On Sunday, 10 September 2023, when the Church prayerfully celebrates the Synaxis of Serbian Enlighteners and Teachers, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije presided over the Holy Hierarchical Liturgy in the church of Venerable Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher in Veternik.
Concelebrating with him were Their Graces Bishops: Irinej of Bačka, Heruvim of Osečko Polje and Baranja, Isihije of Valjevo, Jerotej of Šabac, and Damaskin of Mohač.
At the beginning of the Holy Liturgy, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije served the rite of the great consecration of the Veternik church, while Hierarchs and clergy concelebrated with him. After the reading of the Gospel passage, Patriarch Porfirije delivered a sermon:
“Brothers and sisters, a great blessing is upon all of us today, and great joy has come to Veternik because Veternik has received its soul. What the soul is to an individual, to a person, the church of God is to a community, and in this glorious place called Veternik, initially settled by wounded warriors from the Salonika Front, by those who were blinded in battles on Kajmakčalan… Those who had lost their physical sight came to this place. And after them, many times, for a hundred years and more until today, our brothers and sisters have come here from all parts where Orthodox Serbs live. You have come here, brothers and sisters, from Croatia, from Krajina, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, just as once, compelled by circumstances, the wounded came from Kajmakčalan. You, too, have come here compelled by circumstances. However, God’s Providence – even though it often seems to us that something lacks logic and meaning – has its deeper logic, has its deeper meaning. Surely, God wanted us, Orthodox Serbs, to gather here today from many places to consecrate the church dedicated to our Holy Father Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher, the parent of our forefather Saint Sava, and together with him, our spiritual parent. We have come and gathered here not for any purpose of this world, but we have gathered in the holy church to consecrate it; we have gathered to show that we are God’s people, a Christian people, Christ’s people, Orthodox people; to show and affirm that the rule of our life is the Gospel of Christ, His Law, His commandments, and not any law and commandments that have their origin in man and are preserved in this world. We have gathered to show that we are one, and again, not just any kind of unity, not a unity and uniformity organized solely by man, but that we are one in the Gospel of Christ, that we are one in our faith in Christ our Lord. We have gathered to consecrate the church, to consecrate the place where the Kingdom of God will continually manifest itself, where the Kingdom of God will appear, and we on this place will become its citizens, become one with Christ, be one with Him and with each other. The Kingdom of God is the Mystery of Joy, just as we heard in today’s Gospel.
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not randomly choose a wedding to reveal the deepest mystery, the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven. He did not use the image of a wedding to lead us to the profound understanding of what the Kingdom of God is, what the Kingdom of Heaven is. He did not employ dry, philosophical, wise words that only those who study books and understand the secrets of language, the secrets of philosophy, would comprehend. Instead, He took an image from our everyday life, the image of a wedding, to help every person who longs for God, for salvation, understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is. Today’s Gospel according to Matthew – and the same story is mentioned by the Holy Evangelist Luke – gives us the story of our Lord about what the Kingdom of Heaven is. In this story, He says: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding to which the father of the groom invites guests, friends of his from positions of honor and importance in society, to come to the wedding and share in his joy. But the servants, when they went out to invite the guests, encountered excuses. Almost everyone was excusing themselves, saying that they couldn’t attend the wedding. One, as the Evangelist Luke notes, bought a field, another bought oxen, and a third organizes marriage for his son, in other words, he was getting married himself. So, everyone had some reason more important than the most important reason, which is the invitation extended by the master who is marrying off his son, for all to participate in his joy. No one came, and then the master said: Call everyone from the streets and the squares, let them all come and share in my joy. And all responded, except those who thought they were somebody and had no time for their own salvation. They thought that if they had wealth and if they outwardly followed the rules and obeyed the laws, they were better than others and had no reason to respond to the master’s love. And behold, those who were rejected and lived on the streets and squares, or many others known and unknown, responded. But even though many came, as the Evangelist tells us, there was still room left.
