From the Chapter III of the book of Bishop Sava Vukovich, History of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America and Canada: 1891-1941, Kragujevac, Serbia: Kalenic Press, 1998, 21-26.
In the history of the Serbian nation the Serbian Orthodox Church in certain periods initiated migration not only to safer regions but also to regions where it already had its own church organization. As the number of people increased, and hence the number of Orthodox, the Serbian Church founded additional parishes, church congregations, monasteries and dioceses.
Emigration, however, to America and Canada took place without the guidance of the Church. Individual bishops, for instance Bishop Miron of Pakrac, were explicitly against emigration, because this reduced the number of Orthodox and in general Serbs in Slavonia and other regions from which the largest numbers of our people emigrated, first, for economic reasons and then, for political. Although our emigrants went to America and Canada without the guidance of the Church, they carried the Church in their hearts. We do not know how well they understood their faith, but we do know that they were sincerely faithful, which they and their children demonstrated by the way they lived and worked in the New World..
In the New World newly arriving Serbs found an organized Russian Orthodox Church, whose religious missions had reached Alaska as early as September 24, 1794. Until they organized their own church congregations and brought Serbian priests from the Old Country, for their religious needs, the Serbs turned to Russian Orthodox priests, since the Church Slavonic language used by both churches was familiar to them. If there was no Russian Orthodox priest, they turned to Greek and Syrian Orthodox priests. If an Orthodox church did not exist where they lived, they traveled to a town where there was one, often renting cars and with their miserable earnings paying for the trip to the nearest church where services were held. When Vladimir, Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, conducted the liturgy in San Francisco in 1888, "a Serb, Gopcevic, chanted the Communion Hymn in English.”
The Serbs often joined Orthodox Russians, Greeks and Syrians in organizing joint parishes and church congregations, after which a church was built for communal use. Data exists that such a parish was forn1ed in Galveston in 1862. The parish named after Saints Constantine and Helen included Greeks, Syrians, Serbs and Russians4 A church of the same name was consecrated in 1895 and today belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church. A Greek-Russian-Serbian parish was founded in San Francisco in 1864.
Mixed parishes existed in Denver (Colorado), Pueblo (Colorado), South St. Paul (Minnesota) and Portland (Oregon). Somewhat later a Greek-Russian-Serbian parish was formed in Chicago as reported to Serbian Patriarch Georgije by Krsto M. Gopcevic:
“A tripartite committee (Greek-Russian-Serbian) has been entrusted with a matter, which it will duly carry out. I have been given the honor of requesting from Your Holiness, humbly kissing Your Right Hand, in the name of the whole Society, the following:
1. To kindly find for us, with Your recommendation and testimony, a priest of character and morals, who can conduct the Holy Liturgy perfectly in Old ChurchSlavonic and Greek. He should also know how to speak Slav and Greek forconfessions and communion.
2. And, if possible, this priest should know a little Arabic, since there are quitea few Syrians here with their families.
3. If You cannot find such a priest, we humbly beg you to announce thisvacancy in Your personal district, so that the same may apply to the Committeewith your written endorsement. A monthly stipend for this priest has been decidedby the Society tor this period, fifty (50) American dollars or (125) Austrian florinsand any other income the priest may earn. On Christmas and Easter income willconsist of a gift to the priest - and there are over three thousand of us Orthodox ofboth sexes.
Holy Patriarch! Our situation without a priest is absolutely terrible; first peopledie without confession, without Holy Communion, without the Holy Cross, and abody is laid in the grave without a requiem, also children are baptized in otherfaiths - and weddings are performed in Court, isn't this terrible and horrible? Merciful Bishop! Enlighten Yourflock and fulfill the request of a crying, lostpeople in a distant foreign country who, with the greatest humility and joy awaitYour letter and Your Holy Blessing.”
Three days after receiving this Appeal, in Act no. 495 of December 4, 1891, Patriarch Georgije requested Bishop Arsenije7 of Budapest, Bishop Nektarije of Vrsac, Bishop Miron of Pakrac and the Mandator for the Diocese of Upper Karlovac to inform priests in their local diocese about the Appeal from the Tripartite Committee in Chicago and
“notify them that any priest who feels capable and would like to take up this post should report as soon as possible with his application and recommendation so that at the above-mentioned request from Orthodox Christians in Chicago a suitable ministry of souls can immediately be sent.”
