St Savas’ Cathedral (NYC) Destroyed by Fire

Christ is Risen!

It is with sad news that we report that St Savas’ Serbian Orthodox Church in New York City was destroyed by fire.

This historic building, in the Chelsea neighborhood, had served the local Serbian-American population for almost seventy years.

At first, it was thought that arson was to blame but it seems likely that it was accidental.

If anybody has any other information, or would like to help that community regroup and rebuild, please feel free to comment on this blog.


  1. The cathedral’s website has donation information.

    Here is the official Gofundme for the church.

  2. From NY Daily News quote:

    “Investigators believe the fire was sparked by candles left smoldering in a cardboard box after services at the house of worship, which is the only Serbian church in all of New York City. Church staff said they were skeptical of that theory because candles were kept in a metal box with sand.”

    Then what about the 3 other fires same day one in Russia and two in Australia? Accidental?
    All 4 on Pascha? Smoldering candles? Really? Also Serbian Patriarch not too convinced about accidental cause:

    • Gail Sheppard says

      Manhattan, Sydney, Melbourne & Northern Russia (Monastery of Valaam)

      I heard that Orthodox Churches in Orange County and Riverside (CA) were threatened, but I don’t know if it’s true.

      • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

        Pascha does indeed seem to be the most likely and popular occasion for church conflagrations historically. Hard to imagine anti-Christian forces taking a boat trip to Valaam to burn one of the churches there

  3. Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

    NY Daily News sounds right…..In my long life, almost every destructive Orthodox Church fire has been causxed by carelessness and mistakes—often a vigil lamp is perceived to be out, but a flame still burns very low out of sight. If a rectory is attached to the temple, sometimes a kitchen fire spreads through both structures. In the News article, it looks like someone collected used tapers FROM those metal stands with sand in them and lay them in a cardboard box. Someone failed to dampen the wicks before laying them in that discards box, no doubt There is no reason whatsoever to attribute the blaze to anti-Orthodox or anti-Christian dark forces, such as Croats, or Muslims! “Coordinated attacks!” These church conflagrations are more frequent at Nativity. No one wants to admit carelessness or incompetence–better to blame “THEM.”

    • so it was Vespers service they had there aren’t those usually over with by 2? fire was at 7?
      how long were candles smoldering, kindling, 5 hours? how, in Manhattan, can candle fire
      get going so fast not get noticed? a fire caused by a lamp or candle would be local not spread
      so quickly into an inferno. something amiss.

      • V. Rev. Andrei Alexiev says

        Actually, Cy, most Serbian parishes serve the Paschal Liturgy separately from the Matins at about 10:00 AM Sunday morning. Not saying this is a good thing, it’s just a reality, at least in North America. I was flamed by one self-righteous Serb on this forum for allowing this for the eight years I serviced two Serbian parishes here in Detroit. As if I, a non-Serb, could do anything about it. As it turns out, conditions forced me to leave the Serbian parish on Jan 8. Maybe the Serb who flamed me would care to get ordained and give it a try……

    • Abbouna Michel says

      And in my long life as well. Nothing like Byzantine conspiracy theories to cover for carelessness and stupidity.

      • Sure, “conspiracy theories,” you always have a bunch of those, don’t you? Small little unextinguished candle, all in short order, turns into an all out raging inferno. Daylight hours in the middle of Manhattan, sure. Just a little “careelessness” thats all, sure. Maybe they forgot to change the battery in the smoke alarm, thats a possibility, yes, of course.

    • Arrant Islamophilia.

      • Gail Sheppard says

        Who said anything about Islam?

        • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

          Gail, you know some will insist Albanian or Bosnian Muslims or Croat Catholics MUST have set fire to that Church! [Not ruling out gays or abortionists or blacks]

          How much insurance DID they have, if any?

    • Also Bishop Tikhon, can you actually cite any examples ?? What Orthodox Church fires ??
      Also, the narrative here in the Manhattan fire is that some little candle in a candle box that is not even cardboard however metal and has sand, and THAT, THAT, in just small order goes and turns into an all out raging INFERNO!! This sounds plausible?? Please, share with us your specific candle fire experiences that has some similarity to the INFERNO in NY. Which ones were those ??

      • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

        The most recent was the beautiful Ukrainian St Elias Church in Toronto. The one that made the biggest impression on me was the historic Dormition Cathedral in Detroit. A landmark of Detroit’s old east side, after it was burnt up through a cooking mishap in the Rectory, they found a old building on the west side on Hubbell & Grand River and movrd in. Much later moved out to Ferndale. There is a beautiful illustrated pamphlet showing views of the old church on file at the Main Library on Woodward Ave. I think that you may learn of similar conflagrations in Pennsylvania and New England. These fires are always cracked vigil lights or unextinguished tapers. Why don’t you, Cyrus, wait for the experts of the NYFD to make their report? Oh well, I suppose it’s better than the old days when your types announced the fire was probably set by the Priest in order to get the insurance money!

        • So “tapers” are those skinny little candles? How might those be involved here? Cracked vigil lights might seem more likely if in the AM hours when no one is around, oil spills, that can possibly start a fire. Sure, of course, NYFD needs to do its report. “Priest and insurance money” never occurred to me at all however just something else, the Serbian Patriarch himself mentioned some possibility of a culprit in that article I left a link to, could be something along those lines. Thanks for your citations though I don’t have familiarity with any of those so I don’t know how close they come to compare with this major Inferno in the middle of Manhattan on Pascha Sunday. Also the two fires in Australia same day. Very unusual.

          • Michael Bauman says

            Conspiracies are quiet easy to infer and usually difficult to prove. The real conspiracy is the one perpetrated by Satan to darken our hearts with fear and suspicion, cupidity and lust of power.

            BUT—Christ is Risen!

            • Sure, sure. Well, “conspiracies” are conspiracies by their very nature secretive so they strive to cover their tracks. Read Niccolo Machiavelli the guy who wrote the “text book” on executing conspiratorial strategies, one of the first things is you keep things secretive and “difficult to prove.” But “conspiracies” do happen and not everything is as it would “appear to be” and what they tell you on your local news channel.

              • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                Why not wait until the experts of the New York Fire Department complete their analysis before expostulating about arson?

                • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                  And how much money will they rake in from insurance? (assuming negligence was not involved)

                  • Michael Bauman says

                    Insurance payouts on buildings rarely result in a profit. It is not designed to profit anyone. The times that it does, arson is usually involved, a business is failing and the arsonist cannot be found.

                    Insurance can help a building owner recover and rebuild (its purpose). Unfortunately, many owners of older buildings fail to insure adequately as the cost of rebuilding is often a great deal more than the actual market value of the building being insured.

                    Unique buildings such as Orthodox churches with our icons and architectural differences are more difficult to insure properly.

                    Insurance companies work very hard to avoid over insuring buildings because that can cause and incentive for arson.

                    It is highly unlikely that anyone will “rake it in” from the insurance.

                    • Monk James says

                      True. St Sava Cathedral has already set up a rebuilding fund since it’s almost impossible to assure adequate financing from insurance payouts alone.

                      Even so, that whole idea depends on the notion that the cathedral will be rebuilt at the same location where its destroyed predecessor stood. The fact is, though, that Manhattan NYC real estate is like gold. The cathedral would do far better, financially, to sell their rather large property at a stupefying profit and rebuild from the ground up, parking and all, elsewhere in the city, or purchase and remodel one of New York’s many now redundant churches.

                      Yet even that assumes that St Sava will remain in NYC, which is not really a center of serbian-american population.

                    • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                      Michael, I didn’t want to even hint, let alone mention that the fire might have been caused by arson in order to collect insurance! Such accusations are extremely disgusting. I remember the awful rumors about a Church in New England where a parishioner claimed the pastor of the burnt up Church was discovered by one parishioner to have hidden all the sacred items made of precious metal under his bed, thus indicating to the parishioner that the rector knew about the fire in advance! Let’s not go down that road!

                    • Monk James says

                      Last evening’s ABC local news here in NYC told us that the caretaker of St Sava Cathedral was being charged in law, not with arson but with being ‘ neglectful’ for having placed still-smoldering candles into a cardboard box, which later burst into flames and burned up the building.

                      I have no idea how this will affect the insurance settlement. The legal process will undoubtedly involve further investigations, so the final verdict might have to be determined before any money changes hands.

                    • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                      What does Cy have to sat about THIS?

                      “Last evening’s ABC local news here in NYC told us that the caretaker of St Sava Cathedral was being charged in law, not with arson but with being ‘ neglectful’ for having placed still-smoldering candles into a cardboard box, which later burst into flames and burned up the building.”

