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Address of His Grace Bishop L O N G I N
of New Gracanica and MidwesterAmerica
at the Third Annual Diocesan Assembly
April 8-9, 2011

Reverend fathers, dear brothers and sisters, the representatives of our parishes, church congregations and monasteries,

Here we are, the children of St. Sava, once again gathered in the See of our Diocese, to see each other and decide how to continue our work more productively on the ecclesiastical and national level, in a spirit of Christian love and true care for the good of our Holy Church.  We greet all of you with the desire that this holy place, a replica of the glorious Gracanica of Kosovo, continues to gather us in prayer and inspire us to brotherly unity and closeness.  This is our common home, as well as a piece of our Fatherland.  For this reason, we always feel joyous and enriched when our people come and drink from this source – when they warm themselves in this spiritual and national hearth.  It would be good if our meetings were less about material things, even though we cannot forget about them, and more about spiritual renewal and refreshment.

We live in a consumer oriented society, in an extremely materialistic world.  For this reason, it is extremely important that we become rich in God – to become stronger in faith.  St. Apostle Paul gives this advice: “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:16-18).

A better recipe for everyday life other than these words of the Apostle is difficult to find.  Taking “the shield of faith” means to complete acceptance of life according to Holy Orthodoxy, the Gospel of Christ.  It is pertinent that we think about this every day, and that all we do should be in accordance with the postulates of the Gospel.  It is necessary that every decision we make daily, should shine with the light of heavenly perspective.  We ask ourselves a question: If we make this decision, will Christ agree with me?  How would the Fathers of the Orthodox Church act in this situation?  And so forth.  Why is this important?  Because, o pious people, this is the only way to keep the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and only is it in the position to bring us eternal life and salvation.  It is not enough for us to see each other in church once a week, to only then be in communion with God and to dedicate the rest of the days in the week to physical pleasure.  Man, as a God-like being, made in the image of God, must have the original icon – the face of God – before himself all the time, in order to walk through life assuredly.  The Psalmist says, “If God is with me, I do not fear what man will do to me.”  Has this not truly been confirmed so many times throughout the history of the Church?  Did not our holy ancestors work so many miracles in the name of God?  Miracles which are written in the book of eternity.  If God did not keep watch on us, or if He allows suffering, then there is not a power of this world, which could save us in a moment of trouble.  Right when we think that we have achieved a known stability, God allows some kind of catastrophe, such as the terrible earthquake in Japan, so that every one of us could understand that he is not safe, but rather temporal, transient and mortal.

The Apostle calls us to pray fervently in all times for all the faithful.  Prayer brings us closer to God and holds us in communion with Him.  This is the best way for us to grow in faith, to become stronger in faith -  to get the “shield of faith”.  With prayer, we hold ourselves and one another before “the face of God” – in His presence.  See, we find ourselves in the blessed time of Lent.  An unusual opportunity to do just that is offered to us, so that through prayer we hold one another in the presence of God.  All the saints of the Church of Christ witness to us that this is the best way to defend ourselves for the our own good and that of others.  If we work like this, then the unnecessary misunderstandings and marginal arguments, which slow down our spiritual growth in our families and parishes, will be overcome.  Then it will be truly unimportant as to who the winner is in a personal and useless argument, since we are “all one in the Lord Jesus.”  Everything else for honorable people and the faithful, would not have a meaning or a justification.  Similar to that is if we came here in order to tell each other all you have on your mind and tongue, we have not done something right.  If we at least came  for us to hear one another and through a brotherly compromise in the spirit of St. Sava, we confirm in oneness of mind and love of God, that we are doing good, and it will be good for us.  Specifically fasting, prayer and Christian humility are the best allies in this work.

We, dear honorable delegates of the Third Assembly of the Diocese of New Gracanica and Midwestern America, have accomplished much in coming to an agreement regarding different practices in the work of our parishes, but without a doubt, there is still room for improvement.  We are all called to work in this way -  the clergy, diocesan organizations and church-school boards.  In our work in the church, may a guiding star always be a wish for us to receive salvation and life in the Heavenly Kingdom, “that we may all be one in Christ Jesus.”  When we look at our daily events and work in the church in this perspective, it will be much easier to achieve this holy and elevated purpose.

