In Memoriam: Protinica Olga Sokich
A Life Touched by a Saint
A Christian ending to life, as we know it, should be to pass from this life, in the Hope of Resurrection, without pain, blamelessly, and peacefully. And thus, it was with the faithful servant of God, Protinica Olga Sokich, who peacefully reposed in the Lord on July 12, 2023 – the Feast of the Holy and Glorious Foremost Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul. For she, herself, was, in so many ways, a faithful disciple of Christ, whose life was deeply and profoundly touched by her spiritual mentor and guide, the Holy Bishop Nicholai Velimirovich.
Protinica Olga had an intuitive love for beauty. As a student of fashion, she lived her life intuitively according to the Dostoyevskian paradigm: “Beauty will save the world”. This love of beauty also has its intrinsic link to the beauty of liturgical services, comprehensive and discernable worship notwithstanding, and at the basis of it all – education, the very process of enlightenment. Protinica Olga was among the first church school educators in the Diocese of Eastern America.
Together with her late husband, Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dragolyub Sokich, she shared a mutual love and admiration for the Holy Bishop Nicholai. In celebrating the life which she lived among us, her own testimony of Bishop Nicholai’s guiding hand and paternal love, speaking at the second in a lecture series on Bishop Nicholai, at Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on March 15, 2022, shall bear witness. Indeed, it was there, that the great contemporary saint reposed on March 18, 1956, and where she was laid to rest, next to her beloved husband, on July 16, 2023.
In her recollections of Saint Nicholai, Protinica began by stating: “’There are very few people alive today who have had the spiritual privilege of speaking with a saint, and I am one of those fortunate few… and how my personal experiences with him changed my life.’
“My family and I were attending the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City on 25th Street… Everything was spoken in Serbian, the sermon, and the responses by the choir were in Church Slavonic, and I, of course, did not speak or understand Serbian, nor Church Slavonic. My mind would wonder during the services. […] When it was time for the people to receive Holy Communion, many times, I would cry quietly standing or sitting in the pews, because I simply didn’t understand what was going on and I wanted to know.
“I wanted to know more about Orthodoxy, but I knew very little. I went to several libraries, but not enough information was available for me to read and educate myself. […] I believe it was in 1947-48, when I was 17, I heard that a Serbian bishop, who could not go back to Serbia after World War II, would be coming to New York. I heard he was also held in a concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. When he was freed, he taught at Dorchester College at Oxfordshire in England. It was there that he met my future husband. He become close friends with the Bishop Manning of the Episcopal Church, whom he met in 1915. It was this friendship that helped the Serbs purchase the Cathedral in New York City. When He left England, he brought six students with him to study at St. Vladimir’s – all on scholarship. My future husband, Dragolyub Sokich, was one of these students.”
As the Bishop would regularly celebrate Liturgy and preach in St. Sava Cathedral, Protinica recalls how she listened carefully to his words of wisdom: “Tears filled my eyes, and I felt a spiritual uplifting in my heart and soul. He did not speak long, but I remember being moved by his words of wisdom. When the service was over. I knew what I had to do. I had to get up enough nerve to visit this special bishop in his quarters where he lived.”
“One Sunday,” as she continued, “I got up the courage and decided to stay after the service and talk with Bishop Nicholai. […] I nervously approached his door and gently knocked on the door. He slowly opened the door and said: ‘My child, what can I do for you?’ He then invited me inside, gently closed the door and asked me to sit down. Then, he said, ‘My dear young child, would you like a cup of tea?’
“I was already in shock and answered, No thank you, Your Grace, all I want to ask you is if you have any books I could borrow and read on Orthodoxy. ‘That’s all you want?’ Yes, Your Grace. You see, I am an Orthodox and could not seem to find what I need in some of the libraries I went to. I was born into an Orthodox family, but I need to know more.
“’Well, my dear child,’ he began. ‘That is not a problem, because I can give you a couple of books you may borrow to read, but I have a better idea to help you. Listen carefully. Now you must attend St. Vladimir’s Seminary and register as a non-matriculated student and take several courses there. Then come and visit with me after a few classes, and I will tell you more.’
