Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.

Genesis 25:8

Fr. George was a retired priest who worshipped at St. John in Tampa during my first eighteen years there. He was a combination of Gandolph from Lord of the Rings and Confucius, with a long white beard, in later years hunched over and carrying a cane. We affectionately called him “Yoda,” because he was a wise, old sage, like the Jedi creature from Star Wars. Many times, he dispensed great advice, but he was also masterful at knowing when to stay quiet and let me find my own way. He became a good friend and confidant.

Fr. George was also a man of prayer and deep faith. He loved God. He loved people. And he loved serving God’s people. He was at almost every service, choosing to sit usually in the very back pew of the church. He would write me notes in barely legible calligraphy. He didn’t believe in email, everything he ever communicated in writing was hand-written and only in his last years did he finally break down and get a cell phone.

His health deteriorated slowly over the years, but he got into his 90s, and still drove a yellow “smart car” everywhere. We spoke often in his later years about death and heaven. He was not afraid of death, his only wish, however, was to outlive his wife, as he thought it was his duty to take care of her until the end. (He ended up passing before her, as it were). One day I got a note from Fr. George which read, in part, “I wouldn’t mind dying in church. However, if I die during a service, please don’t stop the service, in fact, finish the service, grab lunch and just call one of my children (he left their numbers on the note) at your convenience.”

One day at our morning Bible study group, we were discussing John 5, the passage we read at funeral services, and the participants asked if there was anyone I knew who wasn’t afraid to die. I answered without hesitation, “Fr. George.” After Bible study, two of the participants were in my office talking and I happened to see the note from Fr. George, and I showed it to them so that they could see I wasn’t exaggerating. The very next day, we celebrated Liturgy, and someone from Bible study was worshipping that morning. When I walked around the church for the Great Entrance, I noticed Fr. George sitting with his eyes closed and not moving and I wondered if he had passed away. I walked slowly to see if his chest was moving and it didn’t appear to be. The person from Bible study noticed it too, and sent me a text wondering what was going on with Fr. George. It was an agonizing few minutes as I faced the altar table continuing the petitions of the Liturgy, wondering whether today was the day Fr. George would pass and if it really would be in church. Fortunately, when I turned around to offer a blessing, Fr. George had opened his eyes and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

A few weeks after this, Fr. George was in the hospital and was very ill. I visited him and one of his daughters happened to be present. He said to me (and to her) that his dream was to pass away with me praying with him, with my hand on his head, blessing him as he took his last breath. I told Fr. George that that was a nice dream, and I thought to myself, “like that will ever happen.” Turns out I was wrong.

One day, Fr. George’s daughter asked if I could stop by his house. He wasn’t doing particularly well. It wasn’t a rush, she said, just if I could come by sometime that day. I managed to find a free moment in the afternoon, and went to the house. When I entered Fr. George’s room, his eyes were closed. I said with enthusiasm “Hi Fr. George, it’s Fr. Stavros, I came to see you today.” His daughter said he hadn’t been responsive all day, so this is what I expected. However, to my surprise, Fr. George opened his eyes and stared at me. I looked at him and asked quietly, “Is today the day for the prayer you dreamed of?” He nodded his head, and closed his eyes. I began to pray the prayer of the separation of soul and body referenced in the last reflection. I placed my hand on top of Fr. George’s head and made the sign of the cross. As my hand rested on his head ever so briefly, he let out one breath and then there was nothing. I could see his cheeks fall almost immediately and I knew that he had passed. I stopped praying, looked at the nurse and said almost flippantly “I think he just died.” I was shocked to be honest, that this man’s dream had come true. She put the stethoscope to his chest for a few moments and confirmed that he had passed away.

I slid my hand off of his head and got on my knees, as I always do when I’m in the room when someone passes away, a sign of respect for the angels that fill the room to take the soul from the body and carry it to God. (More on this in a future reflection.) After a few minutes of silence, I got up and offered a Trisagion for Fr. George. And as I left the house sometime later, I called a friend and said, “I had the privilege to watch Fr. George pass away today.” Because indeed it was a privilege, a blessing to see not only a good friend but a solid Christian man take his last breath on earth and begin his journey home to God.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still water; He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23

Memory eternal Fr. George! I share these stories with you so that you can know that not every death is traumatic. Some are actually very beautiful and powerful!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here: https://amzn.to/3nVPY5M


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