A Saint from Indiana: St. Barnabas Nastic

Born in Gary, Indiana to Serbian parents;
returned to Serbia as a young boy;
ordained a priest, consecrated bishop
endured persecution, imprisonment and torture from the Communists.

Vojislav Nastic was born on January 31, 1914 in Gary, Indiana to Atanasije and Zorka Nastic. He was baptized at the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Gary (now located in Merrillville) where he served as an altar boy and attended the Froebel Elementary School. In 1923 when Vojislav was 9, his parents returned to their homeland where he continued his education, graduating from the high school
in Sarajevo in 1933. It seems that Vojislav’s father knew the famed Bishop Nicholas Velimirovich (since canonized as St. Nicholas of Zhica) and he blessed Vojislav to begin the study of theology at the Theological Seminary in Belgrade. With his outstanding intellect he was destined for a career in an academic environment as a seminary professor but his heart led him to follow Christ in a more complete, radical way.

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”(Luke 9:23)

Vojislav gave up everything and entered the Miloseva Monastery where he was tonsured a monk in 1940 with the name “Barnabas” and then ordained as a deacon. Deacon Barnabas remained in Sarajevo during World War II and the Croatian Ustashi fascists who were in control of the government tried to force him to join a false church they had created in order to subvert the Serbian Orthodox
Church. Refusing to compromise the faith, Deacon Barnabas was forced to flee the city since his life was at risk, the first of many threats to his life.

Persecuted Bishop

Deacon Barnabas was ordained a priest in 1945 and in 1947 was elected and consecrated as an  auxiliary bishop to the Patriarch of Serbia. Following the end of World War II, the Croatian Ustashi, a puppet government of the German Nazis, were removed from power but the freedom of the Serbian people was short lived as the Ustahsi were soon replaced by the Communists. In his new role, Bishop
Barnabas boldly confronted the Communist government for their persecution of the Orthodox Church. He was quickly arrested for the first time on December 25, 1947 and placed on trial. The bishop was accused of being an American spy since he spoke English and evidence was presented that he was teaching his sister English so that she too could become a spy for the Americans. During the trial he was asked by the prosecutor if he considered Comrade Tito, the head of the Communist party, to be an illiterate person. The bishop answered “Yes” and added that this refers to “him and all the others who do not want to know these three letters: GOD”. The bishop was fearless in standing up to his atheist persecutors:

It does not surprise me that you judge me and that so many priests have already been convicted, because it was done by Turks, Ustashi, and Germans. I only regret that there are atheists among my people.

The bishop went on to quote the Prophet Jeremiah in the Bible

“For among My people are found wicked men; they lie in wait as one who sets snares; they set a
trap; they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit."
(Jeremiah 5:36)

He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in a forced labor prison. The persecution of the bishop did not go unnoticed in America but articles about his arrest appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times and other papers with the headline “Tito Regime Judges a Man Born in Gary”. St. Nicholas Velimirovich, who was now living in New York City, held a special moleben for the imprisoned bishop in the St. Sava Cathedral in Manhattan. St. Nicholas wrote about Bishop Barnabas:

With his works, and even more with his ascetic life, he won the hearts of young Serbs and was their spiritual leader and teacher. Faith and service of God, which the intellectuals had pushed to the margins of social life, he returned to its center, , and he thereby placed spiritual
and moral values over material achievements.

Bishop Barnabas was sent to the prison in Zenica in eastern Bosnia, his monastic robes were removed, his head and beard shaved and was denied the opportunity to receive Holy Communion. He was tortured, not given adequate food and kept in the most isolated part of the prison. It was reported that everyday he prayed, sang tropars and other hymns in his cell.

Train “Accident”

It was decided to transfer the bishop to another prison: to Sremska Mitrovica, located in northern Serbia. While enroute, the passenger carriage was disconnected from the locomotive and left standing on the railroad tracks alone. About midnight a freight train crashed into it at full speed, destroying the compartment in which the prisoner bishop and others were tied. While about 30 prisoners were
killed, the bishop was thrown out of the window and miraculously survived but both legs were fractured. Much evidence indicated that that the “accident” was arranged by the secret police. After the crash the authorities prevented eyewitnesses from aiding the injured who lay among the wreckage.

Bishop Barnabas was eventually taken to a hospital and while doctors began to treat his injuries, Communist secret police arrived and stopped their intervention. He was placed on bare boards in the back of a truck and returned to the prison. Despite the mistreatment, the bishop eventually recovered from his injuries and in 1951 was removed to house arrest in the Gomionica Monastery.

Living in the monastery, Bishop Barnabas became a spiritual guide to the monks and pilgrims visiting the monastery. He remained in the monastery until 1959 when his sentence was fulfilled but he was refused permission to return to his ministry as a bishop. He moved to the Krushedol Monastery where he lived simply among the monks, praying and attending the monastery services. Even here the
Communist authorities continued to harass the bishop. The secret police visited him almost weekly  pressuring him to sign documents of loyalty to the Communist government which he felt violated the Gospel of Christ. In 1963 he was moved again on orders from the secret police to the Beocin Ascension Monastery. Bishop Makarije who visited him noted: “Bishop Barnabas has been under house arrest all the time, and he is guarded by 3 secret police officers and 3 armed police officers.”

Despite all the harassment he endured, the bishop maintained his faith and lived the life of an ascetic. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he fasted all day and ate nothing. Only on feastdays did he eat fish and never ate meat. He even encouraged his guards to pray and to fast. As it was noted that he exerted a positive influence on his guards, the authorities were forced to change them frequently.

On the morning of November 12, 1964, the bishop was taken by his uncle to a dentist. On the return trip the bishop reported feeling ill and suddenly died. Many believe the bishop was poisoned by the secret police. After a funeral led numerous bishops and with the attendance of the Patriarch of Serbia he was buried at the Ascension Monastery. On May 15, 2005, Bishop Barnabas was added to the
calendar of saints during a triumphal canonization ceremony by the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Orthodox Church of Serbia. The feastday of St. Barnabas, Confessor of the Faith is the day of his repose: November 12.

Tropar (Tone 1)
O Holy Hierarch, Father Barnabas,
we honor you as a true shepherd.
You were a courageous and fearless confessor;
you suffered imprisonment and torture,
and undaunted, you sought steadfastly to serve the Church.
You bore fruit in your endurance
yur life was an image of goodness and faithfulness.
Through your holy intercessions,
may we be delivered from the wiles of the evil one

Father Edward Pehanich