CELEBRATING THE CENTENNIAL:
GRAND BANQUET AND GALA PROGRAM
On Sunday, November 7, 2021, following the solemn celebration of the Pan-Orthodox Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh, a Grand Banquet and Gala Centennial Program was held at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh to commemorate the founding of the first diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States of America and Canada on September 13, 1921. In celebrating this Centennial, we also honor our founder and first administrator, the Holy Bishop Nicholai of Zhicha and Ochrid, and commemorate the 140th anniversary of his birth, January 5, 1881, as well as the 65th year of his blessed repose, March 18, 1956.
Following a cocktail reception, our guests had the opportunity to meet and greet each other, many for the first time in well over a year. Impatiently waiting, the long-anticipated announcement at last heralded the beginning of the gala celebration of the first 100 years of our existence as a diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the North American Continent in the resplendent grandeur of the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. Emotions of delight were abundantly obvious as seats were taken to share in a grand banquet and enjoy a culturally rich and diverse program, which would feature, among all else, some of our exceedingly talented Serbian singers and musicians.
As the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Srdjan Maksimovic, doctoral student and lecturer at Fordham University, took to the podium, exuberant faces beamed as the processional of those seated at the Dais was initiated. The assemblage exuberantly ushered in with applause: Diocesan Council Vice President and Banquet Chairman, Mr. Rudley Mrvos; the newly elevated Protopresbyter George Veselinovic, Episcopal Dean of the Pittsburgh Deanery, Cathedral Dean and Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Cathedral; the Centenary Honoree, Mrs. Milana Karlo Bizic; Serb National Federation President, Mr. Dane Medich; The Honorable State Representative Valerie Gaydos; The Honorable Royal Adjutant to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Alexander, Mr. Branko Terzic; and His Excellency, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the United States of America, Mr. Marko Djuric, accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Andrijana Djuric.
Dignified accolades also greeted our guest hierarchs: His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh, His Grace Bishop Saba of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church in North America, His Eminence Archbishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania of the Orthodox Church in America, and His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Western American Diocese of our Serbian Orthodox Church; and, representing His Eminence Archbishop Joseph of New York and Metropolitan of All North America of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, The Very Reverend Archimandrite Jeremy (Davis).
The Grand Banquet
At long last, our Host for the Centennial Celebration was invited to assume his seat at the Dais. As our Father and Hierarch, His Grace Bishop Irinej of the Eastern American Diocese of our Serbian Orthodox Church entered, the combined choir greeted him with the singing of Ton Dhespotin. Observing the joyful expressions of those gathered about him, Bishop Irinej blessed the assemblage as he made his way through the festal banquet hall. The choir then intoned the Lord’s Prayer, following which, His Eminence Archbishop Melchizedek blessed the food and drink for those present. As the participants were invited to remain standing, the choir movingly rendered the American and Serbian National Anthems.
His Excellency, Ambassador Marko Djuric was called forward to offer his greetings and propose a toast in honor of the Centennial celebration. In his remarks, among all else, the Ambassador spoke eloquently in fitting tribute of the 140thanniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Serbia and the United States of America. Then, raising his glass, the Ambassador congratulated the Serbian Orthodox Church for being the pillar of the Serbian Diaspora and offered a toast to those gathered at the grand festivities on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States of America and Canada. In jubilant response – Ziveli! was heard throughout the period venue.
The Gala Program
Interspersed throughout the dinner, a truly splendid and masterful program was offered to commemorate the conclusion of our first century as an established diocese in the Western Hemisphere and usher us into our second century. Serbian artists extraordinaire, sopranos Natasa Djurdjevic and Biljana Soldo, tenor George Milosh and pianist Djordje Nesic, dramatically executed classical operatic selections by Giuseppe Verdi, Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin and Antonin Dvorak, followed by traditional Serbian compositions by Petar Krstic, Petar Konjovic and Isidor Bajic, all of which was greeted with exuberant, even thunderous appreciation!
Our soloists were followed by two exceptionally talented Pittsburgh area choral groups. The vivacious and engaging Carica Milica Women’s Choir, under the baton of founding director, Snezana Lazich, rendered compositions by Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac, Bilja Krstic and the captivatingly executed Duni mi Duni by Teodulija, accompanied by Dave Silianoff on guitar. The majestic and inspiring Tsar Lazar Men’s Choir, under the direction of the multitalented George Milosh, delighted Bishop Saba of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church by chanting the Paschal Troparion in Georgian. They continued with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Troparion to the Cross, arranged by Michael Hutnik, and finished, to the delight of the public, with Mokranjac’s Hajduk Veljko, featuring soloist George Milosh.
The Greetings, Remarks and Proclamation
Greetings on this auspicious anniversary were presented by His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, on behalf of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, first hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who expressed his profound regret in not being able to participate in person. Adding to the prepared text, Metropolitan Savas noted his own appreciation, heralding from Gary, Indiana, for the life of the Holy Confessor Varnava of Hvostna, born in Gary and the first American-born Serbian hierarch. Mr. Dane Medich, President of the Serb National Federation, then spoke of the correlation between the 120th anniversary of the SNF and the 100thanniversary of the first Serbian Diocese in North America, wherein they were instrumental coworkers of Bishop Nicholai.
