His Eminence Bishop of Banja Luka Mr Jefrem
Bishop Jefrem (Ephraim) of Banja Luka (worldly name Mile Milutinovic) was born on 15th April 1944 in the village of Busnova near the municipality of Prijedor. In his birth place, he finished six grades of primary school, and the seventh and eighth grade, as well as the Grammar School, in the municipality of Sanski Most.
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The construction of Christ the Saviour Cathedral Church, on the foundations of the demolished Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, bombed and destroyed in 1941 has finally fulfilled the eternal desire of the Banja Luka Serbs to have a monumental Orthodox Church at the most beautiful place, in the heart of the town.
CHRIST THE SAVIOUR CATHEDRAL CHURCH
The strength and the will of the people to determine their faith, hope and love throughout building the churches, in which they will chant to their God, reflects in this sanctuary, as in a kind of a mirror.
The former Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, in addition to the basic religious one, also had a memorial feature, because it was built at the place where ten Serbs and their old priest were executed in 1809, after the Masici Revolt. The today's Christ the Saviour Cathedral Church, will continue this tradition for eternity, rising prayers to the Lord for all its parishioners and the entire Serbian nation, chanting for the repose of the soul of the Bishop of Banja Luka, the holy martyr Platon and of other martyrs who had suffered for the Holy Cross, the Orthodox faith and our homeland.
During the Turkish occupation, the Orthodox Serbs were not allowed to build splendid churches, the bell could not be heard and the cross could not be seen, so the churches called the cells, such as the Pelagic's one in Banja Luka, were built in secret and hidden places.
The Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 did not change a lot when it comes to Orthodox Churches in Banja Luka. On the contrary, immediately upon the entrance of the Austro-Hungarian troops into the town, they seized all the building materials prepared for the construction of the cathedral church for which the land had already been purchased. The material was used for military purposes, without any compensation, of course.
The Church Community of Banja Luka, aware of the fact that there were no Orthodox churches in Banja Luka (the two existing churches were burned by the Turks during the Bosnian uprising in 1876), was forced to build a temporary church in 1879 (near the today's multiplex “Kozara”), the Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, that is the Holy Trinity.
The unquenchable desire of the local Serbs to build an Orthodox Cathedral Church worthy of its people and the town, which in 1900 became the headquarters of the newly formed Metropolitanate of Banja Luka and Bihac and its first Metropolitan Evgenije (Eugene) Letica, did not perish.
And just when the people of Banja Luka thought that it was finally time to build a great church and when they formed a special Committee to manage it, the Balkan Wars prevented the fulfilment of that dream. Afterwards, World War I came and brought great adversity for the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their houses of prayer. The arrest, internments, and the so called “High treason processes“ followed and Serbian leaders were tried on them... The Austro-Hungarian authorities took the church bells off the Orthodox churches and transformed them to artillery shells, and many religious values had vanished forever.
On 13th June 1921, at a special meeting of the Church Community Government, the issue of building a cathedral church was officially raised, which the chroniclers recorded as a significant event, not only for the Orthodox people, but also for Banja Luka, proud Krajina and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, at that time. The preparations continued until early April 1922, when the Church Community established a special section for the raising of the church. A project of a known Belgrade architect, Dusan Zivanovic, was chosen. The Cathedral Church was not built at the site of the deteriorated temporary church, as it was previously agreed, but a piece of land, called “Jabucik”, was purchased by a waqf and it was located in the former Serbian Borough.
The work on the Church construction, which according to the plan was supposed to be finished in 3 years, officially started on 27th September 1925, and on 5th October of the same year, the Metropolitan Vasilije consecrated the foundation of the future Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. The Church project was very ambitious and was supposed to cost eight million dinars (DIN, YUD). The Church Community made great efforts to achieve that, quite astonishing sum for that period of time, it asked the state for help, and its member, Mr Djordje Bajic, was sent to America to collect charitable contributions for the long and eagerly awaited Cathedral Church of Banja Luka. Despite all the difficulties, the money was provided, and the fact that the Commission for the technical approval stated at the minutes that the building was completed 40 days before the expiration of the three construction seasons deadline, in 1928, testified on how the people of Banja Luka were engaged in this construction.
The first divine service in the newly built church, a Thanksgiving service for the ten years since the breach of the Thessaloniki Front, was held on 15th September 1928, and until the mid 1929, the outside of the Church was completely finished.
