Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Repose of Bishop DMITRI of the OCA

Yesterday we celebrated the Beheading of our Lord's Forerunner and Baptizer, John. The apolytikion for his feast begins with "The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord's testimony is sufficient for thee, O Forerunner." While reflecting on those words throughout the day yesterday, I heard the sad news that Bishop DMITRI of the OCA had reposed the day before at his residence. He was 87 years old.

I had the fortune of meeting DMITRI a few years ago when I was in Dallas. I didn't know anything about him. The first time I saw him was when I was chanting Orthros for the Leavetaking of Pentecost. He was wearing his monastic vestments and went to the altar. I didn't know he was even a bishop. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Bishop BASIL introduced his fellow bishop and colleague to those in attendance.

At the reception following the Liturgy, Bishop DMITRI was sitting by himself in a corner with one of his aides engaged in a conversation with someone else so I thought I would introduce myself. When greeting a bishop, there is always this sense that you may be breaching decorum by talking to him. He's a bishop, I'm a layman. What possible interest could this man have in speaking with me. How shattering wrong this perception was with him.

He saw me first and motioned me to approach. He remained seated and I asked a blessing which he promptly gave. He directed me to sit down next to him and he asked me to lean in closer. His voice was weak at the time. I cannot adequately describe the conversation that took place over the next few minutes, but I could not believe how humble and how gentle this man of God was. He smiled throughout the conversation.

I don't know why I told him that I was a convert (I always felt the need to tell hierarchs that for some reason. Metropolitan ISAIAH of the Greek Archdiocese had the best response: "We are all converts."). Bishop DMITRI just smiled again and said softly, "So am I." Of course, I didn't know this at the time and was taken aback by it. He asked why I was surprised. At the time, I just assumed that converts to Orthodoxy in this country were a new phenomenon. DMITRI and his sister became Orthodox in the 1940s. But I gave no response.

His Grace then had to leave and as I left him, I could tell that God was in this man.

Though not a martyr to the Christian faith, I have no doubt Bishop DMITRI would have been had there been occasion. But like John the Forerunner, DMITRI found more comfort in the Lord's testimony than he would have ever had with songs of praise. May his memory be eternal!

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