Even though there has been much accomplished, as I said, there are many reasons for us to be concerned.  Namely, there are some things around us all that do  not deserve praise.  We feel that we are lacking self-discipline – including us, the clergy and the laity.  There is a feeling that we are all in agreement when we make a decision ourselves, but if someone else makes a decision, then we have a problem accepting it.  Since we have come to this part of the world and taken over this Diocese, we have always believed that it can be run with the use of love, patience and suffering, if it is necessary for the interest of the Holy Church and the salvation of the faithful.  It is natural to expect that a personal example of sacrifice positively affects others and bears fruit.  But, unfortunately, it is not always this way.  It has turned out that those, who gave the most efforts in church unity, today are being attacked and even taken to civil court, specifically because of the effects of that unity.  We are trying to carry that cross without much complaining, but it is necessary for all of you who are here today, delegates of parishes and church-school congregations of our Diocese, to understand that before us there is still much serious work left to defend ourselves from people who obviously do not have trust in the Church, but rather want the civil court system to decide the mattes of the church, and that it is not their priority to help the Church of Christ and truly protect the Serbian people.

Along with our regular work which we have completed – canonical visits to our parishes and church congregations, ordinations and various receptions – we would like to discuss two visits that are the most important events that have happened in our Diocese in the last year.

First, there was the visit of the Abbot of Hilandar Monastery, Fr. Metodije, in December and January of 2010/2011, which was an extraordinary event.  The Three-Handed Icon of the Mother of God was the reason for this historical visit, which with the blessing of Monastery Hilandar was sent to our New Gracanica Monastery.  Namely, the Diocesan Kolo of Serbian Sisters gave a great gift to our Monastery, for which we are endlessly thankful!  When work on the icon was completed in Thessalonica, we invited the Abbot to visit our Diocese.  Accompanying Fr. Metodije were Hierodeacon Arsenije and Mr. Milivoje Randjic, the Director of the Fund for Hilandar Monastery in Belgrade.  The first visit of the Abbot of Hilandar to the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America took place with a special feeling of joy for all who had an opportunity to meet with our honorable guests.  We again take this opportunity to thank the Church Congregation of St. George in Schererville and St. Nicholas in Indianapolis for the successful organization of evenings.  We were most joyfully surprised with the visit to New Gracanica Monastery on January 1, 2011, when the Icon was blessed and enthroned.  This day was an experience of spiritual refreshment – an event of specific meaning.  We believe that the permanent presence of this Miracle-working Icon of Hilandar will help our Monastery, along with the Monastery of St. Sava in Libertyville, which is the spiritual headquarters of Serbian Orthodox in America, and will be a framework for spiritual life on this continent.  During the visit of the guests of Hilandar, we gathered more than $100,000 for the renovation of Hilandar Monastery.  We printed a catalog about the renovation we mentioned, so we will pass out copies to all of you to take them to your parishes and church congregations.  We ask all to collect donations for the renovation of Hilandar during the next year.  Let every parish collect donations in the way that they feel is best.  We ask that all donations be sent to the Diocese by the end of November, so that we could send the collected donation to Hilandar during the month of December.

The second event that was important for our Church was the short visit of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej.  As you all know, after the repose of Metropolitan Christopher of blessed memory, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church named His Holiness Patriarch Irinej as the Administrator of the Metropolitanate of Libertyville and Chicago.  We were asked by His Holiness to assist him in the work of the Metropolitanate.  The Serbian Patriarch desired to come for a working visit, to decide with the Hierarchs of America and Canada in person about the final decision regarding the mentioned Metropolitanate.  We expect that the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in its May session, will make a decision regarding this issue.  We were especially ecstatic that His Holiness accepted the invitation to come to the Church Slava of our Church Congregation of St. Simeon Mirotocivi in South Chicago.  For all of us, this was an honor and a spiritual pleasure.  The Church Congregation, lead by its priest, worthily greeted the Serbian Patriarch.  In Monastery Gracanica, we welcomed the Patriarch on Saturday, February 19, when our Folklore Group “Gracanica” organized a folklore festival.  It was an unusual event for hundreds of boys and girls and our wonderful children ecstatically greeted the Serbian Patriarch.  His Holiness also participated in an Akathist, which was served in front of our Three-Handed Icon, followed by a small memorial service for Metropolitan Irinej of blessed memory.  We should mention that there were two dinners organized in our Monastery in honor of His Holiness.  One was with our clergy from South Bend to Milwaukee, and the second was with the Orthodox Bishops of Chicago.

We are very thankful to our closest co-workers, the clergy and monastics, the members of the Diocesan Council and the Diocesan Executive Board, the Diocesan Ecclesiastical Court and the Diocesan Kolo of Serbian Sisters for their cooperation, work and sacrifice for the upkeep and progress in church life of our Diocese.  We also thank all the parishes and church-school bodies and local Kolos of Serbian Sisters and our Serbian Orthodox Youth for their work on the local level.

In conclusion, we bestow God’s blessing on all of you with a prayer to God for the successful work of the Assembly.  We greet all of you and remain your intercessor before the Throne of the Most-High.

O Most-holy Theotokos, save us!  Rejoice, our helper who helps us with her Three-Handed Icon!

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