Vol. 3 No. 2 - Pentecost 2008
The Kosovo Lesson:
Separatism and the Foundation of Holiness
No conscientious Orthodox Christian could help but be struck by the tragic declaration of independence by the Serbian region of Kosovo & Metohia earlier this year. The region, cradle of Serbian Orthodox spiritual and monastic life, was within hours recognized - in violation of International Law - by a number of major world powers, including the United States and Britain, setting the stage for the growth of another Islamic nation within continental Europe (the first were the new Albania and Bosnia & Herzegovina).
While the declaration supports the short-term political interests of certain western nations concerned with the growth of Russia and her Orthodox allies, it was grossly naive in its long-term security goals. With Albanian separatist groups in Kosovo & Metohia benefiting from long-standing involvement with international drug smuggling and human trafficking, and from close and supportive ties with Islamic terrorist groups, it is only a matter of time before Kosovo becomes synonymous with western political regrets. Just as the west regretted their support of the Taliban against Russian Communists, so too will Kosovo's name reach the list of Biggest Miscalculations the West Has Ever Made.
On a certain level, politics is politics. Yet on a human level, the crushing blow to the Serbian people, both inside and outside Serbia, speaks volumes. Protesters - both Serbs and non-Serbs - have turned out by the thousands to speak out against the wilful destruction of Orthodox holy places in the Kosovo & Metohia heartland, crimes which have taken place over the last decade with the tacit support of western powers. The dynamiting of churches, the defacing of holy icons with Islamic slogans, and the trampling of holy relics has occurred time and time again, while the pretend Christianity of western nations carries on in purposeful obliviousness.
The Canadian government had initially been deafening in its silence over the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo & Metohia. While some might have mistakenly inferred that the Canadian government is sympathetic to the Serbian people, the reality of their position can be found much closer to home, in the province of Quebec, where the fires of the Quebec separatist movement will undoubtedly play a major part in determining the outcome of Canada's next election. The political parallels between Quebec and Kosovo & Metohia are obvious: a distinct regional geography, a unique regional history and - at least in recent years - a population whose culture, language, and religion are different from the rest of the citizens of their country. Yet in a matter of weeks, even Canada bowed to international pressure and supported plans of the Islamic separatists, naively undertaking a self-inflicted political wound which may take decades to be fully understood by the Canadian public.
Those who deny any possible similarity between the situations in Canada and Serbia are either uninformed or naive. Those who say "Canada isn't Serbia, and Kosovo isn't Quebec" are either in serious denial about the superiority of Canada as a nation, or of how thick the veneer of civilization is on Canadians themselves. One must recall the crisis at Oka, Quebec, where fundamentally different views of nationhood propelled groups of armed Canadians to face each other. The situation has been repeated as recently as last year in Caledonia, Ontario, where native groups claim three counties of urbanized population as the rightful property of their native nation. Where the thin line between good and evil, between violence and the rule of law, runs through the centre of the human heart, Canadians would be wise to learn from the precedent of history.
Those nations which like Russia and other majority Orthodox populations understand the "independence" of Kosovo & Metohia as the loss of a Christian nation and the creation of an Islamic one, reflect the sympathies of Orthodox Christians the world over for the ongoing plight of the Serbs. The severing of Kosovo & Metohia is not merely the loss of real estate which has cut to the heart of the Serbian people, but rather the loss of something holy. As one Serbian friend opined, "I wouldn't mind it all so much if we could only transplant the monasteries, the relics, the saints - everything that makes Kosovo what it is today." But of course, we can't - can we?
Nationalism aside, it is the inheritance of Orthodox Christianity that has made Serbia a great nation - even a holy nation. Saint Sava and his inheritors infused this converted nation with a love for Christ that cut through every aspect of its cultural life: its symbols, its spiritual life, its literature, and its Orthodox monarchy. Nationalism aside, it is the inheritance of Orthodox Christianity that has made Serbia a great nation - even a holy nation. Saint Sava and his inheritors infused this converted nation with a love for Christ that cut through every aspect of its cultural life: its symbols, its spiritual life, its literature, and its Orthodox monarchy. Even the name of the region of Kosovo and Metohia refers to its identity as land set apart for the Church (thus the use of the term metochion is used for any land given to the spiritual use of the Church, from which the name Metohia is derived). Over the centuries, various aspects of this inheritance have been set aside by, lost, or torn away from the Serbian people. Each time, tragic consequences have followed, from the suffering of Orthodox Serbs under the Turks, to the Communist regime, to the Croatian fascists, yet each time, it was through their suffering that the Serbian people have recovered not nationalism, but the essentials of their own identity: the Orthodox Christian faith.
One has no doubt that this will be the case once again in the instance of the Kosovo affair. In the mean time, the Serbian diaspora is presented with an opportunity: that is the chance to rediscover their Orthodox roots and the fullness of the Christian life, and to share it with the world. This is exactly the spirit of Saint Sava, who gave Serbs their national identity. It is the same spirit carried by generations of faithful Serbian Orthodox saints, from Saint John Maximovitch to Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, who laboured tirelessly to share their faith not simply with their own people, but with the world.
The destiny of Serbs as an Orthodox people is an outward-looking destiny, if they continue to accept this call from God. Like the Christians of old, the Serbian people know persecution firsthand. Like the lost tribes of Israel, they know today what it means to lose the altar table at the heart of their sacred homeland, and further what it means to be scattered across the face of the earth. And like ancient Israel, many have yet to discover that in this very suffering and exile, the Serbs as an Orthodox nation carry with them the salvation of the world: the Messiah who comes to save all nations, the Good News that must be shared.
Today may well be the time for Serbian faithful to mourn the externally-imposed divisions of their homeland; all Orthodox Christians should mourn with them, and should stand with the Serbian people to undo the damage that has been done. Yet the time for mourning and the time for political confrontation must also give way to the higher task of carrying the Orthodox Faith to the world. It is this Christian inheritance which makes Kosovo & Metohia a holy place, not simply an ethnic enclave with nationalist aspirations. And it is this spiritual life that can be carried beyond the borders of the Serbian land, however those borders may be drawn by foreign armies and politicians.
The question for each faithful Serb - and for every faithful Orthodox Christian - is when and how to begin the mission.
Orthodox Canada, (Pentecost, 2008)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2008.