I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have love His appearing.
I have never been shy about speaking personally in my prayer team messages. Today’s message is in memory of my mother Barbara, who passed away on August 12, after a long battle with cancer. Her funeral was yesterday. I spoke at both her Trisagion and Funeral, and I’ve decided for today’s message, to share my remarks. They are obviously longer than the message I write every day. I give a lot of credit for my faith to my parents, and as you’ll read below, my priesthood is a result of a promise they made to God many years ago. The words below will help you understand a little bit more about me, and how I became the person I am today. The regular messages will resume tomorrow. May her memory be eternal!
Eulogy—Trisagion-Barbara Akrotirianakis-August 16, 2021, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church, Pasadena, CA, by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis
I’ll begin these remarks the same way I did seven years ago when dad passed away, by recognizing and thanking my brother Joe and his wife Sherese for taking care of mom not only these past several months but these past many years since dad passed. The past several months have been really challenging, with constant appointments, hospitalizations, and unforeseen circumstances. Mom was not only blessed that you opened your home to her, but that you really put your life on hold this year to care for her. Whether it was Sherese reading her medical records constantly, or Joe finding a better skilled nursing facility when one proved not so great, or bringing her coffee every morning to cooking whatever she could eat and making sure she ate it, to driving her, talking with her and giving time to her, you both did an amazing and commendable job. The past week, as mom’s life ebbed away from her, she was so lucky to be surrounded by you, and be in your home and not a hospital. I’m reminded of the words of a poem “safely home.” You got mom through the last and perhaps most challenging moments of her life, making sure she died in peace, and that she is now safely home with the Lord. What a blessing that she spent her final months playing with your children, Nicholas, Michael, and Lia, who no doubt boosted her spirits and helped her hold on a little longer, to joy and to life. Thank you Joe for stepping up to the plate as you always do.
If I was going to give this eulogy a theme, it would be “don’t tell me I can’t.” So many times mom’s life took a turn that challenged her, and each time when it didn’t look like she could succeed, she took a “don’t tell me I can’t” attitude along with some innate creativity, and lived a life that was both complete and admirable.
Mom was born on March 12, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan. She attended public high school and studied secretarial skills. She was only 16 when her father passed away in 1959. She graduated high school a semester early and began working as a legal secretary to support her family. We know that a college degree opens lots of doors for people in the world. Mom never went to college, but was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. It was “don’t tell me I can’t,” as she learned more about the law than most lawyers. She would have made a great attorney. She knew a lot especially about real estate and estate planning. I remember when we were kids that mom and I used to take long walks around the neighborhood and she would teach me about investing, the stock market, IRAs, real estate, and lots of other things. With our dad having a law degree in Greece (though he never pursued anything with it in America) and mom having so much experience in law, it’s no wonder that Joe has been so successful in his practice of law. You got good law genes from mom and dad. And Joe, you definitely got the intelligence gene from mom as you are one of the most, if not the most intelligent person I’ve ever met.
Mom met dad because his immigration papers were going through at the law office where she was working in Detroit. They dated and then they got engaged on Valentine’s Day 1968. I guess they really knew they wanted to be married, and quickly, because when they went to the priest to set their wedding day, he told them they’d have to be married by March 1 or they’d have to wait until after Easter because weddings aren’t allowed in the church during Lent, which was going to begin on March 2. They were only engaged a couple of weeks because once they decided to get married, no one was going to hold them back.
Mom and dad were married on March 1, 1968 at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Detroit. On an interesting note, the priest that married them had recently relocated to Detroit. He had been the first full-time priest of the church in Tampa, where I now serve. He told dad that day, “if it doesn’t work out with the American girl, you can try this again up to three times.” Mom’s answer was “don’t tell me we can’t have a long marriage.” Turns out the priest was wrong, as mom and dad were married for 46 years, until the day of his death.
