On Sunday, August 6, 2017, the faithful of the Church-School Congregation of the Holy Prophet Elijah of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania gathered in their parish church and community center with many guests and friends to celebrate the parish’s 103rd annual church Slava and anniversary. Although the Ilindan celebration is cause for great joy in the parish annually, this 103rd celebration also marked two important “firsts” for the community: the first time the parish welcomed their new Archpastor, His Grace, Bishop Irinej, as the chief celebrant and honored guest at the Slava festivities, and the first time the parish celebrated its Slava with Father Branislav Golic as its parish priest.
Serving as hosts for the 103rd Slava celebration were two dedicated and beloved members of the parish community, Marlene and George (known to all as “Djuri”) Volitich. Kum Djuri and Kuma Marlene have been active in the St. Elijah parish since their wedding there in May 1958, and continue to this very day to support the parish generously with their time, talents, and treasure. Kum Djuri founded the parish’s Cornerstone Men’s Club, and has used his talents as an organizer, cook, baker, dancer, choreographer, and producer to support countless parish organizations and events. Kuma Marlene likewise has given generously of herself since being “transplanted” from the South Side of Pittsburgh after her marriage, with active service in the parish Mother’s Club, the St. Elijah Choir, and at all times a full partner in Kum Djuri’s work in the parish. Their three children grew up in the parish, and they – along with their own children -- remain active and devoted Orthodox Christians. Even today, Kuma Marlene continues as a singer and officer of the St. Elijah Choir, often appearing as one of three generations of Volitich singers in that group!
The Slava celebration began on an overcast, cool morning with the arrival of His Grace at the front doors of the church. There, he was met with a bouquet of flowers from Alyssa and Julia Knapp, granddaughters of Kuma Marlene and Kum Djuri, as well as by Father Branislav and several visiting clergy: Very Reverend Milorad Orlic of St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church of Elkins Park (Philadelphia), Pennsylvania; Reverend Vladislav Golic of St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Church of Lackawanna, New York; and Reverend Deacon Jovan Anicic, Director of Christian Education for the Diocese of Eastern America. Over 30 singers of the St. Elijah Choir sang “Dostojno Jest” as His Grace entered the church, and then “My Soul Magnifies the Lord” – “Da Vozradujetsja Dusa Moja vo Gospodnje” – as the bishop vested, attended by the clergy and several of the parish’s altar servers.
After the reading of the Gospel, which described our Lord’s walk on the water and Peter’s failure to do the same, His Grace offered a rousing homily focused on the central themes of the lesson. His Grace noted that although Peter initially was able to walk on the water just as Jesus had, his ultimate failure was a result of his lack of focus, which itself reflected a lack of faith: rather than focusing on Christ despite the torment of the waves around him, he allowed his surroundings to distract him, so that Christ was no longer at the center of his attention. Likewise, we in this day can accomplish great things in faith if we keep Christ as our center and our true focal point, His Grace explained, rather than becoming caught up in the barrage of things that are not Christ, and not of Christ, that we encounter every day. His Grace added that the 103 years of the history of the St. Elijah parish was a reflection of exactly what can be done with a sustained focus on Christ and a dedication to living in Him.
The divine service continued after His Grace’s homily, featuring a beautiful harmony among His Grace, the celebrating clergy (and particularly the sonorous voice of Father Deacon Jovan), and the St. Elijah Choir. During the Great Entrance, His Grace commemorated all of the founders and benefactors of the St. Elijah parish, all of the priests who have served the parish, and all members of the St. Elijah community, in addition to His Holiness, Patriarch Irinej and all hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church – the universal Orthodox Church. During the Communion of the clergy, the St. Elijah Choir sang Stanislav Binicki’s powerful arrangement of “Praise the Lord in the Heavens” – “Hvalite Gospoda S’nebes” – to mark the special occasion. At the Communion of the faithful, Kum Djuri and Kuma Marlene, followed by many others received the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord.
