Dear Parish Faithful,
With my brother Philip's recent death and his funeral on Tuesday, as a priest for almost thirty years, I have now buried my entire original family, beginning with my sister Menka's untimely death in 1983. That was followed by my brother Paul (1985); my father Chris (1991); and my mother Elena (2000). As this is now 2011, that spans around twenty-eight years. I have served each funeral, sometimes alone, sometimes assisted by the local priest. Certainly it has never been easy, and it does get to be a bit overwhelming at times. This was particularly true on Tuesday, perhaps because this was my last remaining sibling. Thank God that presvytera Deborah was able to accompany me, and she proved to be a "helpmate" in the full, biblical sense of that word, and a pillar of strength at a difficult time. Thus, I am now the last remaining member of my family. Both of my parents lived rather long lives, as they were both around eighty-nine when they died. Yet, their first three children have died at much younger ages: fifty-one, forty-four, and sixty-six, respectively. Only God alone know my allotted time. Yet, somehow, I believe that we can attend a funeral a week and still not quite "get it" about our own mortality. No matter how close that person may be, it is always "someone else" who has died. Of course, no person can actually imagine himself/herself "dead;" yet it seems as if, when confronted with death, a pseudo-protective veil drops over our spiritual vision that blocks out the reality of living a finite existence in this world. This is even more problematic for Christians who claim to believe in the "life of the world to come."
My brother Philip and I were as different as "night and day." He not only lived in Las Vegas, but chose to live by "the Las Vegas way." At least until he slowed down these last few years. That takes a great deal of energy; and the goal is not only elusive, but ultimately, an illusion. But as the great desert fathers would say: we should weep for not equaling the passion for "the Orthodox Way," that others have for the "ways" that they choose that are apart from Christ. Maybe that is because our own hearts have not really chosen a "way" even after many years in the Church. Perhaps we confess the one, but are (secretly?) attracted to the other. Such ambivalence can only "stunt" our growth "in Christ." Our own inconstancy is one reason that we cannot "judge" those who do not openly live by faith in Christ.
In the end, my brother was not a practicing (Orthodox) Christian, yet he never renounced the Faith that he was baptized into and lived within in his earlier years. If asked to identify himself "religiously," he would have said Orthodox Christian. Further, I am sure that if asked whether or not he believed in God, he would have said "yes" - whatever that would have meant to him. I know that he faithfully read my meditations and often commented on them to me in a very positive way. I discovered from a couple of his friends at the funeral that he forwarded these meditations to them. He was very "proud" of the fact that his younger brother was a priest. He was also about the most generous person I ever met - even generous to a fault. He was very flawed, yet very likable. He left a strong, lasting and positive impression on people who only met him once or twice. His consuming desire to live life to its fullest is what consumed him, I believe, in the end. He neglected his physical well-being, and this led to a fatal heart attack. That he died alone in a hospital emergency ward will always haunt and trouble me deeply. Actually, knowing that he wasn't feeling well, I was in the process of checking out flights to visit him briefly in just two weeks time. It is these types of "ifs" and "almosts" that are so troubling and frustrating - at least from our limited human perspective.
Often, there are so many conflicting and confusing traits and impulses within one person, that a consistent pattern of living, or even what we call a consistent "personality" never quite emerges. This is what I find so striking about my brother and any attempt I make to assess his life over-all. It is difficult to discover the "real" person behind these socially-driven or ego-driven images that we project to others. That being the case, we can never fulfill the Christian interpretation of the Socratic dictum: "Know thyself." One more good reason as to why we are never to "judge," but to leave that ultimately to God.
Be that as it may, I was glad to serve my brother Philip's funeral and to share a few words about him with those present (though presvytera had to read my written comments on my behalf as my voice was barely recovering from a laryngitis that reduced me to a faint whisper on Monday). As different as we were, we remained very close, and could talk for hours on end over the phone, or communicate often via email. Even though we last saw him at Sophia's wedding in May 2006, he was always a presence within our family, as my children, who visited him a few times and experienced his hospitality, were very close to their "uncle Philip." My brother is survived by two sons and two granddaughters.
Once again, I would like to express my thanks to the many who offered their support to me at this time.