His Holiness visited St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Clearwater, Florida on February 28, 2020.
Serbian Patriarch Irinej and Bishop Jovan of Sumadija were welcomed by host hierarch His Grace Bishop Irinej of Eastern America, together with Bishops Longin of New Gracanica and Midwestern America, Mitrophan of Canada, Maxim of Western America and Kirilo of Buenos Aires and Central and South America and many faithful. Following Vespers served by Hieromonk Serafim (Baltic), V. Rev. Stavrophors Rade Merick and Nikola Ceko, Fathers Djordje Veselinovic and Jovan Marjanac and Protodeacon Milos Zdrale, His Grace Bishop Irinej wished a His Holiness a heartfelt welcome:
Most holy and dearest father of the Serbian Orthodox Church! I take this exceptional opportunity before the Diocese of Eastern America, chosen to be the host for this Church Assembly-Sabor, to wholeheartedly greet you together with the esteemed Bishop Jovan of Sumadija as the member of the Holy Synod of Bishops and our brother hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North, Central and South America, as well as before this gathering of the God-fearing laity, and the clergy and monastics in Christ. Welcome in the Name of the Lord! You bring us great blessings from our Mother land, from the Serbian capital city of Belgrade, you bring us from our Holy Father Sava, on whose throne you are his successor today, you bring us blessings of the holy Patriarch Joanikije, the first Serbian Patriarch, and during this year we will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the renovation of the Serbian Patriarchate and unification of the Serbian lands into one Serbian Church in Orthodoxy. Teach these good people who have gathered here today, that they see their first hierarch, that they see their father in Christ and teach them from the rich treasury of your knowledge and your experience. Once again, I wish you a wholehearted welcome in the Name of the Lord! Is polla eti despota!
Patriarch Irinej addressed the people with the following words:
Thank you, dear Bishop, for these beautiful, brotherly and heartfelt words addressed to me and our brother Jovan, who has accompanied me on this trip. My heart is filled with great joy seeing all of you, brothers and sisters, on this evening Vespers service and truly there is nothing more beautiful and joyful, and not only for us but for our Creator, and particularly for Saint Sava, our spiritual parent, our apostle, who brought us to Christ in the Holy Gospel.
Our Lord is everywhere and in all places. He sees and knows not only our deeds but also that which we think in the depths of our hearts. Everything is revealed before the face of God. We can pray to God anywhere – in the forests, in the fields, in any place, but the closeness of God is felt most in the holy churches. The Church is God’s house, brothers and sisters. Not only God’s, but also our spiritual home in which we pray to our Father with a joint prayer. The individual prayer is known to our Lord, but prayers have the greatest power when we pray in larger numbers. This our Lord desires from us, our Holy Church desires this from us, our Serbian history desires this from us – to see its people in their Church. It’s nice to hear when someone says “I believe” and there is no man that doesn’t believe. If they don’t believe in God and what the Lord said through the Holy Gospels, Holy Apostles and His righteous ones, then he believes in some other things which are not from God but from men. But everything from men is relative, but that which the Lord says and said and did, that is absolute Divine Truth. The Lord desires of us that we accept that truth. But when we say we believe, that isn’t the fullness of the truth. The fullness of truth is life in Christ, life according to the Gospel, to live as our holy ancestors did, as the Apostles did, as Saint Sava lived and all of his, and all of those who came after Saint Sava. Yes! The Lord desires this from us and I am particularly of a joyful heart to see you and it is my desire, I pray to God, that you are in church every Sunday.
Our ancestors, great and celebrated, didn’t build monasteries and churches in order to beautify the town with the church as a building, but that they might come together and pray to God together, to attend the Divine Liturgy, that most divine service of ours. Thus did one Apostle say, and every Saint repeat this: “Emulate me as I emulate Christ”. In this way we, Orthodox Serbs, have such a great number of holy and great righteous men and women of God as beautiful examples whom we should emulate and whose steps and paths we should follow and live by. This is what we should do, brothers and sisters. That truth we should teach our children.
We mustn’t ever forget that the family, that the mother and father are the first teachers of children. That which they hear and see from their parents will remain a lasting capital of theirs. For this reason parents must be careful how they live their lives and what they teach their children. Unfortunately, in our time, the family is much shaken. Parents have given their children off to schools. This isn’t bad, but what is bad is that the streets are mostly teaching our children. This is why we see and hear what is happening in our times, both by us and throughout the world. For this reason, bring your children to Church, that they hear word of the Gospel, that they attend the holy services, this will leave a lasting mark on their souls. We will continue this homily tomorrow, God willing, but now I wish you every good thing from the Lord.
And that which I would like on this occasion, as I say on all occasions: you find yourselves far from your birthplace, your Fatherland. Do not forget your Fatherland, do not forget your spiritual roots and according to your abilities look to return from where you came. Our great poet Njegos said: “Where the seed sprouts, let the fruit rest there”, and our seed is in our parents, great-grandparents and further even in our holy and celebrated ancestors. May the Lord bless you with His blessings now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Protodeacon Damjan Bozic