World headquarters: The Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America is a US-based autonomous church body in the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate headquartered in Belgrade, Serbia.
Administrative structure: There are 3 diocese in the United States: The diocese of New Gracanica and Midwestern America, with its headquarters at the New Gracanica Monastery in Third Lake, Illinois; the Eastern American Diocese, with its headquarters in Mars, Pennsylvania; and the Western American Diocese, with its headquarters in Alhambra-Los Angeles, California.
The present Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America has its origins in the immigration of Serbs who came from the regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Dalmatia, Montenegro and the Balkans in the middle to late 19th century. A large immigration of Serbs followed from the Ottoman ruled Kosovo and Metohija region between the years 1890-1915.
Atop a hill in the mining town of Jackson, California in the Sierra Foothills, the first distinctly Serbian parish was established by Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovic, the first US-born Orthodox priest and missionary. Consecrated in 1894, the Saint Sava Church in Jackson is believed to be the oldest Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA. Soon after, other communities were founded in California and the steel centers of Western Pennsylvania and the Greater Chicago area.
Major “personalities” who contributed significantly to the history of each Church were: Sebastian Dabovich, known as the “English preacher” of the San Francisco Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox North American mission; the prominent theologian Saint Nicholai (Velimirovic) placed in the calendar of saints in 2003, who for is eloquent preaching is often referred to as “the New Chrysostom;” and Bishop Mardarije (Uskokovic) who was appointed as administrator of the Serbian parishes by the Russian North American Metropolia.
Originally, Serbian Orthodox parishes in America were under the supervision of the multi-ethnic Russian Orthodox American Metropolia, led by the Russian Archbishop in New York. In 1921, however, in the wake of the Communist revolution in Russia, they were chartered as a diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church and placed under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate in Belgrade. In 1927, Bishop Mardarije became the first resident ruling bishop of the new Serbian diocese of America and Canada. Among his most remarkable accomplishments was the adoption of the first Church Constitution (1927) and the founding of the Saint Sava Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois, which became the See of the diocese and the center of spiritual life and place of pilgrimage for the Serbian Orthodox community in America. The Saint Sava Monastery Church and cemetery is where such prominent Serbians as Bishop Mardarije (Uskokovic), Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovic), King Peter II Karadjordjevic (King of Jugoslavia who reigned from 1934-1945 and died in exile), and the famous poet Jovan Ducich were laid to rest.
Similarly to other Eastern European communities in the United States, the Orthodox Serbians in America were deeply affected by the political changes in their homeland, Yugoslavia, where a Communist government took over in the wake of WWII. Bishop Dionisije (Milivojevic) was the bishop of the American-Canadian Diocese who guided the diocese at the beginning of the Second World War and afterwards for nearly two decades. After the war, much was done to strengthen the Serbian Orthodox Church in America. During this time, the philanthropic Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters was formed, and the first Orthodox Christian children’s summer camp was established at the Saint Sava Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois. Property in Shadeland, Pennsylvania was purchase as an estate of 1400 acres, where a Charity Home and another children’s camp were established. The diocese also purchased more land in Jackson California, where a third summer camp was formed. These summer camps continue today to provide year round opportunities for Christian Education and recreation for children and youth.
In 1963, the Holy Assembly of Bishops in Serbia formed 3 new dioceses from the territory of one single diocese in the USA and elected three new ruling hierarchs. This action was coupled with the suspension and ultimate deposition of Bishop Dionisije Milivojevic, which brought on a tragic division among the Serbian Orthodox in America, lasting some 30 years. Subsequently, in 1992, the proclamation of Eucharistic unity became the first step in the reunification of the Serbian Orthodox Church organization in North America. This was followed in 2009 restructuring into five dioceses (today there are four with Canada), making up the one autonomous administration of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America.
