On June 28th,s 1916, now Sainted Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović addressed a congregation gathered at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Gentlemen and friends,
I am coming from Serbia, from European “midnight”. There is no ray of light, not a single trace. All the light went from the ground to the sky and the sky is the only place where the light is coming from. Nevertheless, we that are weak in everything are strong in faith and hope that dawn will soon arrive. I am grateful to Lord Archbishop, Randall Cantuar, that allowed me, on this holy day, Vidovdan, year of Our Lord 1916, in this beautiful church of Saint Paul, to address his majesty, King George V and the most prominent Englishmen.
Gentlemen and friends! I spent the whole day yesterday looking at this magnificent temple, which is the pride of England and Christianity. I have seen that it has been built by using the most expensive material, brought from various parts of the empire, where the sun never sets. I have seen that it has been built from granite and marble, that the waves of the hundreds of seas and oceans rinsed them to the shore. It is also decorated with gold and precious stones, which were brought from the most valuable mines in Europe and Asia. I have convinced myself that this temple is accounted for one of the architectural wonders of the world for a reason.
However, my friends, I am coming from a little country in the Balkans, and there is a temple that is bigger, holier, and more beautiful and precious than this one. That temple is located in the Serbian town of Niš and its name is the Skull Tower. That temple is built from the skulls that belong to my people. They have been standing there for five centuries, like a stout dam for Asian sea, on the Eastern European gate. And if all the skulls and bones were used to build the temple, that temple would be three-hundred meters tall, with identical width and length, and every Serb could have come in today, raise his arm and point at each one of them “This is the skull of my grandfather, my father, my brother my neighbor, my friend, my God-father, my best man”. For five centuries, Serbia has been defending Europe with its bones and skulls, so Europe could live peacefully.
We made the Turkish sabres blunt with our bones; we threw down the savage hordes that were rushing down like a mountain whirlwind towards Europe. Not for a decade, nor for a century, but for all those centuries between Rafael and Shearer. During all those “white and red centuries”, while Europe was experiencing religious reformation, the scientific revolution, political revolutions, work reformations, the reformation of the overall way of life, using words, we carried out our role with our lives. While Europe was heartily revising gods and people from the past, and while it was going through a purgatory both physically and spiritually, we, as patient slaves, were slaughtered by the European enemies, forbidding the entry into that same purgatory. In other words, while Europe was becoming Europe we know Today, we were its fence, the impenetrable wall, and the wild thorns around the gentle rose. On Vidovdan, the year 1389, Serbian tsar Lazar came to Kosovo with his brave army, on the frontier of Christian Europe, and in order to defend the Christian culture, he gave his life. At that time there were as many Serbs as Englishmen now. Today, there are ten time less Serbs than then.
Where are they? They died, protecting Europe. Now it’s Europe’s turn to pay back the debt.
Prince Lazar was born in 1329 in Prilepac to the aristocrat family Hrebeljanović. His father Pribac was a Logotet-secretary doing very confidential work for King Dušan the Powerful in the royal palace. Young Lazar was raised in the palace, and was respected by the King who entrusted him with the rule of two parts of his kingdom: Srem and Mačva. Lazar married Milica the daughter of an important aristocrat named Vratko also known as Yug Bogdan – a very wise and honorable man from the Nemanjic family. Lazar had three sons: Stevan, Vuk and Lazar and five daughters: Jelena, Mara, Despa, Vukosava and Mileva.
King Dušan the Powerful died unexpectantly in 1355 at the age of 48. This led to a weakening of Serbia’s central government. Many dukes used this opportunity to secede from the Kingdom with the land that had been entrusted to them. The young son of Dušan Uroš took over the throne and soon was killed. Vukašin Mrnjavčević proclaimed himself the King of Serbia. At this time, Turks were advancing toward the Kingdom of Serbia. In a battle on the river Marica in 1371, Vukašin was killed leaving behind him a weakened, poor and torn Serbia. Serbia was in desperate need of a gifted statesman, rich in virtue and deserving of God’s Grace: a man similar to St. Sava and his father St. Stefan Nemanja who had founded the Serbian state. The Church recognized just such a man in Prince Lazar. His talent for leadership, wisdom and experience lifted him above those who would seize the throne by force and sought their own glory and importance.
Prince Lazar, first sought to consolidate and strengthen the Kingdom. As was the custom of that day and age, he married his daughters to the rebellious Serbian aristocrats. This enlarged and stabilized Serbia. Having thus secured the loyalty of dissident aristocrats, Prince Lazar turned to those countries which bordered his own, seeking to deepen Serbia’s relationship with them.
At this time, the Serbian Orthodox Church was in a dispute with the Patriarch of Constantinople. King Dušan the Powerful wanted Serbia to have an independent Church. He single-handedly sought to elevate the Serbian archbishop to the level of a patriarch. The Patriarch of Constantinople utterly rejected this act and broke relations with the Church in Serbia. This was a very serious problem and one which King Lazar managed to solve by reconciling the Serbian Church and that of Constantinople. It was a result of this reconciliation that gave the Serbian Church its first canonical Patriarch.
The expansion of that Ottoman state, and increasingly frequent Turkish raids into his land, warned Prince Lazar that the time for a decisive battle was drawing near. Lengthy preparation on both sides preceded this confrontation. The fact that the armies were led by the Turkish ruler Murad 1 and by King Lazar of Serbia illustrates the importance of this battle. It was decided that the site of the battle would be a field in Kosovo (Kosovo Polje).
Prince Lazar knew that his chances against the Turkish aggressor were small and on the eve of the Battle of Kosovo, he gathered his upper aristocracy and asked if they should fight for the Holy cross and Golden Freedom or surrender to their adversaries and live as slaves of the Muslims. They had to choose between the Heavenly Kingdom and the earthly one. In the true spirit of Christianity, they preferred to place their hope in Christ and Eternal Life. The Prince and all of these warriors took Holy communion and went into battle on Saint Vitus Day, Tuesday, June 15th, 1389.
In the beginning of the battle Serbian warriors were able to advance. Miloš Obilić, the most famous hero of this Kosovo Battle, killed the Turkish King Murad. Despite this unexpected development, the Turkish army re-grouped and overran the Serbs. They captured Prince Lazar alive but beheaded him shortly thereafter.
Today his earthly remains are amazingly preserved intact and kept in the monastery Ravanica which was founded by him, along with many others churches and monasteries. The faithful gather from all Serbia just as they have through centuries to venerate his Holy relics and to get comfort and healing and to inspire them in the hope and belief that better days will come.