On the 23rd of December 2018, His grace Bishop Irinej, presided over the celebration of the Holy Hierarchal Liturgy at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, PA. During the liturgy, a tonsured reader, Stefan Djoric, St. Vladimir’s Seminarian, was ordained into the Holy Diaconate.
It was truly a rare opportunity for the Holy Transfiguration community to have had the vivid experience of Christmas joy, prior to Christmas itself. In his inspired sermon, Bishop Irinej spoke of the spiritual dimensions of Princess Ileana (Mother Alexandra), the founding abbess of the monastery, who is buried at the monastery, and pointed out that she was the sister of Her Majesty Queen Maria of Yugoslavia, and the connection between her and the Serbian monarchy and its people. He also expressed his gratitude to his spiritual and theological mentors, Fathers Alexander Schmemann and Thomas Hopko, who were both friends of the monastery, the latter of whom is also buried at the monastery cemetery.
Bishop Irinej’s homily was not the only word that was heard. Before being ordained into the Holy Diaconate, Stefan Djoric, responding to the Bishop’s question, “What is it that you ask of us and what do you seek from our hands?”, offered a moving reply in which he expressed gratitude and explained his life path that lead him to the moment of his ordination. Wishing His Grace Bishop Irinej many years, we offer Stefan Djoric’s speech in its entirety:
“I seek ordination into the Holy Diaconate, Your Grace. I seek that which, if I may dare to say, sought me even before I was born. When I was younger I sought God, but it is now that I realize that I am the one who was sought and caught up in his loving net.
“However, in order for me to get to that point and be caught in God’s loving net, I had to have a proper Christian Orthodox basis. The basis was given to me by my God-loving parents Srdjan and Biljana. They were the ones who taught me and my brother Milos about God when we were children, and I would not be standing here if it were not for my parents. They introduced my Heavenly Father to me when I was a child by saying that If I pray to Him, I will get whatever I want, candies and chocolates in abundance….So I prayed as my parents told me…candies never came when I wanted and when I prayed for them, chocolates came occasionally. What most certainly came with time was my fervent desire to serve the Lord. My childish and boyish Lord, give me a candy, turned into O Lord, Give me yourself and everything else will be added to me. To my parents, who inspired me, taught me about God and took care of me I say: I am forever thankful and honored to have parents like you!
“My desire to serve as a clergyman appeared most obviously when I was in high school. It was born in the heart of Stefan Djoric who was a basketball player but very unusual one though if I may say. What made me unusual was that unlike any other basketball player I was reading the works of Nicholai Velimirovich. It is through the works of St. Nicholai, that I first started thinking about serving as a clergyman and it is Bishop Nicholai who inspired me to leave, what seemed to be a very promising basketball career, and to turn to God and seek to be a servant in his vineyard. On this day, when I seek ordination, when I seek that path that the Holy Nicholai pointed out to me, I invoke his prayers for my family and myself.
“What came after high school was studying at the College of Orthodox Theology in Belgrade. My professors there, added a scholarly seriousness to me by teaching me the doctrines and dogmas of the Orthodox Church and to them I am very thankful.
“After I finished college in Serbia, I came to study at St. Vladimir’s Seminary where I met you your grace. After I saw you serving the liturgy the way you do, prayerfully, fervently, resembling Christ Himself, my desire to serve under your blessing led me to transfer from my Serbian diocese of Zicha to Serbian Diocese of Eastern America. Very few people know that you, when you were in your mother’s womb, received a blessing from Nicholai Velimirovich through your mother who asked blessing from the Holy Nicholai. I personally believe that your strong connection to St. Nicholai brought us together, and here I am today, standing in front of you as your obedient son, seeking to be ordained into the Holy Diaconate.
“Here in the US, I did not only meet my bishop, I also met my beloved wife Marina. She supported me on my way, even before I met her it seems. When we met, our lives became one instantly. One life, one love, one prayer, one being. I find a great source inspiration in my wife. In the way she serves me as her husband, I find the best example of how I should serve the others. In the way she loves me I find the source of the Divine love. She is my rock and my support. Every word fails to express how much you mean to me wife and how much I am looking forward to have you as a sojourner on this path that we both undertake. Today when I seek ordination, we both pledge that we will remain faithful servants of God and our bishop. This is the pledge that is as strong as the eternal love that we have for each other.
“I am thankful to Mother Christophora, the Abbess of this monastery, who gave her blessing for me to stand here seeking ordination. To every venerable mother and sister of this monastery I owe gratitude for their service on this important day for me and my wife and I am asking you, please continue praying for my wife and myself the way you did so far! It is a great honor to be ordained here where my wife spent her childhood!
“Besides being thankful to Djoric family from Serbia, my parents and my brother Milos, and many other relatives, I am also thankful to the Thetford family. To my wife’s parents Gregory and Juliana, to John my brother in law, who is participating in this important event for both of our families, by serving in the altar as a subdeacon to His Grace Irinej, and also to Matushka Ann Hopko, who is today here with us.
“The spiritual father of my mine and of my wife, Iakovos of Simonopetra, who is undoubtedly here today with us in the Spirit and we invoke his prayers for all of us and both of our families.
Your Grace, let me now return to the question that you asked me…..What do I seek to get from your hands? With the fear of God, with faith and love towards Him, Who created me and sustains me and Who ignited the desire in my heart to serve as a clergyman, I bow down in front of His will and I humbly ask to be ordained into the Holy Diaconate.”
Following the joyous celebration of the Divine Liturgy and diaconal ordination to the resounding cries of Axios! He is Worthy!, the sisterhood prepared a Lenten agape meal for all present to enjoy their offering of hospitality.