Monday, December 29, 2014
THE SERBIAN SLAVA – UNIQUE ON THE PLANET
V. Rev. Stavrophor Dr. Dragomir Sando; Pravoslavlje, No. 1146, December 15, 2014
The Serbian Orthodox Church welcomes the decision of placing the Serbian Slava under the emblem of UNESCO. Especially since everything which has enriched world culture by articulation of Serbian heritage would become incomparably more alive. First of all, I think of the architecture of the medieval Serbian churches and monasteries, their artwork and iconography, all the way to the oldest church service books and utensils (holy items) in our holy sites and among our people.
Serbian Slavas are a sort of phenomena since they represent the legitimization and recognizibility of only one nation on the planet, traditions unique among Christians, and more expressed among the Orthodox people and churches. There are various interpretations of its appearance and the development of the cult of the slava. One of the most reliable explanations would be that the Serbian people, as a Slavic nation, were devoted to their pre-Christian beliefs (at that time pagan). In accepting Christianity their relationship towards their faith wasn't fully specified, so that in accepting faith in the Holy Trinity, they verified it through individuals from the Christian life (lives of the Saints) who were closer to them in relation to the transcedence of the heavenly dispensation.
It is known that in the Orthodox Church there are the Menaion – monthly, service books where services to the Saints are found and used on a daily basis in the church services. It was exactly in this manner that the Serbian people transferred those Saints from the church to their homes as the basic initiators of everything blessed, grounding them in their family units. Just as it is believed that everyone baptized in the Church receives their own guardian angel, so then the Saint that is celebrated by a certain family, became the most immediate protector of that tribe.
The fact that Slavas have no roots or existence in paganism is proven by the fact that in its essence – and if you will, through folklore – it is completely a liturgical rite. The reason for this claim is obvious. The bread (the Slava Kolach), specially decorated like the liturgical prosphora, and the wine are liturgical gifts that are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ during the most holiest part of the service. The Slava wheat, as heavenly fruit, in its blessing mentions the name of the Lord, the Theotokos and the Saint being celebrated. Then, the words of thanksgiving for those who have beautifully prepared it, all the way to the deceased mentioned during these most solemn moments as eternally being alive in the community of the general resurrection which will come in the future. There is also the smoke from the censor, the well pleasing scent which follows the holy content of prayer. Where, for various reasons, there were no priests those from the household, with the help of their guests, would in folk fashion fill that space, adding in addition to the prayers zdravice or greetings and slavarice which were completely equated with the priest's prayers.
The basic message of the Serbian Slava points to the community, fellowship as in the foundation of the Church's ecclesiastical and eucharistic gathering. Just as there is no Church without community, there is no true Serbian and household Slava without the gathering of the family, extended family members, and also friends, well intentioned neighbors and other guests. In some parts it is not practiced to invite anyone to Slava, but each passerby is welcomed to the celebrant's home.
As a liturgical, a thanksgiving event, the Slava can be compared to the Old Testament feasts where sacrifices were offered. The sacrifice offered at the Krsna Slava implies the special festal atmosphere in which the day of the celebration of the host's Protector surpasses all other calendar days. Very often would the faithful tell me: „We spend all year preparing for our Krsna Slava.“ That is why the Slava sacrifices offered in the home can be fully identified and measures with the Old Testament sacrificial gifts: calves, rams, doves or the offering of plants. If we add to this the Savior's all-sacrifice, then the Serbian Slava would be christologically founded.
It is understood that in its century old continuity and with idealogical influences among our people, the Krsna Slava has veered and returned to its original meaning. No one was deprived of using the offered gifts regardless of their Orthodoxy. Something which remains commonly accepted is that never in such solemn moments were there any characteristics of a religious competition between the host and guests, for all were welcome alike. Everything was like at the Paschal Matins and in the words of St. John Chrysostom: regardless of who and when they came, there was always room at the spiritual (the host's) table for everyone.
With its many meaningful messages, therefore, the Serbian slava rightfully deserves its place in the cultural heritage of humanity.