NEWS AND EVENTS - Wednesday, August 9, 2017
DIOCESAN DAYS 2017
On Saturday, August 5th, the Eastern-American Diocese held their first Diocesan Day celebration under the omophorion of their recently-enthroned hierarch, His Grace Bishop Irinej. Faithful from around the diocese gathered at the Most Holy Mother of God Monastery Church at the St. Sava Camp in Shadeland, PA, to offer thanksgiving to God as one body, in unity, at the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy.
With great joy, over twenty priests stood at the entrance to the church ready to welcome His Grace Irinej. Upon his arrival, they processed into the church as the hymn, “It is Truly Meet” was gloriously sung by a wonderful choir comprised of the St. Sava campers. The service proceeded with exceptional beauty as the children continued to offer the magnificent gift of their voices to the Lord, and to all those present.
Following the reading of the Holy Gospel, His Grace Bishop Irinej offered an inspirational sermon that spoke directly to the campers, although its message resonated with all the faithful in attendance. His Grace differentiated between the fleeting ‘happiness’ of this world, which is temporal, with the resplendent ‘joy’ of the Kingdom, which is eternal. Joy, as an attribute of the Divine, always culminates in love and brings us to the knowledge of God, Who is Love.
Standing in the midst of the seated children, His Grace shared a profound episode from the life of the Holy Bishop Nicholai of Zhicha who, during his time at Dachau concentration camp, was questioned by a German soldier about his need to believe in God. The Holy Bishop Nikolai gave a surprising answer that he no longer needs to merely believe in God as his experience in Dachau taught him to come to know God.
As the campers listened intently, he continued to expound upon the theme of the enduring power of ‘joy’ as he then commemorated those Serbian peoples who were forcibly expelled from their homeland, and persecuted, during “Operation Storm” by the Croatian Army. As His Grace proclaimed, “even as our Serbian people marched, weary, wounded and beleaguered, from their homeland, they still held on to the ‘joy’ that could not be taken away - the ‘joy’ that comes, following crucifixion, from the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Thereafter, the Divine Liturgy continued, those gathered were moved in faith and love as they came together in unity to receive Holy Communion as one body. From the youngest members to the oldest, and from parishes spread throughout many hundreds of miles, the faithful realized the Eucharistic bond that unites all Orthodox Christians.
The service concluded with the cutting of the Slavski Kolach (Festal Bread), in honor of Venerable Mother Angelina of Krushedol, the Patronal Feast of the Shadeland Diocesan Estate, and a memorial service for those faithful who perished in “Operation Storm”. His Grace then offered his heartfelt love and praise to the choir of campers who, throughout the Divine Liturgy, continually offered beautiful responses in perfect harmony.
Before officially departing the church, those in attendance followed the clergy outside so that His Grace Bishop Irinej might bless the emergency vehicles, an ambulance and a fire truck, that belong to the Fire Department of the camp’s local community of Springboro. With dedicated fire and emergency officials standing present, the vehicles were blessed as all those in attendance sang responses. His Grace concluded the blessing by offering fervent thanksgiving for those that risk their lives to come to the aid of those in peril. It was a powerful moment connecting the St. Sava Camp to those in its surrounding community.
Following Divine Liturgy, the diocesan faithful gathered around the main pavilion for the annual diocesan picnic. Roasted lamb, pork, and chicken, along with other traditional Serbian cuisine and beverages, were available for purchase. Beginning a new tradition, His Grace Bishop Irinej set aside a space for clergy and their families to enjoy the meal together with him, under one tent, to encourage the building of close bonds amongst priests throughout the diocese and to be together with the people.
The day concluded with a dance and music performance by the fourth-week, “Tamburica” week, campers. This select group of talented youth comes from parishes throughout the diocese that have active folklore groups. In addition to regular camp activities, including religious education, singing, crafts, and fun, these fourth-week campers offer a tremendous amount of their free time to learn a number of Serbian songs, music and challenging folk dances to share with everyone gathered on this special day. The campers did not disappoint as they energetically entertained the enthralled audience.
When the dancers finished their final performance, His Grace Bishop Irinej stood and offered, again in the words of Holy Bishop Nicholai: “When the heart is full, the tongue will stammer.” He recounted his joy at being a camper and head counselor at Shadeland, and shared the depth of his affection with Fr. Milan Pajic, Camp Director, and the Federation of the Circles of Serbian Sisters, counselors, parents, clergy and all those who make St. Sava Camp a home for the Orthodox Faith and Serbian Tradition, one that has continually borne great fruit in the spiritual and social life of the Eastern-American Diocese.
Noticing that the camp seniors were visibly emotional, along with all those present, knowing this would be their last camp season together, His Grace promised them an additional week of camp for Seniors Plus! The seniors and their families cheered with great joy and relief at the prospect of returning to their beloved camp. As this was the first Diocesan Day held on a Saturday, there is consideration of developing the Diocesan Day celebration into a two day celebration and accommodating, as in years past, the many who would choose to camp out on the Shadeland grounds.
Realizing the words that His Grace Bishop Irinej offered in his sermon, those gathered for the annual Diocesan Day celebration experienced the richness of ‘joy’ which went beyond any fleeting, earthly ‘happiness’, as everyone enjoyed this memorable gathering as one diocesan family!