But a candidate knowing both Greek and Arabic could not be found, and the application of one candidate, Hierornonk Sava Grubovic, for certain reasons could not be taken in consideration. It appears that the Tripartite Committee also applied to Serbian Metropolitan Mihailo, who in 1892 sent them as parish priest Archimandrite FirmilijanDrazic. Archimandrite Firmilijan was the first Serbian priest to come from the Old Country to the New World. He conducted services in a chapel set up in a private home. Unfortunately, this distinguished churchman remained in America only six months and afterward returned to his Homeland. A little later, in another part of America, there was another Serb, but born in America, Hieromonk Sebastian Dabovich, a remarkable personality who played an important role in the religious and national life of the Serbian people in the New World.
Hieromonk Sebastian (his secular name was Jovan Dabovich) was born in San Francisco on June 9, 1863. After completing high school, he continued his education at theological academies in St. Petersburg and Kiev. He became a monk during his schooling in Russia and was ordained a hierodeacon in 1887. On August 16, 1892 he was ordained hieromonk by Bishop Nicholas ofthe Aleutians and Alaska, and appointed Missionary of California and the State of Washington. After a brief stay in the parish of Minneapolis, where he succeeded an outstanding priest, Alexis Toth, Hieromonk Sebastian returned to California where on January 2, 1894, soon after founding a parish, he received pern1ission to build the first Serbian church on the American continent, in Jackson, where a large group of Serbs lived. The church was consecrated the same year, on December 4, by Bishop Nicholas who donated a bell on this occasion. The building of the first Serbian church was made possible by generous contributions Catholic.
News of the building and consecration of the first Serbian church in America was received in the Old Country with joy and announced in the Serbian press.l4 Although Hieromonk Sebastian was assigned to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco in 1896, he continued to take an interest in the parishioners of the newly built Church of St. Sava in Jackson.
Contact with High-Ranking Clergy in the Serbian Church in the Old Country
When Hieromonk Sebastian was assigned to his post in San Francisco, he became “part of the North American mission ... This did not prevent him from establishing contact with Serbian Metropolitan Mihailo.” Hieromonk Sebastian expressed his desire that the Metropolitan should accept him under his religious jurisdiction provided that thereby:
“1) I do not cease to be a citizen of the country where I was born. 2) Can the Russian Bishop Nicholas bar me from officiating as priest? 3) Would there be any canonical obstacles? 4) Could You publicly support an independent Orthodox Church in California and America? 5) Would You be responsible for supporting our pastors here, at least in the name of the people, that is, requesting from people – at Your orders – their contim1ed word that they will pay such a servant a certain sum of money monthly or every three months. 6) Could You supply priests, teachers, corporals and Holy Myrrh?”
Metropolitan Mihailo answered Hieromonk Sebastian point by point:
“re. 1) Serbia has no agreement with that State and the territory of our Metropolitanate does not extend beyond Serbia.
re. 2 ): Your Bishop has jurisdiction over his clergy and can bar you from ot1iciating as priest and there is no higher spiritual authority above him
re. 3) There are canons whereby a priest is judged and a bishop cannot judge arbitrarily and in anger or hatred and there is also the Ecclesiastical Court.
re. 4) I cannot found and consecrate an independent Orthodox Church in California and America because there is already an Orthodox Church supported by the Russian Church, and We do not have resources for this.
re. 5) Since We have no clergy, churches and schools, and recognition m1d approval have not been given by t11e other churches. We cannot supply corporals and Holy Myrrh, which according to the letter from the Ecumenical Patriarchate whereby the autocephalous Serbian Church was proclaimed, We must obtain this from the Patriarchate.
re. 6) Neither can We ask people for the sum needed to support pastors and schools in that distant land.
His Grace Bishop Nicholas has written to Us and asked if We could allocate money for churches, schools, priests and teachers, and if We could, he would have nothing against there being separate Serbian priests subordinate to the Serbian Metropolitanate. And I answered that We could not do this because We could not support so many churches and priests, schools and teachers there.
