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V.Rev.Stav. Fr. John Todorovich, serving with his Kum, V. Rev. Milan Krstic, in the St. Elijah Serbian Orthodox Church in Aliquippa, PA, 11/1/15.
On Sunday, November 1, 2015, members of the congregation of St. Elijah Serbian Orthodox Church in Aliquippa, PA, USA, were delighted to hear the wonderful sermon V. Rev. Stav. Fr. John Todorovich, retired priest from St. Sava's in Merrillville, and now of St. Petersburg, FL, given while co-serving the Sunday Liturgy with his Kum, V. Rev. Stav. Fr. Milan Krstic. (Also serving in the altar that day was St. Elijah's retired priest, V. Rev. Stav. Fr. Stevan Stepanov.)
Fr. John talked so warmly about what it meant to him and his Protonica Mirjana Puhar Todorovich to be KUMOVI with the Krstic family, being available for each through thick and thin, traveling far distances to be there for family baptisms and weddings, and more. Then Fr. John shared this next part of KUMSTVO and its meaning with all of us:
Godparenthood (Kumstvo) is a sacred Christian institution of the Orthodox Church from time immemorial.
Its origin stems from Judaism for there had to be “witnesses” at the ceremony of circumcision. Since circumcision as a ritual of the biblical church was a prototype of the Christian sacrament of baptism, and since the first Christians came from Judaism, it is quite natural that they had witnesses, GODPARENTS (Kumovi), at their baptismals.
Circumcision was the sign of a covenant or a contract of salvation between God and Abraham (I Mos. 17) in the Old Testament; therefore, it was the prototype of the Christian baptism in the New Testament.
A Christian baptism is also a union between the baptized person and the Lord God through the Saviour Jesus Christ, who said: "...Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved...” (Mark 16:16)
The Church song at a baptism says: “He who is baptized in Christ puts on Christ.” For these reasons, the Roman law looked on baptism as a treaty or union and prescribed the need for witnesses, or Godparents.
The witnesses or Godparents were particularly needed at the time when the Christians were forced to renounce Christ and baptism in order not to be rebaptized.
Looking from a practical point of view, the Church established the institution of Godparenthood at the time when it started to baptize children.
Since the children themselves could not confess their belief in the Saviour, the Godparents renounced the devil for them, united them with Christ, confessed the faith for them, and witnessed that their acceptance of Christianity was true and sincere.
As for aduits who were baptized, besides being witnesses, the Godparents served as their religious teachers.
A Serbian epic poet immortalized himself by talking about the antiquity of Godparenthood by describing the baptism of Christ. When the Mother of God asked John the Baptist to the baptism of Christ, according to epic poetry, She addressed him thus: “Be my Godfather, oh, John the Baptist; You should baptize Christ, the true God.”
The act of baptism was so moving that, according to the folk poet: “Even John the Baptist was so frightened that he almost dropped his book,” since: “The water of the Jordan raged As if to drown somebody.”
However, the Mother of God encouraged him: “Do not be frightened, Godfather John, the water is not enraged, it wants to be sanctified through Christ.”
Article 200 of the Nomocanon in the Big Service Book tells us why the Godparent in the Church Slavonic language is called the “receiver":
He is called the receiver since he receives the child from the priest at its baptism and the child becomes his child to teach about everything that is good.
”Therefore:—a Godparent bears witness that a christening was done;—he guarantees before God and Church that the baptized person will remain faithful to the accepted religion and given promises;—he eliminates every deceit, fraud and hypocrisy of the baptized;—he is the spiritual parent since baptism is a spiritual birth;—and, he renounces the devil, unites with Christ and follows the Creed, and in that way, assumes the responsibility to raise, educate and teach his spiritual children the faith and its given promises.
For these reasons, Godparents must be devout Orthodox people who are moral and live a pure Christian life, who are mature in body and spirits, and who have the physical possibilities to fulfill their parental obligations towards their spiritual children.
