of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the US and Canada
Wednesday, August 9 - Friday, August, 2006
Holy Prince Lazar Serbian Orthodox Cathedral "Ravanica"
taken from the September 2006 issue of
The Path of Orthodoxy
If among the many goals of the national Church Assembly, or Sabor as it is referred to in Serbian, is to bring together the hierarchs and clergy of the Church with the president and elected delegate from each congregation, plus members of the Diocesan and Central Church Councils, representatives of monastic communities and representatives of Diocesan Circles of Serbian Sisters, then this most recent assembly of the church was monumentally historic in that it included in its list of participants the members of the future of our church – our youth.
The 19th Triennial Church Assembly (Sabor) of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada took place from Wednesday, August 9 to Friday, August 11 at the Holy Prince Lazar Serbian Orthodox Cathedral “Ravanica” in Detroit, Michigan. Similar in structure to the previous Assembly held in Los Angeles in 2003, the major part of the work at this Assembly was completed in plenary sessions, where proposals were heard, discussed and voted upon.
One of the major highlights for the participants of this Assembly was seeing firsthand the fruits from the seeds planted at the previous Assembly, when chairpersons of the various Standing Committees presented their reports. These committees were established at the Assembly in Los Angeles in order to help advance the work of the Church. Since their inception they have been in constant communication with one another. In addition to conference calls and emails, since members of committees are from different parts of the country, they have also held several joint meetings in Chicago. In addition to the reports, each committee offered helpful and productive workshops during the Assembly.
The Triennial Church Assemblies, being the highest legislative and deliberative body of the Serbian Orthodox Church on this continent, bring with them the unique opportunity for the church to come together liturgically. It was in the majestic Detroit cathedral, gathered under the cupola of prayer, that the assembly of participants were given the perfect setting, at the morning’s liturgies, to prepare themselves for the day’s work ahead, and to reflect on their completed work at the evening Vespers. In addition to the worship in the church, a wide range of spiritual literature was made available from the different diocesan bookstores. The Midwestern, Western and Eastern Dioceses all had rooms set up for their respective bookstores, while the Canadian Diocese offered free copies of their coveted Istocnik periodical as well as other parish newsletters.
The tone set at the previous 2003 Assembly continued in Detroit as the entire work of the 19th Triennial Assembly was placed under the scriptural theme taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” (13:8). The first plenary session was dedicated to the consideration of these words. Moreover, the plenary sessions that discussed the administrative work of the church were done in an orderly and prompt fashion thanks in large part to the reports the clergy and delegates received upon registering.
The day before the actual Assembly opened the clergy gathered for the morning Matins service and later spent the day at the Annual Clergy Conference which was held on that day (see article on page ).
The clergy conference lasted until the late afternoon at which time delegates and the youth began arriving for the following day’s Assembly. In the evening V. Rev. Milos Vesin officiated at the Vespers service with the clergy singing the responses. His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher asked honored guest hierarch Metropolitan Isaiah to bestow the blessing following the service.
Following the dinner most clergy and delegates went to their hotels to rest for the next day’s work while the hierarchs and members of the Central Church Council remained for a special meeting in preparation for the Assembly.
This recent Assembly also saw the utilization of the Internet for the first time as the Serbian Church web site was updated daily with the latest information, photos and news.
- FIRST DAY OF THE ASSEMBLY
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 9, 2006 the 19th Triennial Church Assembly (Sabor) officially opened with the service of the Invocation of the Holy Spirit officiated by His Grace Bishop Maxim of Western America. Assisting the bishop at the holy altar were V. Rev. Petar Milosevic, V. Rev. Stevan Stepanov, Fr. Nornam Kosanovic, Protodeacon Stanimir Spasovic and Deacon Ivan Gasic. Attending the service were all the hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the US and Canada: His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher of Midwestern America, His Grace Bishop Georgije of Canada, His Grace Bishop Longin of the New Gracanica Diocese and His Grace Bishop Mitrophan of Eastern America. Also in attendance was guest hierarch His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver. The service concluded with each participant individually and the entire body of the assembly as a whole seeking God’s holy blessing and guidance in all the deliberations through the sprinkling of the sanctified waters.
Following a continental breakfast the first plenary session was opened by the senior hierarch present and host hierarch, Metropolitan Christopher. Recalling the theme of the Assembly, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” His Eminence emphasized that this does not mean that we as human beings do not change or grow, but that we do so in the framework of our eternal and unchanging faith in the eternal and unchanging God who has revealed Himself to us, and His eternal truth.
