“This is a living Cathedral, wounded, burned and charred, waiting like a phoenix to rise out of its ashes, and it will rise” (Bishop Irinej)
New York City, NY– On Saturday, November 5, 2016, a Fundraising Gala was held in order to raise funds to restore and save Saint Sava Cathedral, which was devastated by fire on Easter Sunday, May 1, 2016. This Gala was also a welcoming event for the newly elected Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America, His Grace Irinej (Dobrijevic). The fact that the coordinators had to announce that the event was sold out and that the venue could not accommodate more than 340 guests is indicative of this evening’s great success. Among the guests present were representatives from the church, government, academic, business and sports circles, among many others, who came from Washington, DC, Boston, Cleveland, New York City and surrounding areas. Honored guests that were present during this evening were the newly elected Bishop of the Serbian Diocese of Eastern America, His Grace Bishop Irinej; His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia; His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of Washington and All America and Canada (Primate, Orthodox Church in America); His Grace Bishop Sevastianos of Zela (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America); His Grace Bishop John of Worchester and New England (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America); Mr. Vlade Divac, famed NBA Star and Humanitarian; Dr. Zorka Milich, Chairperson, Restoration and Development Committee; Mrs. Rebecca MacDonald, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist; Very Rev. Dr. Zivojin Jakovljevic, Cathedral Dean; Very Rev. Vladislav Radujkovic, Cathedral Parish Priest; Mr. Nenad Milinkovic, President of the Cathedral Executive Board; and Canon Dr. J. Robert Wright, Episcopalian Diocese of New York.
The formal banquet commenced after the singing of both the Serbian and the American national anthems by Dimitrie Lazich, and the Lord’s Prayer by the Saint Sava Cathedral Choir, led by Dr. Milos Raickovic. An outstanding classical music program and several outstanding speeches greatly enhanced the overall pleasant and friendly ambience. Among the musicians were: Dimitre Lazich, baritone; Djordje Nesic, piano; Ana Tanasijevic, flute; Jana Petrovic, piano; Ana Milosavljevic, violin; Vukan Stanisic, keyboard; and Srdjan Djivoje, guitar.
In his heartfelt introduction, Mark Jovanovic, the Master of Ceremonies, emphasized the importance of the Cathedral’s restoration and expressed his sincere desire to see the completion of the Cathedral as a place of prayer, gathering, and consolation. This message was echoed by the President of the Saint Sava Church Board, Nenad Milinkovic, who thanked the Board members for their effort and commitment, particularly during the past six, very difficult months.
This evening was particularly special due to the presence of an extremely successful and charismatic businesswoman, Mrs. Rebecca MacDonald. In her passionate speech, she expressed her firm confidence that Serbs have the spirit and the will to restore the church and will accomplish it. She stressed that “All of us have busy lives but all of us are Serbian also. We need to come together as Serbians and make sure that this church looks even better after we restore it. Is it possible? With all of my heart, I believe it is possible. If anyone can do it, Serbians can do it.”
NBA famed star Vlade Divac who, pledging his support to help restore the St. Sava Cathedral of New York, received a rousing reception.
The main undertone of the evening was the audience’s devout commitment to Saint Sava Cathedral’s both physical and spiritual restoration. In the words of the Cathedral Dean, V. Rev. Dr. Zivojin Jakovljevic, the need for the recovery of the physical place of worship is as important as the need to strengthen the spirit of its faithful, “the living community. The purpose of this evening is not only to restore the brick and mortar of our beloved church but, more importantly, beyond and above, to restore the living community, to give strength, to offer consolation and instill hope.”
The presence of His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia, was greeted with great joy and enthusiasm. For His Royal Highness, Saint Sava was the place which he remembers as a child. In His address, the Crown Prince recalled the moments when he was brought to the Cathedral by his parents, Their Majesties, the late King Peter II and Queen Alexandra.
No less moving was the address of Dr. Zorka Milich, who was visibly affected by the tragedy that befell Saint Sava’s Cathedral. In her remarks, she recalled the encouraging words of her priest, V. Rev. Djokan Majstorovic, who consoled her at the time of the heart-breaking fire with the words, “Don’t worry, Zorka, God will provide.” And indeed, “God did provide in the form of a newly elected Bishop of Eastern America, Bishop Irinej.” Dr. Milich added, “Your Grace, this traumatized community looks to you for comfort and consolation, for healing and spiritual guidance, for soothing our grieving souls and mending our broken hearts.”
As the last speaker of the evening, the newly elected Bishop of Eastern America, His Grace Bishop Irinej, concluded the program with numerous exclamations, emphasizing that the Saint Sava Church will, with God’s Grace, surely rise again as the beacon of not only New York City but of the entire United States and our church, in particular. These exclamations were continually greeted with long applauses from the enthused guests, who felt that a new spirit and a new élan came with the newly elected Bishop. In his address to those present, His Grace said: “It is indeed my distinct honor and privileged joy to stand here before you this evening for the first time as your new archpastor, hierarch and father in God. It is not only my honor and pleasure, but it is also a great burden, which is placed upon my shoulders because of the love which you have so generously and benevolently poured upon my impoverished person. And serve you, I must; serve you I will with all of my heart for however many days God will give me here on earth.” His Grace recalled this past Easter Monday at St. Sava Monastery in Elaine, Australia, and the pain he felt after learning the tragic news of the destruction of the Cathedral of St. Sava, in New York. He also recalled the Assembly of Bishops in Belgrade, and the difficult choice he was compelled to make between leaving his flock in Australia and New Zealand and accepting the new call to head the Eastern American Diocese.
“I am very proud and honored to be given this place, this position and to be your father in God,” said His Grace Bishop Irinej. “I embrace you and say: You are the children whom God has given me, and I am the father who has been given to you. I pray that we may work together, to fulfill everyone’s dream and to rebuild this splendid Cathedral of Saint Sava so that everyone may know that the Serbians are here. They are present and they will never leave and they will never abandon this great gift which has been given to them,” continued Bishop Irinej. “I was so distraught when someone had the audacity to mention before me ‘your church is a ruin.’ ‘It is not a ruin,’ I said. ‘This is a living Cathedral, wounded, burned and charred, waiting like a phoenix to rise out of its ashes, and it will rise.” Quoting the writing of Saint Nicholai of Zhicha, relevant to our Cathedral rebuilding, who said, “Take the Truth, burn it until it becomes charred ember. Bury it six feet into the ground; walk away from it, do not abandon it, and look. You will perceive a new and magnificent plant, which will blossom from those charred embers.” “Our Church will not be destroyed. Our church will stand as it once stood. It will be a beacon to all of Orthodoxy,” Bishop Irinej said enthusiastically. His Grace ended his remarks by thanking our honored guests for gracing our event and praising their philanthropic efforts. He also thanked each and every one who came to support the rebuilding efforts.
During the duration of the evening, a slide show displayed pictures of our beloved Cathedral, some recent, some more than seventy years old. Tears could not be hidden in the eyes of parishioners who deeply cherish this Cathedral and together suffer her loss, but who are determined and committed, under the leadership of His Grace Bishop Irinej, to rebuild it.
Rev. Stavrophor Aleksandar Vlajkovic
Rev. Stavrophor Dr. Zivojin Jakovljevic