Saint Mardarije (Uskokovic)
Saint Mardarije (Uskoković) (1889-1935)
Mardarije may be spelt Mardarii, Mardariy, Mardarius.
On 22 December, 1889, Ivan Uskoković was born to Petar (Pero) Uskoković (a tribal chieftain) and his wife Jela (born Božović) in Podgorica, Montenegro. He was baptised in the local Temple of Saint George. He grew up as a calm, pious and book-loving child. Ivan finished elementary school in Cetinje where he started high school, and then continued in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. He left high school in his 5th year, and he entered the Studenica Monastery in central Serbia (not far from Kraljevo or Ivanjica.
In 1906, with the blessing of Bishop Sava (Barać) of Žiča (1889-1913), Ivan was tonsured to be a monk, and he was given the name Mardarije (after the famous Serbian monk of the 16th century who was abbot of the Mileševa Monastery, and who was the first to import a press and print books in Serbia).
In 1906, he was ordained to the Holy Diaconate.
The Hierodeacon Mardarije (Uskoković) then graduated from the seminary in Kishenev, Moldova (which was then in the Russian Empire, and which had formerly been a part of Romanian Moldavian Bessarabia). There, a collection of his sermons was published. From there, he went to Saint Petersburg in Russia, where he graduated from the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy in 1916.
The Hierodeacon Mardarije was then ordained to the Holy Priesthood.
While he was a theological student, at the behest of the holy prisoners in camps in Siberia, Turkestan and Bukhara (Uzbekistan), the Hieromonk Mardarije journeyed to these places in order to deliver lectures and talks. He also spoke with prisoners of various Slavic nationalities who came from Austro-Hungary.
To North America
In 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church sent the Synkell Mardarije to the USA in order to organise the Serbian Orthodox part of the metropolitanate there. In the USA, he served as the head of the Serbian Mission, and at the Cleveland Sobor of the Russian Metropolitanate in 1919, he was elected to become the bishop of the Serbian people in the USA. However, Archimandrite Mardarije did not wish to accept episcopal consecration without the knowledge and approval of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the homeland. This was also after the Bolshevik Revolution and the ensuing turmoil. The Russian Mission diocese requested his episcopal ordination by the new Serbian Patriarch Dimitrije.
Return to Serbia ; new direction ; back to the USA
However, Patriarch Dimitrije instead made the Synkell Mardarije the Archimandrite of the Rakovica Monastery and rector of its monastic school there. The American Serbians then asked the patriarch to send Bishop Nikolaj (Velimirović), which he did, with Archimandrite Mardarije as his deputy. On 1 December, 1923, Archimandrite Mardarije was assigned to be the administrator of the newly-formed American-Canadian Serbian Orthodox Diocese with the see in Chicago, Illinois. Serving as a parish priest in Chicago, Archimandrite Mardarije did much of the organisational work for the diocese. In that same year, with his own funds he purchased about 10 acres of land in Libertyville, Illinois, where later the Saint Sava Monastery was built. He would ride his bicycle for many miles in order to buy bricks for the construction. He would carry these bricks on his bicycle. People used to remark that "He's got nothing to eat, yet he builds a monastery".
Archimandrite Mardarije continued as the administrator until he was elected by the Serbian Holy Synod to become the first Serbian Bishop of America and Canada. However, the election on 7 December, 1925, of Archimandrite Mardarije as Bishop of America and Canada occurred when he was in rather poor health, so that he could not travel to Belgrade. There was, therefore, a delay.
Archimandrite Mardarije (Uskoković) was ordained to the Holy Episcopate in Saint Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral in Belgrade on 25 April, 1926 (Palm Sunday), by Patriarch Dimitrije, together with Bishop Danilo of Dalmatia and Istria, and Bishop Serafim of Zletovo and Strumica. Also present at the ordination and Patriarchal Divine Liturgy was Gordon Paddock, the Chargé d’Affaires at the American Embassy in Belgrade.
Bishop Mardarije arrived in his diocese in New York City on 14/1 July, 1926. He notified Patriarch Dimitrije of this by telegram, and he sent his first report to the patriarch in early September, 1926.
In his first hierarchical message to the clergy and the people, Bishop Mardarije acknowledged all, including the deceased, "who had worked for the welfare of the Serbian Church in America".
A wide range of activities awaited the first Serbian bishop in America and Canada. Bishop Mardarije did not spare himself, nor did he fear work, although he understood that he was gravely ill. Bishop Mardarije convened the first National Church Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox American-Canadian Diocese with his Fourth Archpastoral Message of 1 September, 1927. This assembly had been convened at the Saint Sava Monastery in Libertyville, on the basis of a resolution adopted at the National Assembly in Chicago on 29 May, 1927.
Bishop Mardarije (Uskoković) fell asleep in the Lord on 12 December, 1935, at the age of 46. After the funeral services for the “Burial of a Hierarch”, he was interred on 18 December, 1935, at the Saint Sava Monastery in Libertyville, which, together with the Serbian people, he had built at great sacrifice and superhuman effort.
Bishop Mardarije (Uskoković) was glorified as a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church on 29 May, 2015. He was glorified at the same time as Archimandrite Sebastian (Dabović). They were both referred to as “preachers of the Gospel, God-pleasing servants of the holy life, and inspirers of many missionaries”.
The annual commemorations of Saint Mardarije of Libertyville, Bishop of the Diocese of America and Canada, and Saint Sebastian of Jackson and San Francisco are observed on 12 December/29 November, and 30/17 November respectively.
