With prayer and a special blessing, clergy and church members broke ground Saturday on a new cemetery at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Merrillville, which will serve Orthodox Church members of all ethnic groups.
A solemn procession led by His Grace Bishop Longin and priests from several Orthodox parishes in Indiana and Illinois brought church members from St. Sava church building north to the site where the cemetery will be built.
Ground was broken with gold-colored shovels, and the dirt blessed before it was placed around a cross marking the location of the first grave site.
“It’s a beautiful project. It keeps us all together,” said the Rev. Marko Matic, parish priest of St. Sava, which has about 380 members. “It will be an Orthodox cemetery, allowing our parishioners to be buried with all the Orthodox customs and traditions.”
Of special significance, he said, was that the ceremony took place on St. Varnava (Nastic) Day, marking the day the Gary native was consecrated a saint.
“He was the first child baptized at St. Sava when it was in Gary. Today is his day,” Matic said.
The Rev. Bogan Zjalic, assistant priest at St. Sava, said a committee began working on bringing an Orthodox cemetery to the site five years ago because so many parishioners requested one.
Previously, many church members traveled as far as Gurnee, Ill., or New Carlisle, Ind., to bury loved ones in an Orthodox cemetery, he said.
About 40 acres owned by St. Sava in the 9100 block of Mississippi Street have been earmarked for the cemetery, with another 80 acres available if needed.
The new cemetery has had support from Russian, Greek, Romanian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches in Illinois and Indiana, Zjalic said.
Church member Radmila Milivojevic said the cemetery is not only important for members of the Serbian church, but for all ethnicities of the Orthodox Church.
Three phases are planned, with 2,100 grave sites in the first phase, church president Danica Pejnovic said.
Planting grass and the remainder of the asphalt work needed for the first phase will be done in spring, officials said.