“The greatest danger in the modern world is the attack on man as the image of God. That God became man in order to unite man to God is the only sure Divine underwriting of human worth. We have value because of the image we bear.” – Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas – 1924-2011
I was received into the Orthodox Church under the omophor of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas in 1998. I am but one of thousands who came into the Church here in the American South through his generous and gracious ministry. The quote above (which I ran across this morning) needed no date or time identifying it – for I heard him say something to this effect every time he spopke. He held tenaciously, like a new Athanasius, to the central importance of human dignity grounded in the Imago Dei. He saw every diminishment of this central reality of the Christian faith as a direct attack on every human being. He was kind. Every gesture of his life affirmed the belief that human beings are created in the image of God.
When he converted to Orthodoxy in 1940 (as a teenager along with his sister in Dallas), such conversions were extremely rare. It was a time in America that the Orthodox vision was directed primarily towards the establishing of new communities of immigrants. Vladyka once said that he had been Orthodox for 5 years before he ever heard any of the service in English. Today, conversions to Orthodoxy are commonplace. Better than half of all the clergy in some American jurisdictions are converts. Orthodoxy learned much in the last half of the 20th century about hospitality for the refugees of the modern world. That it did so is due in part to the ministry of this gentle soul.
That generous welcome has come at a time when the Divine Image is under attack in more places than ever. I have written before describing this beloved man as the “Apostle to the South.” It is a title that I think most appropriate. In a part of the world that is famous for its hospitality, it is fitting that one of her greatest sons should be such a gentle and kind example.
May his memory be eternal!