Svetosavlje and Christian Nationalism
Many ill-intentioned people accuse our Christian Serbian people and our national Serbian Church of an excessive emphasis on nation above Orthodoxy. They equate this, according to them, “negative phenomenon,” Svetosavlje, with pagan nationalism which distorts Orthodoxy.
In order to defend Svetosavlje as our Serbian people’s expression of Orthodoxy (Orthodox Christian Serbian style and experience) from such attacks, first we must explain what Christian nationalism is, that is, what is a Christian nation.
The nation is a macroanthropos. Its foundation is the family, which spreads and branches out into communities formed of many families. Many families form tribes, and larger tribes, nations. National communities formed in such a way acquire a body of interwoven souls which like roots in the soil make one tree, that is, one invisible and indivisible organism. The nation is thus an organic union of all individuals. It is a new being made by the members whose community created it. In order to completely understand the mission of such an organic community in our life, we must look at it from the perspective of eternity, not only from today’s living generations, but rather as endless generations from the distant past to the imperceptible future. The nation as a new being is at the same time a spiritual structure. Like an individual man it is composed of the union of body and soul. The national spirit is the natural result of the national being. The unique mentality of a nation manifests itself in the same social and spiritual life lasting through centuries. The bodily similarity between the people of one nation corresponds with their spiritual similarity. Through the centuries, a nation rejoices and mourns in the same way, fights and makes peace, defends and attacks. The same national spirit manifests itself in all dimensions of a centuries-old national culture. In this sense we can perceive the unique identity of a nation as a mystical bond between that organic national creature and national soul with Christ.
Svetosavlje has nothing in common with pagan nationalism. A nation without Christ is a body without a soul, and a body without a soul is dead, a corpse. Svetosavlje can only be connected with Christian nationalism, that of St. Sava, of St. Lazar of Kosovo, and church nationalism.
In our case the meeting and bond of the national being and national spirit interwoven with Christ and Christianity was created the most by St. Sava, through his personality which was transfigured by Christ. Here we must emphasize that Orthodoxy never erased a single natural, inborn identity, whether it be a single person’s or a national being. Orthodoxy only transfigures the individual and national personality, transforming them from the old Adam to the new, and fruitfully ennobles them, grafting them to the vine of Christ. We can take the Holy Apostles as an example. All of them, without exception, from Apostle Andrew to Apostle Paul joined Christ and adopted Him in his own way. Not a single one of them lost their identity and character. The personality of each was only transfigured, strengthened and enriched with the fullness of Christ. Such an example is true for all the baptized nations who accepted Christ. They were transfigured and ennobled by Him without losing their national identity as an organic being having a national spirit.
Through St. Sava’s evangelical zeal the Serbian people, in every sphere, were enlightened by Christ and dedicated to Him. St. Sava provided the Serbian people with the fullness of the creation of a Christian nation: a unique national church and a national state crowned with a Serbian Orthodox crown. This blessed symphony of the Serbian Church and State is St. Sava’s testament to the Serbian people which is embodied in the two-headed Nemanjich eagle. The Serbian people multiplied the talent given them by God through the person and works of St. Sava with a great flowering of St Savvite heritage and culture through which was interwoven into every part of Serbian life theodulia, that is, service to God. This Serbian heritage and culture, founded on the Gospel, is Svetosavlje.
Thus, Svetosavlje is the sweeping term for the Orthodox transformation of the Serbian nation, or in other words, the fullness of the rebirth in Christ of the Serbian nation which He indivisibly intertwined with the other Orthodox nations in the Orthodox community of the catholic (universal) Church of Christ. At the end of this little apology for Svetosavlje and Christian nationalism, let us listen to the eloquent words of Fr. Justin Popovich:
“All in Serbian history that is immortal, great and glorious, was created by Svetosavlje. It runs through all true Serbs, through all the creators and preservers of St. Sava’s values and ideals. At every crossroad in our history, Svetosavlje was our unerring signpost. Through every shadow, it was sunlight. In all sorrows, comfort. In all deaths, salvation. In slavery, the wellspring of optimism. In all crises, conscience. How did Svetosavlje become our national gospel? Because St. Sava, with his apostolic, saintly labor and effort brought it into the nation’s soul and made it the national conscience. According to St. Sava’s gospel, what does it mean to be a Serb? It means to consider the God-Man Christ as the greatest value and to love Him more than anything. In every dilemma, to love the heavenly kingdom above the earthly. And finally, to resolve everything “according to the justice of the One True God,” even if all the demonic powers rise up against you, even in that terrible case, it is better to lose your life, than to sin against your soul!”
Every national tree planted in Christ’s Name takes its nourishment from the ground through its roots, and its crown of leaves grows towards the Sun of Righteousness Christ our God. In that same way our nation is rooted in Svetosavlje, and we cannot expect its crown to grow tall if its roots are not deep and strong enough. If, God forbid, we are cut off from our roots, the crown will wither and the tree (the Serbian Christian people) will be no more.
Thus we must remain loyal to St. Sava and be rooted in Svetosavlje “that St. Sava not abandon us, as he will, as will God, heaven and earth, and all that that was holy and honorable in our history from the beginning until today.” (Fr. Justin Popovich)
I wish all of you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially you, dear children of ours, St. Sava’s youths, a joyous and blessed Serbian feast of feasts, the Serbian Pascha – St. Sava’s day. With the most sincere wish that we will all meet each other in the eternal Serbian heaven, where we will rejoice in Christ around St. Sava like sons of the king in royal glory.