Historic Decision on the Administrative unity
Towards the beginning of 1991, when the Holy Synod decided by the grace of God, with Serbian seriousness and pastoral responsibility, that our unfortunate church schism in America should be resolved and surpassed, Bishop Atanasije of Herzegovina wrote that the Diaspora has for a long time been the most complex problem of the entirety of Orthodoxy, and for that reason it has been included on the agenda of the future Great Council of the Orthodox Church. He also said at that time that the experience of Diaspora in the Church, either with the Jews in the Old Testament or with the Christians in the New, that is to say the Church, is not something evil in itself. It is an unavoidable and at the same time a providential challenge for God’s Israel, both the old and the new, that is, for the Jewish people and the Church of Christ. The Diaspora reminds all of us, as the community of the people of God in history moving on the path towards the Heavenly Kingdom, of the traveling and crucified status of the Church in this world and age: “we are in the world but we are not of this world”; we are in the House of God, but the Dispensation—the building up of the House of God which is the Church—is still in progress and continuing. God’s Kingdom is already present in the Church, but as Christians we are also simultaneously still on the path towards the Kingdom, the Heavenly Homeland of us all.
By the gift of the Holy Spirit, preserving the nobility and sacred order (1Cor 14,40) of Christ’s Church, on the basis of the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, (AB no. 8/min. 91 of May 22/9, 2007)—by which the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America is ratified, and consistent with the decree of the Holy Synod of Bishops, (no. 849/min. 513 of June 12th, 2007), that as the authorized competent body on this territory to take all further necessary measures for the implementation of the regulations of this Constitution—the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, published the text of the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America and made it public to the God-given Church pleroma of the Orthodox People on this territory.
The Orthodox Serbian community in the USA continues to grow both through the influx of new members who embraced Orthodoxy from other faith communities as well as new waves of Serbian immigration from the former Yugoslavia. Today, the Serbian Orthodox Church in America has over 120 parishes, 12 monasteries, and a theological school at its headquarters at the Saint Sava Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois. Many of these churches stand as breathtaking representations of Serbo-Byzantine architecture which include unique characteristic elements from the Middle Ages. They are monuments to the timeless qualities of the Serbian Orthodox Church and noteworthy cultural contributions of the Serbian people’s ancestry.
An example impressive architectural replica of the old Grachanica of Kosovo is the New Grachanica Monastery in Third Lake, Illinois. The Grachanica of Kosovo, the famous church that was continually destroyed and rebuilt, is an example of the powerful Serbian spirit that with the Church as its guide, carried itself from an age of struggle in Serbia, which now finds its expression in an age of peace in America.
The centralized ministries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America include the development of Serbian Liturgical Music in the English language. The main characteristic of Serbian Orthodox chant is that it bears many elements of folk melodies. Many of these melodies are now sung in the English language and are being used in worship by other Orthodox communities as well. By the way, we would add that on this American continent the oneness of spirit and of mind of the Fathers of our Church is revealed in that there is no inappropriate questions of the so-called “old” and “new” ways of serving. We all serve the one and same Divine Service, even though there might be variations in certain details, as there always have been and there are in the living and life-creating Church of Christ from the East throughout the ages, just as there is one Gospel of Christ even though there are four Evangelists, and in them, just as in the Orthodox Liturgies—and there are four of them as well—there appears a polyphonic symphony and a symphonic polyphony of the Holy Pentecostal, fiery spirit-filled Grace of the Spirit, the Comforter of the Church, Who “calls all to unity.”
There are still other ongoing efforts for Orthodox witness. Among them Sebastian Press, established in 2007 which has published over 30 theological works by such noteworthy Serbian theologians as Saint Justin Popovic, Saint Nicholai Velimirovic, and Atanasije Jevtic in the English language.
In 2011 we have celebrated ninety years since the founding of the first Serbian American-Canadian Diocese. One can ask: how much does the church assist our people in preserving and cultivating Orthodox spirituality and national identity? The 90th anniversary celebration of the founding of the first Serbian American-Canadian Diocese was commemorated in Los Angeles, in the presence of a number of bishops, two of which were Serbian. This significant event is inseparable with the reality of Serbian immigration in America, which dates from the first decades of the nineteenth century and continues to this day. This history was marked by a number of important individuals, among which I would like to mention Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, Bishop Nikolaj of Zicha and Bishop Mardarije Uskokovic and the scientist Mihailo Pupin.
