St. Sava Temple is an iconic landmark in Serbia, and stands out as vastly out-of-place among its neighborhood of pizzerias, exchange offices, and government buildings. It rises well above the low dark buildings surrounding it as a massive white cathedral, or “Temple”, in Serbian. This is one of the largest Orthodox Cathedrals in the world, and quite like its homeland, Serbia, it has a troubled and complex past. The first contest for architectural plans for the Church was held in 1905, and now, in 2011, it still remains to be completed. At first the designs weren’t good enough, then various wars halted the construction progress, and at several points, it was even being used by occupying forces for parking lots and storage facilities. Now though the exterior is completed, the interior remains mostly empty. The construction of the Church is being completed with private donations only. And once entering it, you may hear a man or two swinging a hammer far up into the scaffolding near the impressive domed roof. The rest of the interior is bare and raw, a massive construction site, hosting a few of the faithful, who light candles and kiss the saints, blind to the photo snapping tourists, and the construction workers, and the fences and building materials scattered about. To them, it is still their Temple.
It’s unusual to see such a gorgeous building in such an unfinished state, and it makes one wonder why it’s not finished. I think in America, we would probably take on some speedy internet marketing campaign, raising massive amounts of funds in a few weekends, and then get sponsors to help complete the rest, or convince some wealthy person to put up the funds immediately. Then we would finish the floor in 2 days, put facades on the interior of the wall, connect the electricity and plumbing, and hire a few artists to finish the mosaics, and them Bam! 1 month, we’d be done. Afterwards we would have a massive opening event where the public was welcome to come and view the finished masterpiece and of course, offer donations in their praise to help pay off the bills. Yes, this is how we would do it, because after over 100 years of this endless construction, we would want it to be finished!
Ahhh….but this is not the Serbian way. No, it takes time to be right. It takes much time. No rush… The Church isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the faithful, so let it be. And in a way, it seems as if St. Sava, under construction, is sort of like Serbia, under construction. Filled with history, scarred by the past, but exquisitely beautiful, and in a way, unfinished, as it evolves through setbacks and trials and tribulations, into the most beautiful masterpiece it was meant to be. But the world must be patient. Yes, the mosaics will eventually end up being spectacular, the icons will be thoughtfully placed, and in the end, when the Church is revealed as justly newly finished, it will already look as old as the rest of Europe. Full of symbolism and perfectly placed as if it belonged there all along.
So if you’re ever in Belgrade, do yourself a favor, and spend some time in St. Sava Temple, and to its neighboring, smaller, St. Sava Chuch. You’ll be glad you did.