On their honeymoon, mom and dad came to Southern California to escape the cold of Michigan. They returned and got snowed in three more times and decided “don’t tell us we can’t enjoy warm weather all year round” and within a year they had relocated to Southern California, and on their first anniversary, they moved into the house in Whittier where she lived up until a few months ago.
Mom and dad had a lot of faith. Mom had grown up Lutheran, and dad had obviously grown up Orthodox. Mom was really into her church—she taught Sunday school as a young adult. Not really sure how much dad was into church but it wasn’t as much as mom. The Sunday after their honeymoon, mom told dad she wanted to go to church and they went to her church. Dad didn’t care for the service, so she said okay, they’d go to his church the next Sunday. She called and found out that the service started at 10:00 a.m. but dad said it was okay to go at 11:00 a.m., that everyone went late. Mom had them there at 10:00 a.m., I think she actually helped dad be a better Christian. And after four years, she finally decided that she would become Greek Orthodox.
After years of trying and a miscarriage, they were told they wouldn’t have kids. “Don’t tell us we can’t” was their answer. Mom and dad got on their knees on March 14, 1971, on the Sunday of the Holy Cross, and asked God for a son, promising to name him Stavros for the Holy Cross and promising to give him back to the church. I was born on March 14, 1972, a year to the day and the hour of their prayer. One of the greatest gifts mom gave us was that she read us the Bible and made sure we went to church every Sunday. On the drive to and from church, she would read from this book called “Lives of the Saints and Major Feastdays.” I always knew the story of how I got my name but it wasn’t until I was 21 and came home one day to tell them that I had decided to become a priest that they told me the part of the story that included their promise to give me back. Mom told me that she never wanted me to feel pressure to go to the priesthood. She only told me about their promise when I had come to that decision on my own. The reality is that this ministry took me away far from home when I left for the seminary in 1994. They got a second son, Joe, and they got to keep him close. Dad and Joe shared the same birthday. Mom told us that Joe arrived early and quickly. Dad had to rush to the hospital to be there in time for the birth. Mom told him “I didn’t have time to shop for your present, but here he is, your son Joseph. Dad’s father’s name was Joseph. We know that the first-born son is named for the father’s father in our culture. Joe got that name, and you have honorably carried its obligations in carrying for both our parents, especially in their final days. Back to faith, the greatest gift mom and dad gave us was our faith. When a priest in the parish we were attending said that altar boys could serve only once every six weeks, mom promptly said “don’t tell them they can’t,” and relocated our family to St. Anthony in the early 80’s, where we served faithfully in the altar for ten years. To have one son as a priest and the other as the parish council president is pretty good. Mom, thank you for making sure we grew up with faith.
On that note, I wish to acknowledge the many friends that are here that we met in this community in the 80s and the years since then. You’ve been lifelong friends and loved both our parents and we are thankful for the important role you played in their lives.
In our early years, we never had a lot of money. Mom and dad shared a car, a beat up old green chevy nova that I don’t think had seat belts in it. Dad rode the bus. Mom stayed home with us. Mom was really creative when it came to our finances. If there was a coupon clipping contest, mom would win hands down. If there was a way to stretch a dollar, mom did it. Mom could have been a professional seamstress. She made most of our clothes. Joe and I wore matching sailor suits to church as toddlers, and later she made us three piece suits. She made us sweatshirts and made my goalkeeper jerseys when we played soccer. Mom made AMAZING Halloween costumes each year. Whatever we wanted to be, she made the costume from scratch, whether it was Darth Vader, or a Roman soldier, or an alligator. Mom made props for school plays, a huge wooden fire truck for us to play on in the backyard, cowboy chaps, and all kinds of fun stuff—she was extremely talented in making things. When a man gets ordained as a deacon, he wears a white robe that represents the sheet from his baptism. Mom had saved the sheet from my baptism (she saved everything!) and she made it into that robe, which I still have and one day will be buried in. When I was first ordained, Mom also made 40 red cloths that I use for Holy Communion, so her handiwork has literally been part of every Divine Liturgy I have ever served.
