The 1st Anniversary of Archbishop Dmitri's Repose

The 1st Anniversary
of Archbishop Dmitri's Repose
(Reflections and Memorial Service Schedule)
Fr. Basil Zebrun

     One year ago, on August 28 (Old Calendar Dormition), our beloved Archbishop Dmitri fell asleep in the Lord.  Since his retirement in March of 2009, and especially during the last twelve months, our Diocese has felt the need for a resident ruling hierarch to shepherd the Southern flock.  Archbishop Nikon -- who has been a blessing as our locum tenens -- stated at the 35th Assembly in Miami that with the repose of His Eminence, "a void came into our hearts that cannot be filled, and in some sense should not be filled, for no one can replace the 1st Apostle to the South."  He also reminded us that "the Diocese is still dealing with grief, manifesting itself in various ways within the Church:  anger, sorrow, and with faith in the Risen Christ as well."

     Many people can identify with Archbishop Nikon's words.  Although life continues in the Diocese and in our parishes, the presence of our founding father is sorely missed.  It is a testimony, however, to his vision and leadership  that in spite of the fact that he was not known for attention to administrative detail, essential principles and structures remain after his repose -- as well as the faith of those he nurtured in Orthodoxy -- that enable the Diocese to carry on its tasks of parish development and mission.

     Archbishop Nikon further stressed that while the Cathedral in Dallas continues to progress in constructing a final resting place for Archbishop Dmitri, the true monument to his life is not a building;  rather it is the lives of the people, essentially the way we conduct ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ: "you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:2).  Finally, we were encouraged in Miami to make Archbishop Dmitri proud by carrying on with the work of evangelism.

     Assuredly this work will continue, and part of the effort will be the election of another ruling hierarch for the South.  This topic was addressed repeatedly at the Assembly, and it is possible -- though not a given -- that an election will take place as early as January or February, in conjunction with the Annual Diocesan Clergy Conference.

     I cannot help but think, however, that in some ways it is providential that the process of election has not progressed.  True, we have been without a ruling bishop for three and a half years, and a resident hierarch will provide possibilities and a stability to Diocesan life that are not currently feasible.  In addition, it can be asserted that we are not fully a Diocese without the presence of a bishop.

     But in light of Archbishop Nikon's assessment of our grief, it may be that we need to mourn the passing and celebrate the life of Archbishop Dmitri on the 1st Anniversary of his repose, before we participate in the task of electing a second father in Christ. Perhaps we need this time -- alone as it were -- to assess the meaning of this occasion,  to consider prayerfully the gift of the Archbishop's fatherly leadership, and in our "anger and sorrow," put to rest any ambiguities in our hearts.

     The grieving process is a complex experience.  The loss of a loved one can be dealt with, denied or covered up easily by delving more deeply into "life's earthly cares."  A good friend recently stressed to me that in the field of grief counseling it is generally advised that after a great loss people refrain from making major life decisions for at least a year.  This helps to insure that persons make informed decisions, not impetuous ones based on emotion.  In the case of someone seeking remarriage -- and a bishop's relationship to a Diocese is sometimes described as a marriage -- time helps prevent a grieving party from focusing only on potential partners who mirror the image of the former spouse.

     As they relate to our Diocese the above thoughts are pertinent.  They may also appear counterproductive, not in keeping with the spirit of prescribed Statutes and By-Laws, and they certainly will not address the frustrations of those who believe that three and a half years is more than enough time to put forth an episcopal candidate for the South.  It is a fact, however, that while he retired in March of 2009, Archbishop Dmitri's presence and influence was never far from those he formerly served, up to the summer of 2011. It is only during the past twelve months that we have painfully felt his physical absence from our lives.

     It is incredibly hard to lose one's father. It is equally difficult to lose a father in Christ who has shown us the way to salvation. But part of the healing process will be to use the 1st Anniversary of his repose as a time to appreciate all that the Archbishop shared with his flock, while striving to apply his patience and wisdom to the realities of our own lives.  A priest of our Diocese recently mentioned that he is just now beginning to understand why His Eminence did many of the things as he did, both administratively and pastorally, and that he misses that example very much.  It is true that we often do not realize the full worth of those around us until they have gone to their rest, even someone of Archbishop Dmitri's stature.

     In considering the significance of the upcoming Anniversary I am reminded of the words of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann.  In an article for the occasion of America's Bicentennial, reflecting upon the history of Orthodoxy in this country he wrote that, "To love is to remember. And to remember with love is truly to understand that which one loves and remembers, to appropriate it as God's gift."  On this 1st Anniversary then, we may ask ourselves, "what is it that we understand with regard to God's gift of His Eminence?"

     On one level people will bring multiple "understandings," but through the Archbishop's ministry God provided objective signs of His will and design for us -- three in particular -- points of emphasis for which we may be particularly grateful, that continue as part of Diocesan life.  I have in mind signs similar to those indicated by Fr. Schmemann as he spoke of Orthodoxy in America.

