Alhambra, CA - WIth much joy and anticipation the Diocese of Western America welcomed His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej on Friday, September 4, 2015 at the onset of this year's annual Diocesan Days, traditionally held Labor Day Weekend. This year's annual celebration is both historic and unique as the highlight will be the glorification of St. Sebastian of San Francisco and Jackson. This is the reason for His Holiness' visit, and of the many other Heirarchs participating in the liturgical celebration. Arriving at the diocese today, in addition to His Holiness, were: His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese, Grace Bishop Longin of New Gracanica and Midwestern America, His Grace Bishop Mitrophan of Eastern America, His Grace Bishop Justin of Zicha, His Grace Bishop Benjamin (OCA), and His Grace Bishop Savas of the Patriarchate of Georgia.
His Holiness was welcomed by the diocesan bishop, His Grace Bishop Maxim of Western America and the diocesan clergy. Upon the patriarch's arrival a Doxology service was served after which Bishop Maxim welcomed His Holiness and the visiting hieararchs and expressed his joy for having them participate in this great event of the glorification of the new American saints which will last all year. Today's glorification of St. Sebastian will be followed by that of St. Mardarije of Libertyville to be held later this year. His Holiness thanked Bishop Maxim for his kind words of welcome and expressed his joy at once again being in the beautiful Saint Steven's Cathedral in Alhambra and the great joy which is the occasion for this visit. The patriarch noted the work of St. Sebastian who preached and spread Orthodoxy to both Serbs and non-Serbs alike and this, the patriarch noted, needs to be the mission of the church to this day, that our doors be open to all who desire to open their hearts to God.
After lunch the patriarch led a Clergy Symposium for all diocesan clergy. He touched upon many matters, especially pastoral duties of the priests calling upon them to lead Godly and pious lives. The eyes of the community are ever upon both the priest and his family. and the priest needs to always take particular care in the upbringing of his children. His Holiness also noted the need for the use of Serbian in the homes, noting that when he was in Prizren he knew of many children knowing three languages: Serbian, Turkish and Albanian. The symposium concluded with a discussion.The first day of the 3-day Diocesan Days event included meetings of both the Diocesan Council and later the Diocesan Assembly.
At six o'clock everyone met once again in the beautiful Saint Steven's Cathedral for the festal Vespers officiated by His Holiness. The hymns to our holy and God-bearing Father Sebastian of San Francisco and Jackson were composed by Deacon Veljko Vasiljev and sung beautifully at the Vespers by the seminarians from the Prizren Seminary. Following Vespers Patriarch Irinej addressed the clergy and faithful who filled the church. He expressed his joy at this great moment, not just for this diocese or our Serbian Orthodox Church, but the entire Christian Church. In his homily, in speaking of the life of St. Sebastian and his many deeds in the missionary field, His Holiness noted how St. Nikolai of Zicha, who buried Fr. Sebastian at Zicha Monastery, referred to him as a saint.The hall was full for the dinner served after Vespers. Protopresbyter Nikola Ceko, Cathedral Dean, greeted all the visiting hiearchs and special guests and announced the next day's events which begin at 9:00 a.m. with Matins.