Uncovering the relics
On 4-5 May, 2017, the relics of Saint Mardarije were exhumed under the blessing and supervision of Bishop Longin (Krco). It was found that the holy relics were mostly incorrupt.
With the blessing of His Grace, Bishop Longin of New Gracanica and Midwestern America, the relics of Saint Mardarije, which have laid in the Church of Sainbt Sava Monastery in Libertyville, Illinois, since his internment in December 1935, were uncovered. The opening revealed Saint Mardarije’s holy relics to be incorrupt. On Thursday, May 4, 2017, His Grace Bishop Longin served Divine Liturgy at Saint Sava Monastery with Sindjel Serafim (Milojkovic), Priest Nikolaj Kostur and Hierodeacon Nektarije (Tesanovic), in preparation for uncovering the relics. Following the Divine Liturgy, Bishop Longin and the other clergy served a Moleban with the Akathist written to Saint Mardarije. Upon completion, the crew organized to remove the tombstone and flooring in order to exhume the relics arrived, under the guidance of Mr. Dusan Djordjevic of Sveta Gora Funeral Home in Chicago. After removal of the stone, it was revealed that the casket of Saint Mardarije was in a cement vault. This caused the opening to be delayed one additional day in order to organize a team to open the vault. On Friday morning, May 5, 2017, the workers broke the seal of the vault, while Priest Nikolaj Kostur and Heirodeacon Nektarije (Tesanovic) served a Moleban to Saint Mardarije at the tomb in the presence of Bishop Longin and Hieromonk Serafim (Milojkovic). Throughout the entire process of exhumation, “Christ is Risen” and other Paschal hymns were sung, both in Serbian and Russian tones, knowing Saint Mardarije’s deep love and dedication to both Slavic traditions. Once the seal of the vault was broken, every effort was taken to lift the cover. During this process, the cover of the vault shifted and fell on the casket, breaking its cover. At this moment, a sweet smelling fragrance arose from the tomb, quickly dissipating. However, it became evident that the Saint was buried facing the west instead of east. This in and of itself is miraculous. It manifested the Providence of God. Had St Mardarije been buried in the proper direction, the vault cover would have fallen on the side of the casket where his holy head rested. It was visible that his feet had decayed and were bones. Fathers Serafim and Nikolaj lifted the relics out of the tomb during the singing of “Christ is Risen.” The relics were light in weight and easily placed in a temporary metal coffin. Hereupon the feet were examined, which at this point were the only visible part of the remains. The bones of the feet were goldish-yellow in color. Then, Father Nikolaj Kostur proceeded to examine the mid-section of the body. Saint Mardarije’s Holy hands were holding the cross which was firmly in place and immovable. As Father Nikolaj pulled back the sleeve of the saccos, it was revealed that the hands of Saint Mardarije were completely intact. Clearly visible were his skin, fingernails and hair. At this point, it was evident that the relics were more than just bones. The holy relics of Saint Mardarije were lifted out of the metal coffin and placed on two tables which were prepared for the examination and washing of the holy relics. All of the vestments and clothing were carefully removed, cutting that which could not easily be taken off in order to not disturb the holy relics. Most reverent and diligent care and utmost attention were given to the work that was being done; the clergy continuously sang the troparion to Saint Mardarije and other Paschal hymns. After all the vestments were removed, it was revealed that the holy relics, from the knee upward, were intact, although very fragile. The Saint’s anatomy was intact with his skin and hair visible. When the mitre was removed, his long, dark hair flowed out, confirming his continued monastic struggle until the end of his days. The hair on his head and beard looked as though he had just reposed; it was very soft. The eyebrows and eyelashes of his closed eyes were visible. Also, his ears were still intact. The body was easily lifted and moved. There was a great deal of dust which had accumulated in the grave from the nearly eighty-two years since the burial. Upon the removal of the dust from the entire body, the holy relics were washed with warm water and white wine. Hereupon spikenard oil was was used to anoint the body, according to the instructions received from the Holy Monastery of Hilandar. After the anoninting, the color of the skin changed from tan to a dark brown. After the washing and anointing, the legs, hands and torso were all wrapped in cotton and linen, making the holy relics more easily movable. Following this process, the holy relics were temporarily vested in a stiharion until his vesting takes place before his Glorification in July 2017. His face was covered with linen, and he was returned to the temporary metal coffin and covered.
The Feast-day of Saint Mardarije is 12 December/29 November, the date of his repose.
Tropar and Kontak
Tropar of Saints Mardarije and Sebastian Tone 4 O God of our Fathers, Always act with kindness towards us ; Take not Your mercy from us, But through the prayers of Saints Mardarije and Sebastian Guide our lives in peace. Kontak to Saint Mardarije of Libertyville Tone 8 O tireless preacher of Christ the Lord, Leader on the path of Saint Sava for your people in diaspora, Labour-loving practitioner and teacher of repentance, Holy Mardarije of Libertyville and America, Together with all the Enlighteners of the American lands, Entreat the only Lover of Mankind, To grant all Orthodox Christians peace and unity.
— Bishop of the Diocese of the USA and Canada 1926-1935. Preceded by : See created. Succeeded by : Bishop Dionisije (Milivojevic).
Additional information :
Bishop Sava of Sumadija ; translation Karin Pieck-Radovanovic ; with a brief introduction by Mateja Matejic ; "History of the Serbian Orthodoc Church in America and Canada: 1891-1941" (Kragujevac : : Kalenić, 1998).