V22 #1 Family Icon
by Milan Popovich
I the Middle Ages, the Turks invaded the Balkan peninsula and subjugated the Serbs, Bulgars and Greeks. During the 19th century these Balkan nations liberated themselves from the Turkish empire and re-organized their own ancient national states. However, a great number of their compatriots remained under Turkish sovereignty.
In 1911, the Albanians, as Turkish denizens, rose in a general revolt and went on a rampage of violence against the Christians living in Turkish terrtory, robbing, committing arson and killing innocent people. They assassinated the Metropoltan of Greben and perpetrated massacres in the cities of Shtip and Kichevo.
The neighbouring states of Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece allied them selves and made a joint strong protest to the Porte (the Turkish govern ment), demanding protection of their compatriots living within the borders of the Turksh Empire but the Porte failed to comply with their demands. Then these allied states declared war, invaded Turkey, defeated the Turkish army and liberated the lands populated with their compatriots, which historically belonged to them. This "Balkan War" with the Turks lasted only a few weeks.
All these historical facts are presented here as the background to the following true story:
David (later Fr. David) was an Orthodox Christian Serb, born and educated in Turkey. At the beginning of the Balkan War he was a young school teacher. As soon as the Serbian troops entered into Turkey, David joined them as a volunteer. Since he spoke Turkish fluently, he was assigned as an interpreter to a reconnaissance squad.
One day, this squad approached a Turkish village. It seemed to be ominously quiet. Being apprehensive of ambush, the squad gingerly entered into the village. Not a living soul was to be seen anywhere. The commander of the squad said to David:
"Let's go to that large house," pointing to the largest building in the village, "perhaps it belongs to the most prominent person in the village."
When they came to it, David knocked on the gate and spoke loudly:
"Hello! - Open the gates to your guests. We are coming to you as friends, we demand nothing from you, we will not harm anybody and will not take anything from the house. We wish only to greet you and to talk to you!"
There was no answer. Minutes passed. One soldier from the squad slowly opened the gate. From the gate they looked around in the court yard. nobody was there. Cautiously they approached the house. David knocked at the door and in a loud voice, repeated the same plea to the host of the house.
After a short wait, David opened the door of the house and signaled to the officer of the squad to follow him inside the house. The squad remained in the courtyard.
In all Turkish houses one section is assigned for menfolk and the other for womenfolk. David knew it well and immediately turned to ward the large room for men. At the threshold he stopped speechless. In the far corner of the room the host of the household stood with out stretched arms, facing the door. He looked at David coldly and, with bitterness in his voice, he slowly said, "First kill me, then you can take this!" and he pointed with the thumb of his fisted right hand back over his shoulder.
With a smile on his face, David warmly answered:
"I assure you, my friend, we have no intention either to kill you or to take anything from this house. Believe me. We want only to speak with you and befriend you." Saying this, David went to the host, took his right hand with both hands and squeezed it warmly.
Not expecting such friendliness, the host stood dumbfounded.
"May we sit down?" David asked with a smile.
"Certainly," the host said and pointed to the long ottoman alongside the wall.
David and the officer sat on it, and the host moved from the corner to the middle of the room. David glanced to the corner to see what it was that the host was prepared to defend with his life - and he gasped. The Orthodox Christian ikon of St. Michael the Archangel was hanging in the corner. As it is commonly known, Mohammedans are strictly forbidden to possess any kind of ikons.
The officer began a friendly conversation with his host in which David served as the translator. In the course of this conversation the host gradually warmed up, loudly ordered those in the back room to prepare the black coffee, brought it himself on a tray and served it.
Before their departure from the house, David asked the host, "Tell me, my friend, why were you defending the ikon with your life?"
The host explained to him,
"Before my father died, he said to me, 'My son, this ikon represents the patron saint of our forefathers . It is the most precious and most sacred treasure in my possession. I want you to make a pledge to me that you will cherish it, preserve it and, if necessary, defend it with your life.' Then I made a solemn vow before him that I shall do so. I was prepared to keep that vow now."