Regardless of faith, people share a common thread

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 16, 2001

"We must divest ourselves of our egotistical anthropocentrism, our habit of seeing ourselves as master of the universe who can do whatever occurs to us.

Tuesday, January 16, 2001

"We must divest ourselves of our egotistical anthropocentrism, our habit of seeing ourselves as master of the universe who can do whatever occurs to us. We must discover a new respect for what transcends us: for the universe, for the earth, for nature, for life and for reality. Our respect for other people, for other nations, and other cultures, can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it."

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– Vaclav Havel

I looked up anthropocentrism. I have to look up many words – something I failed to do in school. It’s something one didn’t have to do if one didn’t read. For many years I didn’t read.

As Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, says above, anthropocentrism is our habit of seeing ourselves as master of the universe.

A shift from caring for the soul, the inner being, to controlling nature occurred in the 16th century. Maybe it’s time to think again of a higher level than self as Havel suggests.

A way there as Havel mentions is learning to respect other people, other nations and other cultures.

Here in Austin, Community Education is offering a class on diversity beginning Jan. 22. This might be one way to broaden our community horizons.

A month ago Predrag Prodanovic, a Serbian friend, invited me to a Serbian Orthodox Christmas Eve celebration at St. Sara Serbian Orthodox Church in South St. Paul which is celebrated Jan. 6 and 7.

"Sure," was my immediate response.

I became acquainted with Predrag and his wife Milka when they came to Austin from Germany through Jana, my niece, a former reporter of the Herald who met them when they arrived. Later she had them out to her place.

Prodanovic was responsible for planning the night and the church and much of the music.

We arrived just as the Mass was beginning.

I was in awe of the chapel’s interior, something Prodanovic had been trying to explain to me as best he could on the drive there.

I helped him carry some music gear in to the basement where he introduced me to one of the church’s older members who offered what appeared to be hot coffee, but turned out to be hot coffee with whiskey and sugar, a traditional Christmas drink.

He had lived in South St. Paul since 1950. The church was built in 1952.

The Czech Republic is in Eastern Europe so I told him I was half Czech thinking this might help me connect.

Next I saw people putting on their coats and I thought I had missed the service. I excused myself and went upstairs and learned that the service had moved outside where the priest was doing a part of ceremony over an open fire. The ceremony involved placing oak branches on the fire and the sparks rising toward the heavens were symbolic of something that the priest later tried to explain to me.

Following this came the food and drink. The meal was free of meat. It included an assortment foods, some of which I recognized, some I didn’t, as Serbian music played in the background.

Many of the second generation people left after the meal. Others stayed for more festivities that included a circle-type dance that continued on into the night with all ages.

Many who stayed on were immigrants who lived in the region. One group arrived after the ceremony from one of the Dakotas, a four hour-drive.

I appreciated the hospitality of the people, their stories and the chance to learn more of another religion. Another member went to his car to get information on the history of all churches pointing out where the Orthodox Church fits in the scheme of things.

The Rev. Slobodah Spasic visited with the people always smiling. His wife Vida was cordial and often danced as one of the elders held their sleeping child in her arms.

This was a festive time for all – a learning time. It was a time for me to learn about others and to learn that Christmas isn’t celebrated the same way as we are brought up to believe and to know that less than 40 percent of the world’s population are Christians.

It was especially joyful to listen to Adam Pavlovic, an 81-year-old World War II veteran sing cheerfully "Mras na Drina" a Serbian national song.

Predrag’s message to the gathering said it all, "From all my heart I say hello with happy words. ‘Hristos Se Rodi! Vaistina Se’ Let the happiness of Christmas, which is our hope – The spirit of Christmas which is our peace, and the heart of Christmas which is our love, let it be with you today and forever."

Havel points out that all of us regardless of our faith want basically the same. There is a common thread.