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July 19, 2013 was an especially joyous day at St. Seraphim Church in Santa Rosa, California. Not only was it the day for veneration of the relics of the patron saint, Saint Seraphim of Sarov, it was also the day for recognition of Fr. Michael Margitich and his sixty years of active priesthood. To add further to the celebratory atmosphere, His Eminence Benjamin, Archbishop of San Francisco and the Diocese of the West, was in attendance, elevating the service to a Hierarchical Liturgy.

Saint Seraphim Orthodox Church arose in a fallow field in the 1990s. The grounds and foundation were blessed in 1996, and the Church consecrated on July 28, 2001. St. Seraphim is the second church on the grounds of the Parish of the Protection of the Holy Virgin to which Fr. Michael had been assigned in 1990. The original church, built in the 1930s by ambitious and God-loving Russian Orthodox immigrants, served its purpose well for over a half-century. Most of the children and grandchildren of the old timers had moved on with their lives and away from Santa Rosa. The old wooden church, its walls papered with tattered icons was creaky and dusty as were some of the parishioners. Still, it was a growing and ethnically diverse congregation of old and young. Several of the younger church members had been introduced to the parish at GLENDI, the ethnic dance and food party that had become an “annual” parish event the year before.

Somehow—and it seemed truly miraculous—Fr. Michael was able to energize the congregation to listen to and follow through on his impossible dream of building a larger and more substantial church in the weed grown land beyond the Rectory. The concept was far more than a dream. It was a vision that this priest was able to make visible to all whom he met and talked with. To realize what Fr. Michael was doing gives firmer understanding to the Incarnation—how the Word of God took flesh and dwelt among us. “If they could see, they would believe.” They—and we—could see it, and we see it and live it today.

Today, the center of St. Seraphim is filled with a towering gridlock of steel bars and wooden planks. More inspiration is being fulfilled as a team of monks painstakingly frescoes the dome of the church 35 feet above the ambo. The $150,000 project is another impossibility that has miraculously become possible through the prayer and solicitation of Fr. Michael and his “apostles.”
This day we were celebrating Saint Seraphim whose message of peace and love suffuses us, and we were rejoicing with Fr. Michael and Matushka Eleanor on the 60th anniversary of his ordination.

Before the service began, the Archbishop was greeted at the door by Alla Keyes, retiring Parish Secretary, who held the salver of bread and salt. Inside, streaks of sunlight filtered through the maze of scaffolding. The icon of St. Seraphim was wreathed in roses and springlike blooms. Five Priests, one Archdeacon, three Deacons and numerous altar servers stood at the ready. The choir sang, and we were as if in heaven.

In his words to the congregation Vladyka spoke of Saint Seraphim, a kind and gentle man who loved God’s creation, his flock and to be in the presence of God. He could have used the same words to describe Fr. Michael. Later in his congratulatory remarks the Archbishop expressed a personal tribute, “Every time I serve with you my life is enriched.”

Following a delectable luncheon in the Parish Hall, glasses were raised to Fr. Michael who recounted memories of six decades past. “I had finished St. Vladimir’s Seminary, was in New York, and recall that it was a Tuesday when the Metropolitan’s secretary, Mr. Bezsmertnuik called me and said, ‘You are going to be ordained Saturday in Manville, Rhode Island. Be there.’ I had no car… not even a bike. I asked for a ride… We couldn’t  find Manville on the map. Somehow I got there… at 4:30 in the morning. It was all Russian clergy. The Deacon said, ‘Do what I tell you!’ Three times around the altar. I thought I had had a lobotomy. Each time I bowed to kiss the corner of the Holy Altar, the Deacon would boing my head down. At the end of Divine Liturgy, he showed me how to empty the chalice. Three times he showed me! It was time for me to leave.”

Thimbles of vodka were passed. More toasts! A parade of young children trouped into the Parish Hall singing “Alleluia” accompanied by teenage Moses Anderson on the guitar. Everyone smiled… and talked… and embraced. Outside it was about 70°, just as it had been in Manville on the same day, sixty years ago.
—Vladimir Baer

Photo: Kathie Franotovitch. Archpriest Michael Margitich carries his cross flanked by Archpriest John Shettig and Fr. Philip Halliwell. Behind them is Archpriest Lawrence Margitich, Rector of the Parish, and Archbishop Benjamin.
Photo: Kathie Franotovitch. Archpriest Michael Margitich carries his cross flanked by Archpriest John Shettig and Fr. Philip Halliwell. Behind them is Archpriest Lawrence Margitich, Rector of the Parish, and Archbishop Benjamin.
Photo: Kathie Franotovitch. Archpriest Michael Margitich carries his cross flanked by Archpriest John Shettig and Fr. Philip Halliwell. Behind them is Archpriest Lawrence Margitich, Rector of the Parish, and Archbishop Benjamin.
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