Memory Eternal

dmitri

“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!

Comments

  1. David E. Walker says

    This was a very inspirational reading, and food for thought to ponder. It is within this context that we understand the words of our Saviour: if you even say “raca” you are in danger of the Hell-fire. (I paraphrase based on my poor memory of Our Lord’s words-forgive me). There are so many ways in which we in the modern world fail to appreciate the image of God in our neighbor. Accustomed as we are to the comforts and distractions of modern technology, along with the increasing violence in video games and the movies, the lack of respect for the human body, the mass advertising campaigns which subliminally appeal to our most base passions and appetites, the culture of greed upon which our market economy is based… Well, I could go on. But the most dire consequence to our soul is that we become anesthetized to the real suffering of those around us… Indeed, to our own suffering. A friend of mine, an army man who is Orthodox and who has been deployed several times in Iraq and Afghanistan, posted an article that reflects the extent of this decadence that modernity has brought us. The article suggests that it is not necessarily the PTSD that causes so many GI’s to commit suicide after returning home… It is the readjustment to a life which for them has become too banal for them to withstand. I would like to end by returning to the premise upon which the article is based; that is, the words of Archbishop Demitri of Dallas himself: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.” If we can remember these words, they will be for our salvation, since eberthing in Scripture seems to point to them. May the memory of Vladika Demitri be eternal. God rest the soul of His sweet servant, and may light perpetual shine upon him.

  2. mary benton says

    I echo what the others have said.

    When I look at the image of Archbishop Dmitri above, it is not hard for me to believe that man is made in the image of God.

    May I remember his words when I look upon my neighbors in whom it is not so obvious but just as true.

    Memory Eternal!

  3. Randy Evans says

    Thank you much for this posting, and for the life of Archbishop Dmitri – Memory Eternal! As an addictions counselor for 11 years now, working with many hundreds of folks who struggle with substance abuse and addiction, this foundational understanding of who we human beings ARE — the very image of our Creator God which is indestructible and which gives us our value and dignity — has been so crucial for me, a sinner, to be able to love and accept without condition or judgment these who struggle with toxic shame, depravity, and much despair. There can be no genuine compassion, love, support and healing for others unless we, by God’s immeasurable mercy, “treat our fellow man as God Himself,” and never forget that “Only One is Holy – the only true friend of Mankind.”

  4. fatherstephen says

    Randy,
    Thank you! I volunteer once a week in addictions work. I am equally indebted to this proclamation. I would be mute without it.

  5. Anastasios says

    He converted in 1940? Apparently he was previously a Southern Baptist, and he was only 18 at the time, too. Amazing.

    I always thought the evangelicals who journeyed to Antioch in the 1980s were the trailblazers, but looks like Abp. Dimitri had them beat by four decades. I hope they at least consider canonizing him, as they did with Fr. Alexis Toth. He’s certainly made a big impact.

    A very interesting article about him by Kh. Mathewes-Green, that gives more details about his upbringing and background: http://frederica.com/writings/archbishop-dmitri.html. He apparently also knew Japanese, and served as an interpreter on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff.

    “It’s not quite a ten-gallon hat; the soft, tall cap of black cloth could hardly cover a one-gallon milk jug. Fronted by a gold metal cross, the hat tops a Dallas clergy leader who looks more like a mountain man than a televangelist.”

    Orthodoxy has a long history of mountain men.

  6. Margaret says

    Thank you for this, Fr. Stephen. I believe these words to be true. I work with children with very different need and abilities than most in today’s classrooms. This truth about being created in the image of God cannot be repeated too often. Memory Eternal Archbishop Dimitri! Glory to God for All Things!

  7. fatherstephen says

    Anastasios, he was only 16 at the time (born in ’24). He and his older sister (also a teen), became convinced after reading articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica researching their question of what happened to the original church, that Orthodoxy was the true Church. There really wasn’t anything else in English at the time. They attended for around 6 weeks at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox in Dallas before anyone spoke to them. Their whole story is simply an astounding account of grace.

    During his years serving in Japan (post WWII), he attended the Orthodox Church in Tokyo, founded by St. Nicholai of Japan. He was fluent in Japanese. I have a Japanese member. She said that Abp. Dmitri’s present Japanese had been heavily influenced from liturgical Japanese, such that talking to him felt like talking with a character out of the Kabuki theater – which is how a saint should sound. :)

    He is a significant figure in the history of modern, English-speaking convert Orthodoxy (as is Met. Kallistos Ware). Their presence as bishops cannot be overestimated. Of course today, converts a common among the hierarchs of the OCA and others. And many others are American born and American cultured.