Perhaps no other photograph represent the beauty, peace and dignity of the Holy Priesthood so well as that which hangs in the hallway of Taxiarche church in Watertown Massachusetts. If ever there were a picture that said “a thousand words” this would be it. There is peacefulness and strength in the eyes of this handsome man. In his humility, Father Emmanuel silently asks the photographer, and the viewer, without their permission, to redirect their attention away from him, to that which is framed perfectly in his hands. This was the brilliance of Fr. Emmanuel. The purpose of his being was to direct others in a gentle, loving way, to the truth that answers all questions, a truth that is in plain sight, yet often overlooked.
It is difficult to describe Father Emmanuel. There are no pros adequate to relay his Faith, his Strength, and his Humility. There are probably as many unique stories of father's wisdom and love as there are people who met him. Recounting a few of those stories from a handful of people is perhaps the best way to remember him.
At the back of the line
Father once told the story about how he would accompany his father (who was also a Priest) to the hospital where he administered Holy Communion to the sick. He explained how after the sick had received communion, his father would then allow Fr. Emmanuel (at the time a young boy) to receive communion after all the patients. The story of his fathers’ great faith left an indelible mark on the man who he had relayed the story to. Some years later, the man confessed to father that he always remembered this story of great faith to which father further clarified, that it was not merely at the hospital that he received communion from his father after all of the patients, but more specifically it was in the “infectious disease” ward of the hospital.
If my wife found out!
As a young priest, father was left one evening at the church with their infant child, when he received a call requesting he come to the hospital urgently - someone was dying. With no one to watch the child, Father Emmanuel placed the baby onthe Solea of the church (the elevated area in front of the alter), that is to say, he placed the child entirely in God’s hands, in order to attend to his Priestly duties. In recollecting the story, Father laughed when he described what Presbytera Penelope, would have done to him had she known what he did.
By Christmas Day
A woman who knew Father since she was twelve years old, and who was married by father spoke of how father had come to her aid after she had lost her first child.
The woman later reported to father that she had been trying to conceive another child, but could not. Father put his hand upon the woman and prayed. Father than told the woman that she would be pregnant and have a baby by Christmas day. Not much time passed before the woman became pregnant, the expected due date of the child was December 25. Her son was born on Dec. 23.
Time stood still in the sunlight pouring through the windows of the beautiful Byzantine chapel up on the hill. The warmth of the light on that cool summer day can not be forgotten, a slight breeze coming through the open doors of the chapel. Father, entered through the Royal Gates, down the steps of the Solea to meet the young couple. Father’s deep and strong voice reflected a power greater than those of this world, as he began the service of the betrothal, blessing their rings over the Holy Gospel, touching them on the forehead, and making the sign of the cross over them before sliding the rings upon their fingers. A sense of “stillness” permeated the chapel, there were no sounds other than those of an ancient and holy service – time stood still at the moment father gave his blessing, for he spoke as one having the authority of the sender.
A Priests’ Priest
Father once commented, on the marvel of the priesthood, pointing out that one could see the cycle of life - birth, baptism, marriage, death that is the full splendor of God’s hand upon the lives of His people. The priest could see all of the emotions, a life ending, another beginning - all in a day.
Father Emmanuel also reflected on his annual “vacation”, the only vacation he had ever taken – that is to say, celebrating the services of Lent and Holy Pascha. The perpetual services of the Eastern Orthodox Church during this holiest time of the year, which other priests might find exhausting, were to Father a “vacation”.
Archbishop Demetrios, in his Eulogy, pointed out accurately what perhaps others had not noticed – that in about 60 years of service as a Priest, (that is to say thousands of baptisms, weddings, funerals and their attendant functions), father had not once mentioned being “tired”.
A baptism like no other
Standing by the Priest in amazement, observes watched as a child (given the name Emmanuel) was immersed into the baptismal font. There arose a voice so strong, so as to make the devil and all his deceptions seem as if they never had any influence over this world – for from this now seemingly frail old man arose the authority of the Holy Spirit in the words of the Divine Service “the servant of God Emmanuel is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
These words entered deeply into those who were present, and cannot be forgotten, for they were spoken with the fullest meaning and conviction.
Shortly before father was taken to the hospital, he apparently broke a bone in his back, while out plowing snow in the harsh New England weather. Father was 85 years old. This was noticed by others in the alter the following Sunday only because Father sat down frequently during the some three hours or so it took for the Orthodox Matins and Liturgy.