The Honorable State Representative Valerie Gaydos, in conveying her congratulations and joy at being present for this anniversary, not only in her official capacity, but also, personally, as an Orthodox Christian and the granddaughter of two Orthodox priests. She concluded her engaging remarks to everyone’s heartfelt gratitude in presenting Bishop Irinej on behalf of the Diocese of Eastern America with a Proclamation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on the Centennial of the founding of the first Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada.
The History and Appreciation
Rising to the podium, His Grace Bishop Irinej, delivered a captivating oration on the profound meaning of this Centennial Celebration. He spoke in detail to the rapt audience on the historicity of the event and of the great labors of the Holy Bishop Nicholai, predicated on the chosen theme of the Centennial Celebration, Nicholai’s own question to History: “History, tell me who you are, so that I may know who I am!”.
Then, in a deeply moving manner, our Bishop spoke to the hearts of everyone by introducing the many special guests of honor with personalized greetings and appreciation for each, without exception. Beginning with the members of the Centennial Committee, who made this celebration such a spectacular event through their diligent labors and devotion: Mr. Rudley Mrvos, Diocesan Council Vice President and Banquet Chairman; Protopresbyter George Veselinovic, Pittsburgh Deanery Dean; Mr. Milan Visnick, Diocesan Council Treasurer; Economos Milosh Zdralic, Diocesan Council Financial Secretary; Economos Vladislav Golic, Clergy Vestments produced by Axiois of Belgrade; Economos Branislav Golic, Program Booklet; Mr. George Milosh, Program and Choir Coordinator; Mr. John Buffalini, Banquet Reservations; Mr. Milovan Jovanovic, Theodule Press & Bookstore; Mr. Nebojsa Varagic, Social Media; and, so many more!
His Grace then continued with particular mention of the distinguished guests at the Dais. He also turned his attention to those in attendance and their contributions to the life of the Diocese, acknowledging Mrs. Millie Radovick, President of the Federation of the Circles of Serbian Sisters; and Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Rade Merick, Episcopal Deputy. Among the many invited guests, he made special mention of Archimandrite Makarios (Nnachette) from the Orthodox Archdiocese of Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, who also concelebrated a today’s Pan-Orthodox Liturgy; Gerondissa Theophano, Abbess of the Holy Nativity of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, and Mother Christophora, Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, together with their respective sisters. The Bishop even took the time to congratulate members of our Diocesan Family who were celebrating certain milestones in their lives.
The Centennial Honoree
Finally, the long-awaited moment had arrived, as Bishop Irinej began culminating his remarks by reflecting on this past century in anticipation of the second century, the threshold of which we are now collectively crossing. His Grace spoke of our youth, not only as our future, but also, of necessity, as our present. In coming to terms with history and the understanding of self, we must offer our youth not merely an education, rather enlightenment – the offering of Christ, Who is the Light of this World! Many are those, the Bishop emphasized, who have paved the way for our youth in this process and, indeed, one stands apart as a life-long educator to all generations concerned and wider, and needed no further introduction, for her good works speak on her behalf – “Baba Mim” – Mrs. Milana Karlo Bizic. As the Master of Ceremony read the Decree of the Holy Synod of Bishops, who at the request of Bishop Irinej, and under the signature of His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije, issued the High Order of the Holy Despot Stefan Lazarevic to Mrs. Milana Karlo Bizic for her lifelong endeavors in promoting educational and cultural values, and for nurturing her Orthodox Faith by advancing her Serbian Orthodox Church. In response to the same, our overwhelmed Honoree responded with an emotional and touching recollection of her life and the many blessings bestowed upon her, which she passionately desired to share with those whom God has sent into her life and the public at large. She was acclaimed with exuberant cries of AXIA! and a well-deserved standing ovation! Many years were sung to Milana Karlo Bizic by an enthralled and grateful public!
The Grand Finale
As the program and with it, this past and glorious century drew to its conclusion, the combined choir, and the audience, invited by the Master of Ceremony to join in chorus, sang from the heart that famous, traditional Serbian song, heralding from the Great War, one of the yearnings of the heart for Serbia, Tamo Daleko. Truly, satisfied and appreciative, everyone rose and offered their long and repeated gratitude in cheers and applause.
Finally, the time came to thank the Lord for all His rich gifts and bounties, which He has abundantly bestowed upon us, from the formation of our first Diocese in the USA and Canada at the hands of two saints, Bishops Nicholai of Ochrid and Mardarije of Libertyville, even from before, and unto this day and forward. Once again, everyone joined the choir of performers to prayerfully sing, “It is Truly Meet” (Dostojno jest), a hymn of thanks to the Mother of God for making all things possible, and concluding with the benediction offered by His Grace Bishop Saba of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church.
Glory be to God for all and in all!