On Monday and Tuesday, August 19 and 20, 2019, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, accompanied by His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago presided at the funeral services for the newly departed Archpriest John Matusiak. Hundreds of clergy, faithful and friends gathered in the Church of Saint Joseph, Wheaton, Illinois, to sing-away the long time pastor of Saint Joseph, and Director of Communications of the Orthodox Church in America. His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of Chicago and Mid-America (ROCOR) prayed in the altar during the Divine Liturgy on Tuesday.
Following the burial service on Monday night, His Beatitude extended condolences to the friends, parishioners, brother clergy, and Matushka Barbara and family, on behalf of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America. His Beatitude directly addressed the deceased Father in Christ, saying, “Thank you, Father John, for reminding all of us that, in the middle of all the brokenness and division of this world, there is nothing that remains other than Jesus Christ, who overcomes all those barriers, including the final barrier of death.”
His Beatitude’s homily at the Divine Liturgy, the text of which appears below, reminded the faithful of Father John’s place in the history of the Orthodox Church in America, “Father John did so much in his life with such self-effacing humility that we almost don’t notice it. It’s only now that he has gone that the weight and reality of his presence as a priest of the Orthodox Church in America is revealed. This is both a great honor for him and for the legacy he leaves behind, but also a great honor for the whole of the Orthodox Church in America. Our local autocephalous North American Church is a humble Church that nevertheless has accomplished much to the glory of God. Father John is both a product of this Church and an architect for what has taken place over the past 50 years.”
Homily of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon
at the Divine Liturgy
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is in our midst!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In today’s epistle reading, the Holy Apostle Paul reminds us of a mystery:
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
The moment of death is an opening by which we perceive this change in a single human person, an opening when we, who remain alive, glimpse what it means for the perishable puts on immortality and the mortal to put on immortality. It is a glimpse of that paschal glory when that which is written comes to pass: Death is swallowed up in victory, that moment when we proclaim with Saint Paul, with Saint John Chrysostom, and with the fullness of the universal Church: O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?
A man’s life, all that takes place before the moment of death, is also a mystery, one which often only comes into focus for others on the day that he is taken from us. At the moment of death, all who remain alive, both those who were close to the departed and those who may have been distant from him, are compelled both to assess their loved one’s life and to re-evaluate their own relationship with death. This raises a lot of questions for us: how did he live his life? How did he live his death? Was he truly prepared to meet Christ? Am I prepared to meet Christ? How will I live my own death? How am I now living my life?
In the Church, all these questions, all these reassessments and re-evaluations, take place within the context of life, the life which is offered to us by Jesus Christ, who offers Himself to us as the bread of life, the bread which comes down from heaven, the living bread which a man may eat and not die, the bread which He gives as His flesh for the life of the world.
It is only within the context of this experience of that ineffable life when a man of dust is united with the man of heaven that we can begin, not to receive answers to our questions, but to comprehend the mystery of death and the mystery of life. The newly-departed Archpriest John was a priest of God, who helped us to enter into this mystery, who stood at the altar, and offered the prayers by which the Holy Spirit comes down and consecrates the earthly bread and wine, changing them into the precious Body and pure Blood of Christ.
Father John, as a priest, helped to introduce us into this mystery, but he also knew that for human beings, this mystery often raises more questions for us, as it did for the Jews in today’s Gospel who disputed among themselves when they heard the Lord speak of Himself as the bread of life: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?, they asked. Such questions in the face of the mysteries of God confront us every day. In fact, in the scripture readings appointed for today, both the daily readings and the ones appointed for the funeral liturgy for a priest, 12 questions are placed before us, questions asked by the Lord Himself, questions posed by the Apostle Paul, and questions raised by those around Christ. This is not unusual in the Holy Scriptures and this reminds us, as Father John so well knew, that our entrance into the mystery of eternal life requires work on our part, an ascetical labor to receive a glimpse of the mystery.
