Veselin Kesich, 91: Well traveled scholar

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SCARBOROUGH — Professor Veselin Kesich, 91, an expert on Eastern Orthodox theology, early Christianity and Serbian Church history, died July 3 at his home.

Kesich was a professor of New Testament studies at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York from 1953 to 1991. He was also a member of the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville N.Y. from 1966 to 1986, where he taught comparative religion, with a focus on Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.  

Kesich was born on March 12, 1921, in Bosansko Grahovo, Yugoslavia, a Serbian village in the Alpine border between Dalmatia, Croatia and Bosnia. His family moved to Banja Luka, Bosnia so he could attend the local European-style high school.

He was the author of several books including Formation and Struggles: The Birth of the Church AD 33–200 (2007); The First Day of the New Creation: The Resurrection and the Christian Faith, (1982); The Gospel Image of Christ: The Church and Modern Criticism (1972 revised 1991) and Treasures of the Holy Land, (1985), which he coauthored with his beloved wife and intellectual partner, Lydia Weston Kesich. 

His studies were interrupted in 1941 by the start of World War II and the German occupation of Yugoslavia. Kesich narrowly escaped from Bosnia to spend the rest of the war years in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade. In the final days of the war he escaped again fleeing on foot to Italy, where he was interned with other Serbs in a displaced persons camp.

In 1946, Kesich was part of a group of Serbian students interested in theology accepted to Dorchester College near Oxford, England, with the sponsorship of the Anglican Church. In 1949, he and four other Serbian students were selected to study in the United States with scholarships from the Episcopal Church. He completed university and graduate degrees at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and Columbia University and a joint doctoral degree from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary. 

It was during this time that he met fellow Columbia graduate student Lydia Weston. They married in 1957. The marriage lasted until Lydia’s death in 2006.

Beside his work at the seminary and Sarah Lawrence, he also taught in the Slavic languages department of the University of California at Berkeley and was an adjunct professor of Serbo-Croation literature at New York University.

On his retirement, he was made Professor Emeritus at St. Vladimir’s and Sarah Lawrence College.  He and his wife enjoyed a long active retirement that included trips to Alaska, Croatia, Serbia and Russia.

They began hosting their children and grandchildren for summer vacations in Maine in 1994, and moved to the state permanently in 2002. The summer visits became the highlight of his year, especially after the death of his wife.

Professor Kesich’s life was enriched by his relationships with generations of students. This continued into his time at the Piper Shores retirement community in Scarborough, where he enjoyed mutual affection with the people who cared for him and became his friends.

He is survived by his daughter, Carol Blecker and her husband, Michael, and their children Alice and Charlie, of San Francisco, Calif.; his son, Greg Kesich and his wife, Gail, and their daughters Lydia-Rose and Zora, of Portland; his sister, Mirka Dragicevic of Belgrade, Serbia; and his brother, Dragolube Kesic of Las Vegas, Nev.

There was a Trisagion service at Hobbs Funeral Home.   A funeral was held at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland.

Donations may be made to the Professor Veselin Kesich Scholarship Fund at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 575 Scarsdale Road, Yonkers, New York 10707.

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