Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Belgrade: Church of Saint Sava – Religion is Alive in Serbia

I sometimes think that I have come a long way when it comes to the not-so-popular subject matter of religion. I grew up thinking that religion, and in this case god, is everything, the ultimate. He is the centre of the universe, the reason of being and nothing else.

Church of Saint Sava in Vracar, Belgrade.

As you can see, the interior is still not finished. This is a fairly new church.

When I reached my 20’s I began doubting the whole essence of god. I have a seeking and very restless mind. Perhaps my fault? But I have a lot of questions, and I only want to read and listen to real facts that can answer these questions. It is also to my understanding that religion existed and is largely shaped because of the culture of a specific people, ergo the country. Because of the complexity of religion and culture, so intrinsically entertwined with each other, that trying to get out of religion is similarly seen as turning your back on where you came from. It is not always the case for many who have left the faith, but it is how it is perceived by the majority who are still in the faith.

Eventually I left the world of religion. I left god. I have concluded, sans the help of any religious or philosophical institution or any one in particular, that religion is but a myth. Today, 20 years later, I still strongly believe that it is a myth. I do not actively tell people though about my thoughts on religion, unless of course if they ask me about it. I do, however, share my thoughts online here in this blog.

One thing for sure I can truly say: I have never felt so free, so organic and so myself.

So having said all this, whenever I am visiting countries practicing religion piously, I have to pause for a bit, take a step back and digest the whole situation and my personal experiences mindfully. Many things can run in my mind when this happens. It stays a paradox though because I find religion beautiful but I do not want to be a part of it. I just want to observe and witness from a distance. Perhaps join as a guest with no strings attached.

While churches have become bankrupt in Northwestern Europe and are converted into hotels, restaurants, offices, concert halls and exhibition centres, Serbia is building a mammoth of a church that can rival the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.

The Church of Saint Sava in Vracar, Belgrade, designed in Serbo-Byzantine and Neo-Byzantine architectural style is the biggest church in the country, and in the Balkan region. It is even on the list of the world’s largest churches. The building construction is finished, however contractors are still busy working on the interior. It is said that the church was built explicitly from donation money. The church is dedicated to its founder, Saint Sava.

To give a little bit of background information: In Serbia, majority of the local population are Orthodox Catholic Christians, which is a split from the Roman Catholic Church after the fall of Rome (yup long time ago!). There are approximately 85% Orthodox Catholics, 5% Roman Catholics, 3% Muslim and 1% Protestant in the country. 1% are irreligion and 5% belongs to other types of religion and denomination.

Did you know as well that Serbia was a part of the then Yugoslavia (official: Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), which comprises of present-day countries and states – Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia. I have only been to Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia and my next target destination would be Bosnia & Herzegovina. This would be next year, hopefully!

Yugoslavia was facing a burgeoning and uncontrollable spiral of economic crisis in the late 1980s, however, religious differences have contributed greatly to the collapse of the country in 1991.

I am sure you have heard about the religious ethnic cleansing in the Balkans? The massacre of the Croats, the Bosnian War and Srebrenica Genocide, which is the largest massacre in Europe after Nazi Holocaust. It is unbelievable that these kinds of atrocities repeat itself. Slobodan Milosevic has fueled so much hatred on the ethnic minority groups in the region resulting to an approximately 100,000 lives lost. He had Serbian nationalism and Orthodox religion on his side. He capitalised on this to increase his power and incite prejudice and factions among the people at the expense of non-Serbians and non-Christians. He was never put to justice though because he died in his prison cell in The Hague, Netherlands before he could even be incarcerated. He was a mainstay on the news during the widely publicised The Hague Tribunal (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia).

The – “This must not happen again” statement after the Holocaust just went down the stinky drain. And with the recent happenings has morphed into a new genre – Jihad. What has this all brought us? *sigh*

Religion... such an irony for the message it carries. Peace? Love? Huh. Wait – I come with a sword! It hurts. It destroys. It separates. It kills.

But after all that has been said and done, religion is, still very much alive in Serbia. On the positive side, I am looking forward to seeing the finished interior work of this gargantuan Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade. I am sure it will be a stunner.

After my visit to the church I went outside for a little walk on the park, and spotted a row of busy outdoor cafe terraces on the side street. I quickly dashed to the scene and made a decision to grab a seat at Spiza Caffe for some needed coffee break. Yup, quite timely indeed. Just what I needed really.

The facade of Church of Saint Sava.

Interior still under construction: Columns and pillars still wrapped cardboard and plastic.

But it is business as usual, er I mean, praying as usual.

The nave of the altar.

An old woman gave her prayers to these icons placed in the middle of the church and right in front of the altar. She was not really fit and was walking so badly that her foot stumbled upon the plant holder. The poor old woman fell hard onto the floor. It was a very loud sound followed by a hollow cry of someone in pain and confusion. It caused a big commotion and people near her went directly to her aid, helping her get up.

A young lady managed to use her bottle of water to damp fresh water on her forehead. I can see that the old woman was slightly in shock.

I have just witnessed a woman of age who totally lost control of her physical strengths and abilities. And I see myself becoming like that as well in the years to come. It is inevitable.

On the wing of the church.

 The Monument to Karadjordje, the founder of modern Serbia.

The outdoor cafe terrace scene beside the church's front park.

I managed to spill my coffee =(. But I can see the Church of Saint Sava from my table.

Travel Period: March 2016
Destination: Belgrade, Serbia

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