Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another Tribute to Fr. Michael

[The following was passed along from a friend.]

Father Michael passed away only twelve days before my ninth wedding anniversary. That number has significance only because it was Father Michael who, nine years ago, married Kari and myself, and only a month earlier it was he who had received us into the Orthodox Church.

What was to become our last encounter with Father Michael took place not within the comfortable confines of St. Michael Church, but in a most unexpected place. By chance (if one believes in such things) our paths crossed in the terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport. Kari and I were awaiting our return flight to Boston; he was returning from a trip to eastern Europe, travel-weary and physically weakened, but sharp-witted, debonair, and charming as ever. One could see why even such a close-knit people as the Gypsies had once let him into their confidence -- though not without stealing his wallet, of course.

It strikes me that the always profound and occasionally whimsical integrity with which Father Michael conducted his life is nowhere better illustrated than in the fate suffered by his wallet. It may well be that Elwood B. Trigg is the only person in history whom the Gypsies respected so much as to retrieve his wallet from a small mountain of purloined pocketbooks and return it. Whether Father Michael is truly unique in this regard I cannot say, but I am sure that he not only observed saints, he helped make them.

There is one memory of Father Michael that is almost (not quite) uniquely my own. Nine years ago I was crazy enough to schedule my wedding on the day after my university graduation. It happened at the time that the Evangelical university I attended (which shall remain nameless) had embarked upon a campaign to rid itself of Eastern Orthodox faculty, including then-Dean of Students, Father Michael. There were a few of us students who were Orthodox, to be sure, but it was the faculty who bore the brunt of the university’s vitriol, and Father Michael in particular. Nonetheless, when I received my diploma he left his seat among the Deans and, in front of the administration, faculty, and entire graduating class, greeted me with the kiss of peace.

The much-anticipated keynote address for the day was delivered by a well-known and popular Evangelical writer and speaker, who unfortunately became so choked up with emotion at the graduation of his own son that he could only utter the following words: "Husbands love your wives; fathers love your children." Despite the fact that I was to be married the following day, I found that speech profoundly disappointing, but time and the recent appearance of my own daughter have dulled my criticism. That weekend nine years ago I shared two memorable kisses. Since then I have loved my wife only imperfectly, and God knows I get frustrated when my five-month old refuses to go to sleep even though she is clearly tired. But Father Michael, who was never married, never wavered in his love for the Church and her children.

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