Written by Michelle L. Quinn of the Post-Tribune and originally published November 20, 2006 at http://www.post-trib.com/news/142627,mvicon.article
When Ann Pamachena and Vojislav Nastich were growing up in Gary, she suspected he was something special because, even though the boy was impossibly smart, all the children loved him anyway.
Pamachena’s suspicions were confirmed Sunday morning when His Grace Bishop Longin blessed the icon of Nastich, now known as St. Confessor Varnava, during morning service at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church.
Varnava, canonized in October 2005, is the first American-born Serbian to achieve sainthood as well as the first Orthodox saint born in Indiana.
The Very Rev. Thomas Kazich, director of religious education for New Gracanica Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate, Diocese of America and Canada out of Grayslake, Ill., grew up in Gary. By communicating with Varnava’s relatives still in the area over several years, he became Varnava’s biographer. He shared some of that history with the congregation Sunday during a banquet held at St. Sava’s Hobart after the service.
Varnava’s sainthood, he said, could be broken down into four components:
- His childhood on 12th Avenue and Madison Street in Gary;
- His early days as a priest, when he spoke out against the government’s planned destruction of the Orthodox church in what was becoming Communist Yugoslavia;
- His imprisonment for treason when he refused to stop spreading the orthodoxy and speaking out against communism;
- His love affair with a little French car that helped him continue to spread his faith after he was released from prison.
“A train accident crushed Varnava’s legs, and they never healed correctly, so he decided he wanted a car,” Kazich said.
“He wrote letters to relatives in Gary, and those relatives helped him get that car so he could move about without constantly being under the watchful eye of police, who monitored his every move. Since it wouldn’t be cost-effective to send a car from America, his brother drove the Peugeot from Paris.
“He wrote in his letters, ‘Long live the Peugeot!’ ”
Varnava’s canonization and consecration at the church means so much to Pamachena, a Hobart resident and St. Sava’s oldest member at 96. “Even as a child, he had it in him to follow our faith and become a man of the cloth,” she said. “(The communists) couldn’t break him, and in the end, he was the winner. He’s someone we can look up to not only as Serbians, but as Americans, too.”
A second saint’s icon, His Grace Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovich of Zica, has also been given a place in the church. Xenia Jancarich of Valparaiso remembers her family giving the bishop a ride to Gary from Detroit when she was a young girl.
“He had such a good rapport with children,” Jancarich said. “He showed me attention, and I remember being so impressed by that. It meant a lot to me.”
St. Confessor Varnava
- Born Vojislav Nastich on Jan. 31, 1914, St. Confessor Varnava spent his early years in Gary as a student at Froebel Elementary before his father moved the family back to Yugoslavia in 1923, settling in Sarajevo.
- After finishing high school and the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, he took his vows at Mileshevo Monastery in 1940. Shortly afterward, World War II came to Yugoslavia, and Varnava was highly critical of the Yugoslav National Liberation Army, which wanted to establish power in the country and abolish the church.
- Once he was ordained a priest in 1944 and Bishop of Hvosno in 1947, the Communists, who’d now taken control, said Varnava could head the church, but he would have to support the party. Varnava refused and was subsequently tried as a traitor. He was imprisoned for many years and eventually died under mysterious circumstances on Nov. 12, 1964, though some sources say he was poisoned.
- St. Confessor Varnava was the first child baptized in St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church on 13th Avenue and Connecticut Street in 1914, and served as its first altar boy.