The weekend of July 29-30, 2023 marked two significant milestones in the life of the parish of the Holy Prophet Elijah in Aliquippa. The first was the celebration of the parish’s 109th anniversary, in anticipation of its patronal feast, Ilindan – the feast day of St. Elijah the Tishbite, one of the most eminent prophets of the Old Testament. The second was the observation of the 60th Anniversary of the Episcopal Consecration of His late Grace, Bishop +Stefan (Lastavica) as the first bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Diocese of Eastern America and Canada (now the Diocese of Eastern America), which took place at the St. Elijah Church on July 13, 1963. The faithful of the parish, together with their hierarch, clergy of the Pittsburgh Deanery, and guests, came together to celebrate these events solemnly and piously.
The weekend began with the arrival of His Grace, Bishop Irinej of the Eastern American Diocese in the late afternoon of Saturday, July 29 at the parish cemetery. Under sunny skies and amidst warm, humid temperatures, faithful and clergy gathered to greet His Grace at the doors of the parish’s Holy Resurrection Chapel at the cemetery, and then walked with His Grace to the entrance of the cemetery where, for the last 57 years, the late Bishop +Stefan has laid in repose among his flock. His Grace then served a Pomen (Memorial Service) for Vladika+Stefan, assisted by Presbyter-Economos Branislav Golic, parish priest of the St. Elijah parish, and Deacon Mark Matijevich of St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church of Monroeville. Also present for the service were Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dr. Rodney Torbic, retired parish priest of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Carmichaels, Protopresbyter George Veselinovic, Dean of Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Pittsburgh, and Protopresbyter Dejan Barac of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Midland, as well as Deacon Daniel August of the St. Elijah parish. Responses were sung by the St. Elijah Serbian Church Choir, under the direction of George Milosh. Following the Pomen, Bishop Irinej offered a touching tribute to his predecessor, Bishop +Stefan, recalling the extreme challenges he faced during his short episcopate (1963-1966), as well as the late Bishop’s love and sacrifice for his flock. The clergy and faithful then processed back to the Holy Resurrection Chapel, stopping on the way just outside the chapel doors for a brief prayer at the grave of the St. Elijah parish’s beloved former parish priest, Protopresbyter-Stavrophor +Stevan Stepanov.
The service of Great Vespers began immediately upon the entry of His Grace in the chapel, served by Father Branislav and Deacon Mark, with responses by the St. Elijah Choir. His Grace led the faithful in reciting the appointed Psalms and other prayers during the service, and offered his archpastoral blessings. After the conclusion of the Service, all clergy and faithful were invited to the parish church hall, where the St. Elijah Mother’s Club had prepared a beautiful and sumptuous variety of foods and refreshments. All present used the opportunity to enjoy Christian fellowship and visit with one another and bringing the first day of the weekend to a peaceful and pleasant close.
Sunday dawned under a sky with scattered clouds, but more temperate (and less humid) air, as faithful began arriving early to the St. Elijah parish church to welcome His Grace for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. By 9:30 AM, His Grace was greeted and entered to begin vesting for the Divine Service. Other clergy serving with His Grace were Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Rade Merick, Episcopal Deputy of the Eastern American Diocese; Presbyter-Economos Branislav Golic; Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Rodney Torbic; Protopresbyter Sasha Nedic, parish priest of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church of Carmichaels; Deacon Daniel August; and Deacon Mark Matijevich. The St. Elijah Choir, again under the direction of George Milosh, offered particularly inspired liturgical responses, including an extraordinary arrangement of the Cherubic Hymn according to the 14th Century Byzantine chant which featured a solo by George Milosh. The choir undoubtedly drew upon multiple sources of inspiration on this day: not only were they celebrating their own (and their parish’s) Slava, and commemorating the life of Bishop +Stefan, one of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s best-known sacred musicians and musicologists of the 20th Century, but one of their members – Marica “Cissy” Rebich – was serving as honored Slavska Kuma (sponsor).