I think that You should agree and listen to Your Bishop and he will help You and protect the Serbs and Orthodoxy and will not destroy Serbian nationalcustoms. I think that You should reconsider all the above and not do anything that would he against the interests of the Serbs living there.”
Replying to the Metropolitan's letter, Hieromonk Sebastian said:
“I have received Your well-intended letter and I completely understand. I bow before You and thank You sincerely. I shall be guided by Your advice. Orthodoxy progresses in America. Serbs are found in various states, they are being revived spiritually and communicate with our organization. In a few days I shall finish a book, which I am writing in English, 17 chapters (parts) and a foreword – about the Orthodox Church, its rites, symbolism, liturgy, its sacraments and how it differs from the Roman and Protestant churches. etc. If His Grace Nicholas blesses the publication of this book, I think and hope to God that it will be of use to the East and West, since I am fairly well acquainted with both.”
The number of church-school congregations founded at the initiative of the laity grew, but there were no priests. Therefore the congregations sought priests from local bishops or directly. In the beginning there was no Church authority over these parishes and church congregations, although legally these entities were under the Russian Orthodox Church. In practice, however, many problems arose. Since neither priests nor laymen could solve them, church members and congregations appealed for help to high-ranking clergy in Serbia, Austro-Hungary and Montenegro. The Congregation of St. Sava in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, after the death of their parish priest, Ilija Komadina, asked the Bishop of Upper Karlovac, Mihailo Grujic, to announce a vacancy:
“Misfortune seems to follow this church congregation, since no sooner had we seen the divine light of Christ's teachings and our Serbian mother tongue than it was extinguished, and with it the vigil lamp before the icon of St. Sava. This youngest, hut quite large Serbian parish has been bereaved, for the will of the Highest has summoned His spiritual pastor to His Throne tor ti1C Last Judgment. Our priest, Father Ilija Komadina, is no more; he has passed on to eternity.
Now we are deprived of the Holy Liturgy, sermons on the Holy Writ in our Serbian language and all religious functions, and exposed to anti-Orthodox attacks from various Orthodox-devouring confessions. The Serbian name, language and everything else! Here in a foreign land without religious protection! Have mercy, Lord!
Living in this parish are up to 40,000 Serbs and as many as 15,000, almost without exception spiritual members of the God-protected Diocese of Your Grace, seek services daily. These orphans, at their meeting On May 23 (June 5) and June 21 (July 3) 1904, unanimously concluded the following: To submit this humble Appeal to the powerful protection of Your Grace, well-knownfrom earlier times as a benefactor of this church of the Lord, as a mighty and watchful guardian of Orthodoxy, so that with Your approval and favor You will see that the vacant post of parish priest in this local Church of St. Sava is filled as soon as possible. For the post we offer the person regularly elected the following remuneration:
1. An annual stipend of (600) six hundred dollars.
2. Lodging or sufficient compensation in money.
3. A second-class ticket from there to here.
4. All the parish receipts prescribed for a priest.
5. A three-year guarantee for service in the local Church of St. Sava. Should he worthy of the post, a Her three years he can always he re-elected.”
This was the first announcement of a vacant Serbian parish in America and was written in the spirit of the Rescript of 1868, which had been imposed on the Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate of Karlovci. For the history of our Church this is very interesting, for we see that our emigrants wanted to avoid all risks. They set out the rights of the parish priest, but they did not commit themselves. It depended on the new priest whether the post would become permanent, that is, whether his work would satisfy the members of the church congregation who had elected the priest at their meeting.
Bishop Mihailo of Upper Karlovac forwarded the Petition of the church congregation to the Holy Synod in the Metropolitanate of Karlovci, asking that
“in this matter a general decision be taken, since with this transfer the priest remains without canonical guidance and might eventually preach against the teachings of the Orthodox Church, as he would be without supervision. Therefore, the Holy Synod is requested, for its part, to ensure that such priests are placed at least under the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Bishop, who has his seat in America.”
