The parish of the Holy Prophet Elijah in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania has for decades maintained a strong connection to the Tsar Lazar Male Choir of the Greater Pittsburgh area.  The Tsar Lazar Choir was founded in the early 1990’s by Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Stevan Stepanov of blessed memory, the longtime parish priest of the St. Elijah Church, and many of the choir’s singers past and present have hailed from the St. Elijah Parish.  Given this connection, it was fitting that the Tsar Lazar Choir chose to hold its first Patronal Feast – Slava celebration at the St. Elijah Church on Sunday, June 25, 2023, in anticipation of the feast day of its namesake, the Holy Martyr Prince Lazarus of Serbia, which is celebrated on June 28 – Vidovdan.


The day began with the Divine Liturgy served by the parish priest, Presbyter-Economos Branislav Golic, together with Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dr. Rodney Torbic and Deacon Daniel August.  Responses were offered by the Tsar Lazar Choir, under the direction of George Milosh.  Reader John Buffalini chanted the troparia and kontakia of the day, together with Father Branislav and Deacon Daniel.  Jovan Kodic read the Epistle, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and Deacon Daniel proclaimed the reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.


Faithful from the parish and guests filled the church, and were treated to a deeply moving and powerful liturgical experience.  The members of the Tsar Lazar choir were clearly inspired by the significance of the occasion, and the sound of their harmonic responses inspired the rest of the faithful to prayerfully connect with the Living God, Who was in their midst.  The liturgical responses included arrangements primarily from the Serbian, Ukrainian, and Russian traditions, and the choir’s skilled and disciplined singing reflected a deep respect and love for Orthodoxy and its rich liturgical customs.  Of particular note were solos by Dan Jovanovich, during the singing of the Beatitudes, and Marco Trbovich, who sang the Creed – Vjeruju – in Slavonic. 


Following the Liturgy, the clergy gathered before the tetrapod to bless the Slavski Kolach and Zhito, the traditional festal bread and wheat prepared for the Serbian Slava.  The choir fittingly selected Protinica Ana Stepanov, widow of the late Prota Stevan, as their first honored Slavska Kuma for this historic celebration.  Protinica Ana was a generous supporter of and co-worker in her beloved husband’s ministry throughout his life, and unfailingly extended her love and encouragement to the Tsar Lazar Choir from its very beginning.  During the service of blessing, Protinica Ana came forward with members of the choir to turn the Slavski Kolach while the choir members and many faithful joined in singing the “Dance of Isaiah” – “Isaije likuj”.  Later, the clergy and faithful commemorated both the living and deceased members of the Tsar Lazar choir.  At the end of the service of blessing, Fr. Branislav offered his greetings to all the celebrants and faithful, reminding them of the importance of the Slava as a “golden thread” that connects all who came before us with all who are here now and who will be in the future – a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is neither past nor future, but only an eternal present.


Although the majestic sounds of the Tsar Lazar Choir’s response may now have quieted inside the St. Elijah church, the faithful of the parish will not soon forget the choir’s prayerful and joy-filled first Slava celebration.  May it be the first of many, many more!

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