Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich
Honoring an American Apostle
by Hieromonk Damascene
What follows is a condensed version of a much lengthier Life of Archimandrite Sebastian
that appeared in The Orthodox Word, Vol. 43, Nos. 102 (252-253). St. Herman
Press was very gracious to make available the
entire Life in PDF format (16 MB) if you would like to read the longer version
(recommended). —OCIC Ed.
Born to Serbian immigrants in San Francisco in 1863, Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich
has the distinction of being the first person born in the United States of America
to be ordained as an Orthodox priest,  and also the first native-born American
to be tonsured as an Orthodox monk. His greatest distinction, however, lies in the
tremendous apostolic, pastoral, and literary work that he accomplished during the
forty-eight years of his priestly ministry. Known as the “Father of Serbian Orthodoxy
in America,”  he was responsible for the founding of several of the first Serbian
churches in the New World. This, however, was only one part of his life’s work,
for he tirelessly and zealously sought to spread the Orthodox Faith to all peoples,
wherever he was called. He organized parish communities of Orthodox Christians of
varied ethnic backgrounds; took part in the work of St. Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre
to bring former Uniates more fully into the Orthodox ethos and way of life; and
labored to bring Episcopalians into the saving enclosure of the Orthodox Church.
He was an Orthodox apostle of universal significance.
Describing the vast scope of Fr. Sebastian’s missionary activity, Bishop Irinej
(Dobrijevich) of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Australia and New Zealand has written:
“Without any outside funding or organizational support, he carried the gospel of
peace from country to country.... Concentrating much of his work in the United States,
he ceaselessly traveled back and forth across the American continent, using every
available mode of transportation—from stagecoach to railroad to foot. His wider
ministry stretched from the Aleutian Peninsula of Alaska, to Russia and Japan, to
small Balkan towns on the coasts of the Black and Adriatic Seas.
“By every report Sebastian Dabovich was not one to ask about jurisdictional or national
affiliation before setting out on long journeys to minister to Orthodox Christians
in mining communities, lumber camps, or far-distant towns or villages. He offered
his pastoral services with a free hand to anyone who was in need. Just as he gave
no thought to his own comforts as a youth, caring more for the needs of others than
for his own concerns, Fr. Sebastian denied himself all worldly comforts of home,
family, or earthly possessions, so that he could provide for the spiritual needs
of the Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Greek, Syrian, or Arab Orthodox Christians who
required his aid.” 
It is said that Fr. Sebastian baptized more people than any other Serbian priest
of the Western Hemisphere.  St. Nikolai (Velimirovich) of Zhicha, Serbia, who
buried Fr. Sebastian at the Zhicha Monastery when the latter reposed there in 1940,
called him “a viceless man” and fittingly designated him “the greatest Serbian missionary
of modern times.” 
Ten years after Fr. Sebastian’s repose, St. Nikolai wrote of him: “Here is a man
who indebted all the Serbian race, especially all the Serbs and all the Serbian
organizations in America. Should that man remain without a monument or any sign
of honor on American soil? He does not need it. He did not wish it. All he wished
to his last breath was the Kingdom of Heaven, which I believe he has obtained by
the grace of his Lord. But his people need it; his posterity needs it. The Serbian
people always cultivated the noble virtue of gratitude. Let them express their traditional
gratitude to this remarkable Serbian—Father Sebastian Dabovich.” 
Today, nearly seven decades after his repose, Fr. Sebastian is being shown fitting
honor and gratitude by the Serbian Orthodox Church both in the homeland and in the
diaspora. With the blessing of Bishop Hrizostom of Zhicha and of Bishop Maxim of
Western America, Fr. Sebastian’s remains have been unearthed from his grave in Zhicha
Monastery in Serbia and are to be transferred to the St. Sava Church in Jackson,
California: the first church founded by Fr. Sebastian, and the first Serbian Orthodox
Church in the Western Hemisphere. On September 1 (n.s.), 2007, the Divine Liturgy
will be celebrated in Jackson to mark this occasion, with numerous hierarchs and
clergymen participating. The Liturgy will be followed by a memorial service for
Fr. Sebastian, the interment of his remains in the St. Sava Church, and a talk on
Fr. Sebastian’s life by the above-mentioned Bishop Irinej. In the eyes of many,
these events are a step toward the Orthodox Church’s recognition of Fr. Sebastian
as a saint. “Even now,” Bishop Irinej has written, “[Fr. Sebastian] is considered
worthy of canonization among the Serbian people. May that day indeed come quickly!
The epitaph on his tombstone at Zhicha Monastery reads most appropriately, ‘The
First American Serbian Orthodox Apostle.’ Holy Apostle Sebastian, pray for us!”
To commemorate the transfer of Fr. Sebastian’s remains to America, we are dedicating
our 2008 Calendar to his memory. This Calendar presents photographs and descriptions
of important people in Fr. Sebastian’s life and of churches which he either founded
or served during the half-century of his pastoral ministry. A Life of Fr. Sebastian—the
first full biography to appear in any language—is being published concurrently in
our magazine, The Orthodox Word.
+ + +
As part of his missionary labors, Fr. Sebastian compiled one of the first English
translations of the Divine Liturgy, and wrote and published, from his own meager
means, some of the first English-language books of Orthodox catechism. Besides bearing
witness to his missionary and pastoral zeal, Fr. Sebastian’s books also testify
to his ardent love for Jesus Christ and His Church, to the depth of his knowledge
of the Orthodox Faith, to his careful adherence to the teachings of the Church,
to his literary and poetic gifts, and to his profound sense of spiritual beauty.
A large portion of the books consists of sermons that he gave in the Russian Orthodox
cathedral in San Francisco and in mission parishes on various feast days. These
sermons reveal him as an inspired preacher whose words could soar to the heights
and at the same time strike deeply the hearts of his listeners.
Below we present one such sermon, which he published in his book Preaching in
the Russian Church (San Francisco, 1899).
- Alaskan-born priests were ordained before Fr. Sebastian, but this was when Alaska
was still part of Russia. John R. Palandech, Commemorative Book of the Serbian Orthodox
Church in Chicago, 1905-1955.
- Mirko Dobrijevich (later Irinej, Bishop of Australia and New Zealand), “The First
American Serbian Apostle—Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich,” Again, vol.
16, no. 4 (December 1993), pp. 13, 15.
- John R. Palandech, Commemorative Book. Quoted in Mirko Dobrijevich (Bishop
Irinej), p. 15.
- Bishop Nikolai (Velimirovich), “Father Sebastian Dabovich,” in Serb National
Federation Commemorative Book, 1951.
- Mirko Dobrijevich (Bishop Irinej), p. 15.
From the Saint Herman Calendar 2008, pp. 1-2. Posted on 3/23/2008 with the blessing
of Abbot Gerasim.