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Funereal Reflections

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Written by Basil on 11/22/2003 4:08 PM. Filed under:

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Our two-day sojourn into the heart of the South was wonderfully eventful. In Knoxville, the starter in father’s van gave out. This set us behind, of course, but we were undeterred. Fr. J popped for a rental car and Fr. D left the van with a local Dodge shop. We only lost two hours at most.

Upon arriving, we went straight to Barnabas’ home, where we were welcomed with his trademark Georgian hospitality. Barnabas is a beautiful man. Spending time with him this week reminded me how much I miss seeing him more regularly. He, too, was formerly a priest in the EOC.

Unfortunately, through a strange sequence of events not appropriate for publication, the funeral services were held in a funeral home. In spite of this, the celebrations were beautiful. The first evening, the icons that I brought with me for my daily prayers proved useful — even though they were tiny in comparison to the space — when we celebrated the panikhida memorial service. I sang in the choir with Barnabas, Athanasius, Matushka* Terri, Matushka Rozanne, Subdeacon Philip, and another woman whose name I cannot remember.

The next day we had lunch at Cracker Barrel. It was fascinating to listen to Fr. J. and Fr. P. talk about church politics. I think Fr. D. is correct when he says that the bright side to American Orthodoxy is that all this “juris-my-diction crap”** keeps us humble. What a triumphal lot of sinners we would be if we had our act together.

The funeral itself was a bit of a whirlwind. I was sight-reading for much of this music; other bits were slightly familiar tones without written music — notably Tones VIII and V, but it took awhile to remember what the bass line is supposed to be. Not very easy with someone singing a random close-but-wrong note in my ear. Obviously, he was doing his best, but it was throwing me off nevertheless.

We did pretty much the entire funeral — so I’m told — which is a bit of a surprise given the number of non-Orthodox we had in attendance. As it was their first funeral in the Orthodox Church, both Fr. J. and Fr. D. were interested to see what could be abbreviated. They were of the opinion that abbreviations should have been made for this celebration, but of course they deferred to the senior priests who were presiding. Unfortunately, we were not able to observe the final kiss, as the coffin had already been sealed. Instead, we had eulogies from family members.

The most impressive by far was the graveside service. The coffin is blessed with water and oil. Incense is poured over it as it is lowered into the grave. Throughout, we’re repeating some of the same hymns we’ve been singing. Then, as the people come forward and cover the coffin with earth, we sing robustly the Easter hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

As we sojourned back to Kentucky, Fr. D. noted at dinner that it was perhaps the best form of closure that he had ever seen.

* priest’s wife; common term of endearment, from Russian diminutive form of “mother” back

** allusion to The Matrix, not Fr. D’s words back

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