With great joy the faithful of the Western American Diocese, God-loving clergy, venerable monastics and our neighbors welcomed His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Kyr Irinej in Phoenix, Arizona. His Holiness during his visit on the Feast Day of the Entry of the Theotokos Into the Temple on Sunday, December 4th, 2011, served the Divine Hierarchical Liturgy at St. Sava Church. He also visited the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Anthony the Great (Florence, AZ) and the Serbian monastery of St. Paisius (Safford, AZ).
The Patriarch’s visit and presiding over the Divine Eucharistic Gathering have brought a plethora of spiritual blessing.
His Holiness flew into Phoenix on Saturday afternoon with a direct flight from Chicago together with His Grace Bishop Longin of New Gracanica with accompaniment of Deacon Nikolaj Kostur. At the airport His Grace Bishop Maxim prepared a special welcome to his First-Presiding Hierarch with over sixty faithful in presence. Besides the Phoenix faithful many others from Los Angeles, San Marcos, San Francisco, Portland, Salt Lake City, Orange County, Platina, Las Vegas and other places came to welcome the Serbian Patriarch with their presence, attention and love, as it is fitting to do on this important Feast day of all in Western America. In front of the church more faithful were awaiting their arrival so that by Vespers time, served at 6 o’clock in the evening, the church was full. At the end of Vespers, His Grace Bishop Maxim greeted his most beloved guest greeting him with joyous words giving emphasis on the great meaning of the Patriarch’s visit. His Holiness reciprocated saying that this parish in Phoenix he visited in the past and now he notices a big difference in the quality of spiritual life, artistry and church life among parishioners. Among priority goals of the Serbian Orthodox Church His Holiness continuously emphasizes “unity in our Church, and equally important the unity of the Church in diasporas”.
The problems which we always and everywhere have, the Church must work out in the best way “that our every church in diasporas becomes a reflection and image of the Mother Church”. The Patriarch concluded that every effort should be made so that our people that live in diasporas become ambassadors, a picture of their new countrymen so that the world does not create some made up or artificial picture about us, rather a real one as we are.
The following morning, Matins was served at 9 o’clock and the Divine Liturgy at 10 o’clock with His Holiness Patriarch of Serbia, two bishops and around twenty priests. At the beginning of the Liturgy His Holiness blessed the newly painted frescoes done by an iconographer from Belgrade, Aleksandar Zivadinovic.
It was a beautiful sight to see, His Holiness giving Holy Communion to the members of the church community. At the end of the Liturgy His Holiness spoke on the meaning of icons in the life of faithful.
During his greeting Bishop Maxim gave an icon of Christ to His Holiness and to the parish priest, Protopresbyter Janko Trbovic, he gave an icon of the Theotokos. Both icons were painted (written) in the iconographic studio of the Western diocese.
Over three hundred and fifty guests attended the banquet. The folklore group of St. Sava parish performed several dances and Protopresbyter Janko Trbovic in his talk highlighted the meaning of His Holiness’ visit. The Vice-President Ron Radakovic gave a presentation on “Chilandar Project 100”. In conclusion, the local bishop His Grace Maxim called upon His Holiness to greet everyone once again with his inspiring words of wisdom.
After the gala banquet the Patriarch with the two bishops and several priests went to the Serbian monastery of St. Paisius Velichkovsky in Safford, AZ, where during the Vespers service he tonsured into monasticism three novices giving the names: Seraphima, Katarina, and Makrina. In his homily the Patriarch accentuated the meaning of monastic vow and following Christ.
Early the following day, His Holiness served the Divine Liturgy during which the sisters of the monastery sang responses in Serbian and Church-Slavonic which touched the Patriarch in a special way. After the Liturgy the meal in a monastery refectory took place during which the children from the monastery school sang a selection of spiritual hymns. After the greeting by the Abbess, Mother Michaila, the Patriarch talked about the meaning of this monastery in witnessing of Orthodox Faith here and afar on the American continent. Next, the Abbess with the sisters showed His Holiness the monastery property, church school, orchards, olive trees and the rest of the property.
From Safford the group with His Holiness headed northwest towards Florence to visit the nearby Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Anthony. The Abbott, Fr. Paisius, with brothers and the elder Ephraim greeted His Holiness at the gate of the monastery and then headed to the main church where they served a doxology. The Abbott welcomed the Serbian Patriarch with inspired and selected words who in turn greeted everyone in the Greek language speaking about the meaning of monastic tradition in the modern world. Afterwards, the guests were served with refreshments and received a guided tour of monastery grounds.
At the end of the visit, His Holiness said: “I would have done a great sin had I not come to visit the Church and monasteries in Arizona”.
Upon his leaving, the Patriarch left to God’s Church on the Western American Coast an avowal of unity, faith and hope in God’s presence and help through the prayers of St. Sava and all Saints. This is the visit that affirms in faith “the pilgrims of the Dispersion, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, for multiplication of the grace and peace…who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for us”. (I Peter 1:1-4)
Translated by V. Rev. Dr. Bratso Krsic
Edited by Protinica Lisa Krsic