Filed Under Religion

Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral

A Community and a Church Divided and Reunited

The newly constructed St. Sava Cathedral was the centerpiece of the Serbian and Eastern Orthodox community. It boasted a spacious area for worship, welcoming crowds on Sundays and festive holidays, and featured a large hall for gatherings like weddings, festivals, and communal dinners. Its establishment filled a void that the Serbian community felt with their previous church on East 36th Street. Yet, the political upheavals in Yugoslavia soon impacted this harmonious community, leading to the existence of two identically named churches in close proximity. How did this happen? Read on.

Cleveland’s Serbian history traces back to 1893 when Lazar Krivokapic, the first Serb-Montenegrin, arrived. Unlike many other early Serbian immigrants who worked in low-wage, industrial jobs, Krivokapic was a highly educated diplomat stationed in Constantinople, then part of the Ottoman Empire. The Serbian population in Cleveland steadily increased, reaching over 1,000 by 1914. Most of these immigrants lived in extended family units called Zadruge, housing up to sixty members each. The transition to American family structures was often jarring, especially for those from rural Serbia who had little exposure to industrial work environments. Their residential choices were influenced by work, leading to settlements in areas close to their workplaces.

World War I brought devastation to Serbia, claiming approximately 3.1 million lives. Answering the call to defend their homeland, between 400 and 500 Cleveland-based Serbs joined the war effort. The local paper, The Plain Dealer, highlighted the potential for an exodus that could disrupt the city’s industrial and commercial activities. It was important to ensure that southern Slavs, who primarily worked in the industrial sector, were not coerced into striking during the war. Today, the St. Sava Cathedral in Parma displays a plaque honoring those who fought and died in World War I.

As Eastern Orthodox Christians, Serbians’ lives are intertwined with the Church calendar. The absence of a designated church building until 1919, however, left early Serbian settlers without a spiritual home. Instead, they held worship services and celebrations in rental halls and cultural societies. The community eventually purchased a German Lutheran church on East 36th Street in 1919, which became the first St. Sava in Cleveland.

After World War II, another wave of immigration from Yugoslavia to Cleveland ensued. New immigrants, largely comprised of war prisoners, Chetniks loyal to the Serbian monarchy and Church, and those seeking economic opportunities, settled south in Parma and Seven Hills. They chose not to return to Yugoslavia, which had transformed into a communist state. However, the increased influx of new Serbian immigrants strained the resources of the small church on East 36th Street, leading to the purchase of land for a new church in Parma.

In 1963, amid financial problems, disputes arose within the church community. A division was formed when the Holy Synod of Belgrade, under Patriarch German’s leadership, removed Bishop Dionisije as the sole leader of the American-Canadian diocese and created three new dioceses. Some parishioners believed this move indicated communist infiltration of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Two factions emerged, one siding with Father Branko Skaljac and Belgrade, and the other with Bishop Dionisije and Father Branko Kusonjic. Both factions laid claim to the newly constructed St. Sava and its properties.

After twelve years of protracted legal battles, the pro-Belgrade faction was granted St. Sava and half the lot in 1975, while the faction loyal to Bishop Dionisije received the other half and the picnic grounds in Broadview Heights. In 1980, the Bishop Dionisije faction, now recognized as the Free Serbian Orthodox Church, completed another St. Sava in Broadview Heights. It was not until Patriarch Pavle’s intervention in 1992 that the dispute was finally resolved. Today, members from both churches interact during events, religious services, picnics, and soccer tournaments, reflecting a harmony long awaited.


Mosaic of St. Sava
Mosaic of St. Sava St. Sava was a Prince in medieval Europe. He left Serbia for Greece, where he became a monk, renouncing his nobility for a life of monasticism. Later in his life, Sava would become the first leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Creator: Stefan Nikolic Date: November 23, 2020
Old St. Sava's on East 36th Street
Old St. Sava's on East 36th Street In 1919, the Third Evangelical Reformed Church (German) sold this building, which was designed by Coburn & Barnum, to St. Sava's. It became the religious and cultural home of the Cleveland Serbian community until St. Sava's moved to its first purpose-built church in Parma in 1965. Today the old church is Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Thomas Lewis
St. Sava Cathedral in Parma, Ohio
St. Sava Cathedral in Parma, Ohio The front of the church that was finished in 1965. This was the first Serbian Church that was built in Greater Cleveland. It enabled the congregation to move from a smaller building it had bought from a previous German congregation just east of downtown. Creator: Stefan Nikolic Date: November 23, 2020
Frescoes Inside St. Sava's in Parma
Frescoes Inside St. Sava's in Parma The application of frescoes in the church began in late 2013. Theological artists came from Belgrade, Serbia, to paint the artwork! Creator: Olivera Bogdanovic Date: 2020
Interior of St. Sava's in Parma
Interior of St. Sava's in Parma This view of the church interior from the choir loft shows the floor renovations that were finished in early 2020, in Byzantine style. Creator: Olivera Bogdanovic Date: 2020
Statue of Vuk Karadzic
Statue of Vuk Karadzic Vuk Karadzic reformed the Serbian language in the 19th century. He is widely known as "Renaissance Serb!" Creator: Stefan Nikolic Date: November 23, 2020
Free Serbian Orthodox Church
Free Serbian Orthodox Church This plaque, which was put up when the church was finished, shows that St. Sava’s in Broadview Heights was a separate church from the one in Parma. But also, a schismatic church, which ended in 1992. Creator: Stefan Nikolic Date: November 23, 2020
St. Sava’s Church in Broadview Heights
St. Sava’s Church in Broadview Heights St. Sava Church, which was the opposite faction, finished this church in 1980. The architecture is modeled from Gracanica Monastery in Serbia’s region of Kosovo and Metohija. Creator: Stefan Nikolic Date: November 23, 2020
Frescoes in St. Sava’s in Broadview Heights
Frescoes in St. Sava’s in Broadview Heights The dome showing Christ with a plethora of saints, the timeline of Jesus’s life, and heavenly bodies such as angels. Creator: Stefan Nikolic Date: November 23, 2020


6306 Broadview Rd, Parma, OH 44134


Stefan Nikolic, “Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 13, 2024,