of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America
Monday, August 10-Thursday, August 13, 2009
St. George the Great Martyr Serbian Orthodox Church
North Canton, Ohio
“...We, being Many, Are One Body in Christ...”
[Taken from the September 2009 issue of The Path of Orthodoxy/The Diocesan Observer]
Fr. Rade Merick and Fr. Milovan Katanic
The makeup and structure of our Church on this continent, expressed and outlined in the articles of the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, calls for, among other things, the convening of a Church Assembly, or Sabor, to be held on a national level every three years. We, the chroniclers of these triennial gatherings, are always tempted to describe them as historic. And while it is true that some have been of more historic significance than others, every Sabor is indisputably a part of our history for each marks our presence and work as the Serbian Orthodox Church in this part of the world. Nonetheless, no word more perfectly or adequately describes the 20th Triennial Assembly/Sabor than “historic.”
First, the very location was notable in that it was hosted by the Eastern American Diocese for the first time. And while our hosts at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in North Canton, Ohio did an exceptional job in accommodating us, this is surely not the historical mark left by this Sabor. Instead, it was at this Assembly that we, as Church, witnessed for the first time the fully realized unity of our Serbian Orthodox Church on this continent after the recent decision rendered by the Holy Assembly of Bishops in Belgrade this past May. As our host, His Grace Bishop Mitrophan, noted in his greeting: “This Sabor is distinct for a number of reasons, but primarily because we see our brother clergy and delegates no longer from one or the other side, but as one within the liturgical-canonical and administrative unity of our Church on this continent and beyond. For this reason, we pray first of all to God in the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that this Sabor be fruitful and profitable for both our Serbian Orthodox Church as a whole as well as our suffering Orthodox people. May we have in our thoughts during these days the words of our Savior: "That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us..." (John 17:21-22), as well as the words of the unsurpassed guardian and protector of the unity of the Church, the Holy Apostle Paul: "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Rom. 12:5). Without unity with Christ and His Church, we have no salvation. Let us fulfill the words of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke who writes: "Those who believed were of one heart and one soul" (Acts. 4:32).
The bishop's words were met with sustained applause, for this is, in fact, not any one person's joy we celebrate, but a collective, mutual joy of the whole Church, of every Serbian Orthodox Christian not only in these vast regions but indeed throughout the world wherever Serbs live and dwell.
The days in North Canton commenced with the gradual arrival of clergy and delegates on Monday afternoon and early evening, arriving from one diocese after another, from America and Canada and, to the pleasant surprise of the entire Assembly, representatives from South America: V. Rev. Alexis Pena-Alfaro and V. Rev. Rafael Carlos Fredrico Q. Santos. Eventually 222 total participants arrived, making this perhaps the largest Assembly in many years.
As clergy arrived and in anticipation of the beginning of the work of the Sabor the annual Clergy Brotherhood meeting was held in one of the spacious rooms of the St. George Social Center. Over 50 priests participated in the afternoon meeting, which was chaired by Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Rastko Trbuhovich. Brotherhood president Prota Djokan Majstorovic gave a report on the Brotherhood activities of the last year, including publishing and educational, charitable and social. Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dragoljub Malich gave a brief presentation on the clergy pension plan, and a financial advisor gave a more detailed presentation on caring for each person’s pension account. Officers and board member for the coming year were elected. They are: President Prota Djokan Majstorovic, vice-president Prota Marko Todorovic, secretary Fr. Norman Kosanovich, treasurer Fr. Deacon Damjan Bozic, board members Fr. Dragan Petrovic, Prota Dragan Veleusic, Prota Slobodan Jovic and Prota Miroslav Dejanov. As appointed by the Episcopal Council, Prota Dragoljub Malich continues as Pension Plan administrator and Fr. Milovan Katanic as Health Plan administrator.
Clergy and delegates registered for the Sabor that evening as they made their way from the church, following vespers, to the main hall where dinner was served. Afterwards, the V. Rev. Dr. Paul Tarazi, professor of Old Testament at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and the Sabor's keynote speaker, presented a talk to the clergy on the topic of parish priest as shepherd. He reminded his listeners that Christ is the great High Priest, the true Shepherd, and the true Preacher. The clergy are fellow slaves of God with all the other members of the Church, with the special task of manifesting Christ’s priesthood, pastorship and word to the flock. The priest can do nothing on his own; everything he does must come from God and be completely faithful to the words, teaching and actions of Christ. He must hear and obey the Master first, and then in total obedience pass on that same teaching and word to Christ’s flock. Whatever authority he has is directly related to how faithfully he transmits Christ’s word. A brief discussion ensued after which clergy and delegates made their way slowly to their hotel rooms, after the long day of traveling and preliminary activities, while, in the meantime, members of the Central Church Council held a meeting in the main hall in preparation for the Assembly to begin the next day.
