This past Monday, 28 June (N.S) (15 June O.S) was Vidovdan, the feast day of saints such as St. Lazar of Serbia, St. Miloš Obilić, and all those who were killed at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Yes, we know that this is an important day in the Serbian Orthodox Church, and in the very identity of the Serbian people, but what does this really mean? What can all Orthodox Christians get out of a feast day for a saint who is a prince and those warriors who stood with him and fight? This battle is not just a battle between the Christian Serbs and the Moslem Ottoman yoke that came to subdue them. No, this is about that very thing that we all desire—the Kingdom of Heaven.
Serbia was not in the best state before the Battle of Kosovo, the Serbian Empire had collapsed in 1371 with first the death of its co-ruler and King (Kings were the heirs of the Empire) and then four months later the childless St. Stefan Uroš V, Emperor of the Serbs & Romans. The Empire had disintegrated without an heir which led to several nobles claiming the titles or vying for power. It is in this we find St. Lazar, a noble and son of one of the fallen Empire’s chancellors. St. Lazar was a man of great faith, and he set out to attempt to unify the Serbs again and allying with the Serbian Church, along with his military and diplomatic prowess he was successful. Holding the title of Prince formally, the Church named him Autokrator (Autocrat), a traditional Imperial title used in the region that originally came from the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantines). This was done in 1379 after St. Lazar helped heal the schism the Serbian Church found itself in. Yet, a nation that had been divided in civil wars for eight years takes time to reform, and in 1389 the Ottoman Turks were back in the Balkans, wanting to crush the Serbs once and for all.
An army of Serbian Lords under St. Lazar as vassals and allies went to Kosovo to fight the Ottoman Army of the powerful Ottoman Sultan Murad I. St. Lazar knew he was outnumbered, but in a dream while the army was camped an angel appeared to St. Lazar in a vison asking: “Do you desire the Kingdom of Heaven, or an earthly kingdom? If you choose and earthly kingdom, take your army and attack now and you will be victorious. If you choose the Kingdom of Heaven raise your army and receive the Eucharist, for you will all parish.” On his awaking, St. Lazar said to himself, “An earthly kingdom is only brief, but the Kingdom of Heaven lasts forever.” The army held service and took Holy Communion on the Kosovo fields. The battle that followed was fierce, the Sultan Murad I was killed by St. Miloš Obilić while St. Lazar also fell in the battle…the Serbs were defeated in the battle, but the Ottomans were terribly bloodied.
What can we take from this? The Gospel verse for St. Lazar’s feast day is from the Gospel of St. Matthew and it says a particular verse— “Seek first the Kingdom of God ad His righteousness.” St. Lazar knew they would die, he went anyway for to lose his life was one thing, but to lose his soul he refused. He traded an earthly crown for that of a martyr’s crown. His men knew that they would be fighting a lost battle but knew they must go and they to would be martyred on the field of Kosovo. Yet, the Serbs of today celebrate this as a great victory, they fought for the Faith, they fought for their homes, they fought for their freedom. These three things are not so different from what Americans have fought to have and keep, and we have a unique bond as Orthodox with these men and these martyrs. Let us always “seek first the Kingdom of God.”
St. Lazar, St. Miloš Obilić, and all of the saints who fell on the field of Kosovo, pray for us.