Words from Metropolitan Tikhon at the Funeral of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
March 23, 2015
Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City, PA
On behalf of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America and all the clergy, faithful members and monastics of our Church, and of all Orthodox bishops, clergy and faithful of this great continent of ours we offer our condolences and prayers to the family of the newly departed servant of God, Protopresbyter Thomas. We are grateful for the prayers of all, and especially for the hospitality of Mother Christophora and the sisters here at the monastery. We are thankful for Mother Christophora’s words last evening and also to Father John Behr for his inspiring words this morning.
So, we have only you, Father Thomas, to ask: what do you want us to remember? You’ve given us a multitude of words — podcasts, teachings, lectures. You’ve told us about The Arena, the 38 sayings of Saint Anthony, The Ladder of Saint John. You’ve given us your own 55 sayings for the Christian life. What are you teaching us by this? Is it not the words we have heard in the psalm today? “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep Thy precepts” [Psalm 118/119:99-100].
This was your life Father Tom, and perhaps this is what you are asking each of us to fulfill in our own lives. To receive as much teaching as we can, whether it’s from you or any of the teachers the Church has given us, and to act upon those words. If there is anything you taught us, it is that you were not speaking to us because you had a lot to say. You only really had one thing to say: please follow the commandments. Is that not the foundation of all the teachings of our entire Church that we take thousands of volumes and pages and words to express? And yet it comes back to that – follow the commandments.
So how appropriate it is that we read all of Psalm 118/119 today as a testimony to your life, that you lived and acted upon those commandments. And now you ask us to do the same. So we pray that indeed, in our own broken and humble way we can attain to even half the stature you now have before the Lord, in our own humble efforts to follow the commandments of Christ.
And we hope that you will forgive us if we cling to the many words that you left us, the many examples that you left us as encouragement and inspiration, because very few of us are able to take that step to purely and simply follow the commandments. We all need help. And so we need your help. As we’ve needed your help throughout your life, now we ask for your intercessions and for your continued guidance to each and every one of us as we struggle to take up our cross and follow our Lord Jesus Christ into the heavenly Kingdom through the glorious Resurrection.
Words from Mother Christophora, Abbess of the Monastery of the Transfiguration, on the Eve of the Funeral of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
March 22, 2015
Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Reverend Clergy, Matushka Anne, Father John, Juliana, Katya, Matushka Masha, Alexandra, with your families. We greet you in this time of sadness and loss.
It is with love and with reverence that we welcome all of you – the family and many friends of Father Thomas – to this holy monastery. We are honored to be the hosts of this “singing away” of Father Tom to the next life – to the heavenly Kingdom.
So very many of you have been thanking me and the sisters, over and over, for what we are doing for Father Tom’s funeral days. But this is for us a very great honor, one that requires no thanks at all.
It is our Lord that we must thank for giving us this person who so faithfully served the Holy Orthodox Church in the American land in the 20th-21st century.
And it is Father Tom whom we must thank for living his life in accordance to the Holy Gospel, in season and out of season, in times of joy and sorrow, in thick and thin, taking very seriously the teachings of Christ and remaining so faithful to Him.
Having been asked to speak at this most holy occasion, I am truly humbled. Father is a world-renown person, and all of you have much you could share about how he has touched your lives.
But speaking this evening on behalf of the monastic sisterhood, I want to turn to Father Tom himself and thank him for all he has done for our monastic community.
Thank you Father for your well-ordered, well-prepared, informative and thoughtful homilies. Thank you for teaching while you preached, inspiring while you pondered.
Thank you for your prayerful, careful and reverent celebration of the divine services in our holy chapel. For praying each word sincerely with heart and lips. Thank you for teaching us to pray by the way we saw you pray. Thank you for your spiritual and physical reverence and attention during all of the services, even in you illness and fading strength.
Thank you for your prayerful and careful censing of the holy temple each and every time, showing us to respect and celebrate every service as though it were Pascha.