- FIRST DAY OF THE ASSEMBLY
The celebration of the Divine Liturgy as the icon of the Kingdom of God where Christ leads in the midst of His people marked the beginning of each day of the Sabor. V. Rev. Stavrophor Nikola Ceko, V. Rev. Dr. Milos Vesin, V. Rev. Rajko Kosic and Rev. Dragan Petrovic served before the Holy Altar on the first day of the Sabor with the following Serbian Orthodox bishops in attendance: His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher of Libertyville-Chicago; His Grace Bishop Longin of New Gracanica-Midwest America; His Grace Bishop Dr. Mitrophan of Eastern America, and His Grace Bishop Dr. Maxim of Western America. (His Grace Bishop Georgije of Canada arrived later that day.) Special guest present for the entire Sabor was His Grace Bishop Mark of Toledo of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. The Invocation of the Holy Spirit, which followed immediately after the liturgy, was served by the host hierarch, Bishop Mitrophan.
The first Plenary Session began with a greeting by Bishop Dr. Mitrophan as host bishop whose opening words we quoted above. The Plenary was then opened by His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher who said that his feelings on that day were indescribable, as one who lived through the long history of the past decades. He called this Sabor a commencement, a beginning, because we see ourselves today gathered again as one body and family. He noted that it was clear from observing the delegates meeting and greeting each other that this is the new and joyful beginning of a new era of unity and growth. Moved by this spirit he asked that all rise and join in singing Tebe Boga Hvalim, We Praise Thee O God, in thanks for this great gift of being together.
Bishop Longin also greeted the Sabor and said that he was sure that this unity would be for the good of our church and people and salvation of our souls. He said this unity is a great and holy gift of God to be guarded and extended. Bishop Dr. Maxim also extended his greetings and joy on this historic occasion
Bishop Mark of Toledo and the Midwest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese extended his greetings as well. He thanked God for the unity he witnessed at the Assembly, and said that he hopes this unity will also increasingly extend to all Orthodox in America.
Among the first items on the agenda was the presentation of the finalists of the St. Nikolai of Zica Oratorical Festival, a project of the Youth Ministry Committee, which worked hard to organize the festival on a diocesan level and to provide guidance and support for the participants. Committee member Chris Radanovic presented the finalists, who had been chosen in competition in each diocese. The theme of this year’s Festival was “Light and Salvation: Why being Orthodox is crucial in today’s world.” The judges for this event were Protodeacon James Gresh who serves at St. George Church in North Canton, Fr. Daniel Rogich of the Greek Orthodox Church in Canton, and
Fr. Joseph Cervo, retired pastor of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Canton.
The participants are all heavily involved in parish life, school activities, and community service. They were: Anney Mierski, 17, of St. Nicholas Church of Steelton, PA representing the Eastern Diocese; Alexander Berger, 16, of St. Andrew the Fool for Christ Church in Anderson, CA, representing the Western Diocese; and Katherine Potkonjak, 17, of Milwaukee’s St. Sava Cathedral, representing the New Gracanica-Midwest Diocese and the Metropolitanate of Libertyville-Chicago. Metropolitan Christopher remarked on the high levels of all the presentations and commended all the participants for their understanding the importance of bringing their Christian faith to life in their actions and habits every day.
The judges returned their verdicts, with the results being: First Place Katherine Potkonjak with a prize of $1,000; Second Place Alexander Berger with a prize of $750, and Third Place Anney Mierski with a prize of $500.
The Youth Ministries Committee plans to make the Oratorical festival an annual event within each diocese. Every three years a national festival with a representative from each Diocese will be held in conjunction with the Sabor.
The Second Plenary Session began following lunch. Frs. Ilija Balach, Dragan Petrovic, Nedeljko Lunich, and Rodney Torbic were appointed as secretaries for the Assembly. The Credentials Committee offered a preliminary report of 209 total participants., with more expected.
Fr. Lunich, Secretary of the Central Church Council, gave the highlights of decisions of the last Sabor.
The Standing Ministry Committees each gave their report. These Committees were established six years ago to aid the work of the church, dioceses and parishes in various areas of service. The committee reports were introduced by Fr. Nicholas Ceko, who coordinates their work. These reports included: Christian Education, given by chair Protinica Victoria Trbuhovich; Stewardship, given by chair Brian Gerich; Youth Ministry, given by chair Prota Stevo Rocknage; Liturgical Music, given by chair Dr. Nikola Resanovic; and Communications and Publications, given by chair Prota Rade Merick. The remaining committees were to report the following day.
