I wanted to write a brief post about a church that is near and dear to my heart, even though I’ve never been inside of it. I’m referring to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in Banja Luka, Bosnia. Jennifer and I lived in Banja Luka from January to March of 1999, and then again from August of 2000, to April of 2001, when we returned to the U. S. to become cathechumens in the Orthodox Church. When we left, the Cathedral was just beginning to be built. At that time, it was little more than a foundation and a pile of bricks. But in recent years the Cathedral has been completed, and it was just consecrated on May 28 (Ascension Day) this year.
The story of the Cathedral is one of triumph followed by tragedy, followed again by triumph. Here is the story, which consists primarily of my somewhat loose translation of the article about it from the Serbian Wikipedia site. The quote from Bishop JEFREM comes from the website of the Bosnian Serb newspaper Nezavisne Novine (The Independent Newspaper). Enjoy!
The original Banja Luka Cathedral, called the Church of the Holy Trinity, was built between the two World Wars in downtown Banja Luka. The building of the Cathedral lasted from 1925 to 1929, and it was officially consecrated on Ascension Day, 1939. During the incendiary bombing conducted by the Germans on April 12, 1941, the Cathedral was damaged, with the altar area being the most heavily hit. In May of that year, the Ustase [Fr. James’ note: These were Croatian Nazis, who also controlled most of Bosnia. They were responsible for the deaths of around 500,000 Serbs. They were so brutal and cruel that even the Nazis had to scold them for their cruelty!] declared the Cathedral to be the “Shame of the Town,” and they ordered the Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies of the town to tear it down brick by brick.
For more than half a century after the Second World War, many new buildings were built in Banja Luka. The city authorities, however, would not allow the reconstruction of the destroyed Cathedral. Not long after the war, a monument to fallen soldiers was erected on the very spot where the Cathedral had been. At the beginning of the 1990’s, the Diocese of Banja Luka obtained permission to rebuild the Cathedral, and the war memorial was moved to a nearby location. The rebuilding of the Cathedral began in 1993 with the blessing of the grounds. This blessing was done by the Serbian Patriarch PAVLE, along with many hierarchs and clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Cathedral was rebuilt under the name The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, because between 1963 and 1969, another cathedral had been built under the name Church of the Holy Trinity. This church served as a sort of monument to the destroyed Cathedral, which the Orthodox faithful of Banja Luka thought they would never receive permission to rebuild. [Fr. James’ note: And this the Church where I fell in love with the Divine Liturgy. Needless to say, it is also very special to me!]
The Cathedral is constructed of red and yellow bricks that were imported from the Middle East…The walls have three major components: stone, reinforced concrete, and brick. The kupolas are covered with golden slaked lime, imported from Siberia. The construction of the Cathedral was completed on 26 September, 2004, when the first Divine Liturgy was served. The Liturgy was served by eight hierarchs, along with priests and deacons of the Banja Luka diocese, in the presence of thousands of faithful.
The current Cathedral is architecturally identical to the pre-War one, and it is the tallest house of worship in Banja Luka, with a bell tower taller than 47 meters and kupolas that are 22.5 meters tall. It holds (comfortably) between 800 and 1000 worshippers.
May 28, 2009 (Holy Ascension): The Cathedral is Consecrated
Bishop JEFREM of Banja Luka consecrated the Cathedral on Ascension Day, 2009. “The Cathedral is our spiritual ladder that lifts us up to heaven. It connects us with not only with God but also with those who came before us, who wanted to experience this moment of glory and joy, as well as with our descendants, who will remember us at this place and will overflow with pride toward the greatness of the sacrifices made to bring about this work,” stated Bishop JEFREM during the consecration ceremony. Several thousand faithful were present at the consecration service. [Wish I could have been there!]
The iconostasis of the Cathedral