Visit of His Grace Bishop Irinej to St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church in Steelton
On Tuesday, November 25, 2008, Fr. Srboljub Jockovich and the stewards of the St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church of Steelton/Oberlin, Pennsylvania, with the blessings of His Grace Bishop Mitrophan of Eastern America, were pleased and blessed to welcome His Grace Irinej, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Australia and New Zealand, to evening vespers. Nearly 75 people were present to greet His Grace on his first visit to St. Nicholas Church since his elevation to bishop.
Bishop Irinej has been visiting Orthodox Christian churches in major cities across the United States at the invitation of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to raise money for humanitarian projects in Kosovo. The much smaller St. Nicholas community felt especially blessed to be included on His Grace's busy itinerary.
As His Grace entered the Church, Fr. Srboljub stood in front of the altar to greet him while the SSS Marinkovich Choir sang Dostojno jest (It is truly meet). Many parishioners were moved to tears as Bishop Irinej made his way up the center aisle to the altar. We have warm memories of prior visits, beginning when His Grace was a seminarian at St. Vladimir's Seminary and later, when he was a hieromonk and the keynote speaker at our 95th Anniversary Slava (Patronal Feast). We followed his career when he was on the IOCC staff and as he directed the Office of External Affairs for the Serbian Orthodox Church in Washington, DC. We were pleased to know he was elevated to archimandrite during his tenure as consultant on international and interchurch affairs to the Serbian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod of Bishops in Belgrade. His consecration as Bishop in July 2006 and subsequent enthronment as Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Australia and New Zealand was met with great joy in our parish. This was Bishop Irinej's first visit to our community since he became bishop and we welcomed this opportunity to express our deep respect for him, our pride in his fulfilling career and humble love for him and his mission.
Fr. Srboljub led us in the vesper service with the Choir Marinkovich singing responses. Even this had special meaning since our choir director, Nadine Klipa, was a fellow student with Bishop Irinej at St. Vladimir's Seminary. Frs. Daniel Ressetar, Timothy Hojnicki and Stephen Vernak were also in attendance in the altar. Milan Radanovic served as the reader and His Grace was attended by altar boys, Nathan and Marek Mierski. IOCC Director Dean Triantafilou and Chief Financial Officer Tammy Segal joined the parishioners and friends for the beautiful and uplifting Vespers.
As the service concluded, Fr. Srboljub wished His Grace "many years" and recalled warm memories of our long friendship with him. Bishop Irinej responded with a meaningful message based on the writings of St. John Chrysostom, as the Vespers were sung in honor of his feast, who said, "Feeding the hungry is a greater miracle than raising the dead." He went on to remind us that we show our faith through loving hospitality to our brothers and sisters whether they are family, friends or strangers. It is a straight forward lesson - the more we practice spiritual hospitality, the more closely we follow Christ's Living Words and Shining Light. With Christ in our hearts, minds and souls, we are more tolerant and more hopeful and we can feel and express greater love for all people. Practicing this hospitality every day means we express Christ's love to people around the world. More immediately we can reach out to our vulnerable brothers and sisters in Kosovo through the humanitarian work of IOCC. Bishop Irinej's message touched us deeply. In humble thanksgiving, we each filed to the front of the Church to receive his blessing and then adjourned to the Church Social Hall for a light buffet and fellowship.
Our Church community designated November's Charity Sunday for IOCC projects in Kosovo and our stewards have faithfully made donations for this purpose. Bishop Irinej's timely visit and important message touched our hearts and lifted our spirits. We continue to pray for his health and well-being and feel a closer tie to our dear Serbian Orthodox brothers and sisters in Australia and New Zealand because of our connection to him. We wish them all "many years!"