It seems that the goal of the Church in North America is not so much to cultivate language, folklore and traditions, as it is to root its member in the Liturgy. Is that sufficiently done considering that our parishes and monasteries in the diaspora oftentimes resemble ethnic clubs? Those two approaches do not rule each other out, but we need to know where the priority is. Throughout the dramatic history of the Serbian people, the Church, during various different circumstances, has been the most important in preserving our identity, especially during those times when there were no other institutions to preserve that identity. Thus, the prevailing understanding of the Serbian Orthodox Church as a nationalistic institution, which, admittedly, does not correspond to the Gospels. A nationalist romanticism, which, by the way, Europe exported to us, cannot be our narrow specialty; that tragic view that the Church brings people together only according to nationalistic lines must stop, for patriotism, unfortunately, is a perishable.
Of course, religious practice among us implies many different and very imaginative traditions which have sprung from spirituality. Still, many faithful devote more attention to the tradition and folklore side of their faith than to making an effort to understand and “get” the liturgical rhythm of the Church. The Church directs us to the true focus of incorrupt existence, for it moves us from death to Life. As the Saints teach us, a Christian is one who tests everything by the End, by the Kingdom measuring history, and not the other way around. He does not battle for impressions of a temporary character. Luckily, Serbian parishes on the North American continent are being freed of the “club” approach, and so in the last six, seven years we have discontinued the casinos in the form of “bingo”, first on the Western coast, and slowly others followed the example. Establishing a liturgical typikon remains a paramount task, but nothing can bring automatic progress.
The efforts and responsibility of everyone is needed, particularly from the bishop and his clergy, in revealing that liturgical dimension of existence through the catechesis of their parishioners. To be clear: the businessman who savagely races for material glory and gain in Manhattan and some Orthodox priest who, while he is sitting in the company of others, looks at his cell phone or brags about his patriotism, are identical.
We pray for the promotion by our Church here in America of the genuine, total and life-giving message of the Gospel, coordinating and enhancing our pastoral, liturgical, educational, cultural, philanthropic and missionary activities, and contributing to the establishing a full canonical order when God gives His blessing and where such order is needed.
The unity of the Church, in a grace-filled unity of concelebration and communion in the Divine Eucharist, and a canonical unity of administration, where “all things are done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40), from Pentecost to today, and from Jerusalem to America, was always a gift and event of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit—in the Church of the Apostles and Fathers, of the Martyrs and faithful successors of the Lamb of God, Whose Church is the Body of the God-Man, Community in One Spirit, the House of the Living God, the Pillar and Foundation of Truth, of salvation, of Resurrection, of Life eternal.
Recalling the Founding of the Western American Diocese (1963-2013)
According to historical records, the Western American Diocese was established in 1963. All those fifty years were extraordinarily full of sharing of the Bread of the Divine Eucharist which is “broken yet not divided, ever eaten yet never consumed.” A mysterious inner recording took place—a mutual aid—which is realized on an exalted and holy plane. The Bishops faithfully visited Parishes and Monasteries as frequently as possible, and spent many long hours with the people of God, teaching on various subjects, notably on the Holy Liturgy and the Holy Fathers, sharing captivating first-hand accounts of their years as monks in various Serbian monasteries, along with other edifying stories of righteous and virtuous spiritual figures of that time. These fifty years were a time of spiritual enrichment for the faithful of the Western Diocese, especially through the many pastoral and confessional talks in which the hierarchs sacrificed their time and love, to strengthen the spiritual formation of the flock.
