[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Archbishop of Pec, Serbian Patriarch Irinej (named after Saint Irenaeus), has made an official visit to the UK. His visit, which was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, marked the centenary of the first Orthodox Christian to preach from the pulpit of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. It was “an occasion of significant conversation and warm fellowship between [the Archbishops] and their delegations, which signals a renewal of the longstanding and close relationship between the Church of England and the Serbian Orthodox Church,” a spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said.
The two leaders discussed a range of issues from the spiritual life of their churches; to their work with young people, the poor and refugees; the problems of modern society; the renewal of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the household as the place of spiritual nurture and devotion, following the collapse of communism, the spokesperson said.
They also discussed “tangible ways of expressing the renewal of relationships in better communications and exchange of people in the areas in which both churches are called by God to serve their people.”
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Justin Welby thanked Patriarch Irinej for the “extraordinary hospitality and . . . welcome” that the Serbian Orthodox Church had given “to the Anglican community in Serbia for a hundred years,” including through the annual welcome on Christmas Eve to the Anglican community in the Patriarch’s own chapel.
“Today, Serbia finds itself on the frontier of Europe, facing the countless tens of thousands driven by darkness from their own homes,” Archbishop Welby said. “And, tragically, as in the past, Europe has not, in a united way, risen to this challenge, and Serbia has had to bear a great burden – and the Orthodox Church has demonstrated, again, its faithfulness.”
In his response, Patriarch Irinej said that he was “very happy [and] honoured” to be at Lambeth Palace where Archbishop Welby was “not only the keeper of this important institution but also the host to all of us, our people as well as our church.”
At a time in which the world was “saturated with confusion and unrest”,” he said, the churches had to “seek ways which allow us to approach each other more closely, to put aside that which possibly divides us and makes us become distant.
“But at the same time to build from within that which is common to us – and indeed there is much in common between you and us, both of us and the Roman Catholics, and, of course, the Protestant world.
“It is on that foundation that we need to build our common relationships. I trust this is the will of God, and that this is what God expects from us. This is why we need to be servants of the mission, of evangelisation in our times and in our world.”
At the outbreak of the first World War, the young monk priest Nicolai Velimirovich was sent by the Serbian government to the US on a mission to drum up support. While away Serbia was occupied by enemy forces and Nicolai temporarily settled in the UK for the duration of the war. He gave numerous lectures and sermons, and preached an historic sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral, during which he said: “I am coming from Serbia, from European ‘midnight’. There is no ray of light, not a single trace.
“All the light went from the ground to the sky and the sky is the only place where the light is coming from. Nevertheless, we that are weak in everything are strong in faith and hope that dawn will soon arrive.”
After the war he was made Bishop Žiča, and was arrested in the city’s monastery by German troops after they invaded Yugoslavia in World War II. He was eventually transferred to the Dachau concentration camp. He remained in detention until being liberated by US troops in 1945.
He emigrated to the US, where he died in 1956. In 2003, the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church recognised Bishop Nikolaj as a saint. His festival is observed on 18 March and 3 May.