Kosovo and Metohia
The Altar of Serbia and the very soul of the Serbian people.

Most people, especially those in the West, do not understand the meaning of Kosovo to the Serbian people. That’s why they didn’t understand the real battle being waged in this once proud Serbian province. The controlled news media does not reveal its background and friends of mine who live in
England, Germany or America were usually telling me that “every time you turn the TV on you will be bombarded with NATO propaganda and horror stories about Serbian atrocities and Kosovar Albanian refugees being ‘Nazi-style genocide’”.

Serbs with a visual memory of the Kosovo region sometimes see it as a somewhat sleepy valley, whose surrounding hills, in their descent, seem to have overstretched. Some 4,200 square miles in size (with an additional 2,000 square miles of adjacent Metohia), this cradle of the Serbian nation is carried by two broad-shouldered gentle giants, sombre and dark Kopaonik Mountain in the north and white-capped and fair Shara Mountain in the south.

Six hundred years ago Islamic hordes invaded Christian Europe. At that time Kosovo was the heart of medieval Serbia. Turkish invasion of Europe seemed unstoppable as they swept over everything in their path with fire and sword. Until, that is, they reached the Kosovo Plain.
 

Medieval Serbia, Kosovo and Prince Lazar
Throughout most of 12th century the Serbian leaders, or Great “Zupans” as they were called, had been forced to recognise the suzerainty of the Byzantine Empire. After 1180, however, upon the death of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus, the relatively small territory of Raska (or Rascia, the eastern Serbian lands) began to expand into the land surrounding it, including today's Montenegro and Kosovo. Under the rule of Stefan Nemanja, the founder of a new dynasty for Serbia, this new Serbian state continued to struggle with the Byzantine Empire and to recognise its authority, but the dominance of the Greeks in this region of the Balkans was clearly over. Under the leadership of Stefan Nemania's sons, Stefan the First Crowned (1196-1217) and Rastko (St. Sava), Serbia became an independent kingdom with an autocephalous Church.

The establishment of a kingdom and an independent Church gave the land certain legitimacy in the eyes of other European states, and it encouraged within Serbia a new respect for the authority of the Nemanjic dynasty. According to the political ideology of the Byzantine world, the ideal state achieved a working harmony between the two heads of the body politic, the sacred and the secular. Throughout the growth and decline of the Serbian medieval state, the Serbian Church accepted this responsibility and became a powerful force, helping to build and then preserve a sense of Serbian
national and historical consciousness.

Serbia managed to survive the turbulent conflicts of the first part of the 13th century and found itself taking control in the Balkans peninsula by the end of the century. Under the rule of Stefan Uros(h) II Milutin (1282-1321) Serbia advanced into northern Macedonia. His son, Stefan Uros III Decanski
(1321-1331), extended Serbian dominion over most of the Vardar Valley; and his grandson, Stefan Dusan*, pushed his armies all the way to the Gulf of Corinth. Serbia's greatest medieval success in territorial aggrandisement was largely due to the effort and vision of Dusan… Dusan the Mighty, as he was called.  He was an ambitious leader who planned to conquer all of Byzantium and to establish a Serbo-Greek Empire in the spirit and tradition of the Byzantine Empire. The entire course of his 25 years as king and emperor (1331-1355) was dominated by this grandiose objective.

(*Dusan – could be pronounced ‘Dushan’)

Dusan made Serbia the strongest empire in the Balkans and one of the strongest in Europe. Serbia's territory in Dusan's time covered the vast area from the Danube, the lower Adriatic, and the Aegean. He signed his edicts: "Tsar (Emperor) and Autocrat of the Serbs and Greeks."

Well, Dusan did not hide his claim to the throne of Byzantium. In 1345 he conquered Serres, the city in Greece on the road to Constantinople and then summoned the Greek clergy, Serbian and Bulgarian bishops for a council at Skoplje. The bishops raised the autocephalous Serbian archbishopric of Pec(h) to the rank of Patriarchate (1346), and in less than a month the
newly-elected Serbian Patriarch (Joanikije II) crowned Stefan Dushan emperor. First Dusan’s capital was in the southern Kosovo town of Prizren.

In the legal-governmental sphere, Tsar Dusan's Code of Laws (Zakonik), studiously prepared over a period of about six years (1349-1354), is recognised to be among the leading law systems of the world.  Moreover, Medieval Serbia was also a part of the international, European community,
relating on a state-to-state basis in matters of political, military, and cultural importance. Serbian royal courts communicated on levels of honour, respect and friendship with Venetian Doges, Hungarian Kings, Bulgarian Tsars, Byzantine Emperors, French and German kings.

Dusan may have grown up in Constantinople and was mainly influenced by the Byzantine Empire but he also sought approval in the West suggesting that he be regarded as "Captain of Christendom" in the Holy war against infidels and heathens (i.e. muslims).  Unfortunately, shortly after, Tsar Dusan suddenly and mysteriously died.

At a crucial time as Dusan's successor came his son Uros “the weakling”, as he was later called. Uros was lacking the necessary firmness and general leadership qualities. The Serbian Empire fell apart quite quickly. During the years of the reign of Uros, the last Nemanjic emperor, the authority
which the Nemanjic dynasty represented was completely undermined by those powerful lords who succeeded in governing their territories quite independently of their emperor. By 1371, the erosion of Uros' power throughout the empire was complete. In September 1371 the king Vukasin, a co-ruler of Serbia, died on the river Marica in the battle against invading Turks. A short time later Tsar Uros died, and in the 18 years which separated his death from the Battle of Kosovo.