Metropolitan Christopher then introduced the Assembly's keynote speaker, His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver. Metropolitan Christopher reminded those present that Metropolitan Isaiah has been a staunch supporter and defender of the Serbian Orthodox Church and people for many years, particularly through his outspoken denunciation of the unjust bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Metropolitan Isaiah based his talk on the Assembly's theme, explaining that God in His perfection has no need to change, and so He “is who He is.” But we as fallen creatures are inevitably subject to change, for better or for worse. God leads us to change “from glory to glory” as we grow into the stature of the fullness of Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit is in Christ's Church, the gates of hell will not prevail against her. If we keep these truths in mind, we will not need to look for or invent new and novel truths. While we may suffer in this world because we are in the world but not of it, we trust in the victory which is already won in Christ, and which will become fully manifest only at the Second Coming of Christ. We look to the church Fathers, the Holy Councils, the Creed and the Church's other signposts of faith as confirmation of our faith's unchanging character. The saving message of Christ, he said, never changes, although the circumstances in which we live it out change constantly. He exhorted all to remain faithful to Christ and His Truth. His Eminence also reminded those present that one of our duties as Orthodox Christians is to break down all barriers which disrupt or disturb the life and work of Christ's Church. He explained that we should honor our ethnic distinctiveness, which is the context in which we live out our faith. Yet we must be aware of the danger of allowing secular nationalism to displace our common Orthodoxy. Nationalism, he reminded the Assembly, does not save us; Christ and His Church do save us. Moreover, the Metropolitan made the point that our exclusivist ideas of nationalism can even be considered contrary to the very nature of the church as it was founded on the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and united the nations. All of us are called to witness to this unity in Christ which transcends all earthly distinctions. His words were warmly received by the Assembly.
At the end of the first plenary session and before the Assembly recessed for lunch Metropolitan Christopher called on each of the hierarchs present to extend their words of greeting and archpastoral blessing to the Assembly's participants. The Assembly then confirmed the Assembly secretariat and reviewed the highlights of the last Triennial Assembly, held in Alhambra , California in 2003.
Following the lunch break the Assembly continued its work with the second plenary session in which the chairpersons of the Central Church Standing Committees presented reports on their committee activities for the past three years.
After an overview report on the general work of the Committees given by Standing Committee coordinator V. Rev. Nikola Ceko, reports were presented by Chairpersons of the respective committees.
Speaking for the Committee for Orthodox Christian Education was Chairperson Protinica Victoria Trbuhovich who, among other things, pointed out one of the major works of this committee has been the standardization writing of the curriculum used in the diocesan camps. The Committee plans to continue work on developing curricula for the needs of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America.
Brian Gerich, Chairperson for the Committee for Christian Stewardship, spoke of the work completed by this committee, especially in their efforts to educate our communities about the Christian act of stewardship through the Stewardship Handbooks given to parishes nationwide in which different aspects of stewardship are covered. Articles have been published and presentations to parishes and to diocesan assemblies on the why and how of Christian Stewardship have been given by members of the committee. Much material is available on the Serbian Church web site for download. The Committee is also working on making planned or estate giving more known in our communities.
In his report on behalf of the Youth Committee, Chairperson V. Rev. Stevo Rocknage mentioned that the most exciting part of their ministry has been in the in the realization of the first ever Youth Conference, which was occurring at that very same time at the St. John’s Youth Retreat and Conference Center in Plymouth, Michigan (see article on page), and in the coordination of the first Oratorical Festival which would conclude with finalist presentations at the Sabor. The Committee is also working on guidelines and materials to aid in forming youth groups in parishes and dioceses. One very visible result of the Committee’s work is the monthly publication of the “Our View” youth section in the Path of Orthodoxy and the Diocesan Observer.
Dr. Nikola Resanovic, Chairperson of the Liturgical Music Committee pointed out that among the work of this committee was the publication of an Anthology of Serbian Chant Volumes I and II. Also published by this committee was the Duhovna Lira: Spiritual Songs of St. Nikolai Velimirovic, with other publications due out in the near future. Much music is already available for downloading from the Committee’s area of the Church’s Serborth web site. Among their ministries has been the organizing of the Cantor’s Workshops, one held in Jackson, CA in 2005 and another in 2006 held in Aliquippa, PA. The committee is planning a workshop to be held in Jackson this October, and another in Lansing, IL in the Spring of 2007.
V. Rev. Rade Merick, the Chairperson of the Communications Committee, reported on the continuing publication of the Path of Orthodoxy as the official newspaper of the SOC-USA. He also reported on the website www.serborth.org as the official site for the Central Church. The site is still under construction. The Committee report discussed the importance of communication for the parish, both internally and to the surrounding community, and the development of ways to assist that communication. At the Committee's suggestion, the Central Church Council established a revolving publications fund for publishing of new books.