The post was applied for, through his Consistory in Plasko, by Sava Vojvodic, a priest whose application was considered at a Consistory Meeting on September 23 (October 6) 1904. Since the canonical affiliation of Serbian priests leaving for America had been questioned, the Consistory decided the following: "The application of the priest S(ava) V(ojvodic) from the Svinca Parish for the post in McKeesport remains undecided until a general decision by the Holy Synod on the matter of canonical affiliation of priests going to America." The priest Sava Vojvodic, however, was granted six months’ leave beginning on February l, 1905 and he became parish priest in McKeesport. When he finally decided to stay in America, he became a cleric of the Diocese of the Aleutians and North America, received canonically by Bishop Tikhon (Belavin). Almost at the same time a church congregation in Chicago addressed to Patriarch Georgije, by way of his Secretary, Mladen Veselinovic, the following Petition:
“We Serbs in the City of Chicago have purchased a three-story house and land for a church and founded a Serbian Orthodox congregation, i.e. church congregation. Our parish priest is Sebastian Dabovich, a Serb born in this country, who studied theology in Moscow and says that he is the Administrator of every Serbian Orthodox church in the United States and that is all we know about him.
Father Dabovich claims that we belong legally under the Russian Consistory and we cannot join any Patriarchate or Consistory and that our parish priest can be confirmed only by the Russian Consistory in San Francisco; these three points are in our church by-laws, which we have not signed yet, since our people would not like to acknowledge Russian authority for various reasons, especially because we do not have our own church vet.
As Secretary of the church congregation on behalf of our Serbs and my brothers, I agree with this intention and request Your Grace to guide us on the true path, since we would like with all our hearts to be recognized by some Serbian Consistory or the Patriarchate. Furthermore, I beg Tour Grace to send us an example ()f church by-laws, because we are unable to draw up this properly, or we shall be obliged to sign what Father Dabovich has copied.
Towards the end of the month the Russian Bishop will be passing, i.e. traveling through Chicago, and Father Dabovich proposes that our house and place where the liturgy is to be conducted should be consecrated, but we have decided that no church business will be done until Your Grace replies to this Petition.”
Patriarch Georgije answered the “glorious congregation in Chicago” as follows:
“To the request made by the Secretary of the Serbian congregation, Mr. Mladen Veselinovic, for guidance how the said congregation should act with regard to alleged claims by the Orthodox priest (Father Dabovich) 1) That the said congregation comes legally under the Russian Consistory; 2) that the said congregation cannot join am other Patriarchate or Consistory and 3) that the parish priest of the said congregation can be conlim1ed only by the, Russian Consistory in San Francisco - the pious congregation 1s given the following answer: This Serbian congregation has made a legitimate decision to state its firm intention and desire to submit legally to the Church authority of the Serbian Orthodox Archbishop and Metropolitai1 or Karlovci and the Serbian Patriarch as head of the Serbian Orthodox Church or the Karlovci Metropolitanate: this conclusion should be signed and forwarded officially by the congregation to the Metropolitan-Patriarch and the State authorities. After this Act there can no longer exist any of the above claims by the priest there, since it will be organized here: by high-ranking Serbian spiritual authorities that the said congregation shall receive a Serbian priest who will not depend on confirmation by any foreign church authority, but from here. Of course, when the said congregation declares its legal affiliation to this Metropolitanate, it should be decided what kind of stipend to give their priest (at least 1,500 dollars annually and free lodging) with a statement of the property (valuables) that the said congregation owns, whether immovable or movable.”
From Patriarch Georgije’s reply it is evident that he was willing to take this congregation into the Metropolitanate of Karlovci, but at the same time he wished to ensure the financial security of the priest whom he would send to their parish. It appears, however, that the Chicago congregation was not able to give their future pastor the required sum, for a priest’s salary in America was about 600 dollars a year. If this congregation had been incorporated into the Metropolitanate of Karlovci at that time, it might not have taken so many years to organize the Serbian Church in America, because all the other congregations later organized would have looked to Chicago as an example.
A similar Petition was sent to Patriarch Georgije by the church congregation in Steelton, Pennsylvania:
“Most humbly we beg Your Holiness to kindly grant our request and recommend a (young) priest for our parish, especially since the Serbian Mission here (a totally Russophile agency) appoints persons who do not endorse Serbian aspirations. A priest is needed immediately, and the salary would be 50 (dollars) and tree lodging and furnishings. All the income received from baptisms, weddings and funerals would be shared, half for the priest's efforts and half for the church treasury.”