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50th Anniversary, part 3 of 3: The Episcopate

Thirty years a priest I managed to avoid the episcopate. When I left Belgrade in 1979, I knew that I wouldn’t be a Serbian bishop and when I left the Serbian Church in 1988, I thought this would avoid me the rest of my life. There is nothing better than being a parish priest, you know your people and you are a family. I even knew the names of the dogs in my homes.

I want to be honest there were times I was sure I’d be a bishop and a good one at that even being convinced by others that would be the case and thinking so personally. But I matured over the years and it wasn’t important or necessary the church didn’t need me I needed Her and would just continue doing what was before me. Missionary work is was what I loved.

By this time, I had organized three parishes from the ground up and all are still alive and doing well today. I was dean in two different deaneries and the chancellor of a diocese I helped to grow.

Now it was Lent 2001; a Wednesday and I was preparing for Presanctified that evening in the church when I got a call from the OCA Chancery. The Synod of Bishops was in session and Bishop Seraphim, the secretary of the synod said that I was elected Bishop of Baltimore, a vicar to the Metropolitan for Alaska and would I accept.

I recalled a conversation that last weekend in Billings, Montana when Father John Anderson of blessed memory asked if someone could turn down being a bishop.  Bishop Tikhon said yes of course unless he is a monastic then it is out of obedience that he accepts and so it was.

The consecration took place on Thomas Sunday in Dallas, Texas a month later. At the end of the liturgy the new hierarch is given the jezel and led to the center of the church where he blesses the four sides. There were so many cameras and flashes I thought this is what it would have been like during our Lord’s crucifixion. Little did I know what the episcopate would bring, it’s not all banquets and glorious services if you do it right.

From this time until my departure for Alaska it was a whirlwind visiting many parishes and being showcased as this new bishop.

Bishop of Baltimore was a title as is custom in the Orthodox Church vicar bishops get titles of major cities in the diocese of the ruling bishop and in my case the Metropolitan’s diocese. I visited Baltimore parish once for vespers and the best crab cakes I ever had. One connection I still hold dear is a Panaghia set that belonged to Archbishop Kiprian that was given to Metropolitan Theodosius when he became a bishop who gifted it to me after discussing this with the departed Archbishop’s family whom I met in Baltimore. I plan to wear them on October 11th.

The plan was for me to go to Alaska and put things in order and get Bishop Innocent on track to be the ruling bishop. Alaska is the diocese that gives the OCA credence as a church but neglected, deprived and depleted is the best way I could describe finding it.

I arrived in Anchorage on June 21, 2001, the longest day of the year. At midnight is was still light out I had to adjust to that and very long darkness in the winter. The people were great. At this point there was less than a hundred dollars in the accounts and I was not given any stipend from the OCA just expected to make it work and work it did.

Bishop Innocent was still living in Alaska and refused to meet with me. He actually wrote to a ROCOR hierarch and said he could bring the entire diocese with him. That was only talk as he wasn’t the ruling bishop. He died May 2002 in a hotel room in Anchorage and buried by a suspended priest in Pennsylvania. The damage he did lasted for years but he isn’t the only one responsible for damage in Alaska.

2002 Metropolitan Theodosius requested retirement as he was supposed to be very ill, he’s still alive today. The synod was split on the successor, two candidates Archbishop Herman and Bishop Seraphim. They needed a vote to break the tie and it was clear I didn’t support Seraphim so I was elected the ruling Bishop of Alaska and broke the tie. This changed the direction of my life. Neither was I returning to the Diocese of the West as its vicar or to Syosset as the vicar there to the Metropolitan.

I believe that once a bishop is elected to his see he stays there until the Good Lord calls him and that was my full intention but others had a different plan. This was important because no bishop ever did with the exception of two who died tragically.

During those years I was on the road half the time serving everywhere possible. The people knew the services and the priests all knew how to serve even hierarchicals; it was primitive in most places but I loved it and loved my people and had every intent and desire to make it what it should be. We had a seminary that was falling apart but the lifeline to prepare clergy to serve the diocese so that was a priority, too.

