THE SERBIAN NATIONAL CATHEDRAL
by Fr. Rade Merick
By now every American and Canadian Serb should have heard the joyful news that the long-delayed St. Sava Memorial Church on Vracar hill in Belgrade is to be completed. This church has a special significance for all Serbs everywhere. It is to be built on the very spot where the holy relics of St. Sava, the Enlightener, Teacher and Spiritual father of the Serbian people, were burned by the Turkish ruler Sinan Pasha.
The burning of St. Sava’s relics, which has been a focal point of popular piety and Serbian national and religious consciousness for other three hundred years, was intended to weaken the resolve of the Serbian people to maintain its Orthodoxy and national identity under Turkish oppression. The mere incineration of the relics could do not such things. As Bischop Nicholai (Velimirovich) of blessed memory wrote in his boo, The Life of Saint Sava; “So Sinan Pasha destroyed the body of Saint Sava, but not his glory and influence. Ignorance triumphed because it destroyed a cage from which the dove long ago had fled. But the joy of the Turks was of short duration, for as the flame subsided, a sudden fear seized them, and they ran to their homes and shut the doors behind them (…) The living soul of the Saint, however, looked triumphantly from the invisible world at the fire. For Sava’s lifelong desire to be also a martyr for Christ’s sake was not fulfilled. Therefore, with a smile of victory, Sava forgave Sinan Pasha, and blesses his Serbian people.”
St. Sava gained through the burning of his relics, at least in popular piety, a kind of posthumous martyrdom. The saint partook of the bitter Turkish yoke and suffered with them even after death. And just as the suffering of the Serbian people was offered to God as a sacrifice well-pleasing to Him, so the destruction of the relics was also seen as amoral and spiritual victory in the guise of a physical defeat. The Turkish pasha was defeated by his power. The Serbian saint was victorious through his long-suffering.
Now, 390 years later (the cremation took place on April 27 (May 10 new style), 1595) the Serbian people finally have the opportunity to honor its greatest son on the place where his body was burned. The idea of building a great memorial church to St. Sava on this spot in the largest of all Serbian cities goes back almost a century. In 1895 a small chapel was built near the site in honor of St. Sava, but it was intended to be temporary, until the permanent church could be built. Construction was delayed by political unrest and the many wars of the first quarter of the present century. It finally began in late 1939, only to be interrupted by the Second world war. Since then, and since the communist takeover at the end of the war, the partially constructed walls have stood as a witness to a dream that would not die. Our Serbian Orthodox hierarchy and people worked for years to obtain permission to resume construction, and finally last year permission was given.
The Serbs now have a truly holy and historic task before them. This church designed to be the greatest in the Balkans, is the most perfect and holy gift the Serbian people can give tot their God and His saint. It is a token of the love and respect of the Serbian people for their spiritual father. In the words of Father Dragoljub Malich, it will be the “Serbian National Cathedral,” the national church of Serbs everywhere.
There are many causes with a legitimate claim to our moral and financial support, but this cause is in a special class. This church is meant to stand as a symbol of the faithfulness of the Serbian people to Christ and St. Sava throughout all the trials and persecutions of history, both ancient and modern. It is a celebration of “victory over the enemy”, that is Satan, and all his servants. Every Serb, whether in the Old Country or outside it, whether born and raised there or never having been there, should join in this effort of praise and thanksgiving. Many of our people, parishes and organizations have already stepped forward with pledges of continued support. All of us should do so. Let this month, the 390th anniversary of the burning of St. Sava’s relics at Vracar, be the beginning of a great outpouring of love and respect for our Father among the Saints, Sava. May we all be accounted worthy of being known as founders and benefactors of the great church of St. Sava on Vracar.
from 1998 Calendar
of the Serbian Orthodox Church
in the United States of America and Canada