When Father finally entered the hospital a few days later, it was reported that he had been sick for some time with a form of cancer. He had told almost nobody. It is certain that he would not have wanted others to be unhappy or worried.
When someone once reported to Father a difficulty in marriage, father responded simply, “Go out and buy your wife a beautiful dress and go dancing!” That is how he saw life, and that it what he had in mind for those he touched, to be happy, to celebrate life. That is why he withheld his condition from others.
The servant of God Emmanuel Receives the Body and Blood of Christ for remission of sins and life ever lasting
The Bishop, two priest, and Presbytera Penelope attended to Father at the hospital. He soon lost his ability to speak. They asked him if he were in pain, he shook his head to indicate “no”. Father was making a gasping motion with is mouth, which the priest could not understand. They asked him if he wanted water; he shook his head “no”. They asked him if he wanted ice chips; he shook his head “no”. Finally, they realized what father was asking for; that which he so often received at the hospital as a child.
Not long after his final wish was met he lost consciousness.
“My heart is gone”
On the night of the wake a man approached Presbytera, he silently rehearsed in his mind carefully thought out, sensitive and eloquent words that he would say to her, but as the man drew near, he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Instead Presbytera Penelope spoke, and comforted the man, who was now in tears, in a calm voice. She spoke in Greek, and in frustration at the words that would not come, the man did not hear everything that she said, but alas the unmistakable words “My heart is gone” were very clearly heard.
All other words that were so carefully planned in order to console were irrelevant – so God removed the ability to speak where it was unnecessary. Prebytera Penelope stood there in like fashion comforting one person after another, in Fathers place, for countless hours, while thousands of people approached. It appeared from a distance, they all shared the experience of the man who, at the critical moment, could not speak, despite his fervent rehearsals and rather than being the comforters, a great many that night were the comforted.
The line never ends
The night of the wake, the line seemed to have no end. People came from every culture, every age, every religious flavor, and every background. Father was dressed in the magnificence of his full Priestly vestments, and held upon his chest, just below his cross, the Gospel. He was buried as he was, as he had been pre-ordained before all time; a Priest.
A child says Good Bye
It was unclear to the father of the child Emmanuel, if he should bring the child near to father on the day of the Funeral. Eventually, God decided, for the five year old finally asked to see father, so he was brought to the place where father rested before the solea of the church where he had left his own infant child so many years before. The child Emmanuel asked, “Is Father going to be with God?” and “does Father always sleep here?”. The child Kissed father's hand, and in the innocence and sweetness of a child’s voice said simply “bye bye father”, for he was Happy that Father was going to be with God, and talked about it often in the following days. The child asked his father if one day he could also go be with God and if he would be able to speak when he saw God.
The child Emmanuel understood the Priest who had baptized him, and perhaps unlike many adults, saw that in the sadness there was also joy, and the joy was greater.
“Close one eye”
The man who had a conflict in his marriage approached an old friend at Fathers funeral. The friend began immediately to relate a story to the man about something Father Emmanuel had told him years earlier when he sought father’s counsel before marriage.
Father spoke to him in the following way:
“Do you have eyes”? The man answered “yes father”, father said “good”.
Father than asked him “are your eyes open”, the man replied “yes father”. Father said “good”.
Then father inquired, “how does she look?” The man responded “pretty good”. Father said, “Good, that’s important”.
Than Father said, “now close one of your eyes; there is no point in winning, if you ultimately lose”
Father’s ability to “turn a blind eye” as it were, and to forgive, to recognize that so much of our time is spent worrying about the wrong things was truly remarkable. Perhaps that is why he was always smiling.
The story instantly reminded the man about the advice Father had once given him on marriage, but that he had long forgotten “go out buy your wife a beautiful dress and go dancing”. It is in this way that father continued to speak to his spiritual children through others who also knew and loved him.
The thought entered the man’s mind that a sound argument could be made that the entire tome of marriage counseling books and programs in the known universe could be dispensed with in place of these simple pieces of advice.
