A rather harsh critic of the Serbs, self-styled "Infowolf" has made some rather serious false allegations against the Serbian nation and Church on the Orthodox Re-Forum in response to the entries about Croatia in my Items of Interest for last week.
In regard to my posting of the Canadian documentary "The Battle of Medak Pocket", she said this:
These are valuable documentaries, but in case you all missed something, heh, the point is made during the first half of part 1, that the Krajina had been ethnically cleansed of Croats by the Serbs first. This was just retaliation. Not too nice, probably included some stuff that was dishonorable, but NOT unprovoked.
It is often alleged that the Serbs ethnically cleansed the Krajina. I have never seen any credible evidence that such is the actual case. What I have seen is that, even before secession, the Ustaša demons descended en masse on the Croatian collective mind, and they became a reincarnation of Pavelić's NDH. The Serbs tried to defend themselves and maintain their hold on Krajina, where they constituted the majority population both traditionally and in reality. The Croats, in 1991 just as in 1941, wanted it for themselves, and forced the Serbs out so they could resume their ethnically-pure Nazi-Catholic state which had been interrupted since WWII.
Despite the lies of the media, Serbia has always been committed to multi-ethnic harmony. This exists even today in Serbia. It does not in Croatia.
The Infowolf then continued to deride the Serbian nation and faith as follows:
Someone pointed out that the Serbs must have some genetic malfunction regarding brains, when they point to a major DEFEAT as an identity and glory point of their people.
Interested [sic] that Saint Savva and others were praying in heaven for the TURKS to win that battle at Kosovo according to what an angel told St. Lazar.
Nobody ever wants to address this. And no one - the usual sources of this story are Serbian, is it part of their national heritage - seems capable of drawing the obvious conclusion, that something is seriously wrong with them.
Maybe Benshushan here can be objective enough to examine this issue. The Deal Lazar struck with The Theotokos, agree with God that the Serbian forces lose, and thus gain heaven....
Lazar was given a choice by the Theotokos, have victory, and have an earthly crown, OR have defeat, and have a heavenly crown. NOT BOTH.
Lazar chose the heavenly crown, and with that choice, he preordained defeat for him and his people.
Wondering if he should have made this choice for his people and condemned them to slavery, without asking them first, he was comforted by an angel who reassured him that the saints of their people were praying in heaven for the defeat of the Serbs and the victory of the Turks. That this was in fact necessary, for the spiritual survival of the Serbs.
Well, seems to me that it is pretty obvious, that their Christian nation-empire in the making was a FALSE Christian nation, or its political survival and expansion as it was beginning to do, would not have meant almost all its citizens' damnation....
Now, given this information, the next question is, why?
There is only one possible answer. That something was terribly wrong with the Serbian culture and sincerity of Christianity, which would make them as representatives of Christianity on the world stage much like the Pharisees, of whom Christ said they made a convert twice the child of hell they were themselves.
Why else would the people's life spiritually be so dependent on their temporal collapse, that their own converters in heaven were praying against them?
Leaving aside the reprehensible remarks about "genetic malfunctions"...
Perhaps the Infowolf has great insight so as to plumb the depths of God's secret things, and thus comes up with her "only possible answer". I, however, am less assured that I can somehow figure out why God's providence works out the way it does.
Maybe it is true that victory over the Turk at Kosovo Polje would lead the Serbian people to a great fall that would result in the great mass of the nation falling away from true faith or so distorting it that it would become something other than real Orthodox Christianity. All of us have our defects, individually and as nations, and the will of God is to bring about their cure. Or perhaps God's purposes would be otherwise served by the subjugation of the Serb to the Turk for a period of time. Or maybe the reason is more subtle, like in the case of our righteous father Job. I have no way of even speculating about the depths of God's thoughts and plans regarding the Serbian nation.
I do know this, though: the beautiful and meaningful spirituality of Serbian Orthodoxy was thus formed in the crucible of suffering, and whatever might have been had history worked out differently is simply irrelevant. The Serbian nation was under the care of the Lover of Mankind, and He has been tending the tree which he planted for all the long centuries since the Serbs turned to Christ, and had been preparing that people for all the ages before. The voluntary martyrdom of Knez Lazar, and the Serbian nation with him, was instrumental in making them what they are today - a part of which is a people who can endure the greatest of calamities and emerge victorious through the power of the Holy Cross; a people who maintain their vital faith despite the most horrific persecution. Treated as though they are the offscouring of the earth, they have produced, by the grace of God, numerous spiritual fathers and monastic saints, brilliant doctors of the Church like St. Justin of Ćelije, visionary poet-teachers like St. Nikolai of Žića, countless martyrs whose blood has watered the Church Universal, and multitudes of holy men and women living Christian lives in a world that hates both them and Him who called them out of darkness and into His glorious light.
