It has been sixteen months since the tragic fire, which defaced the Saint Sava Cathedral in New York City on May 1st, 2016. Regardless of the dire condition of the church and the parish during this time, the faithful have persevered in their endeavor to recover this holy sanctuary and with it its community of Saint Sava. As a result, an extensive effort has been made to assess the damage and plan the restoration of this unique and significant church, which has been obtained from the Anglican Church virtually as a gift to the Holy Bishop Nicholai Velimirovich, as a token of the enduring love and friendship between the two peoples. In line with this bequest, the envisioned restoration of the church will be modeled after the words of Bishop Nicholai to represent a synthesis of the East and the West, restoring its external appearance in its original Gothic Revival form, while modeling the interior after the early Byzantine basilica. This idea is not a new one as the Serbian Monasteries Gradac and Dechani are examples of such synthesis.
After one year of detailed planning and preparation, by God’s grace, on August 21st, 2017, His Grace Bishop Irinej of Eastern America served the Invocation of the Holy Spirit for the beginning of the work, praying for those who will work as well as a blessed and successful completion. The present task, the removal of debris, is expected to last around three weeks. The next phase will include planning of the enclosure of the sanctuary, which is supposed to begin in October. Ideally, the church will be under roof by Pascha of next year, hopefully ready to accommodate Saint Sava’s faithful for the first Paschal service after the fire.
In His homily, Bishop Irinej emphasized that this task represents much more than recovery of stone and mortar. It means the restoration of the spirit of hope and faith as the very fundamentals that keep the faithful going. The church’s architecture, art and external features are indeed a reflection of the future everlasting reality, which consists of splendid beauty as well as assurance that where there is faith there is no place for failure or despair. According to the words of the Bishop, “we who embellish our churches with Byzantine icons, which depict not the mirrored image of this world, but the transfigured reality of the Kingdom of Heaven, teach us that nothing can be destroyed forever here on this earth, because we hold in our hands as the gift of the Holy Spirit, the power and the might of the Transfiguration. God has gifted us with saving these walls that contain that structure in which the first Orthodox Liturgy was celebrated in Continental America. These walls have been imbued with so many prayers and for that reason they could not come down. For this building stands as a monument to Bishop Nicholai for his Serbian people and the love of Bishop William Manning, the tenth Episcopal Bishop of New York, who gifted this church to the Serbian people. And so with God’s help we begin transfiguring this charred remain but resplendent church, so that one day as we walk into it we might exclaim like the great Emperor Justinian, ‘Solomon, I have outdone you!’”
In conclusion, as we begin the recovery of the Saint Sava Cathedral, we also call upon our faithful to persevere in this magnificent undertaking in God’s Name, for as surely as they do so, God will in turn uplift and restore them.
V. Rev. Stravrophor Dr. Živojin Jakovljević