His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago and the Midwest were among the numerous hierarchs present for the celebration of the Glorification of Saint Mardarije of Libertyville, North America’s first ruling Serbian Orthodox bishop, at Saint Sava Monastery here July 14-16, 2017.
Presiding at the pan-Orthodox celebration was His Holiness, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, who was greeted upon his arrival in Chicago by His Grace, Bishop Longin of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of New Gracanica and Midwest America and the clergy of Chicago’s Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. En route to Chicago, Patriarch Irinej visited the site of Saint Sava Cathedral, New York, NY, which had been destroyed by fire on Pascha 2016, where he was met by His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and His Grace, Bishop Irinej of Eastern America of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who brief the Patriarch on plans for rebuilding the historic cathedral.
In Chicago, the weekend opened with a Friday evening symposium—“The Life and Times of Saint Mardarije”—at which His Eminence, Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral delivered the keynote address, titled “Saint Mardarije: Wondrous is God in His Saints.” A new 35-minute documentary and dramatization of Saint Mardarije’s life, “Christ’s Quiet Corner”, also made its debut.
Other hierarchs present at the Glorification were His Eminence, Archbishop Nikodim of Northern Donetsk and Starobel’skii of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of Chicago and Mid-America and His Grace, Bishop Theodosy of Seattle of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; His Eminence, Metropolitan Antonii of Vani and Baghdati and His Eminence, Metropolitan Sava of America of the Patriarchate of Georgia; His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Canada; and others. Countless clergy, monastics and pilgrims filled the monastery grounds throughout the weekend.
The weekend continued on Saturday with the celebration of the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy at New Gracanica Monastery, Third Like, IL. In his address during the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Irinej noted the “exceptional personality” of Saint Mardarije, who lived the life of the holy apostles and other great saints, thus emulating the Lord. He noted that, as a saint in the likeness of God, Saint Mardarije belongs to all Orthodox Churches, and not just the Serbian Church.
“Although we are scattered, there is one power that keeps us in spiritual and blood unity, and that is our community, our Church,” Patriarch Irinej said. “And our Church has sent here a common saint in Saint Mardarije, who performed apostolic work here.”
The Saturday evening Vigil in honor of Saint Mardarije was celebrated at Saint Sava Monastery, Libertyville, IL, in which his relics are enshrined. The Glorification Patriarchal Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Sunday morning. Responses at both services were sung by the choir of St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Youth Choir from New York City, conducted by Adrian Fekula. During the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Amphilohije delivered the homily, during which he read from Saint Mardarije’s 1935 Paschal encyclical, in which the saint recounted how the great physical sufferings he had experienced with his lungs hemorrhaging for three days had helped him acquire a greater spirit and wisdom than that which he had previously possessed: “I confess now before you, I desire but one thing, and that is to strengthen you in your faith in God Who was, is, and will be, regardless of whether people believe in Him or not.”
The Liturgy was followed by a procession with Saint Mardarije’s relics around the monastery as the faithful, including many children, carried banners. The relics, which were disinterred in early May 2017, were discovered to be incorrupt.
At the banquet that followed, Patriarch Irinej exhorted the faithful to emulate Saint Mardarije’s way of life, calling upon all to seek love and peace and to share the that unites all Orthodox faithful. In his remarks, Metropolitan Tikhon spoke of Saint Mardarije’s contributions to the Serbian and Russian Orthodox Churches and the Metropolia, as the Orthodox Church in America was known prior to 1970. He highlighted a variety of letters and other resources found in the OCA Archives related to Saint Mardarije, especially his correspondence with Archpriest Leonid Turkevich [later Metropolitan Leonty], and others.
Saint Mardarije was born Ivan Uskokovic in Podgoritsa, Montenegro, in 1889. In 1907, he embraced monasticism at the Studenitsa Monastery and then relocated to Russia to study at the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy. After graduation, he was ordained by the Russian Orthodox Church and sent as a missionary to America. He was one of five Serbian Orthodox priests who participated in the Second All-American Sobor, held in Cleveland, OH in February 1919, at which time it was recommended that the Serbian Church in Belgrade advance him to the episcopacy to organize a Serbian Orthodox Diocese in America. Unfortunately, at this most chaotic time in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, it was impossible to secure the written blessing of Patriarch [now Saint] Tikhon of Moscow. Later that year, Archimandrite Mardarije returned to Belgrade, where he was assigned as head of the Rakovitsa Monastery and principal of its monastic school. Subsequently, Bishop [now Saint] Nikolai [Velimirovic] of Ohrid was sent by Patriarch Dimitriye to administer the fledgling diocese. Having likewise returned to America, Archimandrite Mardarije served as Saint Nikolai’s Deputy for two years, and continued to administer the diocese after the latter’s return to Belgrade.
On April 26, 1926, Archimandrite Mardarije was consecrated to the episcopacy in Belgrade. Prior to his episcopal consecration, he had carried out most of the actual work of organizing the Serbian Diocese. He also served as parish priest in Chicago and purchased with his personal funds the land for Libertyville’s Saint Sava Monastery.
From the moment of his return to America, Bishop Mardarije undertook a wide range of ministries. He did not spare himself, nor did he fear work, although he knew that he was gravely ill with an advancing case of tuberculosis. In 1927, he convened the first National Church Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox American-Canadian Diocese to address a variety of organizational issues. At a clergy conference held in Youngstown, OH in 1931, he renewed his appeal for all to work for the unity and good of the diocese. His kindness, patience and reluctance to use punitive measures resulted in a great measure of unity within the diocese by the time of his repose on December 12, 1935 at the age of 46 years.
An interview with Priest Nikolaj Kostur, Rector of Saint George Serbian Orthodox Church, Joliet, IL, on the life and legacy of Saint Mardarije may be accessed on-line.
In related news, the Brotherhood of Saint Sava Monastery is pleased to announce that the faithful and pilgrims are warmly innvited to venerate Saint Mardarije’s relics on every Sunday and feast day when the Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the monastery church, which is located at 32377 North Milwaukee Avenue, Libertyville, IL. For additional information please call 847-362-2440.