Thank you for your deep respect for Church order and for your humility. Your daily faithful greeting to me every time you entered our church, your humble asking my permission to serve the divine services, your respectful attitude during the litanies and moments when the abbess and sisterhood is prayed for. Each of these moments was not a comfortable one for me personally, but your humility taught me humility and respect for Church order. You have taught us by example that everything is to be done decently and in order.
Thank you for your love for all the feasts of the Church, your love for the festal seasons, the seasons of Nativity and Theophany, for serving them so joyfully and so attentively. Thank you for your reverent reading of the Great Canon during the first week of lent (even reading it this lent, just four weeks ago!). And for your lovely and loving reading of the Great Canon during the fifth week of Lent (which this year is to be celebrated tomorrow night). We felt we maybe could extend your funeral just one more day… so that you would be able to preside at that holy service one more time!
Thank you Father for helping us extend hospitality to all who enter our monastery, for going briefly from table to table at each coffee hour, to greet and chat. For extending your homily at the table, talking on so many varied topics, during which the sisters gathered to catch a spiritual crumb that fell from the the table where you were speaking. And thank you for answering so many questions.
Thank you for your love for everyone who came, teaching us to love and respect all – to truly care for everyone.
And thank you Father for bringing spiritual maturity to our lives and to our community. Thank you for solidifying our community, bringing us to a higher plan, a deeper love and reverence for the Holy Church, as well as a deeper respect and love for each other, by the way you loved and respected each of us.
Thank you for praying for us, enabling us to grow with God’s grace, according to His Holy will.
And thank you Father for your integrity – for being a whole and undivided person. An honest person, speaking the truth in love, gentle when speaking to someone and about someone. For being no liar, no busybody.
Thank you for being a loving and gentle husband, and an obedient patient to Matushka Anne, whom you recently referred to as your abbess and your cell attendant, being obedient to her, taking your medicine, resting and keeping your special diet, and recognizing that she was your lifeline now.
Thank you for being a loving, gentle and respectful father and grandfather, giving us this example of holy family life.
It was about 15 years ago that Father Tom asked to speak to me… he was nearing retirement age, and he and Matushka Anne were interested in purchasing a house a few years in advance of his retirement. He told me they were considering Ellwood City, and he wanted to discuss this with me, and ask my blessing to do so, not wanting in anyway to interfere with our monastery or our life here. I recall that that conversation took place in our cemetery, I am not sure why we were there… but tomorrow we will carry him to rest there until the Lord comes again, so he will be near us, now resting here.
During the most recent weeks, Father has brought us some additional blessing. First of all I will mention the more spiritual things. As I understand, Father spoke with his son, Father John, about some of his wishes for his funeral. And after some basic items, he concluded by saying, “Do something nice.” Well, we are trying to do something nice for you Father! When Father was last hospitalized, we received an e-mail on March 9 or 10 telling us that Father had said that morning, “This process of dying is really fascinating!” After shedding some tears, we all said that sounded so like Father Tom. And when there was a gathering at the hospital to do an anointing service for Father on the Saturday before he died, he thanked those who made such an effort to come so far at such a busy time, and then said, “That is what it is, work and effort here, rest there!”
And now for the recent more practical things that I want to thank Father for.
Thank you Father for all they wonderful friends that you brought to our monastery this past week. Thank you for the beautiful choir (which included most of your children and grandchildren) whose voices have filled our church this weekend like never before, and for giving me this break from singing.
Thank you for the new parking lot that was constructed here this past week, just in time for your funeral and the arrival of all your friends.
Thank you for the upgrade in our Internet service that happened on Friday afternoon, and for your good friends from Ancient Faith Radio who also got some new equipment for the occasion of your funeral and are here bringing this beauty to the world.
Thank you for your former altar boy and parishioner, Deacon Gregory, who is here bringing closed circuit TV throughout the monastery complex for those who cannot fit inside the church.
This past Thanksgiving Day we took the Bible quotes from Father John Jillions’ Chancellor’s Diary and each of us received one for our yearly meditation. Mine is from Ephesians, and it serves as a fitting closing to my humble remarks this evening: “I do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (1:16).
May Father Thomas remember all of us in prayer now before the throne of His Maker and creator.