This interview appeared some time back in the Serbian newspaper Politika (here) and was translated into English with the intention of appearing in the September issue of The Path of Orthodoxy but we didn’t have room for it. Luckily I have room here….
The Kosovo Testament Does Not Exist Without the New Testament
The outlook of a bishop, priest, Christian, must always be different from that of a politician, whether he be radical or liberal.
“Vidovdan is a sign, symbol, reminder and warning to all lulled into sleep by the habits of a life of comfort and irresponsible thinking,” thinks Bishop Maxim, bishop of Western America. He speaks to “Politika” of the problems of identity, relative to Kosovo, the Vidovdan ethic and the relationship between Orthodoxy and the modern world.
- In America, in the past, the Serbian community would celebrate Vidovdan in the best manner in accordance with the local means and circumstances: in the mines, cities and towns, fraternal organizations or parishes. In early times, people would bring their emblems, military hats, swords and other symbols. They would gather at the church, the hall or someone’s home and commemorate the feast there. Today Vidovdan is also celebrated formally, but with much less zeal. This, however, is a consequence of the state in Serbia, since the newer emigration has arrived with the manners and weaknesses they practiced in their old homeland. But in Serbia, I must admit, a monopolistic class has been at work during the last seventy years which self-reproduced and survived, denying our historical heritage. We see that it hasn’t improved to this day. A partocracy is on the scene with politicians who use the language of ruffians. The ruling leadership acts grotesquely, whether they welcome foreign statesman or appear as supermen at floods. Despite shining examples and feats of mostly lonely individuals, the Serbian political and cultural scene today suffers from the illness of autism. Its symptoms are: a journalistic subculture, retrograde mentality, literalism in full form, a quasi-scientific fundamentalism, an intellectual provincialism and barbarianism. That’s the impression of the spectator and that is how our neighbors, well-disposed or not, see us – says Bishop Maxim.
How did it come to this of which you speak?
This trend appeared as a result of the frustrations after the fall of the conceited greatness of Serbdom, and then, as a magnet, it attracted the primitiveness and crudeness of nationalism. This is a tendency which wishes to showcase the Serbian conceptual system as indigenous, even though it isn’t, for Serbs have been nurtured by the Iliad and the Odyssey and the classics, as well as Byzantine philosophy, the fathers of the Church. Today’s government is not aware of this and for this reason they’ve abolished not only the Ministry of Religion and Diaspora but also the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija. If we do not respect our sacrifices we ourselves will end up in oblivion and the anonymity of history.
What is the basis for the Vidovdan testament or ethic?
First all, I consider it to be based on the Christian heritage of Kosovo and Metohija. It serves as a powerful symbol, and we should consider the role of symbols since mankind still functions based on them. If the Serbian (political, church, cultural) elite has nothing better to offer the contemporary challenges, it would be better they quickly leave the scene of these quickly changing and cruel times, since none of their stereotypes and conformity will support any changes.
The second feature of this testament is that it does not call upon a misanthropic or armed rebellion against anyone, but is directed towards an awakening, stimulating and resurrecting among the people the true spirituality that originally adorned the Kosovo testament. As someone aptly said once: the Kosovo testament is the New Testament expressed in a Serbian style and through a Serbian experience. At the same time, it continues to be Christ’s New Testament and not anything else. The Kosovo testament does not exist outside the New Testament. Therefore, it is the embodiment of the New Testament in the life and ethos of our people, its history, being, and earthly destiny. And if the essence of Kosovo is not in the New Testament, than it is false and as such we don’t need it.
I firmly believe that the Vidovdan heritage bares something very powerful, like atomic particles: it can become an explosive in a silence that can scatter every lie, falsification, plagiarism, illusion, not destroying anyone; without collateral damage. At the same time, this flash can give truth to life as a blessing of freedom and unity to everyone on planet earth, and even Kosovo which is the Serbian terra sacra.
How much of a modification has this heritage underwent in its encounter with modern lifestyle, interests, and multiethnic modern identity?