Following the Plenary, those interested were able to attend a workshop on Serbian liturgical music prepared by the Liturgical Music Committee. Others were able to visit with each other or sample the wares of a number of vendors present offering books, vestments and church articles. The standing church ministry committees also offered various materials for delegates to take home and utilize.
Following vespers and dinner, the evening featured a panel discussion on “The Joyful Opportunities of Orthodox Christian Stewardship” led by the Stewardship Standing Committee. A lively discussion of this vital aspect of Christian life and how it can be brought more fully into the life of our parishes and parishioners followed. Those participating in the young adult program (aimed primarily at those 18-35), held in conjunction with the Assembly, used the evening hours for a presentation on “Relationships in Christ.”
- SECOND DAY OF THE ASSEMBLY
His Grace Bishop Georgije of Canada officiated at the Holy Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the beginning of the second day of the Sabor. Serving with His Grace were V. Rev. Stavrophor Mihailo Doder, V. Rev. Alexis Pena-Alfaro, V. Rev. Rafael Carlos Fredrico Q. Santos, Rev. Milos Puric. And Fr. Deacon Dragoslav Kosic, Secretary of the Eastern Diocese. The liturgy was followed by taking of the official sabor photos and breakfast.
Opening the Third Plenary session, Metropolitan Christopher thanked God that our Assemblies have put greater emphasis on learning and deepening ourselves in the Faith, both in our presentations of committee work and in our speakers. He especially commended the young participants in the St. Nikolai of Zica Oratorical Festival, who edified us with their thoughts on Christian life.
His Eminence then welcomed Fr. Paul Tarazi, who delivered the keynote address of the Assembly on the theme of the Light of Christ. The light image is of a candle, which provides light to see in the dark. The candle is something which is useful, something, we hold in front of us so that we might follow it and the light which is produced by the candle helps us to move from one place to another. Therefore, the candle implies not staying in one place, but rather that we are on the move, and the light leads us. This is what Christ meant by saying He is the Light. We are to allow Him to illumine us, and to follow Him as He leads us to the Kingdom.
The Light allows us to see. And “to see” in all languages is also used as a metaphor, meaning to understand, grasp. It is Christ who is the True Light for He allows us to see, bringing us to a true understanding of all things. And the Light of Christ is seen in His voice, His commandments, His teaching. Christ says He is the resurrection, and if we listen to Him, follow and obey, He will also be our Life at the last day in the resurrection. The Light of Christ is the Light of His teaching, and we are to walk in the Light of that teaching. Fr. Paul also noted that throughout the Bible Goes does not deal with individuals but with communities. He gives His teaching in the community of the Church, not simply to individuals, and that Light and teaching is preserved, proclaimed, experienced and followed in the community, that is, the Church. The Church is the place where the Light is found. And so to be in the Church is to follow Christ’s teaching. The Church is the place where that teaching is proclaimed in the reading aloud of the Word of God in the Scripture. Loving God is synonymous with doing His will. The Church is the community where God’s will is done. To recognize the Light of Christ means to obey and follow it to our Life and salvation. This is our calling as followers of Christ.
Fr. Paul's morning keynote address, which was warmly received, was in connection with the official theme of the 20th Triennial Assembly: “Christ the True Light: The Light of Christ in the Church and the Light of Christ in the World.” This theme, chosen months ago, was particularly appropriate in light of our administrative unification, since we see that following Christ’s Light in His teachings leads us all to unity in Him in His Body the Church, and in Him with one another.
The Credentials Committee reported that the Assembly was truly comprised of a representative cross section to the Church in its fullness. Present were: 5 hierarchs, 90 priests, 2 deacons, 5 monastics, 9 Central Church Council members, 40 congregation presidents, 55 congregation delegates, and 8 Circle of Serbian Sisters Federation delegates for a total of 222 participants. Also present were 10 registered guests and 9 members of the Standing Church Ministry Committees who were present as Assembly support. Over the course of the Assembly there were also a good number of observers who came to experience the Assembly.
Reports from the Standing Ministry Committees continued after the lunch break at the Fourth Plenary session. Reports were heard at the afternoon session from the Young Adult and College Student Ministry committee by Fr. Aleksa Micich and Christopher Rocknage, and from the Serbian Language and Culture Committee given by Fr. Zivojin Jakovljevic.
Central Treasurer Brian Gerich presented the financial report of the Central Church Council for the past three years. In relation to this, questions concerning the participation of the Canadian Diocese in the financing of the central Church bodies was discussed, as was the investment of church funds.
Fr. Nedeljko Lunich presented the decisions of the Central Church Council over the past three years. Discussion from the floor followed, with various clarifications given.
The Auditing Report was presented in a letter from Eugene Bowen. Fr. Dragoljub Malich presented the report of the Clergy Pension Fund. A change to the Plan rules was accepted to allow clergy coming from other plans to roll their funds into the Serbian Church plan.
