St. Varnava of Hvosno
Unlike many of our American saints, St. Varnava was born in America—with the name Vojislav Nastić to a family of Serbian immigrants in Gary, Indiana, in 1914. The family attended St. Sava Serbian Orthdox Church, now located in Merrillville, Indiana, where he was baptized and served as an altar boy.
While he was a child, the family moved back to Sarajevo, where Vojislav finished high school in 1933. He graduated from the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Belgrade and taught Christian faith in two Sarajevo high schools.
In 1940, he became a monk, receiving the name Varnava (Barnabas). He was ordained a hierodeacon.
He stayed in Sarajevo during World War II. Croatian fascists (Ustashe) tried to force him to join the “Croatian Orthodox Church,” intended to subvert the faith of the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzogovina. St. Varnava refused and then had to leave Sarajevo at the peril of his life.
In 1947, he became auxiliary bishop to the Serbian Patriarch with the title of Bishop of Hvosno.
As bishop he openly criticized the Communist regime for mistreating the church. He was arrested, accused of being an American spy, and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
In prison, St. Varnava suffered torture, starvation, and isolation. Nevertheless, he sang hymns daily. The government arranged an “accident” to get rid of him, causing a broken leg, but even without medical treatment, he recovered.
After that injury, he was released to house arrest in the Gomionica Monastery in the Diocese of Banja Luka until 1960.
He died in suspicious circumstances in 1964. Some historians say he was poisoned by OZNA, the Yugoslav Communist spy agency.
In 2005, he was canonized a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
(Part of a series of bios of the saints on the new mural of American Saints at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Portland. The images are preliminary sketches of the work in process. The iconographer is Heather MacKean.)