Monastery of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God – New Gracanica
Serbian Orthodox Diocese of New Gracanica –
For centuries the Church provided the strength and tradition that allowed the Serbians to maintain their religious and cultural existence in Serbia. The Gracanica of Kosovo, the famous church that was continually destroyed and rebuilt, is an example of the powerful Serbian spirit that with the Church as its guide, carried itself from an age of struggle in Serbia, to an age of peace in America. In 1977, the Most Holy Mother of God (Serbian) Association, Inc. purchased sixty acres of land, now the home of the New Gracanica Monastery. This expanse of park land is located in the Village of Third Lake, Illinois, and is the site of a beautiful church and monastery complex.
In 1984, New Gracanica Church and the main building on the ground, dedicated to the feast of the “Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God”, were completed and consecrated. It is an impressive architectural replica of the old Gracanica of Kosovo, but eighteen percent larger than the one built in 1321 in Serbia. The original Gracanica was commissioned by King Milutin and built in 1321 by three brothers – Djordje, Dobroslav and Nicholas. Architecturally, Gracanica is the supreme achievement and is designed in the Kosmet style. This style was a development of the Macedonian style or cross-in-square. The one difference is that in the Kosmet style, on each corner is a supplementary dome, while in the center is the main dome. New Gracanica is richly attired with detail such as hand-carved wooden entrance doors, which depict twenty-three monasteries and churches from various regions of Serbia, uniting them in image as they are in the hearts and minds of the Serbian people. Domes with crosses, pillars and unique brickwork add to the grandeur of the original Gracanica.
The interior of the church with its carved wooden furnishings, ornate gold and crystal chandeliers, imposing icons and award-winning terrazzo floor create an aura of beauty and serenity. It fulfills the desire of the Orthodox Church to touch the senses, thereby touching the soul. The physical beauty of the church is reflective of the love and commitment the Serbians have for their faith, but the furnishings of the church also serve as symbols of the intrinsic ideas of the religion. Every element from the use of candles to the placement of saints on the iconostas in the church has a significance in the Serbian Orthodox religion.
In 1995, the fresco project began. Fr. Theodore Jurewicz was commissioned to paint the entire church. The project took three years. Fr. Theodore, one of the most profound and celebrated iconographers in America today, came in stretches of three weeks to a month to do the work. The style is Byzantine and the richly colored designs and religious scenes that cover the walls, vaults, pillars and dome of the church are imbued with bright colors. This is its most distinctive feature. When one walks in, the church reflects brightness, hope, beauty, optimism, life. Described as religiously significant scenes and symbols, icons are painted on wood boards (the typical icon), done as mosaics (in stone, marble or tile) or painted as the frescoes that frequently cover the plastered surfaces of early Orthodox Christian churches. The frescoes painted by Fr. Theodore and other contemporary iconographers are done in acrylics on dry plaster. Formerly they were painted on wet concrete. Fr. Thomas Kazich said, “The frescoes make people feel like the people represented by the images are present. It is also a way to pass down events through the centuries so that even people who are illiterate or don’t read the Bible can visualize and understand what the priest is talking about. In the Orthodox Church we have not just an oral tradition, but also a visual tradition. Iconography represents that visual tradition. Icons are often referred to as ‘the gospel in colors’.” Icons are like windows to heaven. They are windows that take us to another kind of reality. We don’t pray to the images. We pray through them. Fr. Theodore was asked what it means to paint an icon. He said, “Painting an icon is like making a journey from darkness into light. In most paintings, the artist starts light and adds darker shades. In icons you go from dark to light. It is the Byzantine tradition of painting, although you can also think of it theologically as going from the darkness of ignorance to the light of enlightenment.” The frescoes were blessed in October of 1998 by His Holiness Patriarch PAVLE.
The Church and complex were founded and built by the late Metropolitan Iriney of blessed memory who is buried outside on the right hand side of the church. Born in 1914, he fell asleep in the Lord in 1999. He was Bishop of the Diocese from 1963 until his death. Succeeding him is the Rt. Rev. Bishop LONGIN who serves as the Bishop of the New Gracanica – Midwestern American Diocese, under the Serbian Orthodox Church with its seat in Belgrade, Serbia. The Diocese is one of many dioceses under His Holiness Patriarch IRINEJ. His Grace’s permanent residence is on the monastery grounds, to the north of the Church. Bishop Longin has some 50 churches under his “omophor”.