The Diocese of Western America, if it is seen up close as a coarse mosaic—it is “only” forty parish-liturgical communities—leaves a superficial impression when viewed from a distance, which can help more in viewing the reality of this χωροχρόνος (spacetime). It is spread out across a vast region which is possible mostly thanks to modern day means of transportation, and so today you are with the faithful people in Sacramento, in California’s landscape and vineyards, the next day in Fresno, near the thousands of giant sequoia trees, while yesterday you flew over the deserts of Arizona and the Grand Canyon in order to visit the communicants in Phoenix and Denver. During that time you were able to collaborate with others about the future of the diocese while viewing San Francisco’s skyscrapers, feeling the wind that dominates this city. Awaiting you next week are the mountains of Montana and Idaho, only to later find out that they cannot be contrasted to the mighty ocean in San Diego, but that with Oregon’s forests and the rains of Seattle they speak of the blessings of God’s land. During the summer months I visit parishioners, monastics and….bears, in distant Alaska, while in the winter months I visit our small Serbian mission of St. Lazar of Kosovo in Hawaii. In all of this, the spirit of gratitude towards all of our known and unknown benefactors in this area cannot leave us.
Celebrants of the Unity of the Serbian Western American Diocese
The first archpastor of the Western American diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church was His Grace Grigorije (Udicki), 1963-1983. He was born on January 14, 1911, in Velika Kikinda, Banat. He finished elementary and high school (Gymnasium) in his native town; while in Sremski Karlovci he graduated from seminary in 1930. Having graduated from seminary, he enrolled in Orthodox Theological Faculty of the University of Belgrade, which he finished in 1935. The same year he was appointed as professor of seminary in Bitolj serving in that capacity until the beginning of the World War II in 1941. He received his monastic tonsuring in monastery Chilandar on August 9, 1936, by his school friend, Hieromonk Vasilije Kostic, later Bishop of Banja Luka, then Zica. As a professor at the Bitolj Seminary and at the request of Bishop Damaskin he was sent to America. After returning to Bitolj, he retained his teaching post until 1941, immigrating to America after the Second World War. After the war, he served in several places throughout United States of America. He was parish priest in Youngstown when he was elected Bishop of Western America. In 1957 he was elevated to the ranks of archimandrite by the Synod of the Holy Bishops per bishop Dionisije’s recommendation. He was consecrated bishop in the Cathedral dedicated to the Venerable Simeon the Monk in Alhambra on August 4, 1983 by Bishop Hrizostom of Branicevo, Bishop Stefan of Eastern America and Canada and Bishop Firmilijan of Midwestern America. He passed away in Alhambra on October 9, 1985 and was buried at St Sava Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Following Bishop Gregory’s episcopacy on the throne of hierarchs of the Western American Diocese, came Bishop Hrizostom (Stolic), 1988-1992. Bishop Hrizostom was born in 1939 in Ruma, where he received his elementary and high school education. After high school he went to monastery Decani where he received his monastic tonsuring and was ordained hierodeacon and then hieromonk by the bishop of Raska-Prizren, His Grace Kyr Pavle. Soon after that he went to America to help his Serbian people. In America, at the Russian Orthodox monastery of the Holy Trinity in Jordanville, he studied theology. After his graduation from theological studies, he served as assistant priest at Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Chicago and then as parish priest at Saint George the Great-Martyr Serbian Orthodox Church in East Chicago. Having established a strong foundation of church life in his parish, he then went to monastery Chilandar, Mount Athos. In Chilandar, he stayed for twenty years and while there he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite by the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrius. As notable monk he was appointed as superior monk (protos) of the entire Mount Athos. In monastery Chilandar, he served as librarian where in addition to incessant prayer, he grew intellectually as well. The fruit of his labor in the library is a book, Svetacnik, in two volumes which he wrote and published in the Serbian language; he also prepared the service book for the Liturgy of Holy Apostle James in Serbian language translation.
The Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church during its regular session from May 14 to 24, 1988, held in Belgrade, chose archimandrite Hrizostom as the next bishop of the Western American Diocese. Bishop Kyr Hrizostom was on the throne of hierarchs in the Western Diocese until 1992, when he was chosen to assume his archpastoral duties in the diocese of Banat, and subsequently diocese of Zicha.
In his episcopal work, bishop Hrizostom paid great attention to the order of services and canonical protocol of the Church. He was able to establish fasting practices according to the Church calendar among the faithful. In addition, he established more regular services (beginning with Great and Holy Week).
