Monday, August 1, 2011

Old Previously Unpublished

This is an unfinished bit that I wrote sometime ago, maybe 1.5 years. I thought I would repost.

I have been thinking about death a lot lately, prompted by two separate funerals. The first was last thursday, a dear old man, the servant of God, John, who lived quite a life as he fought in WWII, had a family and was a devout Christian. I think there is much to be said for how a faith reacts to and treats its dead. Since we knew John, it was more touching to be present there. Fr. Boris left after communion the sunday prior to go see him, he announced that John was on his death bed and to please pray for him. It was barely a couple hours later that John's soul departed him and his body laid there without breath.

Monday there was a Pannikhida, or Requiem, service for him and another on wednesday when his body was brought to the church before the vigil for the feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. Following the vigil, the Psalter reading began for the evening. There were pairs of people signed up to read the Psalter over the body as we await the funeral service the following day, I had the 4-6 am shift. Although I did not sleep well, I was well enough to pop out the door and make it there on time. The church was dimly lit with few candles, one in hand for reading, some at the foot of the coffin and another next to the icon of his patron, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The time went quietly by amidst the trading of reading, but what a wonderful tradition to keep, the psalms are so very human, yet they are what the soul speaks.

After the Liturgy, the church was full of many family and friends for the service. The choir sang, the priest prayed and the deacon petitioned with prayer to the Lord our God to accept his soul into His eternal kingdom and to give him rest. There was a swell of emotion as the music and words gave picture to the lamentation of the people. At the end, though I care for both Elizabeth (the widow) and John himself, I found myself imagining that it was not he who was in the casket, but my own dad. I know it may seem strange, but I could not help it and it is not so far from what will be some day, we will all enter this path at one time or other. All the things that ought to be said or done came rushing into my mind, but none of them seemed to be words that needed to be said, but rather action and a few tears welled to the surface as I tried to shove them down.

Fr. Boris announced that it was time to give the last kiss and that since we know that the soul and his guardian angel were present there with us, we make our peace, one final goodbye. We venerate the body, as we are made in the image of God. He held a large cross in his hand, and icon of his patron saint was laid in with him and a simple crown of paper with prayers on it. I stepped down from the kliros (where the choir sings) and made way for the line to venerate one last time. Elizabeth was first, as it should be, and as she held his hand and pressed her face next to his everything switched and that is where I was consumed by the love of this woman for her husband, her love, her life and everything she has known for decades has changed. I imagined saying goodbye to my dearest love and we have not even have a whole decade together, I cannot imagine her sadness after so very long. It is all as if to say, "Good bye dear husband, father and friend, we will miss you incredibly but may you rest now, in peace, may he lead you beside the still waters..."

Everyone said their goodbyes, which includes Fr. Boris, and his prayers at that point made me think a little. The part that stood out was where he referred to John as his spiritual son and it had never occurred to me that for Fr. Boris, it is as if he is losing a child of sorts. A prayer was rolled into a scroll and placed in John's hand and the body was then dressed with a facial shroud and one for the body, followed by a blessing in the sign of the cross in oil poured out over him. The coffin was then closed and taken out to the car for the transport to the cemetery as the choir was singing, Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!


Our Growing Family said...

very beautiful! and THIS is what keeps me on my journey ;o)