        • V. Rev. Andrei Alexiev says

          Master,Bless! As I recall, the fire was in the Hubbel St. Church, which was in fact a converted Protestant church, not “an old building “. The cause of the fire was faulty wiring, to save a buck, the parish had one of their own do the wiring. This happened in the early 60’s, before all the strict codes which we see today.
          The older church building was in Joseph Campeau. It was still standing around 2009 when I saw it last. It may since have burned down. Perhaps that is what Your Grace is speaking about. The Hubbel St. building which we vacated as of January 1992 is now a Baptist church.
          Btw, the original building was in Highland Park. Nobody living now remembers where it was located, the few children of the founders are now in their late 80’s.

          • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

            Father Alexei, if you go to the card catalog at the Main Library, you will be able to locate an illustrated booklet picturing the Assumption Russian Orthodox Cathedral on Detroit’s East Side. That is the one that burnt down due to a fire (BEFORE WWII) caused by the then Rector leaving a burner going on his stove in the adjacent Rectory. ALSO on the East Side, not far away, the Metropolia also had their pretty little sobor just off East Grand Boulevard, near (not “IN”) Joseph Campeau St.. Wan’t it Annunciation Church? In the 60s or 70s—the OCA Priest there fled to ROCOR, but the parish moved and abandoned the Church building to which, I believe, you refer. The Annunciation Church counted Ross Chepeleff among its members, and Archpriest Igor Boldireff was for a time the Rector. I thought ROCOR’s Bishop of Detroit, Gerasim, was at the Assumption Church “back in the day.”
            ps In English, old churches are OLD BUILDINGS.

  4. Tim R. Mortiss says

    Usually pays in most cases to wait for the results of the official investigation of the fire cause, rather than to hurl about suspicions and accusations.

    Fires can be caused by an amazing variety of seemingly improbable events, but many are the result of less improbable ones: candles being a well-known one.

    Moreover, deliberately-caused fires usually are pretty apparent upon professional investigation.

    • Fires also sometimes can be pretty difficult to start. With my wood burning stove e.g. I can use quite a bit of kindling and the logs start burning, then they go out, sometimes. Now this is in a stove a very dedicated kind of place to get wood to burn, it heats up in there pretty good. With just a church candle, no fire starter, candle to the logs, thats not going to get it going too much I don’t think. For a candle flame to turn into an all out raging inferno in relatively short period of time there would need to be some number of intermediary steps one might think, logically, to see that happen. Investigation here might not be so easy, everything all burnt down in the church interior.

      • Michael Bauman says

        Candles are madeof a substance that when it spreads carries the heat very effectively. If it were to get to an icon perhaps it would and has spread easily.

        Arson is almost always pretty self-evident to the trained investigator. Who the arsonist was can be difficult to prove.

        Years ago in my home town there was a Mafia torch who set fires for insurance. Everybody knee who he was and what he did. They just couldn’t prove it. More recently a business owner had all the businesses he started burn down. Police knew but could not prove even though they kept an eye on him.

        • Explain.. “Candles are madeof a substance that when it spreads carries the heat very effectively.” .. wax? wick? .. wax on its own will not even burn, only melt. Your other.. “Arson is almost always pretty self-evident to the trained investigator” really? Is this just something that “you hear” and “they say” or do you have some concrete knowledge on the subject? This place burnt down to a crisp so I am not sure much evidence was left around. When something burns down however not entirely to a crisp then of course you can assume there may be more clues left around, in this case though that would not appear to look likely but they have to do their investigation and eventually we will see what they say if we follow this story. By now, maybe they still might have some lab tests or something they need results on otherwise I’m sure the site itself is already being cleaned up so that part of investigation already has to be done one might assume.

  5. Monk James says

    Reports here in NYC say that the destruction of St Sava Cathedral is still under investigation. We should thank Heaven that no one was hurt or killed in this fire except for a caretaker who suffered a little from inhaling smoke.

    It sometimes takes months, even years, to say for sure that such a conflagration was a deliberate act of arson, but the people who conduct these investigations are very good at what they do.

    I don’t for a moment think that this tragedy was an accident. The truth will out.

  6. It’s not only the careless, the Croat, and the Muslim who endanger holy places – the Monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite damaged by Russian bombs:

  7. Terry Myles says

    Josip Broz?

  8. Michael Bauman says

    Your Grace, I did not assume you were suggesting arson, I was merely stating the facts in regard to insurance which is my career.

    The purpose of insurance is to indemnify policyholders in case of a covered cause of loss. In fact, due to the difficulty of proving who set an arson fire, many companies pay claims are paid.

    What I was objecting to was the phrase “raking in”. It is never the case. The best we can do is try to buffer the pain of loss with money. Not always adequate but better than no money.