On Friday and Saturday, September 4-5, 2015, His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America participated in the canonization of a newly-glorified saint of North America, Saint Sebastian of San Francisco and Jackson.
His Holiness Patriarch Irenej of Serbia visited the United States to participate in the canonization and presided over the ceremonies, which took place at St Stephan’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Alhambra, CA.
The spacious cathedral could not contain all of the Orthodox Christians who arrived on Saturday to participate in this historic event in the life of the Church in North America. Concelebrating with His Holiness were 12 bishops, more than 60 priests and deacons, and 3-400 faithful.
For the first time, during matins that morning, the “Magnification” to Saint Sebastian was chanted before his honorable relics by a special guest from Kosovo, Hieromonk Ilarion (Lupulovic) with the assistance of a seminary choir from Prezren Theological Seminary. Shortly thereafter, a procession took place in which Patriarch Irenej and fellow bishops, escorted by the clergy, solemnly entered the cathedral where they were met by His Grace Bishop Maxim of Western America and His Grace Bishop Justin of Zicha bearing an icon of Saint Sebastian brought from the altar. From the ambo, the official proclamation of the Act of Canonization was recited by His Grace Bishop Longin of New Gracanica and Midwestern America:
“Proclaiming him a holy, Christ-bearing God-pleaser of the Orthodox Church, we pray to the Lord that his witness of the Only Lover of man, and his living examples of faith and love be an invitation to us all that we follow and glorify him in Christ's Church in the divine services and through hymns of praise. This glorification bestows upon God's Church a great spiritual joy and thanksgiving to the Living Lord.
“To the Only All-Wise God the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, glory and majesty, power and dominion, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
“Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade May, 29/16, 2015 – AS No. 110/recording 261 President Of the Holy Assembly of Bishops Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ Members of the Holy Assembly of Bishops”
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese and President of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North America gave the homily after the Gospel lesson in which he underlined three characteristics of Saint Sebastian’s sainthood. Firstly, God was the priority in his life. St Sebastian had utterly given himself over to our Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly life, leaving little room in his heart for other interests. Secondly, he tirelessly labored in spreading the Truth found in the teaching of the Gospel, not only to Serbian Orthodox, but to all who were open to his message. And finally, St Sebastian was known for his ministry to the people. For example, he did not promote a fancy theology in order to gather a following, but was directly interested in the people and labored for the salvation of their souls. With Apostolic zeal, as a true shepherd, he laid down his life for the flock of Christ. His Eminence concluded that the life of Saint Sebastian of San Francisco and Jackson and his power of intercession before the Throne of God have much to offer today’s confused and unhappy world.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, His Holiness offered words touching upon the missionary ardor of St Sebastian; on the theological education he received in Russia; on how upon his return to San Francisco (his city of birth), he labored tirelessly, traveling to any location where Serbian Orthodox Christians were gathered no matter how great or small their number; how after his repose in Yugoslavia, his neglected grave had all but been forgotten due to the German invasion of WWII and then the subsequent communist regime. Glory to God his honorable relics were revealed in 2010 and now rest in Saint Sava’s Church in Jackson, CA. His holy memory is to be celebrated annually on November 30.
After Divine Liturgy a festal meal offered warm fellowship at which time a symposium was organized. Guest clergy addressed topics related to the canonization: 1) the place of Orthodox Christianity today and its challenges, 2) a look at St Sebastian’s earthly struggles and sorrows for our own edification, 3) the process of the canonization of a saint, 4) the icon of a saint, 5) Orthodox unity in North America, and other themes.
Many thanks to the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church and to St Stephan’s Cathedral whose faithful opened their spacious, pristine complex and generous hearts to make the canonization of St Sebastian of San Francisco and Jackson a successful Pan-Orthodox event.