Although the St. Sava Serbian Cathedral community in New York City lost its church in the fire on Pascha May 1, 2016, with God’s grace, thanks to the brotherly love of the Greek and the Russian people, it continued uninterruptedly to conduct its services. Both the Greek and Russian Churches opened the doors of their temples to the faithful of St. Sava parish.
One of those churches, where the Serbs regularly conduct their Sunday and weekly services, is a beautiful Greek Church of the Holy Hierarch Eleftherios (Eleutherius). This year, the Serbs and Greeks gathered together here for the Great and Holy Friday service. Leading the service was His Grace Irinej, Bishop of Eastern America, accompanied by Protopresbyter Athanasios Demos, rector of St. Eleftherios Greek Church Archpriest Živojin Jakovljević, dean of St. Sava Cathedral, and Archpriest Vladislav Radujković, cleric of St. Sava Cathedral.
In his address to the faithful that evening, Bishop Irinej emphasized how the friendship between the Greek and Serbian people goes back many years and endures until the present day. His Grace especially pointed out the significant and the unforgettable act of love during World War I, when the Greek people welcomed and embraced exiled and anguished Serbian soldiers at the island of Corfu. Incidentally, many of the Greek faithful who belong to St. Eleftherios parish come exactly from this area. In his address, the Bishop Irinej greeted the Greek parishioners on behalf of the Serbian clergy and the faithful, extending his deep and heartfelt appreciation. "I was this evening transported to the island of Corfu in 1916 during World War I, when the entire Serbian government, led by an elderly and very fragile King Peter I, together with the entirety of the Serbian army, had to leave Serbia to her own fate, cross over the Albanian mountains, which is known as the Albanian Golgotha. Thanks to our wonderful Greek brothers and sisters and their love, Serbia survived World War I. There is a magnificent video clip, which shows how your people took care of our people for one year, as you here in St. Eleftherios are now taking care of us. I know that this is a burden for you, but the burden is nothing strange to the good and faithful Greek Orthodox people. You nurtured us in 1916 and here in 2017 once again you are doing the same. This is the sacrificial love from the Cross, the love, which took Christ to His tomb and through His tomb to His Resurrection."
The next day, on Saturday at midnight, the Serbian congregation joined the Russian faithful at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign for the Paschal Matins. The presence of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, His Grace, Bishop Nicholas, and His Grace, Bishop Irinej, accompanied by the clergy from both the Russian and Serbian communities, in the presence of many faithful who filled both the cathedral and the courtyard, made this service exceptionally beautiful. According to Bishop Nicholas, who joined the Serbs during the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, this was not only a very beautiful celebration, but also an historic one, as this was the first time the Russians and the Serbs served Paschal Matins together.
Both hierarchs emphasized that the friendship of the two people, who share the same blood and faith, has been cherished for many centuries and has been strengthened with mutual support, particularly during times of suffering and affliction. Russian solidarity with the Serbs in World War I left such an impact on the Serbs that they attribute the survival of the Serbian nation during this time to the "sacrificial love" that Russia showed, a love that, in the words of the Holy Hierarch Nikolai (Velimirovich), can hardly ever be repaid.
In the same way, as a token of reciprocal love, the Serbs opened their arms and hearts and provided a safe haven to many Russians after the Revolution. A number of the children of these émigrés, whom the author of this text met and who attend this aforementioned beautiful church of Our Lady of the Sign, were born in Serbia. In their minds and the minds of many other faithful Russian people, the joint Paschal celebration this year was not an accident. The miraculous Kursk Root Icon, which is safeguarded in this beautiful Russian cathedral and which accompanied the Russian émigrés through Serbia, according to Bishop Nicholas made this gathering possible. As the Serbs provided the refuge for the Russian people and this extraordinary icon, in the same manner did the Icon now bring the Serbian people to the Russian Church.
The Serbian faithful that were present at the service indeed felt at home, surrounded with their own closest and dearest relatives. The overall ambience of love and sincere joy epitomized this most festive and the most jubilant Christian celebration.
V. Rev. Stavrophor Dr. Zivojin Jakovljević
Dean of Saint Sava Cathedral in New York City