In a message dated 6/2/2005 7:18:55 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,
Somewhere, in the western marches of Orthodoxy, from the hills and forests
of north-east Slovakia, the old wooden church speaks:
Many centuries ago, the Apostles spread the Faith of Christ from the very
middle of the earth, from the Holy City itself, where the Saviour had been
set on the cross and rose again on the third day. The holy men travelled
south, to the burning sands of Arabia and Sheba, to the coastlands of
Africa, they journeyed east to the shores of India, they sailed west to the
Roman peoples, and at last they came north, here and beyond, to the lands
where the snows never melt.
The Faith was oppressed by wicked men. After the passing of a thousand
years, first to the south, and then to the west, men fell back to the ways
from before the time of Christ, calling their old beliefs by new names.
But, the last to receive the news, here to the north and east, we lived on.
Our brothers in Muscovy took the faith eastwards, across the snowy wastes
and forests, through mountains and deserts, over a sixth of God’s earth, to
the shores of the Great Ocean and beyond, to the islands in the Ocean, and
peoples who had never yet heard the name of Christ.
As for me, for generations I have stood here on the very edge of our world.
The other churches around me, spruce and oak, ash and yew, they fell one by
one to the advancing enemies of our Faith, but I lived on, because of
simple folk whose faith did not waver. For hundreds of years men have
fought here, and I have seen the kings and chief men of different nations
claim to possess me, with their armies and their hordes.
First, came Teutonic peoples from the west, horsemen with crosses on their
backs and swords in their hands. Then they came from the south, Tartars and
Turks, who had conquered New Rome, with crescent moons, to burn us. Then
they came from the west again, with crosses and beardless, wifeless
priests, Poles, Magyars, Austrians. Then Teutons came again and again, the
second time with crosses on their steel horses and iron birds, which roared
and screamed, as they sped on. Then from the east again, like new Tartars,
came peoples who had forsaken their faith, with more steel horses and fiery
birds, with red stars on their sides.
Then men closed me, but time passed, and those men died as fools, and they
opened me again. All the time I have not moved from my place, I have stood
on this hill looking east, I am still the same. Here, in the high lands, on
the very western borderlands of our Faith, the spring winds have brought me
news of late, of peoples of Old Rome. Some there to the west have
languished in captivity, yearning for the old Faith to be again, and have
built new churches there. Now, in these times when few are faithful, they
have taken our Faith all around the earth, completing the works of the
Apostles of old.
Bells ring and birds call out, almost as before. But in the village below,
along the forest-track where the green pines sway and rustle, they say that
evil is afoot in the great cities of the earth, that most men have not
changed, their hearts are still deceived. I, the old church on the hill,
one of the last, say to you: Beware, faithful, walk with care, redeeming
the time, for the days are evil.
Thanks for sharing, Father Andrew, but that's just a little bit
revisionistic. As far as timelines are concerned for northeastern Slovakia, long before
that wooden church was built, there were Huns, Quads and Avars. There were
some Romans as well, but its doubtful they made it to that corner, and if they
did, they certainly weren't Christian. The Teutons did come, in the form of
Samo, a Franconian merchant the local Perun-worshipping Slavs adored and
made their king. Samo tossed those evil Avars (under the Kagan Bayan) out, and
allowed Roman missionaries to spread the glad tidings. The Avars had made a
considerable chunk of what is now Slovakia their own, after having been
tossed out of Byzantium. More importantly, Samo allowed the local Slavs, slowly
becoming Christian, to form their own royal state. When Samo's erstwhile
allegiances got in the way (in the form of Franconian king Dagobert), Samo led
the assembled Slavs to victory over the Franconian retinues at the
semimythical and still-unlocated Vigatis Castle. Anyway, Samo had 12 Slavic wives, with
whom he procreated in grand style -- 22 sons and 15 daughters, and much like
another Germanic important -- Saint (and Great Prince) Vladimir would do a
few centuries later slightly to the east, doomed his empire to failure by
dying after 35 years of golden rulership. Seems those multiple sons generated
too much competition. Read Fredegar's Chronicle for more on this topic
Then we have Karolus Magnus (Charlemagne) who finally wacked rising Avar
power back across the river following the demise of Samo, and had them, and the
Slavs, all baptized by Scots-Irish missionaries sent by another German,
Bishop Adalram of Salzburg at the end of the eighth century. The same Bishop also
had the first Christian church dedicated in 828 in Nitra. To cement the
progress made by two centuries of Scots-Irish and Germanic missionaries, the
Moravian leadership finally!! invited Konstantin and Methodius -- high ranking
and high status clerics -- to the state. There was none of this schismatic
nonsense we hear about today. They all worked for the same Lord, and
Konstantin and Methodius, in fact are just as venerated in Rome as in Constantinople,
and probably for a much longer time. At any rate, the dominance of
Glagolitsa, which rather than Cyrillic is the alphabet developed by Konstantin,
dropped like a lead balloon after Methodius' disciples were banned from Greater
Moravia, at which time Latin became the primary church language.
Not that it helped them. 907 the Hungarians finally stopped the Franconian
Bavarian drive to the southeast. This is also the year generally assumed to
be the last hurrah for Greater Moravia. The Hungarians did not become
Christian until a few decades later.
So, by the 10th Century, we have Roman churches, Latin rite, all over
eastern and western Slovakia. Still no stave churches, and very, very, very few
Slavs of any variety in those hills of eastern Slovakia. They were still
swinging from the trees in Muscovy, and Golden Kijiv, though golden, remained
solidly pagan and Viking for most of the century. Even the Hungarians remained
pagan until Stephens Coronation in 1000, but they also remained solidly in
charge of eastern Slovakia for the next 900 years. With the exception of a
Venetian, the son of Peter Orseolo who ruled after Stephen, again, no even
borderline Slavs. The last Slavic influence was the failed campaign of Boleslaw
(Polish), who was in fact crushed by Stephen.
As Dusan Kovac states in XX Storoci na Slovensku, "Hlavnym pravidlom
zostavala sila a... podpora papeza a nemeckeho cisara." Sounds like Roman popes and
German emperors to me.
Father, I love good writing, but please don't give the impression that
Eastern Slovakia is some unique observer of Orthodoxy. The handful of folks who
lived and died in the shadow of the Dukla and the Tatar passes had a long
track record of going with the flow. But there were operative churches there
long before the first old stave church was built, and Latin masses were
celebrated there since the seventh century. As far as Ruthenian churches are
concerned, they are rarely if ever "on top of the hill." Usually, churches in
Ruthenian and Slovak areas are located smack in the middle of town. The oldest
wooden church in Slovakia is the former German village of Hervartov, and is
about 500 years old. That would be the Church of St Francis of Assisi.
Its a wonderful country, populated with wonderful people, and the churches
are truly great. But they were not built until the 18th century and later,
with a handful of exceptions.
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