lord Jesus Christ has remained, written on the face of history in the hearts of those brave souls who have given up their lives to follow Him. And we are privileged to have some of the Serbian heroes of Kosovo to call our own -- both from 1389 and those heroes today who now suffer in Kosovo, living in ghettos for fear of their mortal lives while holding fast to their Faith in the Life to come. As Czar Lazar might have once said, “You can take my head, you take my body, for you are a far stronger physical force than we are, but you cannot take our hearts or our souls for they belong to God, alone.”

In February of this year, the current Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said that “Serbs must loose the Balkan sentimentality and accept that Kosovo is no longer theirs.” And I quote, “After all, we are talking about something from 1389 – 1389! It’s time to move on!”

Ms. Rice, Our Lord Jesus Christ walked this earth 2000 years ago and Czar Lazar defended Our Lord’s Church 13 centuries later from those who would destroy it and have us all in the rest of Europe and beyond, pointing toward Mecca to pray today. Both were a very long time ago, but that should make neither less relevant -- especially for anyone calling themselves “a Christian”, as you do.

And Christianity is not “sentimentality, Ms. Rice. It is recognition that there is a force greater than ourselves that our true selves and best selves are in communication with – in Communion with – because we were made by Him and for Communion with Him. Perhaps this a difficult concept for those like yourself, with so much power that they imagine their own omnipotence, but try to follow along.

As for you telling Serbs to accept that “Kosovo is no longer theirs”. Ms. Rice, I was born in the USA, as was my mother. I have never set foot in Kosovo or Serbia. I don’t even speak Serbian. And I am full blooded Montenegrin by heritage, yet I can without hesitation say, “Kosovo is mine. Kosovo is ours. Kosovo is Serbia. Kosovo defined what it means to be a Serb and you cannot take that away from us, because you cannot rewrite history, no matter how hard you try!” And if you cannot convince me as an American, Ms. Rice, and those like me, who do you think that you can convince? Certainly not those Serbs who call Kosovo their home, whose Christian ancestors’ blood has watered the land where they have lived for centuries!

While I have never set foot on Kosovo Polje, the lessons of that day, the love of freedom and the recognition of the sacrifices necessary to be a Christian will never die in the Serb heart – and will never die in the Christian heart.

Politics come & go, empires come & go – and Ms. Rice, you are set to go in what? Seven months? Real estate, the kingdoms of this world are always in a state of flux.

Kosovo was physically lost for 500 years the last time. Who knows how long it will take this time? But regardless of how it all works out in the end, the Battle of Kosovo Polje will always be ours, always belong to Serbs, and no one, however powerful, can take it away unless we give it up.

Vidovdan is the annual reminder for all of us of the choice we must make in this life – the Heavenly Kingdom or the earthly one – and the sacrifice that was made six hundred and nineteen years ago so that we could have this choice to make.

So let us use this day, to rededicate our lives – to Christ – to the Golden Cross and Holy Freedom – and to helping those Serb heroes who are fighting – just by their own survival in Kosovo – for all of us, once again!


jovan said...

Thank you for that.I this Vidovdan heard another similar beautiful sermon.

Max said...

How Yugoslavia was destroyed........