The most significant and basic element of chivalry is the willingness to self-sacrifice. It is this element that is the fundamental demarcation line between the bourgeois, mercantilist view of the world and the chivalrous view of the world. The merchant always has, in the first place, on his mind an interest, a profit or a comfort. The knight always has, in the first place, on his mind the willingness to sacrifice. For the faith, for the crown, for an idea, for the state, for the master, for the weak… Never for any vulgar, profane or earthly goal. But instead, for an ideal, that to those with a mercantilist view seems very abstract and incomprehensible. The willingness to sacrifice, places a knight in the realm of pure spirituality, as someone who has transcended the secular sphere of materialistic, cause and effect relationships. In addition, the willingness to sacrifice shows a knight’s willingness to overcome pride, which represents the greatest obstacle on the spiritual path. Also, what is especially important in our world, where materialism and hedonism are prevailing, is to overcome the temptation of material goods, which tend to hinder him. A knight always looks upon interest and benefit, the two sad achievements of the modern society, with contempt and indifference.
A perfect example of sacrifice is the act of Prince Lazar Velikomucenik (Great Martyr) and his nobles, on the eve of the most significant event in the Serbian history – the Battle of Kosovo. This battle, which took place on Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day), June 28th, 1389, between the Serbian and Ottoman armies, and despite the fact that both rulers died – Lazar and Murat, was a defeat for Serbia. After Prince Lazar, with the exception of a brief period under the rule of Despot Stefan Lazarevic, Serbia fell into the darkness of Turkish imposed rule, that will last until the early nineteenth century. The key to understanding the Battle of Kosovo and its symbolism is not the battle itself, but the situation that had preceded it. In fact, King Lazar Hrebeljanovic had full awareness and insight into the superiority of the former Ottoman Empire and the crisis of the medieval Serbian state. He also had an alternative, in relation to the battle with the Turks. He could have accepted the vassal status of Serbia and avoided the war and defeat. Together with his nobles, Prince Lazar did not do this, but instead he chose self-sacrifice. The reasons for this decision are in the spiritual sphere. Before him, Lazar had not only the political or ethical dilemma, but rather a spiritual and metaphysical one, embodied in the choice between approaching God or Devil (synonyms: freedom or slavery, honor or dishonor, one’s own perception of truth or accepting the imposed). He had a choice between preserving integrity of the earthly existence, that is his own life, or preserving the spiritual integrity. He faced a temptation. His choice was the Lord. Lazar’s godliness manifests itself in the conscious sacrifice, which created a symbol for the whole forthcoming history. This was a symbol which created the model for choices and actions of the Serbian nation through all subsequent centuries. Lazar’s sacrifice, in a sense, was similar to the sacrifice of the Christ himself. On the eve of the battle, he addressed his knights with the following words: “Death in the feat is better than the life with shame. It is better to die by the sword in the battle, than to kneel to the enemy. We lived enough for the people, so let us bear the feat of sacrifice, so that we may live forever in the heavens.” To this, they replied to him: “Let us die, so we may live forever. We put ourselves on the altar of sacrifice… Let us not spare our lives, so that we may become a bright example to the others.”