Fermilian (Ocokoljich) of Midwestern America
His Grace, Fermilian (Ocokoljich) of Midwestern America was the Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Midwestern America under the jurisdiction of the Church of Serbia during the latter half of the twentieth century.
Stanko Ocokoljich (Станко Оцокољић) was born in Kaona, Serbia, on January 7, 1910, with his twin brother Ranko, into a clerical family of many generations of priests. His father was the Archpriest Uros Ocokoljich and his mother Darinka, the daughter of a priest. After completing his elementary and secondary education, Stanko was admitted into the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Sarajevo, Bosnia, from which he graduated in 1930. After period of service with the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia, Stanko married Nadezda Popovic.
Following his marriage, Stanko was ordained a deacon and then a priest. His first assignment was as assistant to his father, the Archpriest Uros, in the Village of Kaona. Tragically, within the first year of his marriage, Fr. Stanko lost both his wife and son during childbirth. The death of his wife gave a new future to his life in which education became the goal of the widowed priest.
He returned to theological studies at the University of Belgrade while also assuming a teaching post in religion in the public school systems of Belgrade. After receiving a Licentiate in Theology from the University of Belgrade, Fr. Stanko was appointed professor of Patrology and Greek at the then Theological Seminary in Cetinje, Montenegro. A year later, Fr. Stanko was tonsured a monk and received the name Firmilian at the near-by Monastery of St. Basil of Ostrog.
As World War II came to Yugoslavia in 1940, Fr. Stanko traveled, together with Bishop Dionysius (Milivojevich), to the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of America and Canada in the United States. As Bp. Dionysius' administrative secretary, during the following years, Fr. Firmilian participated in the pastorates of many of the largest Serbian Orthodox communities in America. Additionally, during World War II, Fr. Firmilian served as the personal chaplain to the Karageorgevich Dynasty, specifically to His Royal Majesty Peter II, the exiled King of Yugoslavia.
After returning to the United States, the Singelos Firmilian was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite at the Monastery of St. Sava in Libertyville, Illinois. During his service at the monastery, Archim. Firmilian, in addition to using his administration skills, participated in many activities including teaching at the seminary on the monastery grounds and promoting the publication of many of the literary works of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic. While he resided at the monastery, Archim. Firmilian earned his Doctorate in Philosophy from the Department of History of the University of Chicago after defending his doctoral dissertation on the Legal Codex of the Serbian Emperor Dushan.
Archim. Firmilian was appointed the director of the Shadeland Diocesan Estate in Springboro, Pennsylvania and sponsored its establishment as a Charity Home, a Children’s Summer Camp, and a fully operative farm. In 1945, Archim. Firmilian was also instrumental in the formation of the National Federation of the Circles of Serbian Sisters to which he was appointed to serve as its spiritual advisor.
While Dean of the New York City Pro-Cathedral of St. Sava, that he built up to be the largest Serbian Community in the United States, Archim. Firmilian assumed many other responsibilities. As an educator, Dr. Firmilian resumed teaching at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York City where, as Professor at the graduate school of Theology, he taught Hagiology and both Western and Serbian Ecclesiastical Histories. He was also given the position of Dean of Serbian Students. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) together with Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Archdiocese and to which he was named its first administrative secretary.
On July 27, 1963, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church elected Archim. Firmilian Bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Midwestern America. On August 1, 1963, Bishop-elect Firmilian was consecrated, as the first hierarch of the new diocese, at the Cathedral Church of St. Sava in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bp. Firmilian`s election by the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church hierarchy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia led to a long controversy as Bp. Firmilian`s predecessor, Bp. Dionisije, refused to relinquish his office and charged that the American diocese was being subjected to communist control. Bp. Dionisije formed the Free Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church, leading the American diocese into a schism. Bp. Firmilian led the diocese during this period of controversy, lasting more than 16 years. Bp. Dionisije brought his dismissal to court as the two groups fought for control of the church property in the United States until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bp. Firmilian and his group in 1979.
In 1988, Bp. Firmilian was awarded the Order of St. Sava of the 1st Degree, the highest award of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
On November 2, 1992, Bishop Firmilian (Ocokoljich), who presided over the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Midwestern America since 1963, died in Condell Memorial Hospital, Libertyville at the age of 82.
Fermilian (Ocokoljich) of Midwestern America
|Bishop of Midwestern America