Sunday, July 20, 2008


I came across this video a couple of months ago and it has not lost any of its enchantment over me. There's no question that it's a highly stylized and romanticized vision of Serbian Orthodox pride, yet it's so different from the visions of national or religious pride that more often than not strut out in pompous and grotesque displays. Notice the characters, the facial expressions, the backdrops. Joy, pride, sobriety, lightness, wisdom, peace, purity, innocence, equanimity -- not an ounce of puritanical aspiration or eroticized exhibitionism. Notice the way tradition strums, pipes, and plucks aside modernity without apology, anxiety, or fear.

Notice the celebratory spirit free of that "Woo-Hoo!" frivolity and catharsis so common to Westerners. Notice the youthfulness without the nihilistic, self-conscious, and insecure gesticulations of "youth culture." Serbian young adults make appearances without that unctuously vacuous look that comes almost uniformly attached to the faces of Teen America (see World Youth Day). Notice how children and babies are displayed without trying to push a political agenda. Even the playfulness of the children exudes a reverence that is extinct in the race of adults which spends billions desperately clinging to the trappings of youth. Childlike without being childish. Note the traditional clothing and instruments, worn and played as if they were extensions of their souls, not props or ornamentation to exploit some vaunted romantic past.

Notice how the lyrics is the only thing that's expressly about Christ's Pascha; bodily expressions and interactions seem to embody it. Images of a priest and churches flash by, but they're not the center of attention, nor is it suggested that they're marginal or insignificant. The Orthodox have a wonderful way of embracing the hierarchical constitution of their Church without making it the centerpiece of their lived Faith -- a pro-clerical non-clericalism, while we in the West continue to oscillate listlessly between mindless anti-clericalism and mindless clericalism.

All this love of country may have a dark side (what doesn't?), but it gives me pause whenever I hear another Westerner castigate intransigent Slavs who refuse to kneel to Westernism, whether in the form of NATO, UN, EU, or the ecumenical movement. I'm a Chinese-American Roman Catholic and this video adds a little more cement to my sense of solidarity with Serbia. It's just a sentiment, but it says a lot about my political and religious convictions. The particular mediates the universal indeed.

This should be our model for how Christianity and culture interact. The Faith should penetrate so deeply into the culture as to make its expressions liturgical. The video shows Serbians enjoying some traditional folk dancing, but no one even contemplates inserting folk dances into the middle of Divine Liturgy! Why do we in the West persist in the satanic lie that Liturgy should reflect secular life when the universal Catholic and Apostolic Tradition has shown us that we are to make our secular life reflect the Liturgy? The joy of the Resurrection is not just a churchy joy or pietistic, moralistic, or apologetic joy; it must always become a Serbian joy, a Greek joy, a German joy, an American joy, even a New Yorker joy.