Aliquippa, PA - Clergy and faithful of the Eastern American Diocese were already beginning to think about doing something to honor their Bishop Mitrophan on his 25th Anniversary as bishop of the Diocese. But a special urgency was added when word was received in late May that their long-time archpastor had been elected as Bishop of Canada, and would soon be leaving them.
The Diocesan Council, spearheaded by Council vice-president Milan Mrkal, and the Diocesan Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters headed by Millie Radovick immediately began to work on an event which would be not only a celebration of their Bishop's 25 years of service in their Diocese, but also a farewell. And it would have to be done within weeks.
The result was a truly moving and beautiful tribute to their beloved Bishop Mitrophan held on Saturday, August 13 at St. Elijah Church in Aliquippa, PA. The day began with the greeting of the hierarchs at the doors of the church, and it was immediately apparent that this was going to be a special day. As the bishops were led by the clergy into the full church, the St. Elijah Choir began to sing with a beauty and power which truly helped transport those present into the Kingdom of Heaven. After the services many, many people remarked on the special feeling of love and God's presence which permeated the Liturgy.
Leading the liturgical gathering was His Grace Bishop Longin of the New Gracanica-Midwest Diocese, who is a long-time friend and colleague of Bishop Mitrophan. Serving with them were nearly 30 priests and deacons from all over the far-flung Diocese, who had come to honor and thank their Father in Christ for his years of faithful service to God and His people. The faithful who gathered for the service also represented all geographic areas of the Diocese, from Maine to Florida and from Massachusetts to Ohio. A large number of those faithful communed of the Holy Mysteries, one sign of the spiritual growth which has taken place under Bishop Mitrophan's leadership.
In his moving and spiritually uplifting homily, His Grace Bishop Mitrophan used the feast of the Procession of the Life-Giving Cross which was being celebrated that weekend as his inspiration for elaborating on the place of the Precious Cross in the dispensation of our salvation, and how each of us is called to find our salvation in bearing the cross given to us with perseverance, faith and love, knowing that we do this not on our own, but with constant faith in Christ and the Grace of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.
A banquet, or better said, an agape meal of love, followed at the St. Elijah Serbian Center. The program was overseen by Master of Ceremonies Milan Mrkal, Vice-President of the Diocesan Council. Each of the speakers highlighted a different facet of Bishop Mitrophan's ministry and service. President John Martich of the Serb National Federation and President Mary Lynn Ricci of the Serbian Singing Federation each spoke about His Grace's interaction and cooperation with these two vital organizations. President Millie Radovick of the Diocesan Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters spoke movingly of His Grace's close working relationship with the Kolo's, especially of their work together for the St. Sava Children's Camp at Shadeland. Jovana Zaremba as a longtime camper and now a counsellor spoke representing the St. Sava Campers and staff, focusing on Bishop Mitrophan's great love and devotion for the campers, which they freely returned for their Bishop. Over the years His Grace made great efforts to visit the camp each week, to interact with the campers, answer their questions and to get to know them and their needs and concerns as they got to know him. Dusan Kolundzic spoke on behalf of the Diocesan Council, emphasizing His Grace's true concern for his flock, his wise and discerning leadership, and his ability to take decisive action. Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dragoljub Malich, Episcopal Deputy and senior active priest of the Diocese, reflected on Bishop Mitrophan's great care and concern for his clergy and the faithful entrusted to him, and the many advances that have been made in the Diocese during His Grace's quarter century as its Archpastor. His Eminence Archbishop Melchisedek of the Pittsburgh Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America spoke on Bishop Mitrophan's calling as a bishop and archpastor. Finally, His Grace Bishop Longin gave a touching personal reflection of his many years of friendship with Bishop Mitrophan going back to 1970 when they were both students at the seminary at Monastery Krka and Bishop Mitrophan's support and counsel as Bishop Longin went through the difficult time of the 1990's wars in the former Yugoslavia as bishop of Dalmatia and as he came to America and the former New Gracanica Metropolitanate. He rejoiced that, although Bishop Mitrophan is leaving the Eastern Diocese, he is not going far and will continue to be involved in the life of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America as Bishop of Canada.
At this point in the program Bishop Mitrophan was presented with the gift of a beautiful set of bishop's vestments from the clergy of the Diocese, while the Diocesan Kolo Federation presented him with a hand-made cross and panagia set, and the Shadeland Camp presented him with a hand-carved staff.
Finally, His Grace Bishop Mitrophan spoke, humbly thanking everyone for their love and prayers and support over the years. He recognized a number of people present who had worked with him closely in various facets of the Diocesan life, and remembered those who have passed on before, particularly his predecessors as bishop of Eastern America. He thanked God for his blessings both upon himself and upon the diocese. In closing he asked all to continue to pray for him as he assumes his new duties in Canada, and assured all of his continuing prayers for them. All spontaneously stood with a rousing ovation and the singing of Many Years.
This was truly a heartfelt tribute given out of love to their spiritual father by his grateful spiritual children. There were reminiscences, many smiles, laughter, and a few tears. But above all there was gratitude to God for all things, as there always should be. May God grant His Grace Bishop Mitrophan health, wisdom and strength that he may continue to wisely shepherd the flock of Christ under his care for many, many years.