Sun 29 Feb 2004
Sausage Lovers Clash with Church in Row over Lent
Residents of a tiny Serbian village had to choose between their religion or their stomachs after a local sausage festival clashed with the start of the Lent fast.
Orthodox church leaders demanded the festival be postponed and threatened the organisers with expulsion from the church.
But today many meat lovers in Turija, 60 miles north-west of Belgrade, shunned the Sunday service and gathered instead around the village's record-breaking 1.25 mile-long sausage. They claimed the priests' decree was the best possible advertisement for their traditional feast of 20 years.
"We didn't even try to go to see if the church would let us in," said Miroslav Meduric, one of the sausage festival's organisers.
Church elders forced the villagers to make a choice between fasting or attending the meat festival--no small issue in food-loving Serbia. Hence, the conflict added a bitter taste to this year's festivities and drew much public attention.
It also sparked fresh debate throughout the republic about the role of the Orthodox Church in the newly established Serbian democracy.
"The key question is this: will Serbia develop as an Orthodox Christian or a secular state?" liberal Danas daily wrote in a commentary on the Turija sausage festival.
"After all, sausage feasts should be left to the cooks and gourmands, not spiritual leaders."
Earlier in the week, the local bishop, Irinej, demanded the festival be postponed and alluded to its blasphemous nature. Bishop Irinej even threatened to expel the festival organisers from the church, a threat amounting to a curse.
"We call on all the followers of our church to rise in defence of the Holy Fast and protect the religion and tradition of our honourable ancestors," he wrote.
When the three-day festival started on Friday, doors to the local church were chained to keep "sinners" away. Church bells rang every 15 minutes, as if sounding a funeral toll.
The people were furious.
"The church should mind its own business, and people should make their own choices," fumed Dobroslav Pavlovic, 55.
Despite the church warnings, most of Turija's villagers were out this weekend to see this year's "ultra-sausage," over 1.25 miles long, 2 inches in diameter, and made of 28 pigs, nearly 110 pounds of dry peppers and 110 pounds of salt.
Amid traditional folk music and dance, the sausage--produced in the local slaughterhouse and towed to the central square in a huge glass container--was hailed as "the best in the world."
It's not that I don't appreciate what Bishop Irinej is trying to accomplish: The festival organizers are throwing away something valuable and precious in the culture, something a lot of American Orthodox wish they had--a unity of spiritual and daily life found in the everyday rhythms shared throughout the whole culture. Some American Orthodox (and converts to other "exotic" religions) go a little mad in the pursuit of that great good.
And here are the sausage festival-goers throwing it away.
I question the good bishop's tactics, though. As the mom of teen-agers, I've found that distinguishing between suffocatingly strict and overly lax can be difficult. The truth is that they can do anything they want. My question is which course of action minimizes the likelihood of those mistakes and encourages them to come back in repentance if they do go astray?
I'm not saying that the Serb villagers are teen-agers, but anyone with new-found freedom is going to have some of those same urges to test it, push the envelope, find out why the old fogies told us we shouldn't do that.
In the meantime, here it is, raw and unfiltered, too real for the Onion Dome.