Finally, Fr. Zivojin Jakovljevic, Chairperson for the Committee of the Serbian Language, Culture and Heritage, stated that the aim of this committee has been to promote the learning of the Serbian language, culture and history, which is understood to be essential for a deeper understanding of Serbian Orthodox life and faith. Based on a survey conducted by this committee which revealed the desire of many parishes to have language study groups, the Committee provided a list of textbooks for this purpose. This list is available on the official website www.serborth.org. Another exciting endeavor by this Committee has been the organization of a Pilgrimage to the Monasteries of Serbia and Montenegro from May 11-22 2006. Twenty four people participated in the tour.
Following the individual reports the remainder of the afternoon was devoted to various workshops presented by the Central Church Standing Committees for the use of the Assembly participants. Coordinator Fr. Nick Ceko announced the assigned rooms and times for the workshops and Assembly participants were free to choose to attend as many as three of the six workshops. Soon both levels of the church hall where the workshops were being conducted were bustling with activity as clergy and delegates went from one session to another.
- WORKSHOPS OF THE STANDING COMMITTEES
The workshops included: “Parish Resources—Questions and Answers for Christian Stewardship”; “Total Parish Education”; “Spiritual Songs for all seasons and ages”; “Energizing our Youth in the Church”; “Developing Cultural Heritage Programs”; and “Ideas and Resources for making your Parish Known in the Community.”
Each workshop had something different and very helpful to offer. Moreover, it was common to see clergy and delegates with tote bags and pamphlets in hand going from one workshop to another as nearly each workshop offered informative literature on their particular ministry.
In the Christian Education workshop, for example, Protinica Vickie spoke about the camp curriculum that was developed and used. She made note of the writings of Fr. Steve Tumbas about the Church and family. She distributed a packet of catalogues where different materials and books could be purchased and used for Christian education classes. Mention was made of the planner for Christian education published by Father Radovan Jakovljevic. V. Rev. Rodney Torbic spoke about our Deanery meetings. Fr. Steve Tumbas was present and talked about his work in the Western Diocese. This committee is also in charge of compiling the curriculum for the diocesan camps of which Fr. Thomas Kazich plays a major role in publishing.
The availability of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission curriculum and related materials was discussed. Interest in a curriculum specific to the Serbian Orthodox Church was expressed by one of the participants.
In the Communication workshop, committee member Vesna Meinert prepared a packet of resource materials that parishes could use to advertise the parish and to welcome visitors. Fr. Merick spoke particularly about one welcome packet used in his parish that is well received by visitors. He also spoke about writing a column periodically in a local paper. Fr. Rodney spoke about his parish radio program broadcast locally and on the internet, as well as the regular puiblication of parish news each week in local newspapers.
In the workshop for Serbian Culture and Heritage, Committee Chairperson Fr. Zivojin spoke of the different goals of this committee and one attempt that had been made at giving the faithful a firsthand experience of the culture and history of our Serbian people, namely, the recent pilgrimage to the Serbian monasteries. Fr. Zivojin prepared a slideshow from the pilgrimage and gave a very moving presentation.
In the workshop of the Youth Ministry, Committee member Chris Radanovic gave a bullet point presentation of how to create a local parish youth group.
The great interest that both clergy and laity had in the work of these committees was proven by the discussions which concluded each workshop. Bearing in mind all that the committees have accomplished since their creation three years ago. there is great excitement of what to expect at the next Assembly and what the future holds for our Church.
The day came to an end with the evening Vespers service. V. Rev. Aleksandar Vlajkovic served the Vespers after which a dinner followed. After dinner the clergy graduates of St. Sava School of Theology met with Fr. Milos Vesin for a choir rehearsal in preparation for the following day’s grand banquet.
- SECOND DAY OF THE ASSEMBLY
The second day of the Assembly began with the Divine Liturgy. Serving at the holy altar were V. Rev. Srboljub Jockovic, V. Rev. Dane Popovic, V. Rev. Zivko Kajevic and Hieromonk Fr. Gerasim. Attendance at the morning service was excellent, with a number of participants receiving the Holy Eucharist.
Both morning and afternoon sessions were devoted to discussion of proposed changes to the Uniform Rules and Regulations governing church life. Some of the proposed changes resulted from the work of the Joint Legislative Committee, while others were proposed by the Central Church Council. The proposed changes, touching mostly on the method of appointing parish clergy and definitions of church membership, gave rise to an extended discussion of the structure of the Orthodox Church, how that structure reflects our faith and practice, and how that needs to be incarnated in every aspect of church life. Some of the proposals were easily accepted, while the Assembly voiced the need for more information and explanation before deciding on the others. Giving some insight on selected issues, especially in defining the difference between a parish and a church-school congregation and the idea of a permanent priest as opposed to a temporary priest in the history of the church, was Protodeacon Dr. Stanimir Spasovic, Professor of Canon Law and History of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The discussions, though long and sometimes complex, were carried out in a thoughtful, respectful and Christian way.
