St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church was established in 1961, mainly from Serbian immigrants who came to the Washington, D.C. area following World War II.
The parish was formed primarily through the efforts of Archimandrite Dr. Firmilijan Ocokoljic, then parish priest of St. Sava Cathedral in New York City and later bishop of the Midwestern Diocese, and Dr. Nikola P. Nikolic. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Archimandrite Firmilijan in the chapel of American University in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 1961. A meeting of the congregation was held following the Divine Liturgy, at which it was decided to establish a parish dedicated to the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke. On April 6, 1961, the ruling bishop of the Diocese of the United States and Canada, Bishop Dionisije (Milivojevic), approved the formation of a new parish. St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church of Washington, D.C. formally incorporated on May 11, 1961.
The newly formed parish did not have its own place of worship but enjoyed the hospitality of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Every two weeks Archimandrite Firmilijan held church services in the Cathedral’s chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea.
The schism of 1963 brought a serious turmoil to the newly formed parish. In June of that year, the parish split. One part of the parish joined the Free Serbian Orthodox Church, in 1971 acquired property in McLean, VA. The part of the parish that remained in communion with the Patriarchal Church was left in a state of limbo for the next four years.
It was through the efforts of Bishops Firmilijan and Sava (Vukovic) that the parish was revived. On January 14, 1968, Fr. Dragoljub Malich was appointed as the first parish priest of St. Luke church. Liturgies were celebrated in St. Francis Chapel of the All Souls Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, MD. In early 1969, Fr. Malich was transferred to St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church in Monroeville, PA. Visiting and temporary clergy ministered to the parish until Fr. Zvonimir Kotorcevic was appointed in January 1970.
In late 1972 Fr. Milan Zobenica was appointed as parish priest. In January 1974, a house at 5917 16th Street NW in Washington, D.C. was purchased, which parishioners quickly renovated into a church. Many parishioners vividly remember Fr. Milan’s love and dedication for his parish. When parish funds ran out, he initiated a second mortgage on his personal home. By April 1974, all work was completed and Bishop Sava consecrated the church.
In March 1981, the Free Serbian Orthodox Church in McLean, VA split again when a majority of parishioners voted to join the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). The remaining parishioners returned to worshipping at the National Cathedral. There were now three functional St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Parishes in Washington, D.C. In 1989, St. Luke in McLean, VA attempted to rejoin the Patriarchal Serbian Orthodox Church. By a majority of one vote, the McLean parish voted to remain affiliated with the OCA. Those parishioners who voted against remaining with the OCA joined the canonical St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church. By the mid-1990s, members of the St. Luke Free Serbian Orthodox Church reunited with the Patriarchal St. Luke Church.
In 1984, Fr. Milisa Petronijevic was appointed as parish priest, serving until 1986. Afterward, Fr. Milan Zobenica briefly returned to again serve the parish until Fr. Miroslav Lazarevic was appointed as parish priest in January 1987. Fr. Miroslav served the parish until 1994 when Fr. Zoran Milinkovic was appointed as parish priest. In 1996, after Fr. Zoran moved to Serbia, Fr. Miroslav returned to serve the parish for another five years.
By the late 1990s, the parish had outgrown the facilities on 16th Street. In December 1997, a building fund was established. In July 2001, the current property at 10660 River Road in Potomac, MD was purchased, and the old property in Washington D.C. was sold.
In late 2001, Fr. Aleksa Micich was appointed the parish priest. Over the next 13 years, construction and improvements to the River Road property were made. Due to local zoning requirements, the parish was unable to use the River Road facility for much of that time, and Divine Services were held in local schools and neighboring Orthodox Churches.
In 2010 Bishop Mitrophan of Eastern America appointed the Parish Trusteeship. Under the leadership of Fr. Aleksa and Mark Rasevic, President of the St. Luke Trusteeship, a capital campaign was established, construction commenced, and the Potomac property was revitalized into a church and parish facilities.