Rather than adopt the Infowolf's ill-informed assertions, we should consider what someone else has said: "The lesson of Vidovdan for all of us is that eternal values must be placed before earthly ones, that spiritual force superior to the force of arms. The legacy of Vidovdan teaches us that the forces of darkness and evil are always defeated in the end and that those of light and virtue ultimately triumph, even when such victory may seem impossible."
The third of Infowolf's charges against the Serbs:
Naturally, they [Croats] are the same blood and culture except for the RC angle as the Serbs, whose residual pagan customs like putting bread out for "the lord of the house" who lives in the attic during fast times which sort of attitude invites all manner of deceiving demons, is probably back of their innovation to have entire families instead of individuals take the name of whoever converted their patrilineage to Christianity.
She also, in another place, equates Serbian Orthodoxy with the pagan-Catholic syncretism of Voodoo, Santería, and Macumbe.
It is often alleged, particularly by Protestants of the more puritanical strains, that all manner of customs and traditions of Orthodox and Catholic peoples are pagan in origin, and therefore constitute an unlawful accretion to the faith. This applies not only to the type of things the Infowolf has mentioned, but even to the very celebrations of the Nativity and Pascha.
In some of the cases, it is probably a true saying. There are myriad folk customs and superstitions in all Christian societies that have pre-Christian origins. And it is quite possible that certain elements in various traditions of Christian nations are forms that existed in the pre-Christian religion that were later Christianized and modified to the newer religious milieu.
In the modern "scholarly" paradigm, there is an a priori acceptance of the idea that religion has evolved from the primitive and simple to the civilized and complex, and that much of the success of Christianity has lain in its ability to assimilate and absorb the older pagan forms.
I submit that this view is not particularly in harmony with the Christian presuppositions of Creation and the development of history. It should be obvious that, unless one is to consign the early history of mankind to mythology, there was once one religion which, through sinfulness, distortion, imagination, dispersion, and time devolved into the many faiths of man, past and present. The sole exception is the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by which God began His Scriptural revelation, His Covenant with the Israel of God (which is now the Church) and through which He worked out his plan for the redemption and salvation of Man.
With that in mind, we must also consider the view, common among the Fathers, that all these false religions and philosophies were, in whatever measure, a Preparatio Evangelica - a preparation for that people to receive the Gospel. Thus, I don't think that we can say that everything in pre-Christian paganism is necessarily evil, but rather that many elements of a people's pre-Christian faith are there pointing toward true faith and waiting to be transformed by the Gospel into something Christian. So it may have been with the Serbian Krsna Slava, which, despite whatever it may have been before the 9th Century, is now certainly a deeply meaningful expression of Christianity, something the detailed description here makes quite evident.
As Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos wrote in his discussion of a much more controversial subject:
Of course there are some who maintain that such notions as customs houses and aerial spirits have come into Christianity from Gnostic theories and pagan myths which prevailed during that period.
There is no doubt that such views can be found in many Gnostic texts, in pagan ideas which are found in Egyptian and Chaldaean myths. However it must be emphasised that many Fathers adopted the teaching about customs houses, but they cleared it of idolatrous and Gnostic frames of reference and placed it in the ecclesiastical atmosphere. The holy Fathers were not afraid to do such creative work.
It is a fact that the Fathers were working creatively and productively when they took many views and theories from the pagan world, but gave them an ecclesiastical content. It is well known that the Fathers took the teaching about the immortality of the soul, about the ecstasy of man and the dispassion of the soul and body, the teaching about the tripartite soul and many other things from the ancient philosophies, as well as from ancient traditions, but clearly they gave them another content and a different perspective. We cannot discard the teaching about the immortality of the soul just because the ancient philosophers spoke of it. We must look at the content which the holy Fathers gave to it.
And so for Christian customs and traditions that appear to be of pagan origin, or that simply have analogues in the pre-Christian faith of any people.
Certainly also, however, it can be noted that every culture has its superstitions and seemingly odd customs that don't seem to have any particular Christian significance, and can, perhaps, only be described as "pagan holdovers". Once might call to mind the "evil eye" pendants of Greece, the putting up of green branches over the doorways in Romania for protection against the strigoi, the Russian habit of never holding your hands behind you during Church Services since you are thus shaking hands with the devil, Irish belief in the Little People and Banshees, and even the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. Not to mention the pre-Lenten Carnivals that are almost ubiquitous in Christendom. Of these, I will refrain from comment except to say that peoples often hold onto native customs and superstitions. It is not something that is in any way restricted to Serbia. Perhaps this is something the Infowolf should keep in mind next time she "knocks wood", throws salt over her left shoulder, or avoids walking under a ladder.