Atheists, heterdox people and heretics, public sinners and those of bad repute may not be Godparents.
Further, children and those under the legal age, monks and priests who are performing a christening, a child's parents and blood relatives up to the third degree (generation) may not be Godparents.
The Orthodox Serbs always had the highest regard toward their Godparents. Enlightened by St. Sava’s Faith, they knew that Christening was the most important moment in the spiritual life of Christians that they showed particular honor and respect towards the Godparents who accepted their baptized child.
The behavior between Godparents and families of the baptized children reflected a holy relationship and holy kindness. Families affiliated through Godparenthood enter into a relationship which does not exist even among the closest of relatives.
They are wary not to insult one another, not to inflict any damage nor utter a bad word toward each other. It is a sin to refuse Godparenthood, particularly for a Christening, and it is a greater sin to deceive, slander or rob a Godparent. Thus, in order to avoid the temptation of sinning toward a Godparent, people looked for a Godparent from other areas since neighbors could inflict damage to each other and cause disagreements and quarrels.
It is a rare custom among the Serbs to change a Godparent, so, some Godparenthoods are two hundred or more years old. If change is necessary, one always asks for a blessing from the original Godparent.
Through one Godparenthood, the relatives of the chief Godparent become Godparents also and address each other in that way. Godparenthood mainly plays a particular role in the religious, educational and social life of a people.
Through Godparenthood, a harmony was kept among the people and it was a guardian that nothing bad would happen between such families.
It is obligatory that Godparents help each other. In many cases, Godparenthood served to reconcile two quarreling families. This was particulary seen in the areas where blood feuds were in effect since Godparenthood was the only vehicle to stop them.
Offering Godparenthood to a person who lost someone through a crime softens his heart.
Aside from a christening Godparent, there also is a Godparent at a wedding, a consecration of a church and at a church slava.
As a spiritual christening is a birth and union with Christ, a wedding is a birth of a new family through the mystical union of the spouses, according to the Gospel: “...and they two shall be one flesh.' (Eph. 5:31)
The wedding ceremony creates a union between the spouses and God who, by His mercy, blesses the holy matrimony. That is why the Godparent, "holding the wreaths,” testifies that the spouses are baptized, that they are physically and mentally fit for matrimony, that they are not blood nor spiritual relatives, and that they enter into matrimony of their free will, filled with sincerity and love for each other. A Godparent testifies that the marriage really took place.
The Church regulation about who can not be a Godparent at a baptism is also valid for the Godparent of a marriage because of the Serbian custom that the matrimonial Godparent is also the Godparent for the baptism of the children of that marriage.
Since the same rituals are performed at the consecration of a church as in the consecration of every person at a baptism and chrismation, the Serbian people long ago said that “the church is being baptized.”
Therefore, having Godparents for the consecration of a church is a Serbian practice.The Church Slava (Patron Saint Day) is a commemorative celebration of the saint or holy day to whom the church is dedicated. The church is consecrated and in reality baptized. Thus, in order to witness the event and to preserve and promote Godparenthood, Godparents are designated also for Church Slavas.
What a Delightful SURPRISE!
Only two weeks before, I met Protonica Mirijana's brother, Joey Puhar, in a chance encounter at the Stan Hwyet Mansion in Akron, OH, where he and fellow Chicago Choir members were honored guests later that night for the Kosovo Men's Choir of Eastern Ohio's Slava Banquet! My sisters Rose and Alexandra were with me touring the mansion along with our group, the Sewickley Valley Historical Society from Pennsylvania! Oh, the joyous screams and hugs that followed that Serendipitous meeting!!! Who could have believed it? One minute more and we would have all missed each other! A Heavenly Encounter for sure!!
So,who would believe that on Sunday, November 1, 2015, there I was up in the Tenor section of the choir, when the altar doors of our church opened, and there was V. Rev. Stav. Fr. Jovan Todorovich, a long-time friend of my father, +Milan Karlo, and Kum to our priest, V. Rev. Milan Krstic & family!