A man who had fought alcoholism and drug abuse told of the instruction he had been given by Father, and which apparently was Father’s own habit. His instructions were to take the part of the Prosphoron (orthodox communion bread) which was not used in the preparation of the gifts for the Liturgy, and to consume it along with his morning prayers. Every Sunday after liturgy Father would carefully prepare this portion of the Prosphoronfor the man, who perhaps did not understand fasting, for addiction is the antithesis of fasting. In this way, the man who had predisposed himself to feeding his body complex and harmful chemicals, learned to appreciate the most simple of foods which could be consumed, as a ritual of thanksgiving and remembrance, and in harmony with his Spiritual Father. In this way, and with almost no words, but rather a simple action, father had achieved something that all of the rehabilitation programs combined could not – moving the addict from abstinence to prayer and fasting at once in the same moment.
Does Father Remember?
A man who loved father deeply in his heart lamented that he had not visited him before his passing. For months he planned to visit, but had failed to make the time, and now regretted it profoundly.
Thoughts (perhaps selfish thoughts), ran through his mind with urgency; could father have forgotten him? Did only he care? Was the bond imagined? Was it only exaggerated in his own mind, as memories, even recent memories sometime are? Did Father remember?
During the wake, the man made a spontaneous confession to another who stood in the alter, trying to clarify the importance of Father Emmanuel in his life, seeking any consolation for a sadness which had no clear direction, and came to him in waves. He began to explain to the other that Father Emmanuel had married him and his wife, and had baptized their son, in his attempt to classify the importance of it all. But the words came out as only a simple expression and hardly conveyed the bond he had known. If there were anxiety in his mind already, it suddenly took a turn for the worse, when the other man explained, accurately, that Father Emmanuel had married and baptized half of the people presently in the church. Since there were many in the church at that moment, the man departed bearing a heavier weight than before.
The man prepared to leave the wake, however, for some reason he could not. Though he had paid his respects and participated in the readings, something would not allow him to leave. A little time passed, when he saw an old friend and someone who was also very close to Father Emmanuel and had known him for a very long time. The two men embraced, for they had not seen each other in many years, and immediately the friend began to explain to the man, how uniquely important the man had been to Father Emmanuel, explaining that Father Emmanuel loved many, but that the man was "different”, and held a special place in Father Emmanuel’s life. The friend explained how Fr. Emmanuel often spoke of the man, with only the fondest and warmest feelings. Upon hearing this, the man eyes were filled with tears of joyful sadness, and the friend having no idea what the man had been thinking, cried with him for the loss of their mutual friend.
A changed view of the world
What was Father Emmanuel's educational background? What were his academic achievements and recognitions? How many books, if any, did he author? Most people don’t know, and surely nobody cares. Father Emmanuel was a shepherd to his people and one who could endure injury with patience and without resentment. He had a beautiful smile, and he spoke the wisdom of God. That’s what people know, and what they remember, and what they loved.
People need to hear something about seeing your wife in a beautiful dress and dancing, about the simplicity of eating a small part of the Prosphoron as part of morning prayers, about closing a blind eye to the person you love most, when you discover they are just human, about the faith of a priest in the “infectious disease” ward of a hospital, about the love, the strength, and curious absence of fear in the heart of a child when he says a final goodbye, about the sheer number of others one can reach when they know something of the love of God and want nothing more than to share it with those around them, about the beauty of love found and love lost in a world of rampant divorce and unlove and the discovery that the words “and the two shall become one” is not merely a metaphor, that a man fully alive, is a man fully knowing and loving God, and is a power that can make time itself seem to stop, people need to hear of a love which would leave an infant on the steps of the alter to tend to the sick and the dying.
Father Emmanuel is now only with us in our hearts. Everything that has a beginning, also has an end, even the most magnificent of lives. In the words of St. John of Damascus:
“What pleasure in life ever remains unmixed with grief? What glory endures immovable on earth? All things are feebler than shadows, all more illusive than dreams. In a single moment all are supplanted by death. But in the light, O Christ, of your countenance, and the sweetness of your comeliness, rest the one you have taken, like a true friend of man…”
It is a common refrain to speak about “life being short” and to live right, but to see this man lying in the church as if asleep is cause for even those who live the most upright of a life, to take a moment to think more carefully about what is truly important in this short life we have been given. As the funeral hymn continues:
“ All human things are vanity, which do not survive a person’s death; riches do not go with us, nor does glory accompany us on the way; for when death comes upon us, all of these shall vanish, indeed. Therefore, let us cry to Christ, the immortal King: Give rest to him Emmanuel who is departed from us, in the dwelling place of the blessed.”