“For You are the resurrection, the life and the repose of your departed, servant Matthew the Presbyter, our Erstwhile Brother and Co-Celebrant, O Christ our God, and to You we give glory, as to Your Father Who is Everlasting, and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today, my message to you is a message of hope in a world filled with questions. Questions without answers, mysteries without discoveries and puzzles without solutions. It’s a message of joy in the face of sorrow. It’s a message of love because “love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7). Love never ends.
Love does not end when we breath our last breath. It does not cease when our heart pumps its final beat. It does not fade with time. It cannot just disappear.
And through Christ and the glory of His resurrection, and through the power of His redemption and by the gift of His forgiveness, we, like love, do not disappear. At the conclusion of this earthly life, we proceed, transfigure, await and glorify. Those of us left behind feel a void or absence when our loved ones depart this world. But please remember that the souls of those who return to the hands of their Maker, are active, vibrant, and, well…alive. They are alive!
The above, italicized caption from the Orthodox Funeral Service is in reference to Fr. Matthew Gilbert. But I also call your prayerful attention to Fr. Vasilios Thanos, a priest, friend, mentor and affectionate father-figure I enjoyed working with for nearly a decade, while ministering to the flock of St. Nicholas in Northridge, CA. Fr. Thanos passed away only days before Fr. Matthew. Their funerals will be celebrated simultaneously though one service is in California while the other in Arizona.
One priest lived a long, rich life. The other was taken from this world, far too soon. Fr. Thanos was born in Greece while Fr. Matthew was an American-born convert to Orthodoxy. Fr. Thanos was a priest for nearly as many years as Fr. Matthew lived, though Fr. Matthew was able to know the joy of grandchildren. Neither of Fr. Thanos’ lovely daughters are married. Fr. Thanos spent his entire, 50-year, priestly ministry in one parish while Fr. Matthew and his family were able to explore and meet amazing, new people through the course of his ministry.
Different lives. Different circumstances. Different departures. Both, however departed this world having preached the same Gospel, partaken from the same chalice and ministering to the one, same, Body of Christ. His Bride. His Church.
Please pray for the comfort of their families. Please pray for the salvation of their souls. Please recognize in their sudden deaths (yes, even at age 85, death can befall us suddenly) that life, though cliché, is short. Forgiveness is imperative; that is to say, giving and receiving it. Being thoughtful, gracious, generous and kind is the pattern of a joyful tenure. Minister to others. It’s not only the privilege of the priest to serve, for we are all ministers. We are all Christ-like servants.
The reason the Weekly Bulletin and this message is coming to you a day early, is because tomorrow evening, I will be at the viewing and Trisagion Service for Fr. Thanos, then participating in his funeral on Friday morning. How I wish I could be in two places at one time.
I suppose, in the end, I’m asking for your prayers, not only for the priest you know, but also for the one that you don’t.
May Their Memories be Eternal.
With Blessings of Love and Life,
And always remember…that is, to never forget…the victims and families of the tragedy of September 11th, 2001.