In an effort to maintain Serbian tradition, as well as provide parishioners with a complete religious complex, the monastery has set aside 13 acres of parkland for a cemetery, located behind the Administration/Seminary building. Traditionally the Serbs have buried their loved ones near the church where they remain in close proximity with the church and its activities. The cemetery as of 2010 has over 5000 graves with people buried from all over the nation, though mainly from the Midwest. Late Metropolitan Iriney of blessed memory is buried outside of the south door. Prince Andrey, younger brother of King Peter II and Kum of New Gracanica Monastery Church, is buried in the first row of the cemetery.
Facts you may want to know:
*The foundations of the headstones are already in place to maintain symmetry and alleviate future settling problems.
- The headstones are not limited as far as style, but cannot exceed 4 feet in height.
*Flowers are allowed and placed at the base of the grave site.
*Arrangements for memorial meals can be made with the dining facility. Contact the Diocesan office at 847-223-4300.
The administration/seminary building in its architecture and appearance compliments the beautiful church, creating a cross formation best seen from an aerial view. This building has a multi-purpose use satisfying the various needs of the religious community.
This building houses the following:
- Cells for monastics who live and serve in the monastery
- Rooms for students
- Dormitory and dining/multipurpose facilities for the children’s camp
- Central Diocesan Office and Bishop’s office
- Meeting/conference rooms
- Office of the Diocesan Education Department and the Diocesan Observer,
- A museum offering a collection of art and artifacts from native Serbia
- Diocesan Bookstore
- Joe Buley Memorial Library
Every year during the months of July and August, the monastery sponsors a camp for children aged 6 to 16. The campers reside in the camp section of the Administration/Seminary building where there are dormitory rooms and dining facilities. The atmosphere of the monastery grounds provides an ideal stimulus for the variety of religious, sports, cultural and social activities that occur at camp. The camp is organized and directed by the ladies of the Federation of Serbian Sisters Circles and clergy members, who carefully structure the camp events to fulfill their established goals in a fun, friendly way. Camps have been sponsored by the Diocese and operated by the KSS for some sixty years.
Guiding Principles of Camp are as follows:
- to integrate the child into the life of the Church through the life of the camp
- to instill into the hearts and minds of our Serbian children, the religion, heritage and traditions of our Serbian Orthodox Church
- to learn how to apply this faith to their lives and to practice it within the fellowship of community living
- to see God’s world as a beautiful gift, to be appreciated and used in a good way
- to enable campers to meet children from other church school communities and learn how to get along
- to promote good health habits such as cleanliness, enough rest, proper diet, safety, wholesome exercise and respect for the body as God’s temple
- to instruct that one is responsible for one’s own decisions; to teach effective leadership skills
Information on registration and program for the camp may be obtained through the camp website: https://www.midwestdiocesecamp.org/
The Religious Education Office
The Religious Education Office has its central office in New Gracanica Monastery. Fr. Thomas Kazich is Director of Religious Education; Editor of Little Falcon Publications; and Administrator of Diocesan Camps. Among the activities are two publications.
Serbian Heritage Program
A Serbian version of Little Falcons (available for purchase) contains lessons that can be adapted and presented in a supplementary form on Serbian religious customs, history, folk tales, lives of saints, fiction, music, games, activities, construction projects. Three years of cycles exists. Each year contains 5 issues.
The new version of Little Falcons is geared to church themes, therefore it fits well into pan-orthodox situations. Each theme is studied from various views – liturgical, biblical, historical, social, scientific, literary, artistic, musical, etc. Each theme booklet contains plenty of material to develop into a four week Unit study. Booklets so far have covered (and are available for purchase): Candles, Incense, The Cross, Bells, Oil, Water, Bread, Wine, Icons, The Gospel, Vestments, Church, Holy Trinity, Canons, Thanksgiving, God’s Kingdom, Doors, The Way, Seeds, Salt, Mission, Music, Monasticism, Mary the Mother of God, Family, Language, Death, Royal Priesthood, Peace, Fasts, Feasts, Chairty, Angels, Life, Parables, Miracles, Creed, Heroes, Prayer, The World, Science, Senses, Fire, Hands. Back issues are available along with current subscriptions. The magazine encourages parents’ involvement in their children’s religious education, and therefore is intended first as a recreational magazine for children.
The Diocesan Observer
The Diocesan Observer is the main vehicle that presents news of the diocese, parishes, organizations, and the church and world at large. It is issued monthly in English and Serbian. Subscription rates and information may be obtained from the Office.
