I took a photo Friday evening inside the giant St. Sava’s Church here in Belgrade. The church’s massive dome is 70 meters high and 10,000 people can attend mass. It can be seen from all over city. It is the third largest Orthodox church in the world and the largest neo-Byzantine building constructed in the 20th century. The Byzantine architecture style features a large, central, dome and thin windows to let in light. The inside is truly awe inspiring!
We walked down to the church from the main shopping area. I was surprised to see so many children and families near the church. It sits on a small hill surrounded by a park. There were roller bladers, kids playing tennis on the outside walls of the church, and teenagers riding mopeds up and down the side walks. No holy reverence here which is refreshing to experience. The church was open and a few people were taking photographs and looking around. Oliver and I went inside and were blown away.
As you can see in the photo, work is still being done on the church. Construction did not begin until 1935 and has been interrupted by the numerous wars Serbia has experienced. This is the first Orthodox Church I have been in and I was impressed by the mosaics on the walls, which are another feature of the Byzantine style. The Orthodox Church in Serbia is not under the direction of Greece and is independent and has its own pope (Patriarch) and hence the Serbian flag prominently displayed on the front entrance.
The grave of Serbian Saint Lazar is in the basement of the church. He is the Serbian Jesus. He was a Serbian noble who died at the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to legend, he was visited the night before the battle by the Prophet Elijah in the form of a gray falcon. Elijah offered Lazar an Earthly Kingdom or a Heavenly Kingdom. Lazar takes the Heavenly Kingdom, but to earn it, he has to die on the battlefield. He was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church and his feast day is the most holiest of all days in the Serbian calendar, June 28.
The church is named after the son of the founder of the Serbian medieval empire. Sava was originally Prince Rastko Nemanjić and he lived in the late 1100’s – early 1200’s. He was the founder of the Serbian Church. The location of the church was put here because Sava’s remains were believed to be burned here in the 1500’s by the Ottoman Turk leader Sinan Pasha.
I really felt I was at the heart of Serbdom! With the church being in the center of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and with the remains of two of the founders of the Serbian nation and church here, you can’t get more Serbian than this. With the breakup of Yugoslavia over and a new era for Serbia, hopefully they can complete the church. The church represents the long history of the Serbs and the bright future ahead for the country.