The Cathedral Church, surrounded by a very nice low iron fence set on concrete balusters, dominated the spacious Square of Dusan the Emperor, surrounded by streets on all four sides. A low grass, ornamental shrubs and hedges were around it. The church stood on a white marble pedestal, three steps high. An oval staircase, also made of marble, led from the pedestal to the three platforms before the entrance to the church.
The Church facade was of two colours, alternating horizontal yellowish and reddish bands, and as remembered by the elderly people of Banja Luka, the church reminded them of the Monastery of Decani.
The works on the interior of the Church of the Holy Trinity began in 1938, and they engaged several academic painters - Mr Jovan Bijelić, who painted several icons for the iconostasis of the Church, Mr Svetislav Strala and Mr Veljko Stanojevic, who did the frescoes, while the draft of the iconostasis, chandeliers and woodwork was done by Mr Grigorije Samojlov and the iconostasis was hand-carved by Mr Dragutin Barac. The work was continued with the instalment of electricity, loudspeaker, microphone and mounting of a mechanism for the power ringing of the church bell, and everything was completed in 1939.
The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated on the day of the Ascension of Our Lord, on 18th May 1939, when a great ceremony of the Church and its people was held in Banja Luka. The Metropolitan Dositej, a legate of His Holiness the Patriarch and the administrator of the Diocese of Banja Luka pontificated at the occasion. The patron of the Church was the first Ban of the Banate of Vrbas, Svetislav-Tisa Milosavljevic. The ceremony was attended by the representatives of the Senate and National Assembly, the church, civil and military authorities, various corporations, a number of associations and over 20 000 citizens and farmers from all over the country.
The Church was built in the Serbian-Byzantine style, with five domes, while the frescoes were a good copy of the iconography of our old endowments of Mileseva, Patriarchate, Studenica... Its melodic bells were a gift of the late King Alexander the Unifier. The then press noted that the Cathedral Church in Banja Luka was one of the monumental buildings, and that “based upon the beautiful art of making, it is one of the most beautiful churches throughout the Kingdom”.
Banja Luka's Cathedral Church (dimension 22x10x19x50 meters) with its high tower (46 meters) was surrounded by the Ban Headquarters and the Ban Court during the times of the Banate of Vrbas, which made the Square of Dusan the Emperor (now the Square of the Serbian Rulers) an ornament of Banja Luka, but it also testified on the intention of the then government to emphasize the closeness between the church and the state in the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The people of Banja Luka did not enjoy its magnificent church for a long time. In early April 1941, at the day of the Annunciation of the Mother of God, the Germans bombed Banja Luka. On Saint Lazarus Saturday, on 12th April at 16:25 hours, the target of the German bombers was the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. One bomb hit the roof of the altar apse and exploded at the altar. Although, according to the experts, the damage of the Church could be repaired, the notorious commander Viktor Gutic ordered a demolition of the Church to the ground and a destruction of all traces of its existence. At the time, the Church of Saint George at the community of Petricevac was also demolished.
On 4th May of the same year, the Ustashas (The Ustasha - Croatian Revolutionary Movement) took Bishop Platon (Jovanovic) of Banja Luka and after cruel tortures, in the night between the 4th and 5th May, murdered him and thrown him into the Vrbanja River, near Banja Luka. Along with the Bishop Platon, the priest Dusan Subotic from the municipality of Gradiska was murdered as well.
In mid July, the priests who survived the tortures of the Ustasha were taken to the encampment Caprag, near the town of Sisak. The Certificates of Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths were confiscated, which was done in order to abolish every trace of the existence of the Serbian people in this region.
After the World War II, the communists did not allow the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in the centre of Banja Luka to be reconstructed, and they quickly decided to build a Monument to the Fallen Soldiers at the site of the former Cathedral Church.
For thirty whole years, from 1941 to 1972, the Orthodox worshipers of Banja Luka did not have a house of prayer. The construction of the today’s Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity began in 1962, at the time of the Bishop Andrew (Andrej Forusic), and it lasted until 1972. That is when the Church was consecrated, and although incomplete, it began giving service to its people, because some of the elderly worshippers were afraid that they would not live to see it completely finished.
That church, a much more modest than the demolished one, was built in the courtyard of the Bishop's residence and the desire of the people of Banja Luka to have their own monumental house of prayer in the town centre had to wait for a long time.
In 1991, after a multi-party elections and the change of the communist government, the conditions were created for the restoration of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity at its old foundations. In the same year, the Initiative Board was formed, which became a Construction Board two years later, with His Excellence Bishop Jefrem of Banja Luka as the president of the board and the archpriest Ratko Radujković, as the vice president.