Mom was awesome when it came to baking. She was not going to spend money on a birthday cake when she could make one that was better than any we’d find in the store. Her Greek pastries were better than most of the ones made by people from Greece. Her koulourakia and vasilopita were my favorites. No one makes those things like mom. Mom could make Arto (sweet bread) better than any I’ve ever tasted. She would make an artoklasia each year for my nameday and for Joe’s. Both Fr. John Zanetos and Fr. Stathis, the priests we grew up with, grew to love her bread. Now as a priest, it is the custom to take one of the five loaves for yourself. So they always loved when mom made the bread. On the feast of Koimsis, we’d all go down to Vespers in Long Beach, there were hundreds of loaves of bread and many priests, who would each hunt around on the table for the loaf they would take. And our priest knew exactly which one he was going for—moms.
Mom was committed to being a stay-at-home mom for as long as she could. To make some money, she started doing daycare for our schoolmates. Mom, the daycare lady, had a special jacket she made depicting kids playing on the playground. But daycare meant way more than sitting around watching kids play. Mom took a bunch of us kids piled in the beat up car with no seat belts to lots of places around town—the fire station, the police station, even the city landfill, and we learned all kinds of things from her field trips.
When we got older, mom really wanted to travel with us—she organized elaborate vacations for our family. These were not staycations, it was up and going somewhere new every day. One year we took two weeks to tour the southwest. The next year it was up to the northwest and into Canada. We drove on these trips by the way, because we couldn’t afford to fly and mom knew that the joy was in the journey, not the destination. Vacation number three had us driving across the country. Dad didn’t drive interstates so mom did all the driving. We drove all the way to Florida, where we went to the Kennedy Space Center, and Disney World. By this time, we had upgraded our car to a Honda Accord. When we got to Miami, our car got stolen, filled with our clothes and souvenirs. Mom said “don’t tell us we can’t have souvenirs” and drove us all the way back to the Kennedy Space Center to buy us more souvenirs so we wouldn’t return home empty-handed. By the way, for those watching from Tampa, this was my experience of Florida prior to being assigned there. In case you are wondering if I was nervous when I moved there, the answer is definitely yes. The next year, she took all of us on vacation for a month—we went all over the Midwest and upper Midwest, all the way to New York and Montreal. We visited Detroit for the first time since she left 17 years earlier—drove by her old house quickly and with the windows up—it was no longer a nice neighborhood. The church where they got married was not a mosque and the community had now moved out to Troy—Fr. Stratton, a retired priest who serves with me in Tampa had served that parish—small world. We visited cemeteries to see where mom’s relatives were buried. We did genealogical research on them—her ancestors had come from Germany to Michigan in the mid-19th century—they were fur traders and Lutheran missionaries. Thanks to mom, we visited most of the United States. I’m up to 47 states. In later years, mom enjoyed traveling to Greece with dad and with Joe. Mom also enjoyed her trips to Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Florida, the places my ministry has taken me. She visited my parish in Tampa, Florida many times, even made a few friends there. I want to acknowledge the parishioners from St. John who are watching online tonight and thank you for being here with us virtually from across the country.
Mom drilled this “don’t tell me I can’t” attitude into me and Joe as school students. She pushed us academically. She was generous with her time with us, always willing to help with homework, though not do it for us. She would tell us that to be the best at something you either have to outsmart everyone or outwork them, and because there would always be someone smarter, we needed to learn to work hard. She told us that if a teacher told us to write a ten-page paper, we should write a 30-page paper and then there was no way we wouldn’t get an “A.” When I was in 8th grade, I wrote a 60-page paper that she volunteered to retype for me. Mom could type 120 words a minute. I definitely got my fast typing gene from her. When she saw how long it was, she told me I’d be typing my own papers from then on. There is no question that Joe and I know how to work hard and work long hours. And there is no question we got that work ethic from mom. That doesn’t mean that mom wasn’t fun. She was never too busy to hit baseballs to us in the front yard—yes, mom could swing a baseball bat pretty well, go to our sports games, complain to our coaches when she didn’t feel like we were getting a fair shake, or sit down and play a board game or work a puzzle.