Bishop Hrizostom’s successor was His Grace Bishop Jovan (Mladenovic), from 1994-2001. He was a spiritual father and abbot at the monastery Studenica for many years. He was born in 1950 in village Dobrace near Arilje, Serbia. He finished elementary school in his native village. At age twelve, he went to monastery Klisura and there he spent one year. From monastery Klisura he went to monastery Studenica. From 1967 to 1969 he attended and graduated from monastic school at the monastery of Ostrog. On April 25, 1971, he was tonsured as monk and ordained into diaconate in monastery Studenica keeping his name from baptism. His Grace Kyr Vasilije of Zicha diocese ordained him hieromonk in 1973. In 1974 he graduated from Saint Sava seminary in Belgrade and in 1980 the Faculty School of Theology of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In 1986, he was elevated to the rank of protosyngellos, and in 1989 the rank of archimandrite. On July 26, 1981, he was appointed as the abbot of monastery Studenica. In this position he served until May of 1993 when he was chosen as vicar bishop of Patriarch and administrator of Serbian Orthodox dioceses in Macedonia, the former republic of Yugoslavia, with the title of bishop of Tetovo, with all rights of diocesan bishop. The Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church during its regular session in May of 1994 chose him to be the next bishop of the Western American Diocese. The enthronement of bishop Jovan was done by the Serbian Patriarch Kyr Pavle on September 18, 1994 in the cathedral of Saint Steven in Alhambra, California.
Administrators of the Western American Diocese were: Bishop of Nis Irinej, Metropolitan Christopher of the Midwestern American Diocese, Bishop of Sumadija Sava, and Bishop of New Gracanica Longin.
In 2006, His Grace Bishop Maxim was instated on the throne of bishops of the Western America Diocese.Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic) of Hum was elected Bishop of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South American at the regular assembly of the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, Serbia in 2006. Bishop Maxim is docent of the Divinity School at the Theological Faculty of the University of Belgrade, and was teaching Christian Anthropology and Sociology at the University of East Sarajevo. His Grace Bishop Maxim graduated from the Theological Faculty of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1993. He completed his Masters of Theology at the University of Athens in 1996, and then three years later, in 1999, at the same university, he defended his doctorate in the field of Dogmatics and Patristics. He worked for one year on his post-doctorate in Paris and the Sorbonne in 2003-04, in the field of Byzantine History and Hagiography. During this time, he also delved in the theory and practical application of painting at the French Academy of Fine Arts in Paris. Bishop Maxim speaks Greek, French, Russian and English. Currently, as well as fulfilling his Archpastoral duties in the Western American Diocese, His Grace Bishop Maxim is a Professor of Patrology at the St. Sava School of Theology in Libertyville, Illinois. He was the editor of “Theology”—Journal of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology, University of Belgrade. He also leads the Diocesan iconographical school inspired by Byzantine and Serbian medieval fresco painting and by Fr. Stamatis, a famous Iconographer from Athens, Greece. Bishop Maxim’s scholarly studies and articles include essays on Holy Fathers and Saints; he has also written on the hagiographical and iconographical themes.
During the Holy Liturgy on July 30, 2006, in the Cathedral Church in Alhambra, His Grace, Bishop Longin of the New Gracanica Metropolitanate, enthroned His Grace Maxim, as Bishop of the Western American Diocese. Bishop Maxim was elected to the Western American Diocese at the regular session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, held in May of this year. Serving at the Holy Liturgy were twelve priests, and the faithful who filled the church beyond capacity. According to the ancient ecclesiastical tradition, a new Bishop is installed at the Divine Eucharist. Leading the new Bishop to the Throne, Bishop Longin, the previous Administrator of the Western American Diocese, read the decision of the Holy Assembly of Bishops regarding the election of Bishop Maxim. He then congratulated the faithful of the Diocese on the arrival of their new Bishop, and called upon them to listen to their new Archpastor, to pray to God for him, and to whole-heartedly support him. He then greeted Bishop Maxim, wishing him God’s assistance, and much success in his pastoral work in the region of Western America.
