Tuesday, November 24, 2009


More than a eight hundred years ago, when the Serbs here in the Balkans accepted Christianity, each family was instructed to place itself under the patronage and protection of the saint of their choosing. That saint was often the one on whose feast day the family became Christian.

Serbian Orthodox custom to this day celebrates the family's saint with an extended party twice per year. The party begins at the church and is punctuated with prayer throughout the days of celebration.

SPC C and I were invited to one of these parties (a 'Slava') this past weekend, even though we didn't know the family who were celebrating. It was the Synaxis of St. Archangel Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven (we're using the old calendar here; Christmas 2009 will be celebrated on 07JAN10), and our host's family has had St. Michael as its patron saint for longer than anyone can remember.

We enlisted the aid of our trusty Serbian-speaking translator and SPC C drove us about an hour away, into the foothills of the mountains that separate Kosovo from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (known as FYROM). It was a gorgeous day, and a beautiful (if somewhat harrowing) ride, along switchback roads unprotected by guardrails.

Those hundreds-of-meters sheer drop-offs from those roads really give one cause for pause!

I was very grateful we hadn't had any snow! The weather, though crisp, was not cold enough for ice on the pavement, thank God.

Our host arranged to meet us along the way, since the last part of the journey was very complex and involved incredibly narrow roads and the negotiation of paths through herds of livestock.

That was a first for me, especially as I wound up driving home afterward. But that's a story for another time....

The dining room table groaned under the weight of all the meats, cheeses, vegetables, and breads. Women from the family kept bringing more and more food, faster than we could consume it. Everything was made in-house, to include the sumptuous desserts for which there was no room, but which could not be refused.

Our host had been told that I'm a Catholic priest, so he spoke at length about his family's devotion to St. Michael, and about the ancient icon of the Archangel hanging on the wall. It has been in his family for generation upon generation, passed down from father to eldest son. 

During the Communist era, when practice of religion was actively discouraged by the civil authorities, the practice of Slava continued unabated.  And while families were no longer able to risk keeping a candle lighted by their icon, nor reverencing it with incense, they had a special light bulb installed in the kitchen which was always left burning -- whenever they had electricity, that is -- and everyone in the house knew that that was St. Michael's light.

Here's a prayer from the Serbian Orthodox celebration of St. Archangel Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven:

Heavenly Commanders,
Who watch over us with great care,
Cover us with your wings,
And shield us with your power.

Armed with the power of God,
Crowned by His glory,
You wield flaming swords,
To cut the demons down.

Swift, swift as rays of light
You soar on the clouds-
The clouds of the air-
Where you do battle for God.

Without fatigue and without sleep
You hover ceaselessly
Over men and created things,
And over countless worlds.

Behold, yours are mighty armies,
Legions virtuous,
And gentle battalions of angels:
And, according to the Creator, our brothers.

Commanders of the might of heaven,
Lead us where we need to go-
To the throne of the Most High
Who created us from nothing.


I asked our host how long his family had lived in the house, because he'd mentioned that the icon had been hanging there for many, many generations, and he replied that his family had lived on that property for at least three hundred years.

It is easy to see how attached people can become to the land, in cases like that.

On the other hand, it's also easy to see how problems of money, property, and prestige can divert people from a primary spiritual aim, as my friends who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon meetings would say.

It was a challenge staying awake as I drove back to Post after all that incredibly rich and delicious food!

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

1 comment:

Robin in Ohio said...

OK, Fr. Tim...I'll ask. Why did you drive home from the slava? Was SPC C too full from the feast? :-)

P.S. Do you need a new supply of Skittles?

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