A Bookstore was opened in November of 2002 and offers religious and cultural books in Serbian and English. It sells the set of 7 volumes, “Treasury of Serbian Orthodoxy” published by New Gracanica Metropolitanate, containing English translations of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovich’s works. Icons, vigil lamps, crosses, vestments, and other church items are also available. Please call the Diocesan office for hours.
The Joe Buley Memorial Library
The Joe Buley Memorial Library was opened on November 19, 2004. The Library is a research center housing a collection of materials relating to Serbian history and culture, both in English and in Serbian as well as some other languages. It has books, periodicals and other media items in these subjects. Many of these are rare and not available in other libraries or research collections in the United States. The collection is especially strong in the area of twentieth century Serbian history, and in the history of Serbian communities and their churches in the US. As a support to this collection, books can be found on Byzantine and Orthodox theology, history and culture, especially as they relate to Serbia and the Balkans. As part of its work and mission, the Joe Buley Memorial Library will seek to increase knowledge and interest in Serbian and Orthodox history and culture, both for Serbian communities and the larger public. Occasional lectures and discussion groups, as well as programs for children and youth, will be held to encourage a greater appreciation of this heritage. The mission of the Library is: To develop the library into the leading center of Serbian studies in the United States; and to promote the study and awareness of Serbian culture, history and Orthodox religion.
Picnics & Recreation
Gracanica Monastery serves as a center for Serbians to gather at events such as picnics, weddings, other social activities, plus cultural and educational events, such as lectures, conferences. Major picnics take place 3 times a year. The season opens with the Memorial Day picnic; then comes the Fourth of July picnic, and the season closes with the Labor Day picnic. Many other smaller picnics take place during the summer months, but the three major picnics are the best attended, bringing 5,000 to 12,000 people from across the nation. The attendees come to partake of the company of other Serbs, watch folklore dance programs on the large concrete stage, as well as participate in recreational folklore dancing. They also listen to poetry readings, enter into political discussions and just enjoy good food and friends. The monastery also provides Serbians with a place to retreat privately or with their families. Members are allowed to visit anytime they like. Druce Lake with its beach provides a scenic place to sit and commune with nature. There is a soccer field for those sport-minded people. Picnic benches and tables are available for those who would like to picnic. For those who want prepared meals, the Monastery Hall dining facility is on the premises. Catering facilities are available for Funeral and Memorial luncheons (“dacha”), baptismal meals, and weddings. Monastics and clergy are available at the monastery for confessions, discussions, and other religious needs. The combination of the calm of Druce Lake, open grounds, and fresh air with the majestic Gracanica in the background gives a sense of peace and tranquility that is difficult to match.
The Serbians are warm, hospitable people who enjoy a delicious cuisine, folklore dancing and sharing the company of others in festive gatherings. In addition to their charm, the Serbs possess an intense pride and passion for their culture and religion. This intensity stems from the Serbian history of struggling for many centuries to survive under an oppressive regime. As early as the 13th century, Serbia was greatly influenced by its adversaries, and from the 14th to 19th centuries was dominated and ruled by the Turks. The Serbians, determined to maintain their culture and heritage, turned to the Church. The customs and traditions practiced through the Church strengthened and unified the Serbs and became the root of their existence. The Church played an important role in the preservation of the Serbian nationality, even before the Turkish takeover. Kings and princes of Serbia chose to build churches and monasteries rather than fortresses or lavish estates. St. Sava (Nemjanich), the son of King Nemanja (St. Simeon the Myrrh-streaming), and the first Serbian Archbishop, dedicated his entire life to teaching the people their religion, building countless churches and monasteries and organizing the Serbian Orthodox Church. He died in 1235 and is considered the greatest Serbian national hero and saint. King Milutin, who reigned for forty years (1282 to 1321) erected forty churches and monasteries. In 1321 he built the Gracanica of Kosovo, which was considered the most beautiful church of the middle ages. Various adversaries continually destroyed Gracanica through the centuries, but the persistence and faith of the Serbs motivated them to rebuild. Aftter the death of the great Emperor Dusan, his son, Emperor Uros, was not able to hold together such a large empire and fight against the Turks. His son, Prince Lazar received the authority to rule the land around Rudnik, in the norther part of Serbia. When Uros died in 1371, Lazar became ruler of all the lands around the River Morava. His capital was in the city of Krusevac. He worked hard for the sake of the Orthodox Church. He helped the poor and the sick, built hospitals and monasteries. In those days the great military power was the Turkish Empire. Lazar fought against the Turks many times. The last time was at the Battle of Kosovo (28 June 1389). Folk ballads say that Lazar had a choice, on that fateful day. He could chose the heavenly kingdom or the earthly kingdom. If he chose the earthly Kingdom, he would win the war. But it would not last long. However if he chose the heavenly Kingdom, he would suffer defeat, but save his soul and the soul of his people. Lazar chose to lose this world’s material battle for the spiritual one. On Kosovo field, Prince Lazar with his soldiers was slain for the “honorable Cross and golden Freedom”. The Turks won and the Serbian lands were captured and held for five hundred years. But the Serbs remained Orthodox and preserved their religious integrity.