Bishop Maxim, upon taking the Throne, addressed all present with the traditional first homily. In his remarks, he thanked the Lord for the grace of the enthronement, as well as the Holy Assembly of Bishops for their decision to entrust him with the care of God’s Church in this part of the world. He also expressed his gratitude to all of the previous honorable Hierarchs: Gregory, of blessed memory; Chrysostom, and Jovan, as well as Bishop Longin.
Bishop Maxim emphasized that today, only Orthodoxy lives the faith what breathes the ethos and spirit of self-sacrifice for others, the source of this being in the Holy Liturgy and the ascetical way of life. The Orthodox Church accepts all people, but especially the sinners who emulate Christ, “of a gentle and humble heart”, who, as the Good Samaritan, “pours forth oil and wine” upon man’s wounds and weaknesses. The newly-enthroned Bishop pointed out that it is crucial today to keep and protect the most precious gift of peace, unity, and catholicity (universality) of the Church, which the devil begrudges, and which man’s sins and weaknesses can often destroy. This unity concerns not just the relationship with the Mother Church in Serbia, but with all of the Churches on this continent. In a world that must face the ethos and culture of the West, Orthodoxy will not be able to offer a witness true to the faith if it is disunited, but rather, can do so only if it speaks “with one mouth and one heart”. The Churches are called to overcome their isolation within their nationalistic boundaries, and to work and show themselves as one Church, unto the glory of God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Contributions of the Orthodox Serbs to America Today
For some people the mission of Orthodoxy in America consists mainly in converting as many Western Christians as possible into Orthodoxy. This, however, is actually a very limited and inadequate goal. If Ἐκ-κλησία in its initial meaning is a call addressing the People of God and inviting it to participate in a life that knows not death—and thus to acquire a mode of existence that liberates from any kind of necessity, any “religion”—then we have to seek its mission in realms other than social, religious and moral.
In view of a true Orthodox ontological realism, the genuine mission and task of the Orthodox Church in America is twofold in character and is of the utmost significance and substance. First, the Church must bear witness to the particular ethos of its Orthodox Tradition, and confront the ethos of Western Christendom and its culture, which is based on individualism. Second, the Church in America must also interpret the so-called “Western” way of thinking for the Orthodox believer. An Orthodox American, who possesses native cultural credibility in his own land and who can therefore act as a bridge between historical Orthodoxy and Western culture, is best able to fulfill this task.
The significance of such a mission cannot be over-emphasized. Currently, the US dominates the world. “Never has the United States so clearly dominated the world—militarily, politically, culturally, and even, to a certain extent, demographically”, explains Jacques Attali in his A Brief History of the Future. Its political and economic superiority has turned it into a model for the rest of the world. An Orthodox Christian in this country should not be a follower, waiting for others to innovate and then quickly move to copy their ideas. Neither should Orthodoxy accept the image of a mysterious religion that offers a refuge to those who seek mystical or other extraordinary experiences, as is the case with religions and cults of the East. Today, we must fight against such a perception of the Orthodox mission, because this kind of view is completely contrary to what our Holy Fathers have handed down to us. As Metropolitan John of Pergamon holds, “our Holy Fathers, hermits included, accepted the cultural challenges of their day. Far from preaching exotic religions, they aspired to transform the Greco-Roman culture of their time and were very successful in their venture.” Their battle was, as modern environmentalists like to say, to preserve the current world, not to move on to the next one. This is precisely what Orthodoxy in America, more so than the other members of World Orthodoxy, is called to do—to use our rich Tradition to identify the problems of modern Western man. And the sooner the better, since these problems will, before long, be the problems of all mankind.
