Đorđe Trajkovski, President, and Dragan Grujičić, Education director for the South-East European Union Conference (SEEUC), were among dignitaries who attended two Reformation 500 conferences in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
The first conference, on October 25, took place in the Palace of Serbia and was organized under the patronage of Aleksandar Vučić, president of the Republic of Serbia. Prof. Vladimir Marinković, personal envoy of the president, extended a welcome to representatives of the protestant churches in Serbia and to many guests, including ambassadors of several countries.
All the speakers at the conference underlined the importance and impact of the Protestant Reformation throughout the world, including the Balkans.
Four days later, on the 29th, celebrations continued in the great hall of the Ilija Kolarac Endowment.
The hall was packed with those who recognized the importance of the event that, five centuries ago, sparked the mutation of medieval Europe and, subsequently, of the world. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, little did he recognize that he would shake the foundations of Europe’s society, religion and education.
But how did that specifically impact Serbia?
“While celebrating the 500 years of Protestant Reformation in Europe and the world, it is still necessary, in order to understand the exact impact of these events on Serbia and Serbs, to make a distinction between the concepts of Reformation and Protestantism”, explained Dane Vidović, pastor of the Baptist Church of Belgrade. “Reformation, as the process of inner transformation, of the dominant Christian church (especially in the theological sense) has never really happened in Serbia.” On the other hand, Protestantism, as a result of the Reformation of the West, certainly did influence Serbia and other Balkan countries where Serbs and other South Slavic nations have lived for the last five centuries.
“Although Reformation is primarily a doctrinal movement, aiming at bringing Christianity back to its Biblical sources and to authentic Christianity, it cannot be understood without taking into consideration the great political and social upheavals in the Europe of that time. In this sense, it can be said that centuries ahead of Reformation, there had been more appeals to Reformation in the East than in the West – especially considering the expansion of the Bogomil (Cathar) movement in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia, as well as some other religious groups – but such impulses generally thwarted. Thus, contrary to Western Europe, where Protestantism was born out of the reform of the Western church, Protestantism came to Serbia without bringing about any reform at a local level.”
Protestants have influenced Serbian society, but Vidović equally recognized that it has been a checkered history. Vidović mentioned the contribution to Serbian culture, by Protestant intellectuals as well as by those prominent Serbians who received their degrees from Protestant universities in Europe: Dositej Obradović, Jovan Sterija Popović, Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, Đuro Daničić, Svetozar Miletić and many others.
While emphasizing some worthwhile examples of mutual respect and support among members of different religious communities in Serbia, as well as several events in which Serbian Protestants took an important part, he did not forget to mention the fact that Serbian society has not always been favorable to Protestant churches and their activities, so that even in today’s Serbia the Law on Churches and religious communities is not equally respectful of all believers.
“Positive examples of co-operation among churches and between Church and State do exist, but times are changing and bringing us hope of still better relations and their faster improvement. A real Protestant is a man transformed by God; a man with a personal belief in the God he loves, just as he loves himself and his neighbors; a man who loves to work and who protects his environment. Does Serbia need such a newborn man? Protestants believe so”, concluded Vidović.
Dragan Grujičić, Mdiv, Vice Dean of the Theological Seminary in Belgrade spoke on the principle of Sola Scriptura as the real foundation of such a reform. He pointed out that the Reformation gave the Bible the absolute authority in matters of church life and all social reforms. In order to explain the position and the authority of the Bible prior to the Reformation, he mentioned in particular the question of God’s revelation and the role of tradition, both written and oral.
“Opposite to considering tradition to be the source of the revelation of God, Protestant reformers affirmed the Bible to be the only theological authority and the source of God’s revelation,” he said. “The unquestionable authority of Scriptures created two fundamental features of the Protestant identity as such: first, the Church does not give the Scriptures their authority by defining the biblical canon because the authority of the Bible precedes the foundation of the Church; secondly, the Scriptures can be rightfully interpreted by any individual.” He added, “Protestant hermeneutics does not depend on one or several isolated texts, but asks for each doctrine to be soundly founded on all the principal themes and teachings of the Bible.”
The occasion was not just lectures. There were memorable musical performances by Andrej Grozdanov, a musician and theologian, together with Mihajlo Šljivić, soloist of the National Theatre of Serbia, the Madlenianum Opera and the theatre “Carlo Felice” of Genoa, as well as the powerful performances of several choirs including that of the Belgrade Adventist church. All of them reminded us of the musical and artistic dimension of Luther’s reform.
The meeting was concluded with the address of the chief representatives of the “Initiative for Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of Protestant Reformation”, Pastor Đorđe Trajkovski, SEEUC President and Samuil Petrovski, Director of IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) Serbia. Pastor Trajkovski stressed the need for everyone to ground their lives in the five principles of Protestantism, especially in Soli Deo Gloria, “Glory be only to God”, encouraging everyone in the audience to nail this principle on their hearts and thank God for everything.