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,