On 19 July/1 August 2023, the Christ-loving soldiers of the Serbian Army festively celebrated for the first time their heavenly protector, Saint Despot Stefan the Tall (Lazarević).
The Feast commenced with a festive vigil service conducted by His Grace Bishop of Lipljan and military Bishop kyr Dositej, with the concelebration of military priests of the Serbian Army. On the very day of the Feast, on 1 August 2023, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije served the Holy Hierarchal Liturgy on the occasion of the Serbian Army’s inaugural celebration of the Patron Saint’s Day – Saint Despot Stefan the Tall, at the Church of Saint Apostle and Evangelist Mark on Tašmajdan. Concelebrating with His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch were Their Graces Bishops: Jovan of Šumadija, Ilarion of Timok, and Arsenije of Niš, who previously served as military Bishops; as well as Bishop Dositej of Lipljan, the current military Bishop.
The liturgical celebration of Saint Despot was enriched by the fact that General Milan Mojsilović, Chief of the General Staff, was the host of the first celebration of Serbian Army’s Patron Saint’s Day, along with the exalted and indispensable role of godfather carried out by Mr. Miloš Vučević, Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, on behalf of all Christ-loving and patriotic people. The festive gathering was further enhanced by the presence of attendees including Mr. Aleksandar Vulin, Director of the Security Information Agency; Mrs. Darija Kisić, Minister of Family Welfare and Demography; Mrs. Danica Grujičić, Minister of Health; and Mrs. Dubravka Đedović, Minister of Mining and Energy. This prayerful occasion was attended by representatives from various branches, units, and corps of the Serbian Army, as well as all military priests and assistant military priests of the Serbian Army.
Along with extending congratulations to the members of the Serbian Army on the occasion of their newly established Patron, His Holiness Serbian Patriarch kyr Porfirije presented the Serbian Army with an icon of Saint Despot Stefan, conveyed through General Milan Mojsilović. By the decision of His Holiness the Patriarch, the Church of Saint Apostle and Evangelist Mark in Belgrade was granted the status of a military church, on the basis of the fact that an altar dedicated to Saint Despot Stefan already exists in the church, and in the expectation for the conditions to be met for the Army to have a church dedicated to the Saint within its premises.
At the end of the Holy Liturgy, His Holiness blessed the offerings and shared the joy of the feast with the gathered people.
Delivering a sermon at the end of the Liturgy, His Holiness the Patriarch said, among other things:
Glory to God, may the Patron Saint’s Day be joyous for all the people serving in the Serbian Army, and for all the people working in the Ministry of Defense. May God grant that, just like the great Despot Stefan, we all become what our fellow brethren who serve in the military are in the narrower sense – soldiers, besides everything else that the military service entails including the Christ’s calling and blessing that nothing is greater than laying down one’s life for their neighbor. Apart from all that, soldiers are a symbol of a calling and an appeal to every person, and therefore, we should rejoice whenever we see a person in military uniform on the streets. I often say this to my priests.
Here, we are among our own, so we can say this to each other, and let the priests hear it, Mr. General. Sometimes, when the sun is blazing, it’s easier without the cassock. But when we make a concession once to our lighter selves, we’ve diminished ourselves, and then we do it in the next step, and that next step has no end. Wearing the cassock means showing that you are a soldier, but it also reminds everyone else that we are soldiers – soldiers who, above all, attempt to rein in their unruly will. Being the master of one’s own will and a servant to one’s conscience, that is, Christ’s commandments, that’s what being a soldier actually means. Hence, congratulating you on your Patron Saint’s Day, I pray to God, Mr. General, Mr. Minister, brethren soldiers, both in the narrower and broader sense of the term, that the Lord grants us all the strength to be persevering soldiers on the path of our salvation, primarily in the spiritual battle. The spiritual battle is horrifying and present today, manifesting here and there in visible material warfare. The spiritual battle, the battle between evil and falsehood on one side, and goodness and truth on the other, has been ongoing since the fall of him whose name we shall not mention, and I have the impression that today he has become quicker, larger in number, and more sophisticated. Therefore, we need to simplify everything, looking up to Great Stefan, the Serbian Despot. May the Lord bless us all! Through the efforts of Bishop Arsenije and with the love of the previous Bishops responsible for the care of military priests, along with Bishop Dositej, we have prepared an icon of Great Stefan, the Serbian Despot, as a gift to the Serbian Army, to adorn your premises, and like every icon, to be a place and point where we gather our minds, hearts, and prayers, but also where we encounter the blessing and grace of God.
Following the service, a festive feast took place at the Guard House on Topčider, embodying the conviction that the Serbian people silently carry in their hearts and vocally profess with their words: “Whoever celebrates their Patron Saint, their Patron Saint assists them!”