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  From the Bookshelf - The Mystery and Meaning of the Battle of Kosovo


The Mystery and Meaning of the Battle of Kosovo  by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich and Archimandrite  Justin Popovich; Rt. Rev. Todor Mika, S.T.M. and Rev. Stevan Scott, Ph.D., trans.; The Free Serbian Orthodox Diocese of America and  Canada, Grayslake, IL., 1989. 123 pages, $10.00.

Volume three of A Treasury of Serbian Orthodox Spirituality  is entitled The Mystery and Meaning of the Battle of Kosovo.  Comprised of three sections, this short book sheds light on the historical and spiritual significance of the Battle of Kosovo, fought in 1389. Part one is an account of "The Life of the Holy and Great Martyr Tsar Lazar of Serbia," by Archimandrite Justin Popovich. Parts two and three, written by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, are "The Tsar's Testament" and "Saint Lazar's Victory." The saintly authors present, in the first two sections, moving narratives of Saint Lazar's life and of his vision of the heavenly realm prior to his martyrdom. "Saint Lazar's Victory" is a homily Bishop Nikolai presented at the site of the martyr's relics, probably in 1919.

Noteworthy in the life of the holy tsar-martyr Lazar are his Christian upbringing, his youthful piety, his love for monastics, and his "evangelic love for God and his fellow man." These characteristics are reflected in his gathering of ascetics to Serbia, his restoration of parish churches, his building of numerous monasteries, and his care for the poor and the sick, demonstrated through his founding of almshouses, hospitals, and schools. When, after having earned the esteem of the people during his service to Tsar Dusan and his son, Tsar Uros, Saint Lazar was in the position to assume the role of tsar, he, nevertheless, would not take the throne without the assent of the people. However, while he regarded all the Serbian leaders as brethren and consulted with them as equals, the people recognized him already as their tsar. Here is an example of the humility of his youth which Lazar retained throughout his life.

During his reign, the holy Lazar pondered his duty and considered, "Is there anything greater for an earthly ruler than to do what is pleasing to God?" His foremost goal was to achieve reconciliation with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, from which the Serbian Church had become estranged when Tsar Dusan established the Serbian Patriarchate. Through the efforts of Tsar Lazar, unity of the churches was reestablished.

This "Life" further recounts the accomplishments of the holy tsar and culminates with the story of the Battle of Kosovo. Throughout this section and the entire volume, several profound quotations from the famed epic cycle of Kosovo appear. When reflecting on the choice the angel of God offered him when his nation was threatened by the Turks, Lazar prayed,

Dear God, what shall I do and how shall I?
Which kingdom shall I choose?
Shall I choose the earthly kingdom?
Or shall I choose the heavenly kingdom?
The earthly kingdom lasts only a brief time,
But the heavenly kingdom always and forever.

Lazar and his soldiers received the Holy Mysteries and entered into the struggle against the Turks, Lazar having chosen the heavenly kingdom. The Ottomans, led by the Sultan Murat, had already conquered the greater part of the southern Balkan peninsula and pushed onward to impose Islam and their barbaric rule. The holy Lazar, with a desire not only to preserve the Serbs but to liberate his brother Greeks, entered into battle "for the precious Cross and golden freedom." Despite the ultimate defeat of Serbia by Murat's army, "all was holy and honorable and acceptable to gracious God."

In "The Tsar's Testament," Vladika Nikolai tells of the final hours of Saint Lazar's life. While the wounded tsar stood in Murat's camp, supported by Turkish officers, he reflected on his choice of the heavenly kingdom over the earthly. He questioned whether he had had the right to impose his decision on his people. The appearance of an angel and the Holy Prophet Amos from the heavenly realm, which Lazar was blessed to behold, allayed his fears. The holy angel detailed to the dying Lazar the answers to his questions. He explained to him the difference between physical and spiritual sight and discoursed on the transcendence of mind and love and will in those who choose the heavenly kingdom. He answered Lazar's questions concerning the most important thing for a man to request from God and the necessity of the fall of Serbia.

It was in order to save your people spiritually ... that your state had to fall. And even the saints of Serbia themselves, with Saint Sava at their head, were praying and beseeching the All-seeing God to permit the fall of the temporal inheritance of their people, only so that the soul of their people might be saved from eternal death.

Contemporary readers of these words of the angel will want to delve further into their explanation and may, from Vladika Nikolai's writing, derive the spiritual strength necessary to regard the current events in Kosovo and Metohija with peace of heart and hope for the Serbian people.

Both the remainder of "The Tsar's Testament" and "Saint Lazar's Victory" develop the concept of "golden freedom."  The angel told the dying prince, "Through the honorable cross, golden freedom was revealed to men." He defined golden freedom as the unchanging freedom known to the angels and to those men not attached to worldly possessions, vanities, and glory. The last pages of this volume include the troparia and kontakia to Saint Lazar and the Holy Martyrs of Serbia "who suffered for the Faith of Christ from the time of Saint Lazar, the Prince and Great Martyr, up to the present day." They are a fitting conclusion to an inspirational anthology.

Matushka Nancy Mirolovich


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