Mom was generous in opening our house to people. I can’t believe how many high school friends have commented on my Facebook page that they remember being in our home, and that mom was always welcoming, and always had a lot of food for them to eat. Mom loved cats and had several through the course of her life. Through our marriages, mom got two daughters-in-law, Lisa and Sherese. I would like to thank both of them for loving our mom, who wasn’t always the easiest about sharing her sons. She was blessed with four grandchildren—Nicholas S, Nicholas J, Michael, and Lia. She loved all of you immensely. She loved visiting Nicholas S in Florida and loved being able to see Nicholas J and Michael each week, and in these last months, every day. After a life dominated by men—dad, two sons, and three grandsons, she was so happy to finally have another girl in the family when Lia arrived.
Mom had gone back to work when Joe and I were still in elementary school, in the early 1980s. She worked for several different law firms over the course of her professional life. In college I was lucky enough to work for several lawyers in her firm and their associates at other firms—I was able to earn a lot of money that helped me pay bills in college and grad school. She retired in 2008 and soon after was diagnosed with lymphoma. She fought and conquered this disease three times. It returned in November of 2020 and she fought and fought. The “don’t tell me I can’t” attitude was present throughout her cancer fight. Dad would have credited her German blood for this. Whatever it was, mom was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known, as she endured a lot of treatments, many of them painful and uncomfortable. I want to also acknowledge and thank Fr. Peter Stratos, Fr. Christos Kanakis, and Fr. Chris Retelas for ministering to our mom. You were her priests. I was not.
Mom never stopped moving. In retirement, she was a docent at St. Nicholas Chapel at Rose Hills, she was very involved at St. Anthony, and was constantly reading and learning new things. She enjoyed Bible studies. She enjoyed worship so much that every Sunday she’d see two liturgies—mine on the East Coast via the computer and then in person in Pasadena. She enjoyed teaching her grandchildren about everything from icons to baking and the little books she put together are things you will always have to remember her by.
There are several things I will always remember about mom. First, she was incredibly resourceful. If one way didn’t work, we were to find another. Second, mom was fair. She told us never to start a fight, but if someone started a fight with us, we could finish it. That’s why Joe is such a great trial attorney. Third, mom was real. At times, she was real complicated. But that’s real, that’s truth. She didn’t always have it easy, and sometimes she didn’t make it easy. But mom was honest, you knew where you stood. I know she rejoiced in our successes. Fourth, mom could talk. She could talk for hours. Perhaps that’s why my sermons are so long, I got that gift from her.
The two things I hope you’ll take away from our mom’s life are these. First, she always found a way to do the things that people told her she couldn’t do, and make the most out of difficult and challenging circumstances. When you have your back against the wall or someone tells you that you can’t do something, say to yourself “don’t tell me I can’t” and then put your head down and go to work. Because even if you aren’t the smartest one there, hard work will usually get you where you want to go. And second, how you finish matters. I asked mom recently if she was scared to die. And she said no, she wasn’t afraid to die. She believed in God. And that is a comfort. There are many people who go to church, many people have nice icons, many people even have a good command of the Bible, but when they look down the gunbarrel of death, they are afraid. Mom was not afraid. She lived in the valley of the shadow of death for a long time, but it didn’t stop her from living. And when it looked like her valiant battle was about to end, she was at peace. I wish the last couple days of her life hadn’t been so painful, but she had the best people around her—Joe and Sherese—so I’ll finish where I started, thank you for all you did to get mom “safely home.” And thank you to everyone who knew and loved our mom.
May your memory be eternal mom. May you find rest with the angels and the saints. May you have a good reunion with dad, who we know you missed terribly. Thanks for being our mom. As I said to you in our last real conversation, God could have picked anyone to be our mom. We are thankful that He chose you.
