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Even as the celebration of the Divine Liturgy continues, St. Sava’s parishioners move about the church’s glassed atrium, which serves as an anteroom to the church sanctuary on one side and to the community center on the other. From time to time, worshipers unobtrusively enter the atrium, taking a break from the liturgy to stretch their legs; not everyone is able to stand in one spot for the full two-hour service. There, they exchange warm greetings with latecomers, who take off their coats, buy candles and make their way to the church.

Too young to appreciate fully the Divine Liturgy, children run in and out of the atrium, laughing and playing. Two children — a brother and sister — sit quietly against a wall. The boy is playing a handheld video game. The girl is drawing a picture, though she periodically glances over her brother’s shoulder and comments on his game tactics. None of the adults takes offense at the rambunctious children. Even pious Mr. Petrovic watches them benevolently.

Among his duties as sacristan, Mr. Petrovic tends the atrium’s tiny shop.

“Just take a look at our choices. We have various candles, Orthodox Christian books, CDs with religious chants and there are some gilded vigil lamps here, too,” he says, pointing to several lighted oil lamps and a collection of religious icons.

Today, however, Mr. Petrovic does not expect to sell much of anything. Along the wall opposite the shop are two boxes full of old icons that the church is giving away. The decision to bring out the icons, which had been stored in the community center’s basement, was made so that an additional classroom could be set up.

Since the 1950’s, St. Sava’s has offered its youngsters catechetical courses and cultural classes — held every Saturday — that instruct and reinforce the church’s religious teachings and cultural heritage.

“In our new community center, we originally planned for two classrooms,” remembers Father Pejic. “Thank God we were underestimating the need!”

Currently, the community center has barely enough space to accommodate the nearly 130 children, between the ages of 7 and 17, who attend the classes. The curriculum includes seven grade levels with courses in religion, the Serbian language, traditional dance and singing.

Twenty-eight-year-old music teacher Jelena Agbaba Milosavljevic gives classes in traditional folk songs and hymns. She and her husband, Nikola, first came to Germany eight years ago to study music. St. Sava’s schooling program is a matter close to her heart.

“For the children to become integrated and understand German culture, they also need to know from where they came,” she says.

The Milosavljevics have also made a point to educate their 7-year-old son, Mihajlo, and 16-month-old daughter, Mina, about their Serbian heritage. Every year, they celebrate their slava — a mostly Serbian Orthodox tradition in which families venerate their own patron saint on the saint’s feast day. The family also celebrates Christmas twice a year, first on 25 December with German friends, and then again on 7 January. The Orthodox Church of Serbia follows the Julian calendar, which is now 13 days behind the Gregorian used globally.

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Tags: Immigration Germany Assimilation Yugoslavia Orthodox Church of Serbia