Of course, brothers and sisters, the Lord used a simple and clear story that we all understand. The master is God, and the wedding is the Kingdom of Heaven. The wedding is the occasion and moment of the greatest joy for the host and guests. Here, everyone forgets their problems, their sorrows, and their trials, and everyone participates in the rich feast, dances, and sings. Differences among people are no longer visible when they are gathered around the host, that is, everyone who gathers around our Lord understands that He is the beginning and the end of all joy, all meaning, all beauty, and they no longer see differences in relation to others; they do not consider themselves better than others. Of course, being aware of their mistakes and weaknesses but having humility and looking to the love of God, rejoicing with it and being overwhelmed by it, they have every reason to sing and dance.
But in this story, it’s interesting that the Evangelist notes how the Lord said that only one servant did not have wedding garment. Probably not only that one was a sinner, because here it’s not about external clothing but about the internal spiritual state. Only the one who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be saved – the Lord said. What does this mean? It refers to the one who knows that the Lord is the Lord but does not accept His love, His calling; who does not strive as much as possible to be transformed, and does not strive to live in repentance and humility – because there is no person without sin, only God’s justice is eternal… So, all people are called into God’s embrace, all are called to God’s adjacency. The Lord pours out His love on everyone. But only the one who is humble and who lives in spiritual effort and in repentance rejoices at this love. This love equally embraces and warms both sinners and the righteous, those who long for salvation and humbly strive to live in Christ’s Church and those who do not. Therefore, when we talk about God’s relationship with us humans – His relationship is the same towards everyone; God punishes no one. However, the matter is that His love brings joy only to those who rejoice in the Lord. Those who do not want the Lord, who fight against the Lord, find that love to be torment. They will not be able to escape the presence of God, but it will be unbearable for them, and that will be their hell and their eternal suffering. And all others will have the love of God as the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven.
May the Lord grant, brothers and sisters, that we always respond to God’s call, that we respond to the bells that will ring from the bell tower of this church for you, inviting you to gather here, whether you have come from Kajmakčalan, Krajina, Croatia, Bosnia, or from wherever, or have grown up here since the time of Čarnojević. When the bell rings, when it tolls and calls you to the Holy Liturgy, to holy prayer, it will be the invitation of the Master who is marrying off His Son, inviting all of you to the wedding. You strive as much as you can to always be clothed in wedding garment, which means in the Orthodox faith, and that means in prayer, in spiritual effort. That means in humility and repentance. May the Lord grant that it be so, so that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality and a fact in which we live now and here, and glorify Him, the One in the Trinity God – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to ages of ages. Amen.”
After the dismissal, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije handed the Orders of Saint Sava, Second Degree, to Mr. Želimir Kreštalica and Dragoslav Vuković from Veternik, which were awarded to them by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, on the proposal of His Grace Bishop of Bačka kyr Irinej, in recognition of their active love for the Church, demonstrated through the construction and decoration of the church of Venerable Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher in Veternik. His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch also handed the Order of Saint Sava, Second Degree, to Mr. Paja Zamaklar from Futog, who donated the land for the construction of the church in Veternik. The Order of Saint Sava was posthumously awarded to Mr. Milan Marjanac from Veternik, also in recognition of his active love for the Church, demonstrated through the construction and decoration of the church of Venerable Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher in Veternik.
