PROTOJEREJ-STAVROFOR +MILAN SAVICH
[IN MEMORIAM] Father Milan Savich was born on September 20, 1920 in the heart of the town of Arilje, Serbia to Slavko and Mileva (Ocokoljic) Savich. His mother Mileva was the sister of His Grace Bishop Firmilian (Ocokoljic) of Blessed Memory. Fr. Milan obtained his early education in Arilje, Belgrade and Kraljevo. He received his initial theological education at the Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Bitolj, where he was sent by his Diocesan Bishop, St. Bishop Nikolaj (Velimirovic). The Bitolj Seminary was a magnificent center of Orthodox learning at that time. In addition to St. Bishop Nikolaj and many other scholars, among the teachers there were then Archimandrite and now St. John (Maksimovic); then Archimandrite and now St. Justin (Popovic); then Hieromonk Vasilije (Kostic), later Bishop Vasilije of Zica; then lay theologian Jovan Velimirovic, later Bishop Jovan of Sabac and Valjevo.
The Second World War interrupted the life of the young seminarian. Yugoslavia was attacked and occupied by the Nazi Germans and Fascist Italians and consequently dismembered by them and their domestic fascist collaborators. Young Milan Savich joined the Royalist Chetnik movement led by General Draza Mihajlovic which was allied with the USA and Great Britain and which fought both the fascist invaders and the communist partisan movement led by Tito. After the Soviet Red Army invaded Serbia at the end of the war and installed Tito’s communists as a puppet regime, young Milan Savich was forced to leave Serbia along with other Royalist Chetniks. He endured the retreat through Bosnia known as the “Bosnian Golgotha,” only to be captured by the Croat Fascist Ustasha forces. By Divine Providence, he was able to escape certain death at the hands of the Ustashe and thereafter he traveled by foot under the most adverse conditions to the Austrian border. Instead of finding peace and freedom in Austria, he, along with three Chetnik friends, was placed in an Allied POW camp with members of the “Handzar Muslim Fascist SS Division” which had fought alongside the Nazi Germans on the Russian front. Thereafter, he was transferred to another POW camp in Rimini, Italy. From 1945 to 1948, young Milan, along with thousands of other Serbian combatants and refugees, was placed in various displaced persons camps in Italy and Germany.
In 1948, Milan won a scholarship to study at Dorchester College, near Oxford, England. In 1950, he came to the United States, where he completed his education at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and Columbia University in New York. After graduation, Milan was elected parish priest for St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (South Side). Shortly thereafter, on August 30, 1953, he married the former Constance Vuckovich of Johnstown, PA, a student at Parson’s School of Design in New York City. On his birthday, September 20, 1953, Milan was ordained a Deacon in St. George Church in Pittsburgh by Bishop Dionisije (Milivojevic). Two days later on September 22, 1953, the Feast of Saints Joachim and Ana and the Bishop’s Slava, Fr. Deacon Milan was ordained a Priest at St. Sava Monastery in Libertyville.
He began his pastorate at St. George Church in Pittsburgh in October 1953 and served God and the Pittsburgh congregation for 27 years, until 1980. Fr. Milan and Popadija Connie’s service in Pittsburgh included the following events and achievements:
- On December 16, 1955, Fr. Milan became a citizen of the United States
- Five Savich children are born in Pittsburgh: Mileva, Jovan, Marya, Natalie and George
- On December 4, 1961, Fr. Milan’s zealous Christian witness inspired the Pittsburgh Serbs to merge St. George Parish and St. Sava Parish, divided since 1934, to form a united Holy Trinity Church
- On March 14, 1963, Bishop Dionisije awarded Fr. Milan with the honor of wearing the red sash, which was bestowed upon him by visiting Metropolitan Damaskin of Zagreb
- On February 17, 1968, Holy Trinity Church received a gift of 5.8 acres of land and two homes from Mrs. Louis Elizabeth Thoma Colteryahn, a Lutheran laywoman, who donated the property due to the efforts of Fr. Milan and his uncle Bishop Firmilian. Thereafter, Fr. Milan officiated at all of the important events related to the building of the new Holy Trinity Church: Ground Blessing/Breaking July 21, 1968; Laying of the Cornerstone Novermber 18, 1968; Blessing and Raising of two stainless steel crosses March 28, 1971; Blessing and Raising of three bronze bells in the new bell tower April 4, 1971; Consecration of the Church May 2, 1971
- On May 2, 1971, the day of the Consecration of Holy Trinity Church, Bishop Sava (Vukovic) elevated Fr. Milan to the rank of Protopresbyter
