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STOU Hosts Russo–Serbian Vitez Festival

On November 3-5, 2023, there were conferences and film screenings prepared by the Royal Order of Vitezi and its Chairman Zoran Mrđenović at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University of the Humanities, as part of the international Russo-Serbian festival “Vitez Fest – Spirit of the Slavs – Russia 2023”. The festival is dedicated to the memory of the Battles of Kulikovo and Kosovo Fields, which were so fateful to the Russian and Serbian peoples, respectively. Mr. Mrđenović emphasized the relevance of the festival; according to him, the Orthodox Slavic peoples need unity and mutual support today more than ever.

The beginning of the cooperation between STOU and the Royal Order of Vitezi dates back to 2010, when a joint effort with STOU Press led to a wonderful book being published in Russian by Jovan Janić on the life and ministry of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of Serbia (1914-2009), titled: “Let us be men!”: The life and Words of Patriarch Pavle.

The scientific and cultural part of the festival was held at STOU from November 3-5. It was indisputably adorned by the exhibition on “Holy Prayers and Holy Warriors of Russia,” composed of paintings by painters from the M.B. Grekov Studio of Military Artist: Aleksandr Ananiev, Dmitrii Ananiev, Andrei Sibirskii, Viacheslav Potogin, and Sergei Troshin. The beginning of each day of the festival was preceded by prayer led by Hieromonk Klavdian from Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra.

The main event on November 3 was a conference dedicated to the outstanding saints of Russian and Serbian medieval history: “Fathers of Holy Rus and Holy Serbia, Ss. Sergius and Sava: Parallels”.

The assembled guests were given a warm welcome by Snežana Pavlović, Cultural Attachée and First Counselor of the Embassy of Serbia to the Russian Federation. Dr. Elena Osipova, a scholar of Serbian and an Associate Professor of the Department of Slavonic Philology at STOU, gave a welcoming speech on behalf of the University. She noted that in the year of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Aksakov (1823-1886), an outstanding Russian thinker and defender of the interests of the Slavic peoples in the Balkans, the strengthening of ties between our Orthodox peoples again brings home the problems that preoccupied Russian society more than 150 years ago. Hence the appeal to the figures of St. Sava of Serbia and St. Sergius of Radonezh, who resolutely “clung to the Kingdom of Heaven” during their earthly life. The moderator of the conferences over all three days was the economist Dr. Dmitrii Surmilo.

The November 3 speakers were: Dr. Konstantin Averianov, lead researcher at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Stavrophore Archpriest Radomir Popović of the Serbian Orthodox Church, a professor at the Faculty of Theology of Belgrade University (his talk was translated into Russian by the Serbian studies scholar Svetlana Zimodro); Igor Ryzhov, who holds a Master’s degree from the Russian State University of the Humanities and Sciences and is a senior staff member at the Pilgrimage Center of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Inna Tsareva, a theologian, artist and deputy director of the St. Elizabeth Gymnasium at Ss. Martha and Maria Monastery, gave a vivid presentation. Inna presented the art exhibition of her works “Holy Serbia”, which was held in October of this year in Belgrade and in Banja Luka, the capital of the Republika Srpska, the state formation of the Orthodox Serbs within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her story about the medieval shrines depicted on the canvases – the zadužbine of the Serbian kings and rulers of the Nemanjić dynasty – and our Russo-Serbian ties, which have providentially continued into the 21st century, aroused great interest in the audience.

During the breaks on November 3-5, the conference participants and guests were treated to meals at the Serbian restaurant Damil by its hospitable hostess Ranka Balotić Ilić, for which we express our great gratitude to her and all her staff.

The guest of honor on the first day of the conference was Alexander Mikhailov, People’s Artist of the Russian Federal Soviet Socialist Republic. In his heartfelt speech, he spoke about Russians, their faith, and their love for the Slavic country of Serbia, and recited some of his favorite poems.

A beautiful conclusion of the first Russo–Serbian day was the screening of Angelika Karetkina’s movie “St. Sava: Russian Color on the Serbian Flag”. The movie screening was preceded by Angelika’s story about her personal experience of experiencing the joy of learning about ancient Serbian holy places and coming into contact with the glorious and heroic history of the Serbian people.

A natural continuation of the first day of the great Russo-Serbian program was a conference held on November 4, titled: “The Battle of Kulikovo and the Battle of Kosovo: Two Countries, Two Fraternal Peoples, Two Fateful Battles for one Heaven, for One Blood”. The speakers on that day were: Dr. Vladimir Artamonov, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Stavrophore Archpriest Radomir Popović, Professor at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Belgrade; Dr. Colonel Svetozar Radisić, a military theorist, expert, and specialist in military strategies and doctrines, especially armed aggression; and Igor Ryzhov. The presentations were interspersed with a performance by Aleksandra Morozova, a performer of Russian folk songs.

Special mention should be made of the talk given by Angelika Karetkina on the bringing a part of the relics of the holy warrior prince Alexander Nevsky, who is highly revered in the Balkans, to the Republic of Serbia. The day concluded with a performance by the Grušica traditional vocal ensemble and a screening of the documentary Holy Warriors of Russia.

On November 5, a conference was held on “The Vitez King Aleksandar Karađorđević and the Russian Diaspora in Serbia”, at which some key issues of 19th- to early 21st-century Serbian and Russian history century were discussed, and the STOU library was enriched by several interesting monographs donated to the university by their authors.

The meeting was attended by Dr. Natalia Narochnitskaia, a member of the Russian State Duma, a senior researcher at the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a foreign member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, who had returned from Serbia the previous day. Natalia signed a copy of her book Ukrainskii rubezh. Istoriia i geopolitika [Ukrainian Frontier. History and Geopolitics] and gave it to our university “with gratitude and honor”.

At the conference, Dr. Elena Bondareva, Director of Public and Publishing Programs at the Foundation for Historical Perspective, an author of books and articles on the fate of the Russian emigration in Serbia, presented her new book about the benefactor of the Russian White emigration, Serbian King Aleksandar Karađorđević (1921-1934). In fact, this is the first biography in Russia about the life’s journey of the vitez (knightly) king, as the philosopher Ivan Ilyin called Alexander Karađorđević, his ties with the Russian Imperial Court, and his role in the fate of the Serbian people

Dr. Elena Kudriavtseva, a leading researcher at the Center for Russian Foreign Policy, spoke about her research and discoveries in the Dubrovnik archive, whose materials could serve as a very valuable source for researchers of the Russian diaspora.

Dr. Boris Kotov, a researcher at the Institute of General History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, made a detailed report on the life of the South Slavs during the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) as reflected in the Russian press. He donated a copy of his book The Balkan Controversy: The Collapse of the Balkan Union and the Inter-Union War of 1913 in the Mirror of the Russian Press, coauthored with Dr. Nikita S. Gusev, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The historian Igor Ryzhov spoke on the topic “Vidovdan in the Palace of Versailles, or the revenge of St. Prince Lazar”. His report was an attempt to understand whether the Serbian irredenta, which culminated in the proclamation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918, could be considered a revenge for Serbia’s defeat on the Kosovo field in 1389 and the restoration of the “Dušan Kingdom” in a broader historical perspective.

The event was framed with a beautiful performance by the musicians of the Living Water vocal ensemble, Egor Strelnikov and Roman Tiuniakin, who immersed the audience in the inspiring atmosphere of fairytale Rusʹ. We thank Zoran Mrđenović, Chairman of the Royal Order of Vitezi and Director of the Festival of Vitez Culture, for awakening people’s historical senses and strengthening the spiritual and cultural ties between Russia and Serbia.