Eulogy—Funeral-Barbara Akrotirianakis-August 16, 2021, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church, Pasadena, CA, by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis
When I speak twice about someone who has passed away, the first comments are more eulogy than homily, speaking more biographically than theologically. The second comments are more homily than eulogy and so this is how I’m going to speak this morning. Dad used to joke that he had the best two sons, one to keep him out of trouble in this life and the other to keep him out of trouble in the next life. Well, Joe did a lot of looking out for mom in this life. He was instrumental in her care, especially these past many months. And Joe and Sherese, again I thank you for putting your life on hold in order to care for mom. Thank you to Nicholas, Michael, and Lia for making mom so happy in your home. I consider it an honor to speak about mom in death. Last night we talked a lot about her life, and today we’ll talk about her faith.
First, thank you for coming today to honor our mom. A Christian cannot exist outside of community. And whether you were a fellow parishioner, a neighbor, or a friend, all of you were an instrumental part of mom’s community, that got her through life and prepared her for everlasting life. I want to also thank the members of my community in Tampa, who send their condolences to our family, many of whom are watching online today, sharing in this service virtually from the other side of the country. I want to thank the many people who have prayed for mom, especially this year, and also to those who are praying for her soul, including monks on Mt. Athos and St. Anthony’s monastery in Arizona who are praying a memorial service for her every day for forty days. She is also being remembered at Catholic Mass in the Franciscan Eucharistic League thanks to a dear friend from Tampa.
I remember a priest we grew up with who gave the same sermon every year on Mothers’ Day. While it was predictable and perhaps even a little boring because we knew what was coming, I can still remember his three points 40 years later. He said everyone has three mothers—their birth mother, the Virgin Mary, and the Church. It’s actually a beautiful sentiment that today we come to lay our birth mother to rest. She lays in the church that was her spiritual home for so many years. And we are in the season of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. The beautiful icon of the Koimisis or falling asleep of the Virgin Mary shows her laid out on the funeral bier with Christ standing over her and holding her soul in His embrace. I’m comforted today by the thought that Christ is holding the soul of our mom in His hands, and that next to Christ and our mom is the Panagia, the mother of all of us. I remember the week before dad passed in 2014, he told me about a dream he had. He told me that in the dream he was standing in front of the royal doors here at St. Anthony. Mom was standing some little ways away. And someone was beckoning him to enter into the royal doors. He said he was confused why mom was not next to him and why someone would be telling him to go through the doors that only the priests go through. I told him that the royal doors represent the gates of heaven and that God was calling him to go through them, and that mom was standing a little bit away from him because it was not her time yet to join him. I’m comforted today by the thought of dad calling her to go through the gates and join him in the place where there is no pain, sorrow or suffering, but life everlasting.
I was at a funeral recently in Florida and a bishop was present at the funeral. There is a beautiful prayer that only a bishop can offer at a funeral. In the prayer, it says in part that death is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, because it assures that we will not be stuck in sin and suffering forever. Can you imagine if you were stuck at one stage of life forever? Like if you were stuck at 8 months pregnant? Or stuck in college for fifty years? Or your kids never got out of diapers? Even some of these beautiful stages would become not so beautiful if they never ended. Can you imagine if you got older and sick and then life got stuck there? That would be downright cruel. When we go to high school or college, we are called the class of whatever year we are getting out from the day that we get in. For instance, when I went to high school in 1986, we were called the class of 1990 from day one, the day I’d finish. From the time we start, we are reminded that our purpose is to finish. All throughout life, especially at the Divine Liturgy that mom attended so often and loved, we are reminded about our end goal, which is to graduate from this life and enter into eternal life. The icon of the Dormition reminds us of where we are going, not the image of the Virgin Mary at her funeral, but the image of Christ carrying our souls to heaven.
When a person gets married, we pray that they will see their children’s children. That means we pray that they will see their children become financially independent, get married, and have their own children. This way, when they pass away, they can leave secure in the knowledge that their children are okay. Thankfully, she got to see her children get married. She got to welcome two daughters into the family, in Lisa and Sherese. She got to see her children’s children, four of them—Nicholas S, Nicholas J, Michael and Lia. And she got to see her children become not only financially independent, but very successful in their fields.