Hieromonk Fr. Gerasim served at the evening Vespers service which concluded the day’s work. One of the highlights of the triennial assemblies, the Grand Banquet, followed the Vespers service on Thursday evening, held at the Serbian-American Memorial Hall. Most of the Assembly participants, plus other guests, were present for the social highlight of the Assembly. Metropolitan Christopher of Midwest America, Bishop Georgije of Canada, Bishop Longin of the US and Canada (New Gracanica Metropolitanate), Bishop Dr. Mitrophan of Eastern America, and Bishop Dr. Maxim of Western America were joined by two guest hierarchs: His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate (Orthodox Church in America) and His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Detroit.
Following dinner, Metropolitan Christopher introduced the two guest bishops by recalling the shared historical experiences of these Orthodox peoples, and the tremendous support our fellow Orthodox Christians have shown for their Serbian Orthodox brothers and sisters. Each of the guest hierarchs in greeting the Assembly Banquet recalled the warm relations and important ties which bind us together as Orthodox Christians, and challenged all to closer relations and cooperation between American Orthodox of various backgrounds. Others giving greetings at the banquet included the presidents of the Diocesan Federations of Circles of Serbian Sisters, the president of the Serb National Federation, the General Secretary emeritus of the Serbian Singing Federation, St. Lazarus Congregation Board president Milos Saravolats, and other dignitaries.
The Ravanica Cathedral Choir and the alumni choir of the St. Sava School of Theology in Libertyville , Illinois offered several beautiful selections. His Grace Bishop Dr. Mitrophan gave a brief presentation on the history and accomplishments of the School of Theology in its 20 years of existence, including the 55 clergy who have graduated from it to date.
- THIRD DAY OF THE ASSEMBLY
The final day of the 19th Triennial Church Assembly began with a historic Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in which, for the first time in some years, all hierarchs of the five dioceses in the US and Canada served at the holy Altar. Assisting the hierarchs at this most majestic service were five priests, the Episcopal deputies of each diocese, and seven deacons. The liturgy was enriched all the more by the youthful and energetic voices of the young people who, having completed their youth conference, joined the Assembly for the final day. V. Rev. Stevan Stepanov led the young choir. Many of the youth and delegates approached the holy Chalice and received Holy Communion.
The official Assembly photos were taken outside the cathedral after the liturgy and after a continental breakfast diocesan caucuses were held to elect representatives to the Central Church Council. They are: for the Midwestern Metropolitante—Brane Brankov, Nancy Colakovic, Andy Nygren, and alternate Ray Vukas, Diocesan Council Vice president Milos Saravolats, Bishop's Deputy Fr. Nedeljko Lunich, and appointed priest Fr. Dennis Pavichevich; for the Eastern Diocese: Milan Visnik, James Springborn, Drazo Visekruna, and alternate George Topich, with Diocesan Council vice president Savo Cugalj, bishop's deputy Fr. Nedeljko Grgurevich, and appointed priest Fr. Rastko Trbuhovich; for the Western Diocese: Donald Kral,, Bosko Momic, Dr. Debra Tasic, and alternate Mimo Papich, together with diocesean council vice-president Ron Radakovich, Bishop's Deputy Fr. Velimir Petakovic, and appointed priest Fr. Nikola Ceko; and for the Canadian Diocese: Nedjo Petkovic, Dr. Goran Popovic, Zoran Curcic, and alternate Milan Lazich, together with diocesan council vice president Ilija Rakanovic, bishop's deputy Fr. Vasilije Tomic, and appointed priest Fr. Djuro Samac.
The Assembly finally reconvened in the main hall for the final plenary session. Metropolitan Christopher gave the podium to the Chairperson of the Committee for Youth Ministries, Fr. Stevo Rocknage, who introduced the participants of the Youth Conference. He then took the opportunity to give the Assembly participants a brief synopsis of their experiences over the past few days at St. John’s Retreat and Conference Center. He made special note of the high level of enthusiasm that the children had over the past few days.
Then the four finalists from the first St. Nicholai of Ochrid and Zica Oratorical Festival presented their talks to an attentive and appreciative audience. A Youth Advisory Board made up of select participants of the Youth Conference was presented, and finally the verdict of the judges was heard on the winners of the Oratorical Festival (see article page).
Congratulations were offered to all the contestants and to all the youth who attended the Youth Conference. It was a joy to hear many of the young people praising the Conference and already looking forward to next year!
Instead of dismissing the youth after the presentation Metropolitan Christopher invited them to stay as the Assembly finished its work. The final items left on the agenda included completing the reviewing of the proposed changes to the Uniform Rules and Regulations after which the proposed greetings and resolutions were presented by committee chair Fr. Rade Merick and adopted. After some miscellaneous matters the 19th Assembly came to a close with the Doxology.
The Assembly was a powerful witness to the unity of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America and pointed to a growing spiritual maturity. We look for three years of continued growth and cooperation until the next Assembly.