Longtime Dartmouth professor and Orthodox Christian, Donald Sheehan, fell asleep in the Lord on May 26 this year at his home in Charleston, S.C. I learned of his death just this past week. Probably one of the most moving stories involving Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov was written by Dr. Sheehan. I first posted it back in 2007. The link is still up and the story is very much worth taking the time to read. If you pray for the departed, please remember the newly departed servant of God, Donald. Give thanks to God for someone who seems to have been a very remarkable individual.
Grant rest eternal in blessed repose, O Lord, to Thy servant, the Subdeacon Donald, who has fallen asleep, and make his memory to be eternal!
Father, thanks for this wonderful story. How simple, elegant and profound it is. May his memory be eternal!
P.S. The last words of his story say “like Alyosha and (in the end) Dmitri, we come to understand that we are precious not in our self-assertion but only in our self-emptying.”
What a fine summary indeed, yet how impossible such faith is without knowing:
# We are persons because we know ourselves as foundationally free, under not even the tiniest bondage to, or limitation of, either earthly history or the material world – a freedom even prior to and greater than the Church herself because (as Zizioulas says) such freedom “constitutes the ‘way of being’ of God Himself”(34).
# We are persons because we can give ourselves freely and entirely to another in self – emptying love; that is, we can voluntarily surrender all our selfhood entirely into the hands of another in the action of loving that other. Zizioulas puts it beautifully: “Love is a relationship, it is the free coming out of one’s self, the breaking of one’s will, a free submission to the will of another”(34).
# We are persons when we understand ourselves as wholly unique, as entirely unrepeatable and forever irreplaceable. As members of a species we are merely replaceable and countable individuals in a set: biological, historical, or sociopolitical. As members of a set (or sets), we can be compelled to serve extrinsic, even hostile, purposes; we can, that is, be treated as things. But as persons, we are unique and unrepeatable; hence, we cannot (as Zizioulas says) “be composed or decomposed, combined or used for any objective whatsoever”
This kind of personhood is entirely vacant from the landscape of our culture and without it we cannot have strength to give in love. May the Lord help us.
Αιωνία η μνήμη αυτού.
If memory serves me correctly, Dr. Sheehan was also a fellow translator of the Orthodox Study Bible (many, if not all, of the Psalms, I believe). Memory eternal!
I needed this today. Thank you.
I knew Don Sheehan as director of the Frost Place, as a college professor, and as a fellow student of Dostoevsky and Orthodox theology. I heard this story, given as a lecture, when my professor and I invited him to lecture at Marlboro College. To the less Orthodox among us it was profoundly shocking. Every time I read it I struggle to reconcile its profound truth and beauty with my own much more agnostic point of view.
Donald Sheehan’s testimony is profoundly moving, Father Stephen. Thank you for giving it to us. Lewis
Did he attend Divine Liturgy in Charleston?
I do not know.
Subdeacon Donald was active at Holy Ascension (OCA) in Mt Pleasant, SC.
Then he was part of a wonderful congregation. Fr. John Parker is one of my favorite people.
Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for referencing this article. Reading it is a blessing!
Thank you for putting up this post about my father. He was indeed a remarkable man, and his death was truly something of mysterious beauty. He is buried at Panagia Prousiotissa Greek Orthodox Monastery in Troy, NC. (Under Elder Ephraim’s direction.) His 40th day will be July 5. Any and all memorials, Trisagia, etc., are greatly appreciated.
Indeed, may your father’s memory be eternal! I will offer a panakhida for him. The work of his to which I linked was very helpful to me when I read it – very healing. I share his love of Dostoevsky.
Beautiful story you have linked to, very moving and many thanks. May his memory be eternal! Many well wishes to his family.
Having just returned from an almost internet-free holiday in Scotland (including, strangely enough, given the post a few back from this, 4 days in Skye), I just now read your post about Donald Sheehan and Dostoevesky, Memory Eternal. It has been very moving to read his story about his father and the reconciliation at his father’s grave and after, because my relationship with my own father was very difficult (though through praying for him, since his death, this has become peaceful, loving and forgiving on both sides I believe). It was all the more moving because for the last 3 or more days the Exaposteilarion of Holy Friday has been ringing in my head. At first I could only remember part of it but when I asked to remember it all, it came back to me, with the lovely setting our choir uses. It has been a wonderful comfort during a rather busy week, away from Church but not from the Lord. My profound thanks for posting this story now – and Glory be to God indeed!
PS During the first