“Your Grace, I must tell you that I am already enrolled as a student at a college on a scholarship.
He then looked me straight into my eyes and said: ‘So what? Just make time! Where do you live?’ I told him that I lived in Brooklyn, New York.
“Your Grace, I do know where St. Vladimir’s is and will I be able to take the subway there. ‘That’s fine. Just go and, again, we will talk after you have finished several semesters there.’ I got up, thanked him, kissed his hand, and left for home. There was a lot for me to think about. I found myself feeling like a heavy burden lifted because I would finally get the answers I had been searching for so long. […]
“I enrolled at St. Vladimir’s and was so pleased I took Bishop Nicholai’s advice. […] During my time attending the courses, I met Dragolyub Sokich, who would later become my soul mate and husband. We spent much time together on the days I attended classes talking about Orthodoxy and the impact Nicholai had on both of our young lives.
“Later, during one of our conversations, I told Bishop Nicholai that I was falling in love with one of the 6 students he brought with him from England. No way was I ready to marry anyone, much less a foreigner! I needed to finish college, get a job and become self-supporting. But sometimes, things change. When the bishop heard what I had to say he was not surprised at all. He called Dragolyub and me together and sat us down. ‘Saule’, as I called him, or ‘Soko’, as Bishop called him, had been on the path to become a monk, and Bishop knew this, but now that was all about to change. Saule was Bishop Nicholai’s private secretary, so they frequently had conversations.
“Eventually, Bishop Nicholai settled at St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary, though he continued to come to the St. Sava Serbian Cathedral in New York every year at Easter and for his patronal Feast, St. Nicholas. Two years later, on Easter morning, recalls Protinica Olga, she was pregnant and was not feeling well and decided not to attend Easter services. Later in the morning, she went into labor.
Protinica describing the event, remembers, “My mother was with me. I was ready to go to the hospital. Before I left the apartment, I called the cathedral hall and one of the choir members answered and I told her to tell Saule where I was going and to come to the hospital when he was finished with the service. I told her, please do not tell him until the service is over, because he has to direct the choir and I do not want him to be nervous. At the very end of the service, Bishop Nicholai approached Saule and told him to go immediately to the hospital because Olga had delivered little girl. My Saule was surprised because he JUST got the message from the choir member to go to the hospital! …How is it possible that bishop knew my daughter was born, questioned Protinica, no one told him? […]
“There is one more personal experience I would like to share with you. Several years ago, a few of my friends got together and decided to write a book containing stories about how World War II changed their lives. Sharing experiences through the eyes of the women, not the soldiers. My story explained that, as a result of the war, Nicholai and my future husband were forced out of Serbia… The book, ‘Wives’ Tales–Looking Back: How War changed Our Lives’, was finally ready to be published.
“That night, I woke up around 2:20 A.M. and felt a presence in my room. I got up and sat on the edge of my bed. All of a sudden, I heard a voice call out my name, ‘Olga, Olga!! In your story in the book, ‘Wives’ Tales–My Destiny’, you spoke of a Bishop Nicholai. You must add my last name to that because there are many Bishop Nicholais and many Bishops Nicholai, but only one Bishop Nicholai Velimirovich. And make sure you spell it correctly.’ I was shocked and immediately added Bishop Nicholai’s last name to my story. […]
“As I reflect back on those wonderful years that I spent with Bishop Nicholai, I find that his inspirations truly guided me. When my husband was assigned to his parish, I made myself available to teach Sunday school classes to the children. I felt that it was my calling to teach these young minds about Orthodoxy and the Holy Liturgy. I wanted to make sure that the children did not feel lost, as I did when I was a child attending services. I had the desire to educate them, so they had an understanding of the importance of the Holy Liturgy and made sure there were books available in English during the service for them to follow. Later, after the passing of my husband, I would travel to various churches, and I would volunteer to teach children about the Holy Liturgy.
Knowing Bishop Nicholai truly changed my life.”
May Protinica Olga’s memory be eternal!
Bishop of Eastern America and Canada