Prior to the end of the Divine Liturgy, His Grace led the faithful outside for the Litija in celebration of the Slava. By that point, the overcast skies had cleared, so that the Litija proceeded under a blue sky in the warm noon-time sun. After making stops at each of the four points of the cruciform church, the faithful reassembled with His Grace and the clergy for the blessing of the Slavski Kolach outside the front of the church. The beautiful weather offered a picturesque setting for the blessing and turning of the Kolach, while the St. Elijah choir sang the “Dance of Isaiah.” Once the blessing was complete, His Grace asked for someone to come forward to serve as sponsor for the parish’s 104th Slava in 2018; Rodney Torbic answered the call, to the joy of all assembled. His Grace then concluded the Divine Liturgy under the blue skies, and bestowed blessings upon each of the gathered faithful as they came forward for the final blessing and nafora.
A festive banquet at the St. Elijah Serbian Center followed the conclusion of the divine service. Joining the faithful at the banquet was the parish’s beloved retired priest, Very Reverend-Stavrofor Stevan Stepanov, and his dear wife Protinica Ana, who served the parish for over 41 years. Also joining the festivities as dear guests were several clergy from the Pittsburgh Deanery, including Very Reverend-Stavrofor Rade Merick of Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Church of Steubenville, Ohio (the Dean of the Pittsburgh Deanery) with his Protinica Donna; Very Reverend-Stavrofor Rodney Torbic of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Carmichaels (near Masontown), Pennsylvania – a son of the St. Elijah parish, and the father of new Kum Rodney Torbic; Very Reverend-Stavrofor Rajko Kosic of Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Pittsburgh; and Very Reverend George Veselinovich of St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church of Monroeville, Pennsylvania.
Following a delicious meal, Milan Mrkal, immediate past president of the St. Elijah parish and current Vice President of the Diocesan Council, served as master of ceremonies for a short program. During the program, remarks were offered by current parish executive board president Julie Madjarevich Taylor; Kathy Loverich, president of the parish’s Kolo Srpskih Sestara “Sveta Petka” and the St. Elijah Choir; Lynn Popovich, president of the St. Elijah Mothers’ Club; and Alex Brnjilovic, president of the Cornerstone Men’s Club. Two 2017 high school graduates also were honored: Nick Kosanovich III, son of Nick and Carla Kosanovich of Aliquippa and a new graduate of Aliquippa High School, who will attend the University of Pittsburgh; and Eli Loncar, son of Pete and Beth Loncar of Independence and a new graduate of Hopewell Area High School, who will attend the University of Alabama. Nick and Eli both were active in the parish from their earliest days, and each gave warm and moving remarks about the role of the church and their faith in their lives, and the impact particularly of Father Stevan and now Father Branislav on their lives. They also offered their thanks for the blessings and support they received from the parish community throughout the years.
Speaking on behalf of Kum Djuri and Kuma Marlene was their eldest child and son, Gregory. Although Greg is rarely lost for words, he became overcome with emotion as he began to talk about his parents’ devotion to the parish, which he described as “a family . . . made up of many families.” Greg’s short and moving presentation was met with resounding applause, with his emotion communicating the love and warmth of the occasion better than words themselves.
The last two speakers of the day were the Slava celebration’s two “first-timers” – Father Branislav and His Grace, Bishop Irinej. Father Branislav focused his remarks on the nature of the Slava as an occasion of thanksgiving, which he said in some ways was a Serbian Orthodox corollary to America’s own Thanksgiving holiday. But he explained that the Slava is even more exulted in that it is tied inextricably to the purest and truest form of thanksgiving – the Eucharist (which in Greek means “thanksgiving”) -- communion with the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Father Branislav called on all to continue the work of the parish through a second century with focus on this thanksgiving, a focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, as His Grace discussed in the homily.
His Grace then stood and, thanking Father Branislav for his spiritual remarks, offered comments on the earthly history of the St. Elijah parish, noting that even from his youth in Cleveland, he heard many positive things about the St. Elijah parish and how its organization was a model for many others. Noting that the parish’s founders and benefactors left big shoes to fill, His Grace declared that all things can be done with faith in Christ, and he commended all of the faithful to keep their focus on the Lord so that the parish’s 103 years of work can continue for many more, with much fruit and success. With these words, His Grace offered his blessings and closed the program with all assembled singing “Dostojno Jest.”
The St. Elijah parish is grateful to His Grace, Bishop Irinej, Father Branislav, all of the visiting clergy, Kuma Marlene and Kum Djuri Volitich, and all of the workers, benefactors, and supporters who made the occasion a wonderful and memorable one. All of the faithful look forward to celebrating their 104th year in 2018 with Kum Rodney Torbic. VIDIMO SE in Aliquippa!