Father John famously answered questions for the entire world on an almost daily basis. He did not do this because it was his job; he did not do this because he wanted to boast to others about how smart he was. He did it because, with St Paul he could affirm by the boasting in you which I have in Christ, I die daily. In his own way, Father John, by answering our questions, by referring us back to our own spiritual fathers, by making us ponder more on the questions we asked him, was reminding us to die daily to ourselves so that we might live more fully in Christ.
We live in a world of questions: questions about the environment, questions about sexual identity, questions about the economy, and questions about the stability of a world engulfed in conflict and violence. In the light of Christ and in our life of repentance, these questions are resolved—they are not answered, but we begin to see more clearly what we ought to see: the glory of the kingdom and our own poverty. But it is precisely at that moment that we are offered hope.
Father John himself practiced this in his own life and ministry. He made real the words which we heard at last evening’s service: “O Christ—Master, Savior, tenderly compassionate—mercifully grant Thy mansions of light unto this Thy servant, who through repentance before he died burned before Thee as a shining light.” Father John was a priest on this earth, and in this life, but now he becomes a priest in the Kingdom: “… as Thou didst appoint him to be a minister of Thy Church on earth, so also make him the same at Thy heavenly altar, O Lord.”
This is another mystery for us, because we are speaking not just of a movement from earth to heaven, but of the reverse movement, from heaven to earth. When he was ministering on this earth, Father John — as all priests — was already serving at the heavenly altar and making the glory of that altar visible and accessible to us on earth.
It is by this principle of dying daily so that the beauty of the Kingdom might shine through that Father John was able to accomplish so much work on the international, national, and local level; it was by this principle of living not for himself alone but for Christ, that he was able to plant missions, to teach the young, to admonish the old, to paint icons and compose music, to edit Church newspapers and parish bulletins, to pastor parishes and guide the communications for the Orthodox Church in America for decades.
I would like to suggest that it is not so much the long list of accomplishments reflected in his obituary that defines who Father John was, but rather that it was this man, this priest, this unique human being, who accomplished all these things to the glory of God. After all, our funeral hymns remind us that: “when we have gained the world, we take up our abode in the grave, where kings and beggars lie down together.” We tend to focus on the end of that phrase—remembering that all of us, both kings and beggars, rich and poor, powerful and powerless—will face the moment of death. But it is good to remember that this refers to our relationship with this world, a world which brings death if we cling only to it and its superficial pleasures. But it is also in this world that we can taste the heavenly bread and drink the cup of life.
Father John’s life and ministry are memorable, not because he did a lot of things, but because he did all those things with the humility of a servant who has done that which was his duty to do, one who could echo the words of Saint Paul: By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is in me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Father John preached and ministered in his own unique way, but the message that was conveyed was the universal truth of the Gospel. But this truth is not easy for human beings to grasp. In the daily Gospel reading appointed for today, our Lord Jesus Christ engages in a battle of wits with the chief priests and elders of the people who question by what authority He is doing these things and also who gave Him such authority. The Lord places a condition on his response with His own question: “The baptism of John – was it from heaven or from men?”
Father John did so much in his life with such self-effacing humility that we almost don’t notice it. It’s only now that he has gone that the weight and reality of his presence as a priest of the Orthodox Church in America is revealed. This is both a great honor for him and for the legacy he leaves behind, but also a great honor for the whole of the Orthodox Church in America. Our local autocephalous North American Church is a humble Church that nevertheless has accomplished much to the glory of God. Father John is both a product of this Church and an architect for what has taken place over the past 50 years.
It is fitting that these words were offered on his behalf at the burial service last evening:
“In faith and hope and love,
In meekness and purity and priestly worth,
Uprightly you discharged your sacred functions, O memorable one.
Therefore the eternal God whom you served
Shall Himself establish your spirit
In a place of brightness and beauty, where the righteous rest,
And you will receive pardon and great mercy at the judgment seat of Christ.”
May his memory be eternal.