- To fulfill Bishop Sava’s insistence that the new Holy Trinity Church have a Parish Priest concourse and election, on October 21, 1973 Fr. Milan received a unanimous vote of confidence by the church’s membership, acknowledging his years of dedicated pastoral work
- In 1970 and 1978, Fr. Milan received honors from two different VFW Posts in Pittsburgh, recognizing his continuing struggle against communism and his support of and service to veterans
- On October 5, 1977, Fr. Milan fulfilled his lifelong dream to make a pilgrimage to both the Holy Land and to Mount Athos
- Prota Milan made numerous radio and television appearances on all of the major Pittsburgh stations
- He was active in the Serbian Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood and for many years was the editor of the annual Serbian Orthodox Calendar and Yearbook; he was also active in the Orthodox Clergy Association of Greater Pittsburgh, where he held several different offices
- Fr. Milan participated in work with other clergy in the Pittsburgh South Hills communities and took an active role in the South Hills Walk for the Hungry
- His diligent work to propagate the Orthodox faith included the training of our young boys as acolytes at Holy Trinity Church, Shadeland Camp and Camp Stefaneum and he and Protinica Connie were active in all aspects of Church School Education, both at the parish and diocesan levels
- Fr. Milan served the Diocesan Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters
- Fr. Milan promoted our national Serbian organizations: the Serb National Federation and the Serbian National Defense Council
- Throughout his ministry in Pittsburgh and thereafter, Fr. Milan showed special concern for his parishioners, teaching by word and deed the great truths of our faith, comforting the afflicted, visiting the sick and sharing the sorrow of the bereaved. He truly has brought joy to those who sorrow, and has followed the example of Christ, Who said: “I am the good shepherd who lays His life down for His sheep.” (St. John 10:11)
- For 19 years, Fr. Milan served Orthodox patients at the Veteran’s Administration Hospitals in Pittsburgh (Oakland, Aspenwall and Leach Farm)
- On September 17, 1978, Prota Milan was honored by Holy Trinity Church on the occasion of his 25th anniversary with a gala testimonial tribute attended by his parishioners and friends
In 1982, Fr. Milan was elected the permanent priest of St. George Church in Schererville, Indiana. He served this parish for the next 17 years, during which time he was appointed the Dean of the Chicago Deanery and he became the Duhovnik/Spiritual Advisor for the Midwest Metropolitanate Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters. During his tenure in Schererville, he continued to be active in the Serbian and Pan-Orthodox Clergy Brotherhoods, holding many offices and titles and continuing to edit the Serbian Orthodox Calendar/Yearbook. During the tragic civil wars that besieged our Serbian Homeland in the 1990’s, he led his flock in the support of numerous humanitarian and national causes, remembering the years of suffering he and the Serbian people endured during the Second World War. His crucial leadership of the St. George congregation during this difficult time for our Serbian Church and nation cannot be forgotten. The list of hierarchs, clerics, parishes, entities and individuals that were assisted by St. George Church and hosted by Fr. Milan during this period is manifold. This was also the point in time where our tragic Serbian Orthodox Church division was overcome, thanks to the efforts of then Patriarch and soon to be Saint Pavle, and His Eminence Metropolitan Irinej of Blessed Memory. Prota Milan was a passionate advocate of Serbian Orthodox unity and unification and he, Prota Jovan Todorovich of St. Sava Merrillville, Prota Lazar Kostur of St. Elijah Merrillville and Fr. Stevan Kovacevic of St. George East Chicago promoted and supported the annual “Mothers Against Hunger” Banquet organized by the Serbian Sisters Circles of those respective parishes, an event that continues to present times. In September 1998, he submitted his resignation as Parish Priest of St. George Church in Schererville and served his last Divine Liturgy there on Sunday, December 27, 1998.
Prota Milan Savich was involved with the establishment of St. Basil of Ostrog Church in Lake Forest since its founding in 1997. That summer, as the Bishop’s Dean of Chicago, he served the first Church Services (three Vespers) in the parish’s history. In January 1998, Prota Milan became the Parish Administrator and in January 1999, he was appointed the Parish Priest. He became the Dean of the Milwaukee Deanery that same year.
