“The Church is not the servant of any nation….”

I found this in today’s edition of the Serbian paper Politika (here). Again, translation is quick and loose:

NOT EVERY SERB IS ORTHODOX

With news that Serbian language is now being taught in Fieri, Albania for the Serbs living in that country, we have discovered that in the three surrounding villages more than 500 Serbian families are either of Muslim or Christian faiths. In the motherland, in Serbia, about 85 percent of the population had identified themselves as Orthodox Christians at the last census in 2002  and in some circles Serbdom is  linked with the Orthodox faith, meaning a Serb is only one who is Orthodox. Serbs were not, are not, nor do they have to be exclusively of the Christian Orthodox faith, explains the V. Rev. Stavrophor Zoran Krstic, professor of canon law and Christian sociology at the Orthodox Theological Faculty in Belgrade.

“The absolute identification of faith and nation is a remnant of Turkish rule. The cross-resurrection feat of our Lord Jesus Christ marks the beginning of the existence of the church as a new humanity, a new nation, a new Israel. Christ has redeemed us before God from every race and language, people and tribe. By its nature, therefore, the church is catholic, ecumenical and of a super-national character. It does not divide people by any kind of nation, race, age, gender or  class.  This characteristic of the church does not imply an erasing of the differences between people or between nations. On the contrary, every man and every nation is called to enter the church with their own specific gift,” said V. Rev. Stavrophor Zoran Krstic.

Orthodoxy is an undisputed part of the Serbian national identity and our people keep and develop their national identity as part of their overall identity, inasmuch as they are guided by the foundations of Christian values in their daily lives, said our source.

“We enter the church freely and we exist in it out of our own free will. Freedom of religion is a prerequisite of any healthy religiosity. This means that if Serbs are born as agnostics or atheists, which we have become used to [during communism, ed. note], then they can also, out of their free choice, become Muslims, Buddhists and the like. The question of whether individuals or groups at some point in history were forced to convert to other religions is a question of the sin and crime of others. What is important for us is that we unconditionally respect the religious beliefs of our neighbors even when we disagree with them.  Besides the abuse of freedom of religion, history knows also of the abuses of the church and Christianity for nationalistic and political purposes. Every nation can find its place in the Church but the Church is not the servant of any nation, nor was Christ anyone’s  tribal god.  This sort of abuse was prevalent particularly during the 19th and 20 centuries during the period of the formation of the Balkan states when the young and unstable nations used Orthodoxy for internal integration of the population, but also for external confrontation, and even towards those of the same faith, their Orthodox brothers, expressing first their national and then Orthodox identity,” said Fr. Zoran.

If, for instance, we went with the argument that Serbs are only Orthodox Christians we would be denying ourselves of a part of our history. A little more than 20,000 Serbian Catholics lived in Dalmatia and Boka in the 19 century, mostly in Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar, and their influence was significantly greater than the share in total population, consisting of between three and four percent, says historian Cedomir Antic. He points out that medieval Serbian spread to the coast of Omis, and later to Stona, and so many Serbian coastal regions were at certain periods Catholic, and many of our leaders were Catholic.

“Catholic Serbs were Serbs politically. Their family tradition was Catholic. This went so far that the Austro-Hungarian subject, the Catholic Lujo Bakotic – and not an Orthodox bishop – negotiated a concordat with the Vatican on behalf of the Kingdom of Serbia. Pero Budmani, a philologist, born in Split, fired a revolver at participants of the pogrom demonstrations against Serbia which followed the Sarajevo assassination in 1914.  The assimilation process was allowed by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which was later accelerated and completed by the communist government after 1945.  Relations were complex, but less tense than they would be today. I do not know if anyone has declared themselves as such in recent times. In Split, the last census counted nine Serbs. In Istra more people identified themselves as Serbs than those who were willing to admit that they spoke Serbian, Antic notes.

Serbian Muslims are, or more accurately, could, logically be members of the Serbian people who at one point in time embraced Islam, said the orientalist Darko Tanaskovic, adding that during the multi century Ottoman rule in the Balkans a large number of Serbs, or rather the Slav population – of which it is reasonable to assume that there were also Serbs – converted to Islam.

“During the creation of modern nations in our region religion has become a key criterion for the separation of those nationalities who are closely related ethnically and linguistically. Therefore, it is almost completely impossible that Serbs become, as Vuk Karadzic had once said, “of all three laws,” which greatly narrowed the scope of the Serbian national (self-) determination. Often contrary to the feelings of Serbs of the Muslim faith, something which was considered natural, and still is, is that Serbs can be exclusively Orthodox, and today atheist as well, but follow Orthodox traditions. Serbian Muslims are, therefore, directed toward national identification with their religious affiliation, or enjoy the national-forming process whose ultimate expression is in the Bosniak nation. Many who were Muslims religiously or cultural-traditionally  feel that they are Serbs nationally, and some prominent figures have recently emphasized this publicly. Statistically, and politically, however, it is irrelevant and often it is seen as a provocation and violation of the established order of things, no matter how humanly authentic it is. Thus the nation is a political formation. Serbian Muslims, as an institutionalized social group, do not exist – says Tanasković, adding that the fact makes the news of “the Serb Muslims” from the surrounding areas of Fieri interesting.

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2 thoughts on ““The Church is not the servant of any nation….”

  1. Hi, my grandmother was the elder daughter of dr Lujo Bakotic: can you please send me some informations about him? She came in Italy with my grandfather (happily married before exhod) and all my aunts died already ( I have some articles but they are wrote in cyrillic and I don’t read it) . I’m very grateful for this,
    Many thanks,

    Emanuela Negro Ferrero

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