The secular creed of Communism had not eradicated Serbian Orthodoxy; rather, it was Communism that had been a temporary imposition. There were large icons with heavily gilded backgrounds set on tables around the circumference of the ground floor, and there were people: business as usual during alterations. Some of the icons were centuries old. The pigments were vivid, as if even the oldest of them had been painted recently. All of them looked valuable. Candles burned on the tables and in niches around around the nave. Several men and women were bowing and crossing themselves fervently and repeatedly, oblivious to the tourists and construction workers. Two in particular caught my eye. One was a girl clad in black jeans and a T-shirt. Another was an older woman, dressed in more formal clothing. Watching them surreptitiously, I became convinced that they were praying in front of the holy images for specific purposes. There was a hint of desperation in their rapid ritual gestures.
Our guide, Sofia, whom I judged to be in her thirties, spoke of the church as a fundamental institution in Serbian society. There are other types of Orthodox Christianity, but Serbia's church is autonomous. Its practices contribute to the uniqueness of Serbian identity, at least in the minds of Serbs. In The Balkans, whatever differentiates one group from another assumes what seems, to an outsider, an exaggerated importance.