During his tenure as Parish Priest, St. Basil Church experience a positive period of development: its parishioner base was established; its Church School attained a high level of organization (with special emphasis on liturgical participation); it acquired, consecrated and renovated a 10 acre Church Complex in Lake Forest-Mettawa; it acquired additional land adjacent to the original complex; it hosted numerous educational seminars and guest speakers; and, most importantly, St. Basil Church became, as Fr. Milan so aptly put in his 1999 message supporting the purchase of the Church Complex: “an actual house of God; a place of prayer; a place for service to God and to come in contact with God…a place where we can learn how to attain the most exhalted idea of life - the Salvation of our Souls.”
In May 2001, Fr. Milan returned to Serbia for the first time since 1945. He had the honor of serving with His Holiness Patriarch Pavle on the Feast of the Ascension, the Slava of the City of Belgrade and of participating in the Slava Litija, which traveled through the streets of a free and democratic Belgrade. He visited his older sister Emilija Jocovic in Belgrade, his hometown of Arilje, the graves of his parents, many important Monasteries and Churches, including but not limited to Studenica, Zica, Ostrog, Oplenac, Vracar, as well as the memorial complex dedicated to General Draza Mihajlovic on Ravna Gora. He also served in the parish church in the Village of Kaona, where his grandfather Prota Uros Ocokoljic was the parish priest and at St. Vasilije of Ostrog Cathedral Church in Niksic, where he concelebrated with Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands, who also participated in the consecration of our St. Basil Church in 1999.
On August 30, 2003, Prota Milan and Protinica Connie celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary with their children, grandchildren and relatives in Chicago and in September 2003 St. Basil Church honored Prota Milan with a parish luncheon on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the Priesthood. Those celebrations brought to mind how important a role Protinica Connie had played in Prota Milan’s ministry: she was at virtually every church service he had served singing responses and reading; she had made countless proforas; she had decorated churches and church halls with her beautiful art; she has been the hostess for Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, parishioners, politicians, etc.; she had taught and supervised hundreds of church school classes, both children’s and adult education; she had sung in Serbian and Pan-Orthodox choirs everywhere she has lived; the list goes on and on. After a brave 19 month battle with pancreatic cancer, Protinica Connie fell asleep in the Lord during Bright Week 2004. She left Prota Milan only physically, because her children carried on her spiritual legacy and her role, helping Prota Milan every step of the way to fulfill his parish ministry at St. Basil Church until September 2006, when, at the age of 86, he was released from his full time Parish Priest duties. He and his children remained at St. Basil Church until March 2008. That summer, His Grace Bishop Longin asked Prota Milan and his children to come to New Gracanica Monastery, where they organized an “Episcopal Choir/Arhijerejski Hor” and where Prota Milan faithfully served on Sundays and Holy Days. He served his last Divine Liturgy at New Gracanica on the Feast of Dormition of the Theotokos (Velika Gospojina) on Saturday, August 28, 2010 and communed at the Monastery for the last time on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Krstovdan) Monday, September 27, 2010.
On his 90th Birthday, September 20, 2010, his children organized an intimate luncheon in his honor at Lovells of Lake Forest, attended by His Grace Bishop Longin, clergy, family and close friends.
Prota Milan fell asleep in the Lord at St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago on Saturday, November 27, 2010. He had been suffering in the past few years with congestive heart failure, but despite this illness, Prota Milan always kept active and was physically fit enough to play golf as recently as August 2010. He truly enjoyed golf not only because of its health benefits, but also because it put him in touch with nature and reminded him of the beauty of his native Arilje and the Dragacevo region.
In summary: Prota Milan’s 57 year ministry and his entire life stand as an example for every young Orthodox priest and Protinica Connie’s life a model for every young popadija/matushka.
St. John of Kronstadt said that:
(b)y means of the Priesthood God accomplishes great and redeeming works among mankind: He purifies and sanctifies people, animals, and elements; He delivers people from the villainous works of the devil; He renews and strengthens; He converts bread and wine into the purest Body and Blood of the God-Man Himself; He marries people and makes marriage honorable and the nuptial bed pure; He absolves sins, heals illness, converts earth into heaven, unites heaven with earth, the human being with Himself; He joins angels and men in one gathering. What do they lack, the people who have no priesthood? They are deprived of salvation. It is not in vain that the Lord, the Accomplisher of our salvation, is called the Chief Priest.
God has blessed our Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America and the wider Orthodox Church in the Diaspora by sending us Prota Milan, who showed us the way to salvation. May God grant to him rest in His Heavenly Kingdom, in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing and sorrow have fled away!
Memory Eternal! Vecnaja Pamjat!