By my 5th anniversary of episcopacy, I started the memoirs and off and on for the next 15 years between bouts of depression and anger I wrote more until I finally resolved these issues and here, we are. The Serbs have a saying "never give in” and I didn’t then and won’t God being my strength.

Alaska started to fall apart after a few clergy whose passions drove them to attack their father led to my ouster. I requested a canonical court as bishops are protected by the canons to meet their accusers and instead of honoring the church’s way, I was summarily retired and sent off no means of support.

Bishop Irinej of Australia welcomed me even early on when the attacks started and so when I was homeless, I went to Australia and stayed there almost a year. It was then I first met Metropolitan Hilarion and asked to be received into ROCOR; it was decided for me to stay with the Serbs and I was fine with that until they sent me back to the OCA.

I was on my way to Serbia when I stopped in Las Vegas and here was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and given two months or less to live. Honestly, I was looking forward to dying after the awful attacks the last two years but that wasn’t God’s plan. I had severe treatment for two and a half years and then another two years to recoup from that and get everything out of my system. I believe the pain and anguish from the assaults caused the cancer. I did go to Serbia where I had a lot of homeopathic treatment then returned to Las Vegas and because of my health insurance I stayed here. That’s enough let’s pick it up after October 11th?

Priesthood

My dear Readers,

Welcome back to the ongoing life of this lowly servant of God.

But before I proceed with the second installment, I want to thank all of you for the wonderful celebration on Sunday August 9th. I consider it a warm up for October 11th.

One of my spiritual children here sat down with me after the first segment was sent and said it was very interesting and good for children to know who their father is, pretty humbling.

I am sure you can imagine how long the days and months from hearing of my Mother’s impending death at Christmas until I got home might have been.

When I finally arrived, there was a lot to do, I started working for the State of Montana Highway crew surveying for the new I-15 from Butte to Helena, Montana. And preparing myself for tonsure and ordination.

The bishops arrived a couple days earlier so they could enjoy the scenery and the vigil was held Saturday evening, something probably not done in Butte for decades.

Bishop Gregory tonsured me with the name Nikolai. I was baptized Nikola but he explained that when he came to America his official name was Nikola but was given Gregory at tonsure on Mount Athos and it created a lot of confusion especially when he worked for the State Department as an interpreter. Just imagine today. I didn’t realize that St. Nikolai of Zhicha was also Nikola and then became Nikolai until many years later.

There was a lady parishioner crying from the beginning to the end of the service and afterwards Bishop Firmilian said I broke her heart. I laughed and said she wasn’t crying for me it was her 40th birthday.

The next day on the feast of St. Panteleimon I was ordained as a hierodeacon and for the next two years while I finished seminary was blessed to serve for Bishop Sava almost every Sunday in the Eastern Diocese.

I translated all his sermons and talks during these visits. He offered me a full scholarship at Harvard School of Theology if I would come into his diocese and start a mission in Boston but my bishop wouldn’t let me go.

At that Bishop’s Council Meeting here in Butte they gave me a full scholarship to finish my seminary which was a great help for my family during these times.

I returned to seminary with a heavy heart and while serving in Washington DC for the feast of St. Luke right after liturgy I received a message to call my father. He said it was time to come home.

The other seminarians and I drove to Steelton, Pennsylvania where I was to serve for Bishop Firmilian that Sunday but instead got on a plane and flew forever back home calling my Dad at every stop.

I still remember that trip, Steelton to Pittsburgh to Chicago to Denver to Billings to Butte. My Mother lasted a week and died after liturgy on St. Demetrius three months after I was tonsured. It was here that I knew the Mother of God would be my Mother.

My last days at seminary the bishop informed me that I’d be ordained to the priesthood in Los Angeles, CA on June 4th. It was virtually days from the final exams to drive back to Butte pick up my Father and Uncle Chris and drive to LA. There were seven people I knew at my ordination.

This next part of the reading is easier for you as I am doing bullet points.

