The first archpastor of the Eastern American diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church was Bishop Stefan (Lastavica) (1963–1966). The consecration of the newly elected Bishop Stefan took place on July 13, 1963 in the church of the Holy Prophet Elijah In Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
Bishop Stefan was born October 14, 1908 in the village of Divos, Srem, into a priest’s family. He graduated from the Seminary in Sremski Karlovci and the Faculty of Orthodox Theology at Belgrade University in 1939. Prior to the election of Bishop, he served in the highest Church hierarchical and legislative institutions. Thus he gained experience in Church legislature and administration.
After graduating from the Faculty of Theology , he was ordained as deacon for the Cathedral in Belgrade and appointed secretary of the Ecclesiastical Court of Belgrade-Karlovci Metropolitanate. He remained at this position until 1951 when he was elected Secretary of the Holy Synod. Later he was appointed teacher at St. Sava Seminary in Rakovica. His strong sonorous melodic baritone attracted many faithful in Belgrade in those “bitter times.” He was very musical, a renowned Serbian composer. At one audition, Stevan Hristić tried to talk Bishop Stefan into being a professional singer. He remained faithful to the wishes of his father and dedicated himself in the service to Church, and the Serbian people. With ordination to the priestly rank in 1955, his life took a different course. He was appointed parish priest at St. Spyridon Church in Trieste, Italy. With his beautiful voice he was an attraction to many Italians, citizens of Trieste. From Trieste, he came to Windsor, Canada where he was a parish priest. The Bishops’ Assembly, at its session of May 11, 1963, elected Stefan Lastavica as the first Bishop of the newly created Eastern and Canadian Diocese. He was consecrated Bishop in Aliquippa on July 13, 1963 by Bishops Chrysostom of Branicevo and Visarion of Banat. Bishop Stefan died after three years of leading the Diocese, on May 10, 1966 and was buried at the Serbian Cemetery in Aliquippa.
As an expert of Church music and singing, he made a great contribution by arranging the Eight tones (Osmoglasnik) and Festal Chants. In the Triodion he made arrangements for the three stations (Burial of Jesus). There is a part of the Triodion and Pentecostarion left. His untimely death prevented him from completing the whole circle of Church singing.
The beginning of his work was very difficult. His industrious work and knowledge of church administration contributed to the establishment of a firm foundation for the Diocese. The new Diocesan organs were formed per the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The beginning of the Diocese of Eastern America and Canada was difficult and uncertain, as was the beginning of Bishop Stefan’s archpastoral work. He was not offered a great deal of hospitality in Clairton, Pennsylvania, and he had no place to lay his head. “I have made a home for myself here in Windsor,” the late Bishop wrote to one of his friends, “but now it is time for me to go and meet new, greater and more difficult troubles and problems whose scope cannot be realized. I trust in God’s mercy that He will give me strength that I may worthily carry the burden which, by this election, has been placed on my unqualified shoulders…” He started from nothing. Following the example of the Holy Apostles, Bishop Stefan of blessed memory traveled from parish to parish, and his travels continued up to his unexpected illness.
Bishop Stefan organized all the necessary diocesan bodies. In time he succeeded in filling all the vacant parishes, ordaining four candidates to the holy priesthood. Through his labors and efforts a new church-school congregation was established in London, Ontario, Canada. Bishop Stefan blessed three churches, three schools, five parish homes and two church halls. After three years Bishop Stefan moved the see of the diocese from Clairton to Cleveland, Ohio. This shows that things had moved forward, and that stabilization was going ahead in the diocese according to plan in the areas of religious-national life and in administration. Bishop Stefan’s health soon began to decline. Afflicted with great concerns, strains and misfortunes, and most of all by the unfortunate split of our Church on this continent, he died on May 11, 1966 at age 53.
The first residence of Bishop Stefan was in Clairton, Pennsylvania. There he remained for three years until he moved to Cleveland, Ohio. V. Rev. Dr. Nedeljko Grgurević wrote: “If Clairton had not offered hospitality, he would not have had a place to live. ‘Just as I settled in Windsor, wrote Bishop Stefan to his friend,’ I have had to face a new, even bigger and more difficult situation, whose outcome cannot be foreseen. I trust God to give me strength to carry with dignity this burden imposed upon me.”
The Eastern American and Canadian Diocese consisted of two Deaneries of the Old Diocese: Eastern American and Canadian or twenty-two American States and all of Canada. There were thirty-five Church School Congregations, twenty-nine Churches and thirty-three priests. Nine Church School Congregations with six Churches and twelve priests sided with Bishop Dionisije. Of the six Canadian priests, only two remained loyal to the Mother Church. Since one was elected bishop, only one was in unity.
Епископ Стефан (Ластавица)
Рођен је у свештеничкој породици. Отац Јова је био дуго година свештеник у Дивошу. Основну школу је завршио у родном селу, Богословију Светог Саве у Сремским Карловцима, а Богословски факултет у Београду.
Након завршетка Богословије био је службеник суда Архиепископије београдско-карловачке, а по рукоположењу у чин ђакона и секретар истог суда. За секретара Светог архијерејског синода изабран је 1951. године а на овом положају се није дуго задржао. Као један од најбољих познавалаца српског народног црквеног појања, постављен је наставника појања у Богословији Светог Саве у Београду.
Пред одлазак у Трст за пароха (1956) рукоположен је у чин презвитера и произведен у чин протојереја. У Трсту се није могао дуго да задржи због ситуације која је тада била у овој црквено-школској општини, те је отишао за пароха у Виндзор (Канада). На овом положају га је затекао избор, 11. маја 1963. године за епископа источноамеричког и канадског. Хиротонисали су га 13. јула 1963. године у Аликвипи браничевски епископ Хризостом и банатски Висарион.
Одличан певач (драмски баритон) са личним стилом у појању и изузетно музикалан, почео је да се бави мелографским радом и решио да изда Осмогласник (1951). Радећи на њему, у предговору каже: „Старао сам се да ускладим мелодиски нагласак са нагласком српског језика, али не по сваку цену, па и по цену да се изгуби карактер гласа. Стога има места у овом Осмогласнику где се за љубав језичког акцента није могла жртвовати утврђена мелодиска линија.“ Осмогласник је објављен епископова живота, а Празнично појање, у два тома, издала је Епархија источноамеричка и канадска у редакцији проф. Војислава Илића (1969). Према записима епископа Стефана, проф. Илић је за хор хармонизовао све три статије које је такође издала источноамеричка и канадска епархија.
Неколико месеци пред смрт пренео је седиште Епархије источноамеричке и канадске из Клертона (Пенсилванија) у Кливленд (Охајо). Сахрањен је на српском православном гробљу у Аликвипи.