We catch a bus back to Split, then the train to Zagreb.
I passed through Zagreb in 1975 and had spent the afternoon talking with some guys in a park. I wondered what might have happened to them.
I asked the apartment lady there about the Yugoslavian Wars…what happened to the men she knew?
“They all wanted to go [into the Croatia army],” she said. “Many were killed and some were injured and never got better.”
Our lives are shaped by circumstance, I thought. I had hung out with those guys and now we are going to Serbia, the land of one of their enemies.
We ask people why it was necessary for the Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnians to fight each other. They have a shared language, their peoples are genetically the same, and the war was not directly involved with religion, the historians say. They say it was a complex situation involving “nationalists.” No one gave a clear answer about this and young people seemed puzzled.
Karen and I took the train to Belgrade. This is a story of exceptional struggle, defeat, and Serbian success.
We visit the Belgrade Fortress. The fort dates from the 3rd century BC, built on the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers. It was destroyed and reconstructed by Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgarians, Serbs, Hungarians, Turks, and Austrians. In the overall scheme of things, the periods of Serbian control were brief.
The fort contains a military museum with astonishingly small tanks outside, built mainly in Italy and Poland.
The Italians used tankettes during their invasion of Ethiopia but the design did not prove useful in later wars.
We photograph damaged buildings, hit by allied forces (mainly USA) in 1999. People on the internet say that these buildings remain there because the government lacks funds to replace them. Some suggest the structures are a monument to those killed in the attacks. The Allies sought to force the Serbians to accept a peace agreement and there is discussion regarding the degree that this contributed to peace.
We visit the Cathedral of Belgrade — the Cathedral Church of St. Michael the Archaengel (Sabornacrkva). There were worshipers there — We saw a woman kiss the outer wall of the church.
What is the theological difference between the Catholic and Orthodox religions? Apparently the breakup started with minor disagreements. Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Spirit emerged directly from God, the Father, not from both God and Jesus, as Catholics believe. Orthodox priests can marry before they are ordained and they believe that the holy sacrament brings about forgiveness of sins making confession to a priest unnecessary. Catholics regard their pope as the ultimate authority while Orthodox Christians have Patriarchs, not a single individual. There are various other differences but should people fight over this?
Inside, we see astonishing artwork and fervent adoration by parishioners. We watched people kiss the icons.
We visited the Temple of St. Sava, among the ten largest churches in the world. St. Sava was the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He established the first Serbian monasteries in Serbia, allowing the Serbian people to preserve their ethnic identity, rather than being dependent on Greek priests. By the 1400’s, all of Serbia was part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. In 1594, the Serbs rose up against their Ottoman rulers, carrying war flags with St. Sava’s icon. The rebellion was suppressed and, in 1595, the Ottoman Grand Vizier had St. Sava’s sarcophagus and relics brought to Belgrade. He ordered Serbians killed along the way so that the rebels would be informed. The relics were publicly burned in a huge fire visible across the Danube.
Three hundred and forty years later, in 1935, construction of the Temple of St. Sava began, on the place where the saint’s ashes were scattered. Work was delayed by World War II but began again in 1985. Today, the church exterior is mostly complete but the internal decoration is largely unfinished.
Inside the temple, a man kisses the image of the Virgin Mary. We watch people light candles.
We visit the Nikola Tesla Museum. Tesla, born in Serbia, immigrated to the USA in 1884, where he designed the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system.
Tesla patented the AC induction motor and transformer. We watch a demonstration of the Tesla coil, capable of activating fluorescent light tubes held in observers’ hands.
People experience the effect of 10,000 volts. Karen and I tried it also. It feels funny and does not hurt.
Lao tsu writes (chapter 52):
“In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all thing return to it.
To find the origin,
trace back to the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.
If you close your mind in judgements
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
Your heart will find peace.
Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.
It is strange to think about other peoples’ struggles and conflicts. Lao tsu urges not judging people. “Use your own light to return to the source of light,” he says,
My friends, children, and lovers, many of you are travelers along the Way. When you progress from one place to another, you create a link between those places and you contribute to the healing of our earth. Traveling connects people.
I bought a icon with St. Sava’s image. He now joins the Catholic saints and my candle from the end of the earth.
During his life, St. Sava spent years in a cave, then he was an extremely competent organizer and administrator. His prayers brought forth a spring during a time of drought and, after his death, many healings were connected with his relics.
The people of our earth, if they are to survive, must fashion ways of thinking that transcend sectarian violence. You and I can be part of this process.