  • Sunday June 4, 1972 Ordained to the Holy Priesthood
  • 1972-1978 This summer I was sent to Billings, Montana to establish a new parish under the patronage of St. Elijah the Prophet. This parish over the years had three different patrons, St. Nicholas of Myra under the Greeks and now St. Nikolai of Zhicha under the OCA. We bought an existing Lutheran Church with a social hall underneath.
    I was the priest here and worked secular jobs to support me and the missionary work as well as working on my graduate degree.
  • 1972-1976 Juvenile Parole Officer for State of Montana
  • 1976-1978 Assistant Principal at Billings Catholic High School during this time also received a Master’s in Rehabilitation (psychology) Counselling so I could be a school administrator.
  • 1978-1979 received a scholarship to do post graduate studies in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. During this time, I visited many of the holy sites of Serbia including Kosovo as well as a month on Mt Athos.
  • May 1979 returned to Montana for the 75th Anniversary of the founding of my home parish that was consecrated by St. Tikhon in 1905 who later became Patriarch of Russia. Where I was going now was in limbo either back to Billings as the Principal of the school I left or by God’s Grace all of a sudden to come to Las Vegas to see about starting a Serbian Church.
  • 1979-1988 I was the priest at St. Simeon Serbian Orthodox Church. We purchased five acres on Jones Blvd and the 10,000 Sq. ft. multi-purpose building with chapel was blessed in 1983.
  •  1979-1986 worked as a Supervising Juvenile Probation Officer for Clark County. I had many roles here continually working my way up.
  • 1985-86 Program Manager of Adolescent services at Montevista Psychiatric Hospital
  •  1986-89 private practice at Psychiatric Associates of Nevada and for Rapha a Christian psychiatric corporation.
    In 1986 I had my doctoral credentials reviewed at UNLV and received certification as such so that I could work in private practice.
  • 1987 I received a Master’s in Business Administration here in Las Vegas which qualified me to be a hospital Administrator for HCA.
    1989-1994 Director of District Attorney Family Support Division.
    1988-2001 Rector of St. Paul the Apostle Church. A parish I organized and grew into a very large and dynamic parish. At the consecration May 1995 I was elevated to Archimandrite and was still Chancellor of the Diocese until I was elected Bishop of Baltimore.

There is much more to this story as I am sure you can read between the lines. Looking back, I was living three lives at a time, organizing a parish, working a fulltime secular job to support myself and going to school. Every degree was so that I could have a better job and show more dignity to my parish rather than some menial job. The doctorate was so that I was an educated monastic as was the case in the early church, the fathers were the best educated.

My Father Nikola died June 1981 at the age of 89, he would have been ninety had he lived to November. At his funeral in my sermon I said that as he grew older and was with us longer, he became more valuable like a priceless antique. He smoked from the time he was a youngster in Hercegovina where his family grew tobacco and quit about a year before he died. He said if he knew he’d live longer he would have quit sooner and just smiled.

Yes, of course I have thought about what if my parents were here to see this today. Today they would have been filled with joy but through the many sufferings I endured over the years I think it would have been very painful for them so I am grateful they are watching from their heavenly reward.

And next month we touch on the episcopate with its joys and sufferings.


Love and blessings,
+Bishop Nikolai

Мои дорогие Читатели,

Добро пожаловать в продолжение жизнеописания этого скромного слуги Божия.

Но прежде чем я перейду ко второй части, я хотел бы поблагодарить всех вас за прекрасные поздравления в воскресенье, 9-го августа. Считаю это репетицией к 11-му октября.

Один из моих духовных детей после прочтения первого отрывка поделился со мной мыслью, что дети должны знать, кто их отец. Очень скромно.

Уверен, вы можете себе представить, как долго могут тянуться дни и месяцы с момента, как на Рождество я узнал о неминуемой смерти матери, до того как вернулся домой.

Когда я наконец-то приехал, у меня было много работы. Я начал работать в бригаде штата Монтана на строительстве новой дороги I-15 от Бьютта до Хелены. И одновременно готовил себя к постригу и рукоположению.

