reathless, Lazar listened to what was told him. Then, after remaining silent for a short time, he posed the following question: "Tell me, O holy herald of heaven, why was my country destined to fall?"
     The herald of the heavens on high answered him: "Because, O Prince, it had grown old. According to the logic of creation everything that grows old in this universe of yours must be removed, and be replaced with something new. These words surprise you, I see. I see — because I am looking through your soul, with all its thoughts and feelings, which are alternately filling and agitating it. The power of us citizens of the spiritual kingdom is such that we see through souls as through transparent glass.
     "The body of an earthly country does not interest me. Such bodies are changeable, breakable, and transitory. Nor do we even pay any attention to them. We examine the bodies in the earth — that which belongs to our country, heaven. That which is related to us and which will someday share immortal citizenship with us — this is what interests us.
     "Surprised, you are now asking yourself: 'But how could my country have grown old, when so many other empires have lasted on earth two or three times longer and still have neither grown old nor been destined to fall?' It is difficult for the physical to concur with the spiritual. Thinking physically, men evaluate old age according to time; but thinking spiritually, spirits calculate old age according to inner strength. One can only call the Most High, Immortal, Eternal God forever young. Both time and eternity have passed by His head without leaving a single wrinkle on His face. We also, being His angels, have from the time of creation likewise remained young, even though we were created before all men. We have remained young only because we keep Him, His Holy Spirit, within us — and because we live in Him, breathe in Him, are nourished in Him, and rejoice in Him. And everything that finds fulfillment in anything else besides Him, that seeks life outside Him, that looks for contentment outside Him, and that nourishes itself with mortal bread, quickly grows old and dies. Life and youth depend upon the spirit, which is in created beings; upon the spirit — aging and death also depend. A nation's destiny, its preservation or its fall, is decided according to the spirit within its people.
     "Among men, those who are most similar to the angels are the anchorites and ascetics, that is, those souls who have taken from the earth only the tiniest quantity of sustenance for the survival of their body, while nourishing themselves day and night with His Spirit, the Spirit of eternal life and eternal youth. And their souls were so well-fed and strong, that they could preserve their bodies in vigor and durability longer than those who, in a spirit of weakness, anxiously nourished their bodies and their souls with nothing but the world.
     "As is the case with individuals, O Prince, so it is also with a group of related individuals — i.e., with nations. Your state has already grown old, and must fall. It has not fallen because of a chronological old age, but because of the poison that it has been holding and accumulating in itself. This poison has worn it out and has caused it to wrinkle. For the feudal lords of Serbia, the country has outgrown the soul. Therefore the Spirit of God has abandoned them and has withdrawn into the soul of the people. The smoke of passion, however, which has estranged the Holy Spirit from the feudal lords and has broken out of hell and through the natural spirit, has even begun to spread among the people. There was a danger that the soul of the people would be reduced to earth, ashes, and death by the spirit of wickedness. Only a great terror, like a mighty wind, could have blown away this foul spirit and saved God's people from destruction. It was in order to save your people spiritually, therefore, that your state had to fall. And even the saints of Serbia themselves, with Saint Sava at their head, were praying and beseeching the All-seeing God to permit the fall of the temporal inheritance of their people, only so that the soul of their people might be saved from eternal death.
     "Therefore, do not grieve, wise Prince. Your choice was according to the plan of Providence and brought joy to the saints of Serbia. Through your testament your people will be protected and preserved. By this testament generations will be nourished and given drink. The poisoned feudal lords will vanish, and with them so will the smoke that has been poisoning and deadening souls. The malicious squabblers will be destroyed, and with them so will the wicked example that they set for the people. Terror, poverty, and sorrow will appear — the three forces that knock the souls of men off the earth and pull them toward heaven. The people will feel like strangers in their own homes, and will seek their homeland in heaven. They will cleanse their souls of the world and will free them from the leprosy of materialism, with which their flesh had been fattened by the natural spirit and the spirit of hell. And your people will be transfigured into a spiritual and clairvoyant people — profound in their thoughts, lofty in their clairvoyance, invincible in their faith and hope. They can be even last in the eyes of the other earthly nations, but they will be first in the view of the immortal spirits of heaven. And your people will bless you, O Prince. For your testament of choosing the heavenly kingdom will be for them a mitigation of their torments and a torch in the darkness of slavery.
     "Consequently you were not mistaken in your choice, O Prince, whose head has been twice crowned — with a heavenly as well as an earthly diadem. You did not err in choosing the heavenly kingdom, but you are committing a sin now by doubting in the correctness of your choice. Do not be swayed by the mind, but by the unwavering heart. Do not confuse the peril of your army with the imperilment of your people. Do not equate the fall of the state with the destruction of everything. States are given to peoples, so that there might be something else to fall instead of the people — so that there might be something to give as a ransom for the soul of a nation. When something cheap is given in exchange for something priceless, it is always better commerce than vice versa.
     "Your nation has bowed before the One who destroys what is cheap and preserves what is priceless, who reaps the straw and keeps the grain. Do not, like the suffering Job, enter into a debate with the Creator of your people and the Designer of your state. His will is always good, His thought is always radiant, and His work is always righteous. When He is planting a tree, He is thinking about cutting it down; when He is cutting it down, He is thinking about the seedlings. Before His majesty all created worlds are like a drop of water in the palm of the hand. And this drop — this is a tear of joy from His eye. In it He is reflected, and it shines with His radiance."