Since life is unpredictable, and man’s identity multifold, and again with one common principle, it is inevitable that man adapts in an effort to preserve his core. This adaptation is not bad in and of itself, for a tradition that does not adapt become a decadence. Introversion destroys creativity. We know well that Serbs are also a mixture, and America is particularly a special conglomerate of people on the new continent.
On the other hand, Western civilization is approaching its end and the big question is: to whom or to what does a Europe serve today. The decadence of civilization is at work, but the problem is that there is no one to inherit this civilization. And while in Russia we have the oligarchs, the rest of us live in a post-democratic society at a time when there are serious threats to human beings and health, when technology threatens the freedom of personality, when the consumer voracity threatens the sustainability of our civilization, and even the planet. American society, on the other hand, shows the required flexibility for diversity. Even though it doesn’t openly deprive you of the features of identity, it still seeks a sacrificing of the crucial principles in a cruel, neo-darwanistic battle of social capitalism.
Is there an authentic answer to this of which you speak, do we have an answer?
Serbian ecclesiastic culture – from the Middle Ages – is a structured conciliarity that nurtures freedom. But freedom is not chaos, it isn’t entropy and anarchy, but discipline and responsibility; more precisely, it is the freedom of policies that see their meaning in a harmony with truth.
The entire challenge is that Christianity, as a faith of the highest standards of civilization in urban population, survive in the new century. Christianity cannot be preserved and advance by glorifying primitiveness. He who stands with stability in his faith has free hands and can offer them to others. Orthodoxy in America must be the carrier of the integral Tradition, and not particularism. I would also say this: just as Serbia lacks a prophetic confrontation with the disoriented government (which now is unreasonably tough and later unjustly capitulates), so too is a lacking confrontation felt in America of a pervasive discourse of secular idealogies.
The nationalistic segment of Vidovdan has for centuries swayed between defeat and victory, what is the Christian answer to this problem?
Inasmuch as we identify Vidovdan with Paul’s “strength in weakness”, then it is possible to live our personal Vidovdan in a way that offers hope. Nicholas Cabasilas, the saint of Thessaloniki (also an excellent diplomat of his time), said that “we win when others win”, which is an expression of a new manner of existence, a self-emptying approach of being that sees its identity in others – so that it rejoices in the victories of others. Christ has taught us with His life, particularly with His Suffering and Resurrection, a kenotic way of existing. He showed us that we exist not to rule over other; or: we can only become rulers only when we serve others, if we live and feed ourselves by not consuming (killing) others. We do not want to win by making the other perservere, but we want to live with the joy that lifts everyone from hopelessness: “When I am weak, then am I strong. And when I am failing, then I can firmly stand on my feet.”
Since you have an inside familiarity with the problem of Kosovo and Metohija, who can help the people remaining there?
The Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija are the greatest sacrifice today of the wrong and heartless politics of their country and political elite. Thus, the outlook of a bishop, priest, Christian, must always be different from that of a politician, whether he be radical or liberal. Therein is the great task of the church laborers in Kosovo and Metohija and Serbia. Unless the spiritual vision does not go beyond the phenomenological, then it is no different from the publicist, we do not bring hope to the future, we do not invoke the eschatological freedom that translates to the other side.
Serbia’s Problem – A problem of criteria and quality
The cultural heritage is just about the most important issue in Kosovo and Metohija, what can be done, protected?
This leads me to the following impression: there is in the Vidovdan Ethic something that goes beyond the narrow opinion, views, aspirations … Andre Malraux said something like this: culture can never be the past if it is kept as something most precious. The same can be said of the spiritual, cultural and material treasures of Orthodoxy in Kosovo, because they go beyond national and political divisions and agendas. Lifestyle that emanates from the Vidovdan ethic calls on all of us – whether we are in the diaspora or in the homeland – that we place all of our differences beneath the light of the New Testament ethos.
This ethic is a paradox: an unforgettable memory, a new creation at rest, a joyful sorrow, moving while standing still, a humble elation … Not complete answers, but perspectives. In other words, Vidovdan offers us the spiritual, cultural and ecclesial conditions for exiting the crisis, because the problem is the Serbia of today – the problem of criteria and quality.