by His Grace Bishop Daniel of Santa Rosa
I served as Metropolitan Theodosius’s secretary for approximately the last two years before his retirement in July 2002. Those times were marked with personal difficulties and challenges; it was during that time that he took a leave of absence from the primatial ministry for the health concerns which eventually led to his retirement from the Primatial Office. I was mostly involved in the usual, normal activities that one associates with the work of a secretary. However, because of that role I was also able to observe His Beatitude from a special perspective.
My recollections or memories of Metropolitan Theodosius do not involve a single event or moment in the day-to-day routine, but, rather, are memories of the overall manner in which he carried out his significant role as “Metropolitan of All America and Canada.” While he struggled with his declining health and diminishing abilities, he was still always able to rise to the occasion, whatever it demanded of him. Whether it was at a meeting of the Holy Synod, visiting seminaries or monasteries, participating in inter-Orthodox meetings or events, hosting or being received by dignitaries, visiting parishes, or simply greeting visitors to the Chancery, he always rose to the moment and presented himself with grace and dignity and humility. The clergy and faithful who welcomed him to their parishes for archpastoral visits certainly will remember the personal charm he exhibited on those occasions. This seemed to be especially evident when he would visit a parish community for the consecration of a new temple. On these occasions he spent extra time with the faithful, explaining the meaning behind the rite of consecration and warmly encouraging and congratulating the local community on their accomplishments. He wanted to guarantee that the local clergy and faithful knew the importance of what they had done not only for their local parish or diocese, but for the entire Church.
However, my primary recollection of Metropolitan Theodosius is that it was at the Holy Altar that he really came into his own and was his most genuine self. Visits of bishops to parishes, let alone the visit of the Primate of the Church, always bring with them their own unique stresses and tensions. When Metropolitan Theodosius visited a parish, it was clear that priests and deacons, subdeacons and servers, choir directors and choirs, and parish councils and sisterhoods, as well as all the parishioners had been attentive to making sure that appropriate protocol was observed, that a warm welcome was extended to His Beatitude, and that everything was “just right.” Priests and deacons, and especially subdeacons, did all they could to guarantee that every confusing or complicated rubric involved in a primatial Divine Liturgy would be well-rehearsed to ensure that everything would go well so that the Metropolitan would be pleased. But, for all the attentive care that went into these preparations, and all the nervousness or stress behind them, the very moment that Metropolitan Theodosius was greeted at the door of the temple all nervousness and tension would melt away by his very simple, humble, and prayerful presence and gentle smile.
During these visits, it quickly became clear to all that His Beatitude loved serving the Divine Services and his attention to praying them and leading others in prayer was always his overriding focus. Even when things did not go “just right” in a service, if a candle was dropped or a priest or deacon missed his cue, he was generally nonplussed and always understanding. I recall that on the ride back to the Chancery after a particularly trying morning in church and a Divine Liturgy at which, from my perspective, nothing seemed to go right, His Beatitude said to me, “We were there to pray, not to perform.” He was not scolding me in that moment, but he was teaching me an important lesson, a lesson I remember to this very day. Indeed, by his very example, he showed that when we gather to pray, our first priority is to serve the services prayerfully and without distraction from any over attentiveness we may give to ourselves. No matter our rank, our title, our offices or our positions.
This remains as an important lesson I learned from a man who served the Church as a bishop for over fifty years. Indeed, a bishop who was present at the “birth” of the Orthodox Church in America when the Tomos of Autocephaly was handed to him in Moscow in May 1970 and who, as Bishop of Sitka, was the host bishop for the canonization of Saint Herman of Alaska in August of that same year. This was the man who served the Orthodox Church in America as Primate for twenty-five years. May the Lord remember his High Priesthood in His Kingdom.