Various other Serbians are remembered for their contributions to history. Karadjordje Petrovich, also known as Black George, was a great hero and leader who in 1804 organized a band of only 180 men and marched against the Turks. The Turks had ruled for four centuries in Serbia and Black George was responsible for overthrowing the government and restoring it back to his own people. Draza Mihailovic was another great hero who fought against insurmountable odds to restore freedom to his country during World War II. In 1941, when the Serbian nation was faced with the prospect of being destroyed, Draza gathered and organized the Serbs into one unified army called the Chetniks. The Chetniks, under Draza’s direction, were able to create a serious threat to the Axis powers by blocking the only land supply from the Middle East in the Balkans. The Allied powers were amazed at the courage and strategic ability of Draza, who with his Chetniks consistently battled the well-equipped Axis powers in order to preserve their homeland of Serbia. In the process they greatly aided the Allied nations in their victory over the Axis powers. The war left Serbia intact, but not free. Communist influence prevailed and after being betrayed, Draza Mihailovic was executed in 1946 by the Communist regime. July 17th, the day of his death, is set aside to commemorate this hero. Serbians in America contributed to history also. Two outstanding Serbians were scientists. Inventor Nikola Tesla, naturalized immigrant, and son of a Serbian priest, worked side by side with Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. Tesla discovered AC current, demonstrated the first wireless radio and was responsible for initial experimentation with the broadcasting of electricity using the ionospheric layer of the earth’s atmosphere. He also created the Tesla coil which produces dramatic arcs of electricity by rapidly changing resistance. The coil is used in school labs for electrical demonstrations. This futuristic inventor, died in 1943, but his electrical genius was not recognized until after his death. Scientist Michael Pupin was born in Serbia and came to New York, where he finished high school and college. He also attended a university in Germany. He became a professor at Columbia University in New York where he wrote in German and English, many scientific papers. Pupin was a physicist, and in addition, was considered one of the foremost electrical engineers of his time along with Tesla.
Tradition, as the basis of the Serbian culture, created national and family unity during the centuries of adversarial rule. Today, tradition is practiced by the Serbians as a statement of who they are and what they represent. One traditional holiday unique to the Serbians is Krsna Slava or Patron Saint Day. Slava goes back to the 9th century when the Serbians became Christians. Each Serbian family/home chose a saint to act as patron saint of his family. If Serbs became baptized on a saint’s feast day, that day became their Slava. The holiday has been passed, generation to generation, from father to son, for many centuries, uniting the past with the present by recognizing the family’s Christian heritage. The celebration is in the form of a festive gathering of friends and relatives, but the religious aspect of this day is never forgotten. Slava is foremost a religious observance, and there is a ritual performed to make the day complete. The religious elements of Slava are the icon of the patron saint of the family, a candle, wine, wheat (zito), and the kolach (slava bread), which must be cut by a priest. There is a service of prayer and blessing in the home with the entire family involved (which also can be done in the church). The holiday reinforces the Christian character of the family and is celebrated with honor, dignity, and benevolence. The Slava is one holiday that exemplifies the power of identity that tradition has brought to the Serbian people. Some of the Slavas are of early Christian saints: St. Paraskeva (Oct 17); St. Luke (Oct 31); St. Demetrius (Nov 8); St. Archangel Michael (Nov 21); St. Nicholas (Dec 19); St. Steven First Martyr (Jan 9); St. John the Baptist (Jan 20) St. Lazarus the Righteous (Lazarus Saturday); St. George the Great Martyr (May 6). The New Gracanica Monastery Slava of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God is celebrated on October 14th. The day begins with the Divine Liturgy served by the Bishop, followed by the cutting of the kolach, and a festival luncheon. Faithful from the greater Chicagoland and northwest Indiana, as well as Milwaukee attend.