What a delightful surprise!!!
However, it should come as no surprise to learn about the many wonderful deeds accompiished by Fr. John and his Protonica over the years.
Perhaps the couple is best known for Fr. John's leadership on building the magnificent Serbian jewel church, St. Sava's Church in Merrillville, Indiana where he took a leadership role as Chairman of the architectual committee after an unfortunate fire destroyed the beautiful church and magnificent altar of the St. Sava Church on 13th and Connecticut Sts. in Gary, Indiana in 1978.
It was Fr. John who helped lead in reconstructing the small hall in Hobart into a chapel for services that were held there for 13 years.
140 acres of land were purchased in Merrillville on Mississippi Street the same year the church burned, and the mortgage was liquidated in 1980. In 1982, work began on the construction of the new church, where Fr. John's planning, soliticing donations, and decorating the church contributions were enormous.
The "Farewell Testimonial for V. Rev. Jovan and Protonica Mirijana Todorovich (1/14/2007) states that "the consecration of the church in May 1991 and seving with His Holiness Patriarch Pavle in 1993, and the burning of the 15 year $2,500,000 mortage was paid in only 5 years on Nov. 19, 2006 had to be focal moments of priestly service!!!"
Fr. John was born on July 5, 1940, to Ilija and Milica Todorovich in the village of Vratare, near Krsevac, Serbia, the youngest of four sons. He studied at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminarian College in Prizren, graduating in 1960 with a degree in Theological studies.
Fr. John emigrated to the USA joining his father, Ilija, in Kenosha, WIsconsin. Since he had graduated from seminary school, he was employed in the Diocesan offic eof Bishop Dionisije at the St. Sava monastery in Libertyville, IL.
During THAT Summer Camp, he met the beautiful Mirijana, daughter of Branko and Jelena Puhar of Chicago, an don February 6, 1965, they were wed! One month later, Fr. John was ordained as a deacon, and in April, he was ordained into the priesthood by Bishop Iriney at the St. George Church in Racine, Wisconsin. Shortly thereafter, the membership of St. George Church in Oakland, CA asked him to serve as their permanent priest, serving his first litury in 1965.
In 1970, he was the permanent priest for the congregation of St. Sava in Gary, Indiana, making big audacious goals, acquainting himself with the geographic and membership challenges of the large parish, and then creating a pastoral plan to serve the parish and its needs.
Fr. John is to be congratulated for writing and publishing books that help all of us understand our religion and heritage better.
Here are two of those publications written not for theological experts, but for the average person to understand, like you and me:
I can't recommend these two publications highly enough! Each family should have a copy of these books in their homes. They would make wonderful gifts for the children on St. Sava's Day! Fr. John assures me these books can be attained at the New Gracanica Book Store in Gray's Lake, Il.
Another magnificent publication was the beautiful booklet entitled: A VISITORS GUIDE TO ST. SAVA CHURCH, that thoroughly guides the visitor through every icon in the church, and giving a detailed, concise explanation of the exterior and interior of the church.
"He worked tirelessly and contriubted to the Consecration Books of New Gracanica and St. Sava. He contributed many religous articles to the Diocesan Observer and well as his own church's monthly bulletin, GLASNIK.
(Take a virtual tour here of Gracanica Monastery. You have many choices, viewing the outside of the grounds, the inside of the church, etc.)
His most recent publication was co-authoring with George Sladic, THE BOOK MONOGRAPHIA OF +Metropolitan Irinej.
The Todorovichs have three daughters: Vera, Nada, and Dara, all graduates of Purdue Univerity in We. Lafayette, IN. They in turn, gifted their parents with grandchildren Alexandra, Nicholas, Christian Jr., Jovan and Natalia!
Ziveli, i Mnogaja Ljeta!