"How beautiful and what a great blessing it is to be gathered here in church, in God's house," His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej exclaimed with joy at the conclusion of the Holy Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on the third and final day of this year's Diocesan Days. And truly what a blessing it is each and every year when the entire diocese - the clergy and laity - come together and gather in one place, around one altar, around their hierarch on that most sacred day of Sunday, the Lord's Day, for the Holy Eucharist. This year the faithful of the Western American Diocesan had the added joy of having the first hierarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, lead them in that eucharistic joy.
In his homily following the gospel reading, His Grace Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West interpreted the morning's gospel reading of the marriage feast and the need for us to lead such lives that our garments be without blemish when we too are called to the feast. The bishop touched upon St. Sebastian's many great qualities and the great blessing of his glorification that he be an example not only to the Serbian community, but to all Orthodox. He thanked Bishop Maxim and presented him with an icon of St. Sebastian holding the Russian church he grew up in as a child in San Francisco.
The faithful who filled the church for the morning's liturgy filled both the main hall and patio for the banquet. The host priest, Protopresybter-Stavrophor Nikola Ceko, emceed the program which included a performance by the Phoenix singing group "Breza" and a reading of the life of St. Sebastian by Zeljka Gortinski. A wonderful moment during the banquet was the bestowing of the Order of St. Sava to Ron Radakovic and Brian Gerich, two instrumental members of the Western American Diocese and active members of their respective home parishes. His Holiness, in his keynote address, could not contain his delight at the gathering, not only of the Serbian community, but the pan-Orthodox community which gathered this weekend for the canonization of not only a Saint of Serbian origin, but for the entire Orthodox Church. It is true, the patriarch noted, we are divided administratively, but we share one faith, we are one church!
The Diocese of Western America, with the glorification of the new St. Sebastian, established a new award of recognition, the Order of St. Sebastian which, during the banquet, was bestowed to two very active parishioners and stewards of the church, Pance Smirkovic from the St. Petka Church in San Marcos and, His Grace Bishop Maxim surprised the receipt of the third Order of St. Sebastian, Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Nikola Ceko, for his many years of dedicated and selfless service.
With the conclusion of the banquet, the rest of a very beautiful Sunday afternoon was spent in fellowship. Many of the faithful who came from the different diocesan parishes departed and began their journeys home, while other local guests stayed for the final evening meal with His Holiness, guest hierarchs, and clergy.