Orthodoxy must be seen as salvation and deliverance not only from social and moral evil but also from corruption and death. And it can achieve this as an Assembly of Bishops, which includes the entire assembly of the People of God in a liturgical way. Аnd a leitourgia is an act of the People, who live the immediacy of resurrectional experience. Has our Church and hierarchy entered into a creative dialogue with globalism as the “post-modern integration”? Only the true Church which can lead this dialogue, and the hierarchy partakes in it proportionally by its faithfulness to the True Church. Fear of dialogue is a characteristic of mediocrity and of a narrow-tribalistic consciousness. Certainly, dialogue is not conducted for the sake of dialogue; the only ones who approach it thus are mostly the “talented” politicians and demagogues of whom some, admittedly, are in the hierarchy. Besides that, an often-emphasized tendency for dialogue among some individuals perhaps serves more as an cover for a hidden psychological complex. The Church, especially today, cannot depend on rigid governmental structures, but on parochial activities as the charismatic community with clergy prepared for sacrifice which we see among the younger ones.
The criterion of the relationship between the Homeland and Diaspora cannot be other than ecclesiastical. In the Christian tradition, history is looked upon, contrary to the Hellenic world (in its gnostic and neo-platonic version), not as an obstacle to communion with God but is a basis for this communion. Through the Incarnation, the Truth of being and all creation, becomes immanent to man and world, resides in the heart of history, in the foundation of mortal and corrupted creation. As a measure of piety in a diocese or a parish we have to initially look at its sacramental life (and understanding of the same), as an illustration, but also topos, of the connection between history and eschatology. God’s Kingdom is, therefore, a future event that has to come, but is also anticipated (received as a down payment) in Church, mainly through the Holy Mysteries. A fundamental characteristic of Orthodox historiography is “eschatology that is anticipated and not realized” (Florovski). The Orthodox parish, as a living prayerful and liturgical community, is an assembly of persons baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and anointed by the Holy Spirit in one Body of Christ. Without Eucharistic togetherness (participation in communion) there is no parish. When a certain parish celebrates a jubilee or anniversary, then the measure of its maturity, success and scope, is the dynamism and pulse of its Eucharistic life; therefore a criterion of priestly “success” would not be impressive churches and halls, but quality of life of the living members of the Body of the Church, their growth “ unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” and their victory over sinfulness, corruption and death.
Serbian interest in the history of the Diaspora and search for the will of God in it, reveals faith in God’s presence and labor throughout history. The life of the Serbian Church in the USA unfolds on the field of dramatic history which is interwoven with God’s providence. A great number of Serbs who find themselves for longer or shorter periods of time spread out throughout the world—departing after difficult decision—remain connected to the land of their birth or ancestors, living a double identity. Departing into the Diaspora could be compared to leaving to a “monastery,” as a type of alienation followed by deprivation, fasting, prayer… It appears that the lone institution which can today sustain continuation and connection of Serbs throughout the world is the Serbian Orthodox Church, more than anything else because of the quality which we call togetherness. This in itself brings an enormous responsibility. It is my deepest conviction that the Church plays this uniting role among the Serbian people thanks to her eschatological dimension and ability to accept history on account of her children.
History of Serbian spirituality, science and theology on the entire territory of the Diaspora, and in a narrower concept on the North American continent, is very complex and requires an analytical and synthetic approach. The complete study includes: data gathering, researching archives, personal memories of older parishioners and other institutions, contacting older and younger parish priests. For writing this history all relevant data is welcomed, especially those related to: the founding (who, when, how), the functioning (relation parish-priest-church board), historical events (holidays-slavas, jubilees). The most important for history, is primarily written history, either of individuals or institutions. “Who has thought to write the history of the Serbs in America from the beginning to the present, is already very late. Since, two Serbian generations have left to God’s judgment, and the third is at its end, three generations are still active in the American arena of life, as the seventh is crying in the cradle. It is impossible to find out first-hand what was in the past. Innumerable efforts, sacrifices and pains and good deeds and examples of honor and heroism and tragedies and success in this country are left unrecorded. Nor would any history of American Serbs be complete, if it didn’t describe all of that which Serbs from America have done for their foremost fatherland from the beginning to the present,” writes St. Nikolaj Bishop of Zica, in 1951. Having in mind his above-mentioned words, from the beginning of my arrival upon the throne of the Western American Diocese there was a need for this type of missionary work, in the spirit of our well-known predecessors, Sebastian Dabovic and Nikolaj Velimirovic. Since we do not have such a center in the US, we have advised our priests to start collecting historical data, testimonies, periodicals, and similar writings in their parishes. Creation of a missionary center of Serbian theology and culture in both Serbian and English languages would be beneficial and a blessed endeavor, significant for contemporary as well as future generations of Serbian and American peoples in North America.