As has become custom, His Grace offered a poignant and compelling sermon that served as one of the highlights of the day. His Grace tied together several themes, including the Lord’s miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish, as recounted in the day’s reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel; the critical need for unity in the faith, as addressed in the day’s Epistle lesson from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians; and the life of Bishop +Stefan, who like Christ’s very Apostles efforted to feed his flock with the Word of God and to keep the flock united in the face of terrible tribulations. Later, the Divine Services reached their sublime apex with the consecration of the Holy Gifts, and many children and adults came forward to receive the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of our Lord from His Grace. After Holy Communion, all those present exited the church building for the Litija (procession) with Gospel readings and blessings of the church edifice, the parish faithful, and the surrounding community. At the last stop, on the south side of the church, prayers were offered for the blessed repose of Vladika +Stefan and all deceased clergy and faithful of the St. Elijah parish, reflecting the reality that none of those who have come before us in the faith are ever far from us today.
The Litija ended in front the main doors of the church, where Vladika Irinej led Kuma Cissy and all the faithful in the blessing of the Slavski Kolach (festal bread) and Koljivo (memorial wheat). After the blessing, His Grace asked if someone would come forward to take on the responsibility of being the sponsor of the 110th parish Slava celebration in 2024. Kathy Loverich, the long-time director of the St. Elijah Choir, president of the Circle of Serbian Sisters “Sveta Petka,” and devoted servant of the parish, stepped forward to answer the call. Zivela, Kuma!
After the completion of the Divine Liturgy, the faithful crossed the courtyard to the St. Elijah Center for a festal Slavabanquet. There, the beautiful Kolach and Koljivo prepared by Georgette Osman (the parish’s Slavska Kuma in 2021) were distributed, and the faithful enjoyed the sounds of Serbian music provided by the Srpski Sinovi Orchestra of Pittsburgh. Among the special guests who joined the faithful at the banquet were Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Rajko Kosic, parish priest of Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Church in Steubenville, and Presbyter Stefan Djoric, parish priest of St. Nicholas Church in Monroeville, along with Nick Jokola, vice president of the Diocesan Council for the Diocese of Eastern America. After the delicious and sumptuous feast, a short program of remarks and presentations followed.
The program was highlighted by greetings from Kuma Cissy, who recounted her family’s longstanding ties to the St. Elijah parish. She lovingly invoked the memories of her paternal grandfather, +Mitcha Rebich, one of the parish’s original charter members; her maternal grandmother, +Milica G. Milanovich, who served as secretary of the parish Circle of Serbian Sisters for decades; her mother, +Natalie Milanovich Rebich, a leader of the St. Elijah Choir and president of the Diocesan Federation of Circles of Serbian Sisters; her father, +Eli Rebich, a longtime officer of the parish, choir member, and vice president of the Diocesan Council; and her brother +John Rebich, past president and treasurer of the parish, and original initiator of the parish’s endowment fund. Kuma Cissy expressed deep gratitude for the honor of serving as Slavska Kuma, following in the steps of her beloved forbearers. She also recalled being present as a child at Bishop +Stefan’s consecration 60 years ago, and the unforgettable sound of his mellifluous bass baritone voice. Then, displaying her versatility, Kuma Cissy stepped away from the head table to join the St. Elijah Choir in singing a number of selections, including one in which she was a featured soloist. Completing the program were the remarks of Bishop Irinej, who again reflected on the life and service of Bishop +Stefan and noted the special connections the St. Elijah parish had with the complete circle of Vladika+Stefan’s archpastoral service, from his consecration to his burial. His Grace thanked the St. Elijah parish for so lovingly maintaining Bishop +Stefan’s grave and memory, and for steadfastly continuing its parish life ‘decently and in order’ (1 Cor. 14:40), just as Vladika +Stefan sought for his young diocese 60 years ago.