Elizabeth, NJ - On Friday, September 11, the feast day of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner, the Primate of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Holiness Irinej, Archbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade & Karlovci, and Patriarch of Serbia, visited St. George’s Serbian Church in Elizabeth, NJ as part of his visit to the U.S. Hierarchs, clergy, parishioners, and guests came out to greet the Patriarch.
Entering the church and venerating the festal icon and the wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God – Protectress of the Russian Diaspora, brought to the church that day with the blessing of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York – His Holiness then celebrated the Divine Liturgy. The Patriarch was co-served by hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church: Bishop Mitrophan of Eastern America, Bishop Justin of Žiča, and Bishop Maxim of Western America, as well as Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan, vicar of the Eastern American Diocese, Eastern American Diocesan secretary Archpriest Serge Lukianov, parish rector Archpriest Zoran Radović, and many clerics of the Russian Church Abroad and the Serbian and Georgian Orthodox Churches.
During the communion of the clergy, Bishop Justin of Žiča addressed the faithful with a sermon on the subject of the feast day. Citing St. John the Forerunner as an example, His Grace expounded upon his illustration of standing up for the truth, and spoke about the saint’s primary service: preaching and summoning all to repentance, which remains relevant today. Bishop Justin noted how two newly glorified Serbian saints likewise stood up for the truth in their labors here in America, where they achieved holiness: Bishop Mardarije (Uskoković), the first Serbian bishop in North American, and Archimandrite Sebastian (Dabović) – the renowned missionary and enlightener, who in his old age returned to the monastery in Žiča.
After the faithful communed of Christ’s Holy Mysteries, His Holiness, Patriarch Irinej, addressed the clergy and faithful with an archpastoral greeting. His Holiness congratulated the faithful with the feast and expressed his joy that the church was filled with those of various nationalities: Russians, Serbs, Romanians, Georgians. "Weare all one Church, one family in God, one family in Christ," said Patriarch Irinej. "And we must, each of us, preserve and grow our unique heritage. Our heritage can be compared to a flower: each has its own unique fragrance. And we must enrich our heritage with various ‘fragrances.’" At the same time, the Primate of the Serbian Church called on all to maintain unity and preserve the purity of Orthodoxy everywhere where Orthodox people abide.
Successor to His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle, Patriarch Irinej was elected Primate of the Serbian Church on January 22, 2010 in Belgrade. Just as it was before the October Revolution in Russia, the future of the Serbian Church’s Patriarchal Throne was decided by lot.
The main purpose of Patriarch Irinej’s visit to the U.S. was to attend the festivities surrounding the glorification of the Serbian pastors who carried out their service in America at the beginning of the 20th century: the Holy Hierarch Mardarije and Venerable Sebastian. The glorification took place on Saturday, September 5, in St. Steven’s Serbian Cathedral in Alhambra, CA. On Tuesday, September 8, the feast of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, the Patriarch of Serbia visited Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral (ROCOR) in San Francisco, where he prayed for his flock before the reliquary containing the relics of the Holy Hierarch & Wonderworker John, Archbishop of Shanghai & San Francisco.
Orthodox Serbs honor St. John, remembering the words of the Holy Hierarch Nikolaj (Velimirović): "Children, listen to Fr. John; he is an angel of God in human form." The Holy Hierarch John completed his theological education at the University of Belgrade. In 1924, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) tonsured him a reader in the Belgrade’s Holy Trinity Russian Church. Upon his monastic tonsure, the future hierarch taught the Law of God in a Serbian high school, and was a professor and educator at the Diocese of Ohrid’s theological seminary.
The Russian Church Abroad maintains a special relationship with Serbia. Belgrade was the city that for many years hosted the ROCOR Synod of Bishops. It is also where the first First Hierarch of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Anthony, is buried.
Upon completion of the service, a festal lenten luncheon was provided in the parish hall. In accordance with Serbian tradition, the Most Holy Patriarch blessed the festal bread, which was then offered to each of the parishioners and guests. Addressing His Holiness and all those present, parish rector Fr. Zoran thanked Patriarch Irinej for the blessing that his visit had been for the parish, which this year celebrates the 65th anniversary of its founding. Fr. Zoran also thanked all of the archpastors and pastors for their shared prayer. The rector also expressed his gratitude to Metropolitan Hilarion and Bishop Nicholas for the opportunity to have the Kursk Root Icon present at the Patriarchal service.
In honor of his visit to the parish, Fr. Zoran presented the Patriarch, hierarchs, and clergy visiting from Serbia Greek-made icons of the Mother of God, and presented the Bishop of Žiča an icon of St. John of Shanghai, as well. Cordial interaction continued at the luncheon well into the afternoon.