Real humility has nothing to do with creating in myself a low self-image or making myself feel guilty. It means recognizing that all my talents and virtues are gifts from God, gifts for which I am profoundly thankful. These gifts are entrusted to me so I can share them with people around me. I also share in their gifts, for which I am thankful to those people and to God. Real humility is also a recognition in practice that God loves each of my neighbors just as he loves me, so each one is invaluable.Sr. Nonna Verna Harrison
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As many of you know, I was in Southern California during the middle of this past week for the funeral service of an old friend, Sr. Nonna Harrison. Though you may not have come into contact with her, she knew of our community very faithfully. I have also written about her once or twice in my weekly messages to the community. At only 68 years old, Sr. Nonna left this world too soon, but leaves behind a spiritual legacy in her prolific writings and in the hearts of her former students, colleagues, sister monastics, family and friends. She had a brilliant mind, a kind heart, a patient soul, a high tolerance for pain and suffering, and above all, she loved Jeus Christ. She served Him. She followed Him. She trusted in Him. She studied Him and she taught Him.
Sr. Nonna was a well-known scholar in the fields of Patristics and early church history. She primarily taught at non-Orthodox seminaries with the hope of exposing the broader, Western cadre of Christendom to the importance of the formational centuries of the Church. In so doing, of course, she exposed them to Orthodoxy. Her studies took her from Yale University to Oxford University to Berkely. Her home library was like nothing I’ve ever seen and her ability to spot translate from Ancient Greek to English was impressive.
Even more impressive was the fact that she was legally and almost entirely blind. She had one eye that was always shut, and the other, she described as looking through a cardboard paper towel tube.
For the last year and a half, right up until her stroke about five weeks ago, she used her two good ears, and her one, partial eye, and faithfully worshipped with us at St. Anna’s via live stream.
Your parish was her parish.
This tall, imposing and yes, even intimidating nun was prayerfully standing at your side as you came to church. She prayed with you. She sang with you. She did everything but receive Communion with you. It was her intention to one day travel here and worship with us in person – to offer a Bible Study, conduct a retreat, teach a lesson. Her health did not permit this goal to become a reality. But of course, from the glory of Christ’s Heavenly Throne, she continues to pray with, and for us.
Sr. Nonna was laid to rest in the beautiful mountains above Santa Paula, California. Nestled in those glorious hills, is the small Monastery of St. Barbara. The Abess, Mother Victoria was gracious to receive Sr. Nonna for her final, earthly resting place, and to allow me to be the celebrant of her funeral. My participation in her final act of Christian witness was an opportunity for her to be connected, for the last time, to our St. Anna parish. This parish brought her great joy, our services, in her own words, were the “source of countless blessings.” Every member of our community was spiritually beside me as we laid her to rest.
Sr. Nonna’s primary academic interest was in the area of theological anthropology. She expanded the question of what it means to be human by contemplating what it means to be human, created in God’s image. This was her life’s work. This was her passion. She taught us to see God’s imprint in all aspects of life, not just in our faces, (that is, the literal image) but in all avenues of connectedness.
I have attached a brief article she wrote several years ago entitled “Serving and Being Served as Image of God.” This is one of my favorites among her essays. She had a knack for helping us see God’s imprint upon us in the most unexpected of places. Great Lent is nearing. We should all be personally and collectively challenged to use those days wisely, to be better individuals upon the completion of the Fast, and to translate our new-found transformation into benefits for the common good.
Sr. Nonna could not see, but she could feel. She was sensitive to the plights of the oppressed and her heart was greatly wounded for the sake of those who suffer. In the coming days of intensified spiritual warfare, let us include her in our prayers for inspiration, strength, focus, purpose, clarity, gratitude and compunction.
We may have lost a mighty warrior here on earth. But we gained a prayerful advocate in Heaven.
Sr. Nonna, may your Memory be Ever Eternal.
With Love in XC
Fr. Anthony Savas