     The first is that of Mission. The Church is missionary in character, and "the spirit and motivation of Christian mission everywhere is the total identification of the Church with the people, with their real needs, spiritual as well as material" (Schmemann).  His Eminence was keenly aware of this dimension of Church life which has been part of American ecclesial history from the beginning.  He understood the Southern Protestant tradition, and identified with those searching spiritually for something deeper, more genuine.  He also knew the mindset of cradle Orthodox, experiencing his rebirth in the Faith at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas, and through serving cradle Orthodox Christians as priest at St. Seraphim's, and then as a bishop in the North.  In addition he understood firsthand the struggles of those -- such as Orthodox immigrants -- who fight to make a living for their families, having himself endured periods of notable hardship in his youth.  These experiences the Archbishop brought to his episcopal oversight.  To his eternal credit, through his openness, personal experiences resulted in a sensitivity to those around him.  He identified with the needs of his flock, whether spiritual or material, and he used his understanding of human nature to profit others. His primary focus, however, was on the "one thing needful" which brings ultimate fulfillment.  He sought through various means to impart the message of hope to those with whom he identified:  through hospitality, liturgical translations, preaching, writings, charitable donations, and missionary endeavors.  Even his desire for a Diocesan Pastoral School was partially rooted in a perceived need for an institution that would specialize in interpreting Orthodoxy to a Southern audience.  May his insights and sensitivity to his fellow man continue to be strengthened in us.

     A second essential sign and gift, discernible through the life of His Eminence, was a desire for a Church through which Orthodox Christians of various backgrounds would be united administratively as well as in Faith, a Church, "with her own and unique identity, distinguishing her from other Churches" (Schmemann).  This unity existed in the nascent stages of Orthodoxy in America. But as Fr. Alexander explains, it was eventually, "broken (administratively) and then...replaced with..."jurisdictional multiplicity.""  Here again, the Archbishop was well aware of the history, but his own experiences resulted in an appreciation for diverse expressions of Orthodoxy, as well as patience -- but not passive acceptance -- with the "status quo" of jurisdictional pluralism.  For the sake of good order he followed the service patterns of the Russian Church, yet many Orthodox customs found their way into the life of the Dallas Cathedral. Noteworthy was the Archbishop's desire to work as closely as possible with North Texas faithful on Pan Orthodox projects, his efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community, and later to Russian and Ukrainian immigrants.  In this area of activity he echoed the sentiments of many in America; "that until Orthodox administrative unity is officially achieved in this country through episcopal action, we can work locally in every city as though unity is a reality." Anticipating the 1st Anniversary of his repose, it would be our hope that we can continue in the Archbishop's vision of cooperative efforts with fellow Orthodox Christians of different jurisdictions, while maintaining the vision of an Autocephalous Church in America.

     Finally, God through his servant, provided a sign that, "there is no Christian life -- personal or corporate -- without a Cross" (Schmemann).   As a hierarch of the Orthodox Church the number of crosses borne by His Eminence over the span of 40 plus years would be difficult to imagine.  He revealed personal frustrations and sufferings as crosses, however, to the measure that he bore them in imitation of Christ.  His patience and forbearance -- well known characteristics -- were signs through which our own sufferings may become crosses, possessing a saving effect if we follow His Eminence's example.

      The continuation of our work in the Diocese is indeed an indication that to a degree we have internalized these lessons personified in the life of the Archbishop, though we still have much to learn.  Fr. Schmemann's words regarding the Orthodox Church in this country, may be applied to our own Diocese still in mourning, yet striving to put into practice the basic precepts of the Faith:  "If together we have gone through darkness and difficulties, if we have survived and grown, it means that the Church has truly permeated our lives, that she has become a reality for us."

     In light of the 1st Anniversary of the Archbishop's repose, I am encouraging everyone to mark their calendars for Sunday, August 26, and Tuesday, August 28.  On Sunday the 26th, at 6 pm, Archbishop Nikon will celebrate an extended Panikhida (Memorial Service) for His Eminence at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas.  The service will be followed by a reception in the Church hall.  On Tuesday the 28th, a Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at the Cathedral at 9:30 am, with prayers for His Eminence.  A Panikhida will also be celebrated on August 28 at St. Barbara's, at 7 pm, for Archbishop Dmitri.  It may be that other memorial services, as well, will be held at Churches throughout the Metroplex and I would encourage people to check respective parish websites for differing schedules.

     The upcoming anniversary will remain forever a "red letter" day on our Diocesan calendar.  St. Paul instructs, "remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7).  It is precisely in this spirit that we will gather on August 26 and 28:  to remember our first hierarch, to consider the outcome and achievements of his life, to pray for his salvation and that we may be strengthened -- even in some small measure -- to imitate his resolve.