B92 has reported on a new ancient cult of the new ancient serbian orthodox king saint, Sveti Sloba. This new ancient cult obviously grabed my attention. In the following text, you will find a brief description and analysis of this phenomenon. This text has been written in four hands, by myself and my friend Sarah Franco.
29th February. Only on 29th February. Not 1st of March, not 28th february, only 29th february, because Sveti Sloba is really special, so he should be celebrated only once in four years. He is, indeed, one in four! A real serb (ok, his parents were Montenegrians, so what? That only brings success).
Nowadays widely popular, the Slava of Sveti Sloba was at first adopted by sick hearted people, who proved themselves audiciously courageous, introducing a fresh practice into the rigid Serbian Orthodox Church, thus contributing with one more saint to the happening of the saints (dogadjenje svetaca).
Despite focusing mostly on Middle Ages Saints, the Serbian Orthodox Church has been benefiting from the recognition of new saints, thus renewing itself. The proclamation of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic as a Serb Orthodox Saint set the trend for the happening of the Saints. However, the cult of Sveti Sloba has a deeper meaning, by reneweing with the Midlle Age tradition of king-sains, such as Sava or Lazar, to whose cult Sveti Sloba so much contributed during his reign.
Many theologist believe that among the Serb orthodox flock there is a whole line of candidates waiting for sainthood, people who have been devoting their lives to the higher causes. By the way people like Vojislav Kostunica, Radovan Karadzic, Vojislav Seselj, not to mention Vuk Draskovic, contributed to the cause of Heavenly Serbia, they will most likely qualifie for the position. However, competition among candidates is fierce. Unfortunatelly for them, the fact that Sloba got to meet the Creator first does not enhance their prospects. The Church will not want to banalize sainthood, so only time will reveal who will be thus honored.
This newly made ancient tradition is marked by a very specific ritual, rooted in primordial days (more specifically, dating from 4 and half months ago).
On this Slava, pensioneers, students and unemployed people avidly search the garbage bins, hoping that sveti Sloba hasn’t forgot them. Serb families take care to assure that, on that day, there will be a bite or two of sacred hleb in their garbage. To make this game more exciting, the families usually hide it under old cabbage leaves. This game, known as uncabbaging hleb (otkupusiti hleb), is a reminiscence of the time when Sveti Sloba was plundering leading the nation.
In the evening, after all hleb is uncabbaged, families gather in the streets around big garbage containers, which are set on fire. They then dance the kolo with their mouths full of rakija, and once the dancers pass near the opened side of the enflamed container, they spit their rakija into the flames, thus feeding the fire. When the spit provokes an outstanding high flame, the kolo (oro) shouts in one voice “Op-sa”. The one who did the spitting then proudly shouts back “Op-sa-sa”. Women are allowed to join the kolo, but cannot perform the spitting. Instead they cheer for outstanding high flames, by shouting, in high voices, “Iju-ijuju”, while marking the rhythm by twisting their bodies with their arms on their hips.
Anthropologists and other schollars consider the women’s role in this ritual as a prayer for fertility (molitva za plodnost). Women are thus making sure that the Saint will bless them with a new generation of children soldiers. New children soldiers are essential to carry on with the ancient waring tradition initiated by Saint Sloba.
The flames are at the core of this ritual. In the cold February nigh, they warm the sick hearts, and, most importantly, they come to symbolize the noble character of war making, as a reminder of the wisdom of Sveti Sloba, who once said “Niko ne sme da vas bije”.
Woman kissing Milosevic grave: B92;
Sveti Sloba: Sarah Franco, Belgrade, July 2008.