Епископы прибыли на несколько дней раньше, чтобы полюбоваться местными пейзажами, и вечерня была отслужена в субботу, что, вероятно, не проводилось в Бьютте десятилетиями.

Епископ Григорий постриг меня с именем Николай. Я был крещен с именем Никола, но он мне объяснил, что когда он приехал в Америку, его официальное имя было Никола, но ему дали имя Григорий во время пострига на Афоне, и это создало большую путаницу, особенно тогда, когда он работал переводчиком в Государственном департаменте. Только представьте это сегодня. Я не осознавал, что Святой Николай Чижинский также носил имя Никола, но потом стал Николаем много лет спустя.

Одна прихожанка плакала от начала до конца службы, и потом Епископ Фармилиан сказал, что я разбил ей сердце. Я засмеялся и ответил, что она плакала не из-за меня, это было ее сорокалетие.

На следующий день, в праздник Святого Пантелеймона, я был рукоположен в сан иеродиакона, и на протяжении последующих двух лет, пока я заканчивал семинарию, был благословлен служить Епископу Савве почти каждое воскресенье в Восточной епархии.

Я переводил все его проповеди и беседы во время своих визитов. Он предложил мне полную стипендию в Гарвардской школе теологии, если бы я перешел в его епархию и начал приход в Бостоне, но мой епископ не отпустил меня.
На собрании епископского совета в Бьютте, мне предоставили полную стипендию для окончания семинарии, что было большим подспорьем для моей семьи в то время.
Я вернулся в семинарию с тяжелым сердцем, и во время службы в Вашингтоне, на праздник Святого Луки, сразу после Литургии, я получил сообщение, в котором отец просил позвонить ему. Он мне сказал, что пришло время вернуться домой.

Мы с другими семинаристами поехали в Стилтон, штат Пенсильвания, где в то воскресенье я должен был служить у Епископа Фармилиана, но вместо этого сел в самолёт и навсегда улетел домой, звоня отцу на каждой остановке.
Я до сих пор помню эту поездку: Стилтон, Питтсбург, Чикаго, Денвер, Биллингс, Бьютт. Моя мать прожила ещё неделю и умерла после Литургии на Святого Димитрия, через три месяца после моего пострига. В тот момент я осознал, что Богородица будет моей матерью.

В мои последние дни в семинарии, епископ сообщил мне, что 4-го июня я буду рукоположен в Святое Духовенство в Лос-Анджелесе, Калифорния. До моих выпускных экзаменов оставалось совсем немного времени, но я должен был забрать отца и дядю Криса из Бьютта, чтобы ехать в Лос-Анджелес. На моем рукоположении было семь знакомых мне человек.

Следующая часть будет проще к прочтению, так как я сделал список по годам:

  • Воскресенье, 4-го июня 1972 года. Рукоположение в Святое Духовенство.
  • 1972-1978 гг. Тем летом меня отправили в г. Биллингс, штат Монтана, чтобы основать там новый приход под покровительством Святого Ильи Пророка. У этого прихода на протяжении многих лет было три покровителя: Святитель Николай Мирликийский при греках и теперь Святой Николай Чижинский при ПЦА. Мы купили существующую Лютеранскую Церковь с большим залом, находящимся внизу. Я был священником там и работал на светской работе, чтобы поддерживать себя, делал миссионерскую работу, а также работал над своей дипломной работой.
  • 1972-1976 гг. Сотрудник по условно-досрочному освобождению несовершеннолетних штата Монтана.
    1976-1978 гг. Заместитель директора католической школы города Биллингс. В тоже время получил степень Магистра по реабилитации (психология) для того, чтобы я мог быть школьным администратором.
  • 1978-1979 гг. Получил стипендию для учёбы в аспирантуре в Белграде, Югославия. За это время я посетил много святых мест Сербии, включая Косово, а так же провёл месяц на Афоне.
  • Май, 1979 г.  Вернулся в Монтану к празднованию 75-летия основания моего домашнего прихода, освященного в 1905-м году Святым Тихоном, в последствии ставшим Патриархом России. В то время я оказался на распутье: я мог вернуться в Биллингс в качестве директора школы, которую я покинул, либо по Божьему проведению внезапно отправиться в Лас Вегас для того, чтобы подумать над основанием Сербской церкви.
  • 1979-1988 гг. Я был священником Сербской Православной Церкви Святого Симеона. Мы купили пять акров земли на Бульваре Ждонс и еще десять тысяч квадратных футов. Многофункциональное здание с часовней было освящено в 1983 году.
  • 1979-1986 гг. Работал в качестве инспектора по вопросам пробации несовершеннолетних в округе Кларк. На этой работе у меня было много ролей, я постоянно продвигался вверх.
  • 1985-1986 гг. Менеджер программы по работе с подростками в психиатрической больнице Монтевиста.
    1986-1989 гг. Частная практика в Ассоциации Психиаторов Невады и работа в Рафа- христианской психиатрической корпорации.
  • 1986 г. Моя докторская степень была проверена и подтверждена в Университете Лас Вегаса, и я получил соответствующий сертификат, чтобы заниматься частной практикой.
  • 1987 г.  Я получил степень магистра делового администрирования, которая позволила мне стать администратором больницы.
  • 1989-1994 гг. Директор отдела по поддержке семей в округе.
  • 1988-2001 гг. Настоятель храма Апостола Павла. Паства, которую организовал я, превратилась в очень большой и динамичный приход. Во время хиротонии в мае 1995 года, я был возведён в сан Архимандрита и оставался канцлером епархии, пока не был избран Епископом Балтимора.

К этой истории можно добавить намного больше деталей, и я уверен, что вы можете прочесть это между строк. Оглядываясь назад, я могу сказать, что жил тремя жизнями одновременно: организовывал приход, работал полный день на светской работе, чтобы поддерживать себя, и учился. Каждый диплом, каждая степень была направлена на то, чтобы я мог получить лучшую работу и показать, что я достоин иметь приход, а не находиться на чёрной работе. Докторат был направлен на то, чтобы я был образованным монахом, также как и в ранней церкви, отцы были наиболее образованными.

Мой Отец Никола умер в июне 1981-го года в возрасте 89-ти лет, ему должно было исполниться девяносто лет, если бы он дожил до ноября. На его похоронах в своей проповеди я сказал, что по мере того, как он рос и дольше оставался с нами, он становился более ценным, как бесценный антиквариат. Он курил с детства в Герцеговине, где его семья выращивала табак и бросил курить за год до своей кончины. Он говорил, что если бы знал, что будет жить дольше, бросил бы курить раньше и просто улыбался.

Да, конечно, я думал о том, как бы это было, если бы мои родители дожили до сегодняшнего дня. Сегодня они были бы полны радости, несмотря на многие страдания, которые я пережил за эти годы. Я думаю, для них это было бы очень болезненно, поэтому я благодарен, что они наблюдают за мной с небес.

В следующем месяце мы коснёмся епископата с его радостями и страданиями.


С любовью и благословениями,
+Владыка НИКОЛАЙ

Part 1 of 3: Formation

My dear faithful readers,

I started to write my memoirs at the 5th anniversary of my episcopate and over the years worked on them a little at a time hoping now to finish them this fall after starting some fifteen years ago. Milestones are always significant and this year marks the 50th anniversary of my ordination August 9, 1970.

Formation is one of the three parts in my memoirs and so I’m going to give a condensed version of who I am and some of what I have done and ask you to pretend like this is interesting when you see me.

My dear faithful readers,

I started to write my memoirs at the 5th anniversary of my episcopate and over the years worked on them a little at a time hoping now to finish them this fall after starting some fifteen years ago. Milestones are always significant and this year marks the 50th anniversary of my ordination August 9, 1970.

Formation is one of the three parts in my memoirs and so I’m going to give a condensed version of who I am and some of what I have done and ask you to pretend like this is interesting when you see me.

Read More