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.
One of them, delivered on 14 March, 1910, at the Church of Saint Olga Orphanage in Kishinev, and recently published in English, is included here :
My dear children. I visited your wealthy and valuable library, I saw very many interesting and beneficial books on various topics and saw you often reading these fine tomes. But to my great sorrow and disappointment, I did not see the most important of all books. I looked throughout the library and could not find a single Bible. You are not to blame for this, nor are your teachers, it is the spirit of the time that is to blame, contemporary society. This wonderful book is very hard to find even in the most eminent homes. It is considered to be an old, boring book whose days have passed. Oh how cruelly are people mistaken! There is no book more valuable than the Bible. There was not and will not ever be another book which can replace the Bible. There is no book in the whole world which contains so many teachings that can lead one to salvation, so much life and spirit as the Bible. How many wondrous and miraculous words are contained therein, thousands and millions of words that shine like the Sun. When you read the Bible, you cannot help but be amazed and exclaim “Oh, how Divine, how wonderful!” The words are like jewels that sparkle in the sunshine, sparkle under the sunlight of eternal love, and tell us of the great miracles of mercy of our great God. But why, dear children, is the Bible such an important and most important book? Because the words of the Bible are not the words of man or of several people, they are the words of God Himself. Man could not write the Bible, man is in no condition to elevate himself to such a height of sanctity and creativity. The Author of the Bible is God Himself, though He chose His selected few to inscribe the words. You might ask: Didn't we learn that the Bible was written by people, by Moses, by David, Isaiah, the Prophets, the Apostles and the Evangelists? Yes, these people held in their hands the stylus, the writing utensil, recording the great revelations, which expressed the greatest and most profound thoughts, truths, the holiest of all sensibilities, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they were inspired by God. Man did not write down every word and every letter of God, but recorded His thoughts and His will, and laid them down in human tongue. The Bible is a large book, in which the Father of Heaven reveals to His children everything that they need for their salvation. It is a book in which God consoles us in our sorrows and our failings, He gives us strength in our weakness and our despair, He gives us wisdom and guidance. That is why the Bible is the greatest the most treasured book in the world, and that is why it must occupy the first place in all libraries and among all the books of every house, that is why it must be taken advantage of by us with special attention and love. If any of you has not received a letter from your father or mother for a long time, from a brother or sister, and when you finally do then you treasure it and cherish it and read it over and over several times. That is how you should read the Holy Bible. This is not a letter of a father or a mother not from a person but a letter from the God, of the Father of Heaven. Read the Bible. It will grant you much that is beneficial and necessary in life. It will teach you joy, not to be proud yet not fall in spirit. Maybe you cannot afford to buy it, ask your friends to buy you a Bible, and do not part from it for your whole lives. May it be your constant companion in your life’s path, it will be your best and most faithful friend. Let it occupy a visible place among your other books, read it carefully both when you are happy and satisfied and also when you are sorrowful when you fall into temptation. Know that when every last person might abandon you, even your parents, only the Bible will remain with you, will not betray you even in the most bitter and burdensome moments of your lives, it will give you the teaching of eternal love, of the Father of Heaven, and it will embolden your spirit and your heart. I had known many people who could not read even the finest books twice, the finest works of great literature of the philosophers and thinkers. They could not find anything of sufficient interest, and so do not reread them. The Bible has a certain characteristic, a property, and that will never be exhausted of knowledge, that is why it must be read and reread. The Bible contains a great wealth, an inexhaustible source of blessed treasures. The Bible is the only book in the whole world which is an interest to all men all times and all peoples. It is equally interesting for the scholar, and the aspiring theologian, for the lad who can barely read. For you all it must be especially interesting. All of you children, all children wherever they may be, come to love the travels, love the descriptions of the lives of great people, descriptions of the astounding feats of great heroes, love stories about miracles, love the songs. You will find all of this in the Bible--accounts of the travels of the people of Israel through a great desert to the land of Canaan, you will read wonderful pages from the life of Holy Apostle Paul in Asia and Europe, and his great deeds, his sufferings and labors. You will read in the Bible wonderful pages of the heroic efforts of great men. You will read about Gideon, Samson, David and others. You will find many miracles contained therein, which will reveal to you the great and wondrous works of God. You will find yourself swept away in reading the Bible. Read the Bible, my dear children, read it often, and you will see that in addition to the good and the joy it brings you. At first it may seem too difficult for you, obscure, but continue to read. What you won't understand today you will understand tomorrow. Read it, for in the Bible is the key to eternal joy to eternal life. Amen.
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).