It is important for us that this history contains an ecclesiastical-social scope which faithfully describes the church conscience of Orthodoxy in the USA. Serbian Orthodoxy in America has acquired an important ecclesiastical-social scope which faithfully describes the church conscience of all Orthodoxy on this continent. This conscience is reflected through the identification of church as well as a national component which played an important role in the history and life of the Church in this milieu. How did we arrive to this identification? What consequences does this have for future history and life of the Church in the USA? These are the questions worthy of our attention. It is also important for history to study various tones of the concept “church-school congregation,” which has given motive for its separation from a hierarchical structure of the Church. As a consequence of this “historization” of the Church in the American West, the tendency has appeared for the imitation of worldly structures. This has brought about many conflicts between bishops and parish boards, culminating in the refusal of the latter that the bishop has any decisive role… There lies the answer to how “independence,” autonomy, etc., has precedence over the dimension of community. Besides that, we should ask, which concept of authority was dominant in the “Diaspora”? Why were “concours,” set by parish boards, more decisive in the election of a new parish priest than the will or even just the opinion of the local bishop?
Among the majority of church delegates, still prevalent is the understanding of the role of the Church as a moral and spiritual force in the emigrant ethnic community by preserving the ethno-community, her folklore, culture, etc. However, the Lord has called us for much greater accomplishments. An enormous question lies before our parishes in this hard historic time when at the door of Orthodoxy knocks postmodern pluralism and relativism, which asks how to preserve tradition and ethos that originates in medieval Serbia in our world dominated by modern and postmodern values? How can a church understood as “svetosavska,” constituted in culturally unified “oekumene” (Byzantium-Serbia) adapt to a pluralistic society and learn to live besides other faiths and confessions, or moreover, besides people indifferent to religion? Today, when the natural institution of marriage, whose traces can be found in the depths of pre-history, seem to be approaching extinction in the modern era, it is expected that the Orthodox offer their response to the question: what precisely are the “facts” or forces that make difficult or almost impossible the conjugal co-existence of male and female (that is, male with female) in our current cultural paradigm? The Serbian Church-national community on American territory was and still is confronted with these key questions. The answer varies from person to person, from community to community, and before us lays the assignment to research this problem. Cultural explanation of the phenomenon of Serbian presence comes from ecclesiology, ethnology and cultural anthropology.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, many liturgical customs surviving until now and having the force of strict canon law demonstrate the fact that the Church is episcopocentric. For example, even today no presbyter can celebrate the Eucharist except on a piece of linen (the antimension) which bears the signature of the bishop of the place. Equally, in all eucharistic celebrations the bishop’s name must be mentioned aloud right at the crucial point of the Anaphora (central part of the Liturgy). These and other provisions indicate that, at least liturgically, the bishop continues indirectly to be regarded as the president of the eucharistic assembly of the local Church. This loses its significance, however, as long as in fact the bishop is the head of a huge diocese and has no direct access to his flock, which he is unable to “oversee” both liturgically and pastorally.
It is our belief that only an organic unity between all the “charismata” or “tagmata,” in the Pauline sense of the word—not only the clergy and laity—can bring spirit and quality to this blessed country. The unbroken unity of the people of God and the voice that resonates the Eucharistic dialogue should be the mission of each parish, which it will achieve in a most superb way not as another objectified social structure—since the Church is not a democracy—but as a charismatic event of communion within the Church. Every Orthodox bishop should rejoice at the emergence of such voices principally when they stem from the inner being of the local Eucharistic gathering. If we want to do justice to the Church, we have to appreciate the laity, as those in fact who finally implement all progress and growth in the Church’s life.
From Western American Diocese - Annual 2013, pages: 21 - 30