At that time the most prominent Serbian lord was Lazar Hrebeljanovic. Lazar’s father was a “right hand” of Tsar Dusan, and medieval sources say that it was at Dusan's court that Lazar was educated. He began his career with a low-ranking noble title in the Serbia of Tsar Dusan. By 1362 he
appeared to be a man of some influence at the court of Tsar Uros, and in 1371 he is referred to for the first time in extant sources as "prince." It is not known when Tsar Uros awarded Lazar the title of prince; but it seems quite clear that, in spite of some territorial acquisitions following the Marica Battle, Lazar's real success only began after victory over opponent lord Altomanovic.

Lazar devoted a great effort in the early years of the 1370s to consolidating his authority in the northern regions of Serbia and to creating the structure of a strong and unified principality. His decision to build his court city in the north, away from the heartland of Nemanic Serbia, was a necessary one. After the battle on the Marica River almost everything south and east of Kosovo was under Turkish control. His new court in Krusevac, however, was a comfortable distance from the Turks. As one of the last Christian refuges and strongholds in the Balkans, Lazar's principality began to attract large numbers of Orthodox Christian priests, monks, writers, architects, and artists from Bulgarian, Greek, and southern Serbian areas, which were already subject to the Turks. Travellers report as late as the early 14th century that the area had been empty land, unsettled, with thick forests. After 1371, however, thousands made their way there, including many monks from Mount Athos, the center of Byzantine Christianity (Orthodoxy). They built churches and monasteries and reformed the liturgy. A new era of culture began to flourish in Serbia, which was to reach its
fullest expression during the reign of Lazar' s son, Despot Stefan Lazarevic.

Although his principality had less than one-fourth of the territory of Dusan's empire, he was still the most powerful of those Serbian lords who were not subject to the Turks. He united the central regions of Serbia with those northern provinces of Macva, Kucevo, and Branicevo, which the rulers
of Nemanjic dynasty had held only briefly. He enjoyed the homage of a number of vassals on his territory, and his lands became a haven for those fleeing the Turks in the south. As the Turkish threat increased, he sought alliances with lords in neighbouring territories.

The Battle of Kosovo
Finally, it was in Kosovo (in 1389) that thousands of Serbian knights and soldiers met the Turks in battle. They all pledged to each other and to Christ that they would die rather than convert to Mohammedism and lose their liberty. With prayer and fasting and the Cross of Christ before them,
Serbian knights led by Prince Lazar engaged in a battle to the death. They gave their life's blood not just to save the freedom of Serbia but of all Europe from the advance of Mohammed's enslaving hordes. When the battle was over the cream of Serbian manhood lay dead in great heaps on the
blood-drenched field along with their Prince. But their death did not come easy for the Muslims. These martyrs for their faith fought so heroically, exacting such a tremendous toll upon the Islamic soldiers, that the advance into the heart of Europe was halted. Church bells, so the story goes, were
rung in Paris in rejoicing the defeat of the "seed of Ishmael," as the Turks were known.  During the battle a group of knights led by the glorious duke Milos Obilic, having heard that their Prince was dead, raced headlong through the enemy lines charging into the very centre of the enemy camp to
slay the Turkish emperor Emir Murad I in his tent. Then they died in desperate hand-to-hand combat, outnumbered two hundred to one.

Thenceforth Kosovo Field became to the Serbian people Acampo Santo, the Holy Field. It is considered by historians to be the single greatest tomb of Christian martyrs killed in a single day. No other single larger sacrifice of Christians is known. Rome had its glory, but Serbia has Kosovo! Each year on St. Vitus' Day (Vidovdan) the Serbs honour the Holy Martyrs of Kosovo Plain and commemorate that epic sacrifice for freedom and the Faith of Christ with prayer and fasting.

Among Serbian national holidays, St. Vitus’ Day or Vidovdan occupies a place of particular importance. It symbolises the death and resurrection, the despair and hope, defeat and victory and the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new era. Lazar's martyrdom on Kosovo Field was Serbia's Golgotha but the agony of disaster became the symbol of the purest victory.

Prince Lazar became a saint soon after his martyrdom on Kosovo.  It was the spring of 1390 and the slow, mournful procession was carrying the perfectly preserved body of Lazar Hrebelianovic. Myrrh emanates from the holy remains. His body lies in Ravanica monastery, a monastery that was built by Prince Lazar himself only a short time before the battle of Kosovo in 1389.  It was here in 1189 that envoys of the Serbian ruler Stefan Nemania and the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa met as the German emperor and his forces passed through the friendly Serbian area on their way to the Third Crusade and it is here the holy relics of Saint Lazar of Serbia would rest for some 600 years through Turkish conquest and subsequent wars, famine, plague, and numerous fires.

Prince Lazar and his knights held a flame in their hearts, the flame that has not die, the flame that still burns within hearts of Serbian sons and daughters.  The Kosovo legacy will live forever.

[With thanks to Louis Beam]
 

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