At the end of the Holy Liturgy, His Grace Bishop of Bačka kyr Irinej addressed the gathered faithful: “Dear brothers and sisters, on behalf of all of you and in my humble personal name, I would like to express my deepest and warmest gratitude to His Holiness, our Patriarch, for being with us on this great day. I still remember the laying of the foundation stone of this magnificent church, and, of course, together with today’s grace-filled event of the great consecration or enthronement of this holy place in Veternik, we are also celebrating the centenary of Veternik itself. It is a significant event, both for Veternik and for our entire Diocese of Bačka. Here, I must mention all those who worked on this project, the late priest, then Protopresbyter Milan Pavlov, as well as all the others who have worked here, Father Miloje and others who served here afterward. Many thanks to them all, and may God reward them, as well as our brothers who contributed so much to the construction of this church. Therefore, our Holy Church, through the consecrated hands of the Patriarch himself, has awarded them the highest decoration of the Serbian Orthodox Church – the Order of Saint Sava. This is not just a commendation but, above all, a token of gratitude for everything they have done and an encouragement to continue doing so in the future, as well as an incentive for everyone else to follow the path of our holy ancestors. Wherever our people had to move during their cross-bearing history, during the centuries and up to this day, they first built churches, holy sites, and only then took care for their homes. In most of our places, both here and much farther, people still lived in dugouts and makeshift houses made of clay and reeds, but before that, they first built a church and then moved on, investing effort, making sacrifices, struggling and persevering. So, today’s great day, I congratulate you with the hope that the Lord will grant us to be worthy of such a church, that He will be the source of our sanctification, the gateway, the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven, which always begins here on Earth, and there is no end, neither in eternity, because the Lord has determined that a saved world and people in it should exist forever. Therefore, expressing the joy of all of us, gratitude primarily to the Lord, the Most Holy Theotokos, all His holy servants, including the great Venerable Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher, formerly known as Stefan Nemanja in worldly terms, who, as His Holiness mentioned, is the source, as the father of Saint Sava and the spiritual father of all of us afterward. Together with his great and unsurpassed son, Saint Sava, they laid the foundation on which we still live today seeking salvation, and which will sustain the Serbian people as long as it exists. We hope and believe that it will continue to exist until the Second Coming of Christ. Your Holiness, bless! Thank You once again, as well as to our brethren Bishops, my brothers and concelebrants, among them Bishop Heruvim of Osečko Polje and Baranja, under whose jurisdiction today is a part of the territory that formerly belonged to Diocese of Bačka. Other attending Hierarchs who prayerfully participated in this holy act and served at the Holy Liturgy, Bishop Isihije and Bishop Jerotej, spent a good three decades in the Bačka Diocese, at the Kovilj Monastery, until the Church called them to greater duties and responsibilities, to bear the cross as bishops, one in Valjevo and the other in Šabac. And, of course, there is our Bishop Damaskin, the Vicar Bishop, who is still here, and who helps me a lot. I also congratulate to the clergy of this church, this holy place, and thank them for their efforts, all of them together, with those who previously served as priests here and those who are here today, and to all of you, brothers and sisters. This is a day that you will remember and talk about not only to your children but also to your grandchildren and descendants – God give! Glory to the Lord, many thanks to His Holiness our Patriarch, and to all of you, may God bless us all!”
The Holy Hierarchical Liturgy was attended by: Mr. Miloš Vučević, Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of Serbia and Minister of Defense, Mr. Milan Đurić, Mayor of Novi Sad, Mr. Nikola Banjac, Advisor to the Minister of Defense, Mr. Dejan Mandić, Head of the City Administration for Urban Land and Investments, Mrs. Adriana Mesarović, Member of the City Council for Budget, Finance, and Investments, Mr. Miroslav Ilić, Assistant to the Provincial Secretary for Culture, Information, and Relations with Religious Communities, Mr. Petar Đurđev, Director of the Historical Archives of the City of Novi Sad, Mr. Nikola Pervaz, President of the Church Congregation of Novi Sad, Mr. Đorđe Mrkić, President of the Church Congregation of Veternik, representatives of the Serbian Armed Forces, as well as other distinguished figures from the social and public life of Novi Sad. The festive liturgical gathering was also attended by a large number of faithful from Veternik and Novi Sad.
The choir of the School of Church Chanting “Saint John Damascene” of the Church Congregation of Novi Sad, under the guidance of Deacon Dr. Vladimir Antić, chanted at the Holy Liturgy.