A Saint from…California?

This past Sunday we celebrated All Saints Sunday, which always follows Pentecost and demonstrates the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, specifically most powerfully in the lives of the Saints. These are the ones who “live and move and have their being” in God (Acts 17:28).

In the Slavic traditions, the Sunday after All Saints Sunday is a day set aside to honor all saints of local veneration—those who lived near one’s geographic home. In our lifetime, we have gone from no saints to a growing number of Holy Ones who have shown forth in the “New World” of North America. Several of their icons adorn our parish of St. Nicholas in the archway over the Altar.

As we continue to focus on the inspiration of the Saints for our lives, I hope you’ll be encouraged by the life of a North American Saint who is not very well known. When people think of California, many ideas and images come to mind, but Sainthood isn’t typically one of them, but St. Sebastian did indeed grow into sanctity in the Golden State, and not all that long ago. Here is his life, as recorded on the website of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church in Sun City, Arizona.

Our venerable father Sebastian Dabovich (now St. Sebastian of Jackson and San Francisco) was a prominent Serbian priest in the Russian Mission in America in the 1890s and early 1900s. He founded numerous churches and was the author of several books. He died in Serbia in 1940 and was glorified as a saint on May 29th, 2015.

Born John Dabovich (Jovan Dabović) in San Francisco, California on June 21, 1863, to Serbian immigrant parents from Sassovae, Serbia, Archimandrite Sebastian grew up with the church in San Francisco where his parents operated a store. After finishing high school he served his parish as a reader and teacher.

In 1884, he was assigned to assist at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka, Alaska before he was sent to Russia to prepare for a life as a missionary priest. After three years of study at the St. Petersburg and Kiev Theological Academies, John was tonsured a monk in 1887 with the name Sebastian and ordained a deacon. Following his ordination, Dn. Sebastian returned to San Francisco where he served as deacon at the San Francisco cathedral. He also taught at the pastoral school in San Francisco.

On August 16, 1892, Dn. Sebastian was ordained a priest by Bishop Nicholas. He was soon sent to Minneapolis, Minnesota to replace Fr. Alexis Toth as the priest of St. Mary’s Church there. While there he also taught at the Missionary School. After a year, Fr. Sebastian returned to San Francisco where he organized the first Serbian Orthodox Church, dedicated to St. Sava, in Jackson, California. Additionally, Fr. Sebastian was also asked by Bishop Tikhon to be a member of the North American Mission administration. Additionally, he was a legitimate force in helping organize the Orthodox Christians – particularly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, though his missionary work brought him as far south as Arizona – into communities that were capable of supporting churches. Some of the places where he did this include Seattle (the future St. Spiridon Cathedral), where he even served as a temporary priest before Fr. Ambrose Vretta’s arrival in November of 1895, Wilkenson, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and Butte, Montana (the future Holy Trinity Church). In 1902, he continued his missionary activities, returning to Alaska as dean of the Sitka deanery. While he was in Alaska, he helped establish St. Sava Church in Douglas.

As more Serbians emigrated to the United States, Archbishop Tikhon asked Fr. Sebastian to lead a Serbian Mission in the North American diocese. With his appointment to head the mission, Abp. Tikhon elevated Fr. Sebastian to archimandrite on August 15, 1905. For the next five years Archimandrite Sebastian led the Serbian Mission from its center at the Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, where he was the parish priest.

In 1910, Fr. Sebastian asked for a release from the Serbian mission so that he could return to missionary work. Then in 1913, he joined the faculty of the newly opened St. Platon Seminary in Tenafly, New Jersey. Shortly thereafter feeling a call to service the church in his ancestral Serbia, Fr. Sebastian asked for a release from the American Mission. He went on to serve as a chaplain in the Serbian army in the Balkan Wars and World War I. Other than for brief visits to the United States in 1915 and 1917, Fr. Sebastian spent the rest of his life serving the Church of Yugoslavia.

Archimandrite Sebastian reposed in Yugoslavia on November 30, 1940, and was buried at the Monastery of Zicha. In 2007, his remains were disinterred and brought back to the cemetery at St. Sava Church in Jackson, California for reburial.