Church burning: St Sava, Serbian Orthodox, in NYC

On Sunday, about 700 congregants of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on 25th Street between Broadway and Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, celebrated Pascha.

On Bright Monday, the worshipers returned, horrified to see their beloved Church  gutted by a raging fire on Sunday night.  A video of the wreckage is here.

“It’s a very emotional experience,” said Velimir Sabic, a Serbian immigrant and longtime congregant of St. Sava, who stood with his wife and their three young children at a barricade.

The vaulted roof, which had been renovated several years ago, was reduced to a charred, spindly skeleton. The roof of the apse in the rear section was a shambles. The once-grand stained-glass windows were now gaping chasms. The cause of the fire remained under investigation on Monday.

Mr. Sabic said he brought his family from their home in the Bronx to pay respects to the church after hearing about the burning on the news.  He said that  for decades the spiritual pillar of the Serbian community. “For Serbs, this was our main church in New York,” said Nick Zelenovic, a retired textile manufacturer from Middle Village, Queens, who said his two children were christened there.

Besides news reports, word of the fire spread by word of mouth and over the church’s website, which alerted parishioners with a simple headline: “Our Church Has Burned Down.”  Flames first began appearing out of the top edges of the front double doors, and within minutes, the circular stained-glass window higher up on the facade shattered, and “a big tongue of fire came jumping out,” said Herman Tulp, a Dutch tourist staying across the street at a hotel.

Investigators have not labeled the fire suspicious, the spokesman, Frank Dwyer, said, adding that the blaze may have been made worse by the age of the church and its wooden interior.“It’s a very large structure with lots of voids where heat and smoke can gather, and lots of combustible material,” Mr. Dwyer said. He said that firefighters continued to put out small pockets of flames until Monday afternoon, and that there were no reports of major injuries.

“If the stone is strong enough,” Mr. Zelenovic said, looking upon the church, “maybe we can rebuild.”  They are asking for collections over here.