Following vespers each the delegates of each diocese met in caucus to choose their representatives to the Central Church Council for the next three years. These choices were submitted to the Sabor for ratification the next day at the final plenary session.
Following dinner the evening events included a Young Adult Conference and a workshop on “Developing Youth Leaders in the parish” presented by the Youth Ministries Committee.
- THIRD DAY OF THE ASSEMBLY
The final day of the Assembly, Thursday August 13, began with the celebration of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, concelebrated by all the hierarchs present: His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher of Libertyville and Chicago, His Grace Bishop Georgije of Canada, His Grace Bishop Longin of New Gracanica and the Midwest, His Grace Bishop Mitrophan of Eastern America, His Grace Bishop Mark of the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, and His Grace Bishop Maxim of Western America. Clergy concelebrating with the hierarchs were V. Rev. Stavrophor Dragoljub Malich, V. Rev. Stavrophor Jovan Todorovic, V. Rev. Stavrophor Nedeljko Lunich, V. Rev. Stavrophor Petar Jovanovic, V. Rev. Miroslav Dejanov, V. Rev. Prvoslav Puric and V. Rev. Hieromonk Gerasim, Abbot of St. Herman's Monastery in Platina, Ca, together with several deacons. A large number of clergy and delegates received the Holy Eucharist, as many had at every Liturgy during the Assembly. Responses were sung by a clergy choir directed by V. Rev. Dr.. Milos Vesin, professor of Liturgical Chant at the St. Sava School of Theology in Libertyville.
Following breakfast the fifth plenary session began, with consideration of legislative matters. A number of minor revisions to the Constitution were considered. These changes were meant to bring certain phrases and terminology into conformity with the administrative reorganization approved by the Holy Assembly of Bishops in May. After a very thorough discussion and a number of revisions, the changes were accepted as amended. The amendments will be submitted to the Holy Assembly of Bishops for ratification.
The Sixth and final plenary session began after lunch, at which time the previous Central Church Council was released from its duties with thanks for its service, and the new Central Church Council was elected pursuant to the votes of the Diocesan caucuses and was sworn in. The new Central Church Council is composed of all the hierarchs plus the following diocesan representatives:
New Gracanica-Midwest Diocese
Fr. Nedeljko Lunich
Fr. Milorad Loncar
Peter Bajich, Alt.
Fr. Petar Jovanovich
Fr. Nikola Ceko
VP to be elected
Nemanja Selezam, Alt.
Fr. Djuro Samac
Fr. Milan Jovanovich
Fr. Mihailo Doder, Alt.
Dr. Goran Popovich
Mihailo Milecevich, Alt.
Fr. Dragoljub Malich
Fr. Rastko Trbuhovich
George Topich, Alt.
The Resolutions Committee presented several Sabor statements on unity, Kosovo and Metohija, forgiveness and others, which were accepted by the Assembly. These statements are contained in this issue of the Path.
A number of concerns and matters were brought up and discussed under miscellaneous, with a number of motions made and voted.
The Sabor concluded in the same way it began, with the singing of the hymn Tebe Boga Hvalim,
“We Praise Thee O God”, in an expression of our deep thanksgiving to God Almighty for the many blessings He has and continues to bestow upon us.
Following vespers Sabor participants enjoyed fellowship at the concluding banquet. The evening's program, which included performances by the folklore group from the neighboring Akron parish, the Men's Choir “Kosovo” from Northeast Ohio and a young tamburitzan group from Joliet, IL, also included a greeting to the Sabor from His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle and the entire Mother Church read by Bishop Maxim in Serbian and Fr. Nikola Ceko in English. Protopresbter-Stavrophor, pastor of the host parish of St. George in Canton, again welcomed all those present and introduced the kitchen staff and his host committee members, who had worked so hard to make the Assembly work smoothly. The Assembly participants expressed their sincere gratitude to their hosts for all their efforts, attention to detail, and true Serbian hospitality.
Clergy and delegates lingered in the hall following the formal banquet saying their farewells after their days together. And as that hall and the beautiful facilities in North Canton which had accommodated the many hierarchs, clergy and delegates over those past few days became quieter and quieter and, one after another, each began to leave for their homes near and far, the words of Metropolitan Christopher lingered in our minds: “This is a commencement!” We have not only achieved liturgical and administrative unity, we have reached a new beginning in the life of the Serbian Orthodox Church here in the New World. It is in this beginning that we rejoice. In facing it's many challenges which are before us, we place our hope and trust in the Lord who has guided us thus far and who always remains with us, for though we be many we are finally one in Him! And for that, Tebe Boga Hvalim!