A great man is one who collects knowledge the way a bee collects honey and uses it to help people overcome the difficulties they endure - hunger, ignorance and disease!
- Nikola Tesla

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.
- Franklin Roosevelt

While their territory has been devastated and their homes despoiled, the spirit of the Serbian people has not been broken.
- Woodrow Wilson

Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich

Article Index

6. "Go Ye Therefore, and Teach All Nations" (Matt. 28:19)

After being released from his position as head of the Serbian Mission in 1910, Fr. Sebastian served the Serbian Orthodox communities in California. As he wrote to Archbishop Platon:

"The receipts from modest services performed for the many Serbs in the cities of Los Angeles, Fresno and Oakland, I hope, will be enough to nourish me. The new church in Angels Camp is already finished, and to there and to the church in Jackson a new priest, Fr. Jovan Duchich, will soon be coming from Herzegovina. The mission in [Bisbee] Arizona has been reorganized into a parish, and Fr. Samuel Popovich from the Timisoara Diocese will be coming to build a new church."[94]

The Serbian church communities in these cities and towns had been organized by Fr. Sebastian himself. As mentioned earlier, Fr. Sebastian had begun to establish a parish in the mining town of Angels Camp during his early visits to Jackson, located only twenty-seven miles away. In 1909 the Serbian community in Angels Camp, numbering about 1,500 people, began building a church. The church was consecrated on August 14, 1910, and was dedicated to St. Basil of Ostrog.

Since the congregation in Angels Camp, together with those in Jackson and Bisbee, were already being served by priests from Serbia, Fr. Sebastian now settled among the Serbian congregation he had organized in Los Angeles, while paying regular pastoral visits to the smaller communities in Oakland and Fresno.[95] Under his leadership, in 1909 the Los Angeles congregation purchased a large plot of land on the east side of the city for use as a cemetery, and began building a church on this land. Fr. Sebastian held services in a temporary home chapel while the church's construction was underway. In 1911 the completed church was consecrated by Fr. Sebastian in honor of St.Sava of Serbia.[96]

In 1912 the Balkan Wars broke out, and Fr. Sebastian felt called to help his suffering Serbian brothers. As the Los Angeles Times reported:

"The Balkan War between the Serbs and Turks has developed many cases of self-sacrifice among the Serbs in and around Los Angeles, but probably none greater than that of Father Sebastian Dabovich..., who for two years has been working among the Slavs and Greeks of this city, to induce them to higher ideals in living. He has built a small chapel on Boyle Heights and has just begun to get his work on a better footing, when he feels called upon to sacrifice his personal belongings for the benefit of the hospital work in the Serb army.[97]

Fr. Sebastian auctioned off all his valuable possessions for the medical  treatment of wounded Serbian soldiers—including his archimandrite's mitre from Russia,[98] his jeweled pectoral cross from Serbia, his handpainted icons, all his awards and decorations from foreign dignitaries, and a handmade rug from Macedonia.[99]

Even the sacrifice of his small number of treasured possessions was not enough for him; he wanted to do more. Thus, although he had hoped to stay at the St. Sava Church in Los Angeles as the resident priest, he left this position and returned to Serbia in order to serve as a chaplain in the Serbian army.

The trip lasted the better part of a year. During this time, Fr. Sebastian took the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the holy places in Kosovo and the other Serbian Orthodox lands. While in Belgrade, as an American citizen he was invited to officiate at the United States Consulate for Thanksgiving Day services.

When visiting Skopje, Fr. Sebastian wrote a letter to Nikola Pashich, President of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade, in which he expressed his hope that a Serbian diocese would finally be created in America, with a Serbian bishop residing there. It is noteworthy that he named St. Nicholai (Velimirovich) as a candidate for becoming the Serbian bishop for America at that early date, when St. Nicholai was still a hieromonk. As Fr. Sebastian wrote to Nikola Pashich, "You have two candidates in Serbia, Nicholai and Valerian.[100] I consider myself a third only if necessary."[101]

In August 1913, having returned to the United States, Fr. Sebastian visited San Francisco and spoke at an Episcopal Church there. When St. Platon's Orthodox Theological Seminary was established by Archbishop Platon in Tenafly, New Jersey that same year, he became one of its first instructors, bringing with him many years of experience of teaching in church schools. There he prepared for ordination several Serbian seminarians, who went on to become much-needed priests for the Serbian parishes in America.[102]

While based on the East Coast, Fr. Sebastian continued to travel to the Serbian parishes that were still without a priest, in order to serve the Divine Liturgy and pastor the faithful. These included not only parishes in the United States but also a parish in Canada: for a time he served at the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, which was established in 1913.[103] He also continued to be involved in conferences and discussions with the non-Orthodox. Here he took the same charitable yet uncompromising approach that he had always taken in witnessing Orthodoxy to the non-Orthodox, speaking the truth in love.

