The glorious Byzantine Empire (engl.)

The Religious Spirit of the Slavs (1916)
by Nikolai Velimirovic


It was not until the decline of the glorious Byzantine Empire that the
Slavs embraced Christianity. For nine hundred years the Greeks were the
principal representatives, protectors, elaborators and explorers of
Christianity. When the Greeks visited the Slav country with their divine
message, the Slavs were heathens. Their heathenism was like a confusing
dream. Nature stood before them with its contradictory forces. The
primitive Slavs regarded all the forces of Nature encircling a human
creature as being alive and stronger than this creature. All the forces,
whether friendly or unfriendly to man, are man like, anthropomorphic, and
none of them are indifferent to human life and doings. The practical
conclusion come to was: men must give sacrifices to both of them, to the
good and to the evil; to the good in order to encourage them to be more
good, to the evil in order to induce them to be less evil. It was necessary
to pray equally to the good as to the evil gods. The best worship was the
best balance between the good and bad spirits; not to offend any of them,
but to be reconciled with all of them! Skilful diplomacy was indeed needed
in worshipping all the terrible, invisible representatives of the forces of
Nature seemingly fighting around man and because of man. And men are too
weak to take their part decisively in one or other fighting camp.
Everything useful or beautiful for men was regarded as being possessed by a
good god or spirit. Everything dangerous and unfriendly was considered to
be possessed by an evil god or spirit. The supreme god Perun, supreme
because the strongest, was considered as acting equally for good and for
evil. The curious fact is that the supreme divinity in every pagan theology
was imagined to be acting equally strongly for good and for evil, as Zeus
Jupiter, Wothan. You cannot call Zeus or Jupiter or Wothan or Perun a
_good_ god, but only a _mighty_ god. With Christianity came into the world,
including the Slav world, decisiveness, and every confusion disappeared.
The Slavs learned to know that they could not serve two masters, but only
one, and that they had not to balance between good and evil but to go
straightway on the side of _good_.

Reality as a Dream.

The Byzantine Emperors promised to the Serbs peace and land in their Empire
in the Balkans if they accepted the Christian faith. And the Serbs accepted
the Christian faith. The Emperors Basil and Constantine agreed to give
their sister in marriage to Vladimir, King of Kieff, if he would embrace
the Christian faith. And King Vladimir embraced the Christian faith. These
may be considered very petty motives! Yet this was not the price to tie the
mighty idol Perun on a horse’s tail and to carry him into the water of
Dnieper. The principal motive was the striking reality of the Christian
foundation. The Christian message was like a dream ("We have been in
Heaven," reported the Russian delegates, returning from Saint Sophia)–the
Slavs loved dreams and poetry very much; but the Christian faith was stated
to be a reality, and the Slavs, as men the world over, considered reality
as more solid than any dream. Instead of a nightmare of youthful dreams, as
the Slav pagan theology was, came now a bright poetry warranted both as a
_past_ and _present_ reality.

It will remain as the greatest wonder in history how a poor Man, who
preached in Palestine for about two years, who scarcely had a hundred
followers at the end of His mission, who was crucified and died a shameful
death, whose cause seemed a quite desperate episode, scornfully rejected or
fearfully abandoned by all those who knew it–how this poor Man replaced
successively the mightiest gods the human imagination ever invented: Zeus
in Olympus, Jupiter in the Capitol, Wothan in the North, and at last also
Perun in Kieff. The secret lies, I think, in the reality of His human life,
in the mystery of His resurrection, and in the amazing enthusiasm with
which thousands of His followers afterwards suffered death for Him and His

However, Christ entered the Slav world in an epoch when, not only one man
after another bowed before Him, but nation after nation. He came to our
ancestors no more as a humble preacher, but as a Lord, under whose feet lay
already conquered Zeus, Jupiter and Wothan. He came to us, not from a poor
Bethlehem cottage, but from the most brilliant temple upon earth, from the
Saint Sophia in Constantinople. He came with a wonderful three-fold
mission, to serve, to fight, to reigning one word, to be "all in all." He
entered the Roman world as a humble servant. I am afraid He remained in
this world for ever only as a servant. But He entered the Slav world as a
Lord, and until to-day He remains there as the Lord.


With Christ’s coming among the Slavs the balance between good and evil
spirits was lost. Quite unlike Perun, Christ was a decisive fighter for
good. He showed only one–exclusively one–way, the narrow way leading to
the kingdom of good, which is the Kingdom of God, the Highest and the Best,
_Deus Optimus_, not only as a dream of Pagan humanity, but as a provable
reality. Although good seems very often to be a weak and losing party in
this world, men must not waver but always take cheerfully the part of good.
Evil spirits in men and around men are very powerful in this world. Christ
Himself was overwhelmed for a time by the evil spirits of this world. But
it was only for a time which is now over. It was at the new beginning of
the world, so to say, when He came to break the power of Pagan men, hold
the balance between the good and evil spirits and to stop the serving of
"two masters." The start was very unpromising; He was trodden down, but He
got up and proved Himself the victor. He came now as a victor to the Slavs
to make new armies of men, who would consent to undertake His burden, and
to go His exclusive way of good, worshipping and serving only one God, His
Father and the Father of all men. He came claiming everyone, telling each
one "not to be ashamed"–as it is wonderfully expressed in the English
Baptism formula–"manfully to fight under His banner, against sin, the
world, and the devil, and to continue to be Christ’s faithful soldier and
servant unto his life’s end."

Tolstoi exalted only Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, _i.e.,_ only Christ’s
teaching, or part of Christ’s teaching. The Orthodox Church exalted Christ
himself, as an exceptional, dramatic Person, suffering for good; as a
divine hero, fighting against all the evil powers of the world. A teaching
or a life drama–_i.e.,_ Tolstoi or Orthodoxy! The Church thought: there is
something greater than Christ’s words, that is Christ Himself. His words
are extraordinary, it is true, no man spoke as He, but His person and His
life were more extraordinary still. Thousands of martyrs died for _Him_,
not for the _Sermon on the Mount_. His words died with His death and came
to life again only with His resurrection. The fate of His words was quite
dependent on the fate of His person. Consequently His words have been only
a shadow of His personal drama, only an inadequate expression of His
individuality and His world mission, only the secondary fascination for the
coming generation. He himself was the essence of the human drama; He
himself–the essence of God and Man; He himself–the incarnated good and
the standard of the good in the world’s history. He is incomparably better
than Zeus, Jupiter, Wothan or Perun, because He is a reality, a divine
reality among men.

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