Construction on the River Road property was completed in September 2014 with the first Divine Liturgy held on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. In November of that year, His Grace Bishop Mitrophan blessed the new church and steeple cross.
In December 2017, Fr. Vasilije Vranic, Ph.D. was appointed the parish priest. Under his leadership, the parish started revitalizing its ministry programs and undertook many major events, including co-sponsoring the Serbian Orthodox Church’s commemoration of the Centennial of the end of the First World War and the flying of the Serbian flag at the White House on July 28, 1918.
The Circle of Serbian Sisters, which celebrates the Nativity of the Mother of God as its Slava, is an indispensable ministry of the parish. It was through their self-sacrificing love and generosity that the kitchen facilities in the new building were acquired. One of the future goals of this indefatigable group of women is to help acquire the necessary church furnishings. The current president is Dobrila – Nina Lojanica.
The Sunday Church School remains a fundamental ministry of St. Luke’s parish. It follows the curriculum prescribed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA. The school meets on Sundays during the school year following the Divine Liturgy. The School’s Slava is St. Sophia and her three daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love. The current superintendent is Desa Elwell.
In 2015, Serbian School “Nikola Tesla” was established to promote Serbian language and culture. The school meets fortnightly on Sundays following the Divine Liturgy. The School’s Slava is Sts. Constantine and Helen. The current administrators are Marija Eremic, Snezana – Nena Djokic, and Radmila Bozic.
In 2018, the St. Luke Children’s Choir formed through the efforts of Popadija Jelena Vranic with the purpose of introducing the Serbian spiritual and secular music to our children. The choir rehearses weekly, participates in the church services for major holidays, and performs at parish events.
In 2018, the Adult Folklore Group “Prelo” was established with the goal of preserving and promoting Serbian folklore dances. The group has already had notable performances. The current folklore director is Radmila Bozic.
In 2018, the Serbian Singing Society “Lira” was established. The choir joined the Serbian Singing Federation. In its first months of existence, the choir has distinguished itself by preparing an artistically demanding liturgical and cultural program for the celebration of the centennial of the end of the First World War and the flying of the Serbian Flag at the White House. “Lira” serves at the liturgical choir of St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church and also has regular concert performances both in the Serbian Church and in the Pan Orthodox community. Its director is Popadija Jelena Vranic and the first president is Colleen Bizic.
Since 2015, through the vision of Mark Rasevic, St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church has been hosting an annual parochial festival – SerbFest D.C. Its purpose is to foster fellowship and the spirit of camaraderie among the parishioners, while promoting Serbian hospitality, culture, and culinary arts to the wider community and the guests of the parish.
The Serbian community in Washington, D.C. is well aware of the responsibility its geographical location involves. Being the community and parish in the Capital of the United States of America, St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church is working hard to represent and defend the interests of the Serbian Orthodox Church and our people before the institutions of the United States Government and its officials. These efforts have redoubled since the arrival of His Grace Bishop Irinej of Eastern America, when the Serbian presence in Washington, D.C. has been intensified.
Nonetheless, St. Luke Serbian Orthodox Church has been very supportive and active in helping our Church and people in the past. During the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the unfortunate NATO bombings of the 1990s, St. Luke members stood up for their brethren in the old country by organizing fundraisers, prayer vigils and peaceful demonstrations. Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley chaired the groundbreaking Serbian-American Days in Washington where Serbs from the Americas met to call on members of Congress to take action.
St. Luke parishioners also partnered with the Serbian Orthodox Church Office of External Affairs to counter the negative perceptions of the Serbian people and church. Fr. Irinej Dobrijevic (now Bishop of Eastern America) led these efforts. In meetings with President Bill Clinton, members of Congress, and other U.S. Government Agencies, the coalition presented the Church’s appeals for peace led by Patriarch Pavle and brought attention to the fact that the American media and politicians had been largely ignoring the suffering of the Serbian people.