30 May 2016

Remembering Holy Neomartyr Vukašin of Klepci and the Neomartyrs of Serbia

Yesterday was the feast day of Holy Neomartyr Vukašin (Mandrapa) of Klepci, one of the many faithful Serbs who lost their lives in the struggle against the Nazis during the Second World War. He and his compatriots are worth remembering, firstly and most importantly because they clung to their faith so fiercely in the face of true evil, in the face of a persecution whose viciousness and bloodiness are best illustrated by the gruesome manner of Holy Vukašin’s martyrdom. Secondly, the Holy Neomartyrs of Serbia are worth remembering because they illustrate that the ethnophyletist heresies of the so-called ‘Traditionalist Youth’ here and elsewhere, the unholy madness of Codreanu and his ilk, practically never turns out well for us Orthodox in the end. Thirdly, they are worth remembering because the Serbs as a people are still suffering from a wrongful view, unfortunately fashionable in the modern Anglophone West, that they are somehow among the Balkan states uniquely blameworthy for the bloodshed of the 1990’s.

The story of Holy Vukašin, an elderly and pious Herzegovinian peasant, should put the lie to this. His tormentor, one of the Ustaše, kept trying to force him, as he tortured and mutilated the poor man, to bless Ante Pavelić, and he would stop. But Vukašin refused over and over, saying only to the Croat, ‘My child, do what you must!’ In the end, Vukašin made the sign of the Cross with his hand, which his torturer then cut off before he killed him. The executioner ultimately was driven to drink and madness by what he had done, and he told his story to the physician who was treating him for his psychological disorder.

During the Second World War, the Serbian people were at the forefront of the resistance to the Nazis in the Balkans, peaceful (as Vukašin’s was) and otherwise. They have a long and well-attested history of righteous resistance to evil governance, from the tradition of the Hajduci who resisted the oppressive and exploitative overlordship of the Ottoman Turks. Even though anti-Semitic sentiments were sadly given occasional voice among the Serbs (as they were pretty much everywhere in Europe of the time), Jews enjoyed a great deal of freedom in interwar Yugoslavia, and when push came to shove, the Serbian people were by far and away the most active in ensuring the safety of their Balkan Jewish neighbours from Nazi persecution, with Yad Vashem having honoured 131 Serbian nationals with their highest recognition of ‘righteous among the nations’. The Serbs suffered dearly for their principled stand. The Croatian Ustaše sent over 320,000 Serbs to their deaths, along with over 30,000 of their Jewish and Romani neighbours, at the Jasenovac concentration camp.

For a bit of background, the heinous regicide of King Aleksandar I. Karađorđević of Yugoslavia in 1934, a man who had dreamed of a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic kingdom in the Balkans and had exerted so much of his efforts into building it, put a historically-calamitous end to that dream even as the Second World War was beginning. (The regicidaires were, along with the Ustaše, the same fascist-aligned IMRO who had killed Aleksandar Stamboliyski, the radical peasant leader in Bulgaria who had sought an active peace with the Yugoslav kingdom.) The Serbs, sensing that a religious war against them was brewing, sought refuge either with the monarchist Četnici under General Draža Mihailović, or with the multi-ethnic Communist Partizani of Marshal Josip Broz. Neither man nor group was, shall we say, immaculate of hand in the struggle, though each of them was clearly preferable to the Nazis. But that the Serbs could find such voices of moral clarity even in their commonest ranks as the peaceful and long-suffering Saint Vukašin, who would not pay even the slightest tribute to evil even under pain of death, shows that God was quietly and patiently at work even in this darkest of times, when the servants of evil and confusion were everywhere on the march.

Blessed Vukašin, our father among the saints, right-believing martyr, pray to God for us!

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