In 1915 Fr. Sebastian met with St. Nicholai (Velimirovich), then an archimandrite, in San Francisco. As St. Nicholai later recalled, Fr. Sebastian met him at the train station, introduced him to many Serbs in the city, and took him to the Holy Trinity Cathedral. A close spiritual kinship developed between these two dedicated missionaries. St. Nicholai was later to describe Fr. Sebastian as follows:

"He was a sincere and convinced believer and a Christian missionary of world-scope. He traveled restlessly and preached and lectured indefatigably. He composed books, wrote articles, epistles, and thousands of private letters to laymen and priests with needed explanations, exhortations and encouragements. He spoke and wrote in Serbian, English, and Russian. His clumsy handbag was always full with New Testaments, religious booklets, printed sermons and tracts. Also with small crosses for boys and girls. All this he distributed freely. He never visited a Serbian family empty-handed. He remembered the apostolic words: It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)."[104]

By this time all the chartered Serbian parishes in America had elected to leave the Russian Church and to place themselves under the hierarchy of the Serbian Church. The Russian Church did not agree to this, and tensions understandably ensued.[105] Fr. Sebastian managed to remain relatively uninvolved in the brewing conflict, but still he was not spared being subjected to unjust accusations. Whereas formerly he had been resented by some Serbs for being too pro-Russian, now he was resented by some Russians for being too pro-Serbian. Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky),[106] who as Archbishop Platon's replacement in America was trying to keep the Serbian parishes under Russian jurisdiction, accused Fr. Sebastian of "agitating against the Russian church authorities in America" and St. Nicholai (Velimirovich) of "spreading dissension among Serbian parishes in America."[107] On October 5, 1916, Archbishop Evdokim called an Assembly of Serbian Clergy in Chicago, with the purpose of, as he said, "sorting out the ambitions of the Serbs."[108] At this meeting, presided over by the archbishop, Fr. Sebastian was roundly criticized. Afterwards Fr. Sebastian received a letter of sympathy from one of the Serbian priests present, Fr. Matej Stijachich:

"With a feeling of profound pain in my soul, I remembered long after our meeting in Chicago...that business of 'bearded children,'[109] and also the personal attacks on Your person at every opportunity. Believe me, the sympathies of the Serbian clergy were never so much on Your side as they are today."[110]

Contrary to what was being said about him, Fr. Sebastian's primary concern was not, as we have seen, the question of Russian or Serbian jurisdiction, but rather the proper shepherding of Christ's flock. As St. Nicholai wrote, Fr. Sebastian "never engaged in fruitless polemics"; and hence, during this period of controversy, he "went on with his apostolic mission all over America from coast to coast. Thus many times he visited lonely Serbian families in deserts and wildernesses to administer Holy Sacraments and bring consolation."[111]

World War I was then raging, and Fr. Sebastian felt he could not neglect his suffering brethren in the Old Country. He asked the Holy Synod of the Russian Church to release him so that he could serve the Serbian Church in the land of his ancestors. In 1917 this request was granted, and Fr. Sebastian went to Serbia once again to serve as chaplain in the Serbian army.

After his return from Serbia, Fr. Sebastian again met St. Nicholai in America in February of 1921, this time in New York City. Two years earlier St. Nicholai had been consecrated as a bishop in Serbia, and hi s visit to America in 1921 marked the first time that any Serbian hierarch had come to the New World. Here is how St. Nicholai remembered his meeting with Fr. Sebastian during that trip:

"His poverty amazed me when I met him.... I invited him to lunch. Blushing, he said, "Thank you; I just bought a roll of bread with my last five cents." And salary? None. He lived on people's freely given donations. And still, even with empty pockets, he planned new journeys to Alaska, to Japan, and of course to Europe. 
'But you are without means!' I remarked. 
He smiled with his usual childlike and fascinating smile and quoted the Bible: The Lord will provide (cf. Genesis 22:8). And marvelously enough, the Lord always provided for His faithful servant."[112]

For his part, Fr. Sebastian saw in St. Nicholai a true man of God. Now that St. Nicholai was a bishop, Fr. Sebastian felt even more strongly that he was the best candidate to become the first Serbian Orthodox hierarch in America. By this time the tensions between the Russian Church and the Serbian Orthodox congregations in America had essentially ended, for with the Russian Revolution of 1917 a rupture had occurred in contacts between the Church in Russia and its American archdiocese. In 1921 the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was established and was soon to receive its first Greek bishop.[113] St. Nicholai, meanwhile, had come to America with an assignment from the Holy Assembly of Bishops in Serbia to study the situation of the Serbian congregations in America and determine how they could be organized. Thus seeing greater hope that a Serbian hierarch could be consecrated for the Serbian flock in America, Fr. Sebastian wrote to Patriarch Dimitrije of Serbia on March 30, 1921:

"Considering the conditions and problems of the Serbian population in colonies across America, with their churches, organization and needs, it is imperative to undertake as soon as possible the reorganization and unification of our parishes and missions there, so that it truly becomes the Serbian Church in America. His Grace Bishop Nicholai could do this, taking advantage of the present circumstances which are well known to him, especially since he enjoys the sympathies of the authorities there. Asking Your Holiness to confer the blessing in the form of assistance in the struggle for the Orthodox Church in America..."[114]

On September 21, 1921, Metropolitan Varnava (the future Patriarch of Serbia) nominated St. Nicholai as Bishop of America, with Archimandrite Mardarije (Uskokovich) as his administrative assistant. Many pious people in Serbia objected to the nomination of St. Nicholai, being unwilling to relinquish their beloved "New Chrysostom."[115] Thus, in 1923 Archimandrite Mardarije was appointed administrator of the newly formed Serbian Orthodox Diocese of North America and Canada. According to Fr. Mardarije, the hierarchy in Serbia "were thinking of electing as Bishop for the American Church one of the three archimandrites in America, and they are: Sebastian Dabovich, GeorgijeKodzhich, both from California, and myself. Who will be chosen is a big question."[116] In its fall meeting of 1925, theHoly Assembly of Serbian Bishops elected Archimandrite Mardarije as the Bishop of the American- CanadianDiocese. On April 25, 1926, Fr.Mardarije was consecrated to the episcopacy in the Orthodox cathedral in Belgrade, and in July he arrived in his diocese as the first Serbian bishop of America.

---
[94] Fr. Sebastian Dabovich to Archbishop Platon. Written in Oakland, California, December 6, 1909. Quoted in Bishop Sava, p. 35.
[95] Serbian Orthodox churches were eventually consecrated in Oakland and Fresno, in 1926 and 1957 respectively.
[96] This church building served the Serbian community until 1963, when the new St. Sava Church was built in San Gabriel. The old church still stands, surrounded by the Serbian Orthodox cemetery, and services are still held in it occasionally.
[97] "Patriotic Sacrifice," Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1912, p. II-9.
[98] Evidently this mitre was different from the above-mentioned mitre given him by St. Tikhon.
[99] Ibid.
[100] Hieromonk Valerijan (Boshnjavkovich).
[101] Fr. Sebastian Dabovich to Nikola Pashich. Written in Skopje, November 20, 1912. Quoted in Bishop Sava, p. 49.
[102] Mirko Dobrijevic (Bishop Irinej), p. 15.
[103] Bishop Sava, pp. 11, 18.
[104] Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovich), "Father Sebastian Dabovich."
[105] Bishop Sava, pp. 49–61.
[106] Archbishop Evdokim arrived in America in May 1915. He returned to Russia in August 1917, where in 1922 he became a metropolitan of the schismatic "Living Church."
[107] "Decree of His Imperial Highness, All-Russian Autocrat and the Host Governing Synod to Aleutian and North American Archbishop Evdokim," St. Petersburg, June 18, 1916. Quoting from "Archbishop Evdokim to the Most Holy Governing
Synod," New York, June 15, 1915. Quoted in Bishop Sava, p. 56.
[108] "Svjedjenije" (Testimony), October 18, Archives of the American Orthodox Church. Quoted in Bishop Sava, p. 60.
[109] Evidently an accusation that Serbian priests, who had beards, were behaving like children.
[110] Priest Matej Stijachich to Archimandrite Sebastian. Written in Indiana Harbor, Indiana, November 15, 1916. Quoted in Bishop Sava, p. 184.
[111] Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovich), "Father Sebastian Dabovich."
[112] Ibid.
[113] Bishop (later Archbishop) Alexander (Demoglou) of Rodostolon.
[114] Fr. Sebastian Dabovich to Serbian Patriarch Dimitrije. Written in New York, March 30, 1921. Quoted in Bishop Sava, p. 86.
[115] Fr. Daniel Rogich, Serbian Patericon, vol. 1 (Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), p. 234.
[116] Archimandrite Mardarije to Dr. Paja Radosavljevich. Written in Chicago, Illinois, April 3, 1924. Quoted in Bishop Sava, pp. 109–10.


SA

 

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