A Holy Relative

Thirty-something years ago, when I was in my native village talking with my grandfather about our relatives, he told me that I had another grandfather who had died in the USA and who could help me immensely. At that time, I thought that by telling me that, my grandfather was just trying to support me in my childhood dreams because people used to talk about America as a land where people could make their American Dream come true. My grandfather also said that it was forbidden to talk about Ivan, that "mysterious" ancestor of mine, and that in reality he had a different name. He added that Ivan had "worked" in Church and warned me not to tell anybody anything about it because they would fire my dad. I wasn't pleased to hear that because I had two brothers and two sisters and huge plans with regard to my dad and his salary. My grandfather never mentioned my "relative" from the USA again, and I completely forgot about him. No one except my father was baptised in my family. We did not go to church and celebrated Easter as unbelievers…

It was like a miracle that an unexpected guest came to our village in August 1993 (during the war in the former Yugoslavia) — Amphilochius, Metropolitan of Montenegro and Primorje, took an unofficial visit. I don't know how I found myself near the church on that day but I came to him, embarassed, and asked for his blessing. He did not pay attention to my nescience and said that he came to visit the home of the first Serbian metropolitan in America. I realized that my grandfather's brother from the States was that very person, because it seemed to me that they were some kind of "colleagues"… Metropolitan Amphilochius told me that he would return some day. It was after that talk when I realized, that I did not need to be afraid of "dad's losing his job" or anything else in the future because his prayers have started to have effect…

My first step was my baptism (in 2002). Again, miraculously, I was chrismated by Metropolitan Amphilochius. I thought a lot about Metropolitan Mardarije after my baptism but the only thing I knew about him was a poem, "Building a church, he is dying of hunger". At that time the borders swung open and all roads led to America. All that was left for me was humbling myself down and waiting for God's help. I had to face temptations in the very beginning of my path: people would not only advise me to do something different but even that I was a "sectarian" who "went astray from the highway of today."

Meanwhile, the ruined house of Mardarije in our village carried me further and further away: who was that Metropolitan Mardarije - Ivan Uskokovi? There must be some info about him on the Internet! He meant much more to me than just a random Internet search: he united me with God through his prayer. When God made a step towards me - it was thanks to his prayers. I read in a book that he was born on November 2, 1889 in "my" village Kornet. When he was 11, he asked the then Metropolitan of Montenegro to make him a monk. The metropolitan refused, so he went to study in Belgrade.

Metropolitan Demetrius gave him a letter of commendation to His Grace Sava in Studenica Monastery. Shortly thereafter, he was tonsured. Later, with the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church he went to Russia to continue his studies. Upon graduation from St Petersburg Academy of Theology, he was elected a teacher in a Prof. Gribovsky Slavic Gymnasia in St Petersburg. He was into missionary work and works of mercy. He gave all the money he received for his book "The Quiet Way of Christ" to the Russian poor.

The young hieromonk was blessed to organize the Serbian mission in the USA in the year 1917. He became an archimandrite in Philadelphia, PA, the same year. These years were very difficult ones for the Serbian emigrees who dreamt of building the first Serbian church in the. They took money on loan from Montenegrin immigrants and bought a nice land plot not far from Chicago… Father Mardarije had caught TB by that time, and the doctors advised him against physical labor. Physical exhaustion caused by constant malnutrition also had its toll on his health… He was elected a bishop on December 7, 1925, and was consecrated as the Bishop of the USA and Canada on April 25, 1926.

Upon his return to the United States, the construction of the church in honor of St. Sava of Serbia began. During the construction, he was hospitalized twice, and he was wounded by a Serbian terrorist. The church was consecrated in 1927, thanks to God's help! The Metropolitan addressed his flock on Easter of that year, "My dear spiritual children: I rejoice with you as your bishop. I am happy today in spite of my physical weakness, as I believe that there is no death and I know that I will live even after my physical death… There is no higher calling for a person that the one I would like to remind you of on this day of Easter - the calling to love, which surpasses all the others!"

Metropolitan Mardarije passed away on December 12, 1935.
Metropolitan Amphilochius kept his promise and visited us in the native village of Metropolitan Mardarije again. It was in 2010 on Christmas Eve. He told us that Metropolitan Mardarije was a saint (and I thought to myself, that he must know it better than we do) and he told my younger sister (who is now a novice in Pecka Patriarsija Convent) and me: "You'll become something." I recognized it as a blessing to become a nun.

By God's will, Metropolitan Mardarije was canonized for his boundless love on May 29, 2015, by the Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Two days after that, my father reposed in the Lord and was buried near the St George Church where St. Mardarije had been baptized.

Thank God!




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