THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH

One of the most prolific writers, powerful preachers and great Orthodox theologians of the last century, Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, begins his book on the history of the Orthodox Church with the following words:

 “Orthodoxy is the Church of Christ on earth. The Church of Christ is not an institution; it is a new life with Christ and in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit. Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, was made man, uniting His divine life with that of humanity. This divine-human life He gave to His brethren, who believe on His name. Although He died and rose again and ascended into heaven, He was not separated from His humanity, but remains in it. The light of the resurrection of Christ lights the Church, and the joy of resurrection, the triumph over death, fills it. The risen Lord lives with us and our life in the Church is a mysterious life in Christ. "Christians" bear that name precisely because they belong to Christ, they live in Christ, and Christ lives in them. The Incarnation is not only an idea or a doctrine; it is above all an event which happened once in time but which possesses all the power of eternity, and this perpetual incarnation, a perfect, indissoluble union, yet without confusion, of the two natures - divine and human - makes the Church. Since the Lord did not merely approach humanity but became one with it, Himself becoming man, the Church is the Body of Christ, as a unity of life with Him, a life subordinate to Him and under His authority. The same idea is expressed when the Church is called the Bride of Christ or the Word; the relation between bride and bridegroom, taken in their everlasting fullness, consists of a perfect unity of life, a unity which preserves the reality of their difference: it is a union of two in one, which is not dissolved by duality nor absorbed by unity. The Church, although it is the Body of Christ, is not the Christ - the God-Man - because it is only His humanity; but it is life in Christ, and with Christ, the life of Christ in us; "it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).... The Church, then, is the Body of Christ. Through the Church we participate in the divine life of the Holy Trinity, it is life in the Holy Spirit by which we become children of the Father and which cries in our souls: "Abba, Father," and which reveals to us the Christ living in us.... There can thus be no satisfactory and complete definition of the Church. "Come and see" - one recognizes the Church only by experience, by grace, by participation in its life. This is why before making any formal definition, the Church must be conceived in its mystical being, underlying all definitions, but larger than them all. The Church, in its essence as a divine-human unity, belongs to the realm of the divine. It is from God, but it exists in the world, in human history. However, if the Church is considered only in its historic development and if it is conceived only as a society on earth, its original nature is not understood, that quality of expressing the eternal in the temporal, of showing the uncreated in the created...

 The Church has a history, just as everything that exists in the world lives in history. Thus the existence, external, unmoved, divine, of the Church appears in the life of this age as an historic manifestation, has its beginning in history. The Church was founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ; He has ordained that the profession of faith Peter, spoken in the name of all the Apostles, should be the cornerstone of His Church. After the resurrection He sent the Apostles to preach His Church; it is from the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles that the Church of the New Covenant dates its existence - at that time there rang from the mouth of Peter the first apostolic appeal inviting entrance into the Church: “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ..., and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38); "And there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). Thus was laid the foundation of the Church of the New Covenant.”

It is this Church of the New Testament as most eloquently and profoundly described by Father Sergius that the Serbians accepted as their own. The great Serbian Enlightener and Teacher Saint Sava (born in 1173) who became the First Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church (1219) organized the life of his people in Christ, in His body the Church, in Holy Orthodoxy. This was the way of St. Sava and it has become the way of all faithful Serbian people.

Though it is difficult to establish the exact year that the Serbian people began to immigrate to North America, we do know that many arrived in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Since these Serbian immigrants could not imagine life without the Orthodox Church, they immediately began establishing Church communities throughout the continent, beginning in Jackson, California in 1894. This growth eventually led to the establishment in 1921 of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese in America and Canada.  

It is here that we begin the history of St. Steven's, a Serbian Orthodox Church community. It is a history of Orthodox Christian witness in the Greater Los Angeles area which began 54 years ago, but which is a living expression of the Church of the New Testament and the riches of Serbian culture.