I’ll share a story that I didn’t share last night. I talked about how mom was very creative and resourceful, particularly with how she could stretch a dollar. She had a conversation with me and the next year with Joe as we approached our 16th birthdays. She told us that her and dad wouldn’t be able to afford to send us to college but that she would let us pick out whatever new car we wanted within reason, and she would pay the gas and insurance, and in exchange, we would not bring home less than straight A’s or be unsafe drivers. She also told us that we would not have a curfew, that we could come and go as we pleased but that we always had to get up on our own for church and for school, she would not be our alarm clock and that we always had to be honest about where we were going and what we were doing. We each eagerly agreed to the deal. Mom and dad bought me a new $15,000 Toyota truck with a camper shell to haul around my friends and Joe got a new $15,000 Toyota Corolla with tricked-out rims. It cost mom and dad $30,000 for cars and they did not pay a cent for us to go to private colleges for a total of 15 years. She taught us from an early age to be responsible, focused, and self-reliant. She taught us a great work ethic. And there is no doubt that these experiences have helped pave the way for our successes.
As for seeing your children’s children, and for seeing your children be successful, mom checked that box.
When you get married, the idea is that you will grow old together. It doesn’t mean that it will always be easy. Mom and dad were really different people, but they taught us what it means to stick by someone and not quit when you disagree. Mom and dad took care of each other, yes they irritated each other, but they took care of each other. And when dad died, mom had a hard adjustment to life on her own after 46 years. In some ways, she never was the same and in other ways, she found extra reserves of strength to cope with her loss. Yes, it is sad to lose mom. Yes, it is a little different to lose one’s last parent, as someone reminded me the other day, we are now orphans. But when two people are married until the end of their earthly lives, it is hard for the one that remains behind and oftentimes, I feel some sense of joy that the loneliness of mourning a spouse has ended. In that way, I’m happy for mom. Also, it is the natural order for us to bury our parents. I’ve see far too many parents bury their children. Another box checked.
An inevitable consequence of our fallen humanity is that people get sick. And sometimes these sicknesses are serious, painful, and life-threatening. I’ve always had a fear of needles and hospitals. I’m not sure where that came from but it certainly didn’t come from mom. While nobody likes these things, mom embraced these challenges with resolve and with patience. She had more chemo treatments than we can remember, lost her hair and grew it back multiple times, endured uncomfortable procedures, lived with IV’s and pick-lines, and just kept going. When a person has pain that is temporary, they are supposed to endure. When there is a way out from illness, they are supposed to persevere. Mom did a lot of both of these things over the past 13 years. When there is no path to a cure, one is supposed to prepare. And when there is no path and no end to the pain, then it’s time to bow one’s head and surrender one’s spirit to God. Mom fought valiantly to stay with us as long as she did. She could have easily passed 13 years ago when she was 65 and she found reserves of strength and patience to get through four battles with cancer. As the path for a cure became blocked, and the pain was not going to end, mom took that leap of faith and surrendered. Another box checked.
Going back to the wedding service, one of the prayers at the end of the service says this: “May the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the One, Holy, and Life-Giving Trinity; One Godhead and Kingship; bless you and grant to you long life, good children, progress in life and in Faith; fill you with all the good things on earth, and make you worthy to enjoy the promised blessings as well.”
If you were 16, and had just lost your father, and had to finish high school early and couldn’t go to college, life might have looked pretty bleak. If you were 78 and riddled with pain from cancer, life might seem as it if is not fair. But if someone told you that your start will be rough and your end might be difficult, but in between, all those things in this prayer would be answered, I’d say that’s a pretty good life. Mom had a long life. Sure, it could have been longer, but it was long, in the sense she did a lot with her 78 years. She had good children, at least I like to think we are good. We weren’t always good, there was the time Joe and I gave each other matching black eyes, but we were pretty good children, and I’d like to think we are pretty good adults. Mom definitely made progress in her life. She was all about moving forward, not to collect awards necessarily but to live out each day and make the most of each opportunity. She made progress in faith, because she kept at it. She kept praying, kept worshipping, kept learning more about Christ. She got her fill of a lot of the good things on earth. And having finished her journey as a devout Christian, we pray that she is worthy to enjoy the promised blessings as well. She checks all the boxes of that prayer at the wedding. And for that we are thankful to God.
The most important thing we will ever have in life is faith. It’s the only thing that goes with us when we die. Mom had a lot of faith. It took faith to not go to college. It took faith to marry a man of a different culture. It took faith to move to a different area of the country far from home. It took faith to ask God for a son and promise not to keep him. It took faith to raise two sons who have faith of their own. It took faith to survive cancer three times and to battle it a fourth time. It took faith to let a husband go and continue on. It took faith to stop fighting cancer and prepare to meet the Lord. Mom had a lot of faith.
At every funeral, we display the icon of the Resurrection. Our icon of the Resurrection does not depict Christ rocketing out of the tomb having cheated death. It shows Him going to Hades to rescue all those who had fallen asleep in faith. An important detail of the icon is that it shows Christ grabbing the wrists of Adam and Eve, the first people who died. To take someone by the hand denotes equality. To take someone by the wrist denotes that you met them more than half-way. This is what Christ does for us. We have to reach to Him in faith, supported by a life that demonstrates faith, and then He does the rest by His grace. We know that mom continually reached out to Him in faith by the way she lived her life.
When we were little, mom would always be quick to comfort us. I remember her holding us for hours when we had a fever or were sick. I had six surgeries for a cleft lip and palate before I turned 17 and another surgery to reconstruct my elbow at 19, and mom helped nurse me back to health each time. We know that our mothers are the first people we run to when we are wounded and they take care of us. I am also comforted today, as well celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, that she is comforting our mom, and that she will also comfort us in our grief.
A priest always wears white vestments at a funeral. This is because white is the color of the Resurrection and the color of hope that we have in God’s promise of everlasting life to those who believe in Him. These are the same vestments I wore when we buried dad seven years ago. This cross I’m wearing was also a gift from mom and dad years ago. I wondered when we buried dad and I wore these vestments if they would make me feel sad or comforted when I would wear them in the future. They actually bring me a lot of comfort. I feel close to dad when I wear them. And I know that I will feel close to mom when I wear them as well. I feel closest to mom and dad in our church. When we prepare the Holy Gifts, I pray at each Divine Liturgy for them, for Joe and Sherese and their kids who live so far away from us. It is in the Divine Liturgy that we can be united with our families, the ones who are far away and the ones who have passed on. The church, our third mother, is going to provide a lot of comfort for us in times like this. I am sad that I won’t be able to talk to mom, especially on long drives when we’d talk for an hour or more. But I am grateful for what I had—the life lessons and the memories she gave to us.
I’m going to close these remarks with a quote from II Timothy 4:7, which sums up mom’s life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Mom could be stubborn and never shied away from a fight. But her fight was a good fight, because it was always a fight to be better, a fight for what she thought was right, and a noble fight. Mom finished the race. Those last couple of yards were really tough. But she finished. And most importantly, she kept the faith. She was in church 11 days before she passed. She received Holy Communion only a couple of days before. In her final hours she said the Creed and listened to the Psalms. From the time she was a child in the Lutheran Church, to becoming Greek Orthodox, to those car rides to church when she read to us, to every service she got to early so we could serve in the altar, to watching two liturgies each Sunday, to her own personal prayer life, mom kept the faith. Saint Paul continues in II Timothy 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.” May God’s reward to mom be a place of light, a place of repose and a place of refreshment, where there is no pain, sorrow or suffering but life everlasting, and may we live a life of faith as she did, so that we also might receive this reward.
May your memory be eternal mom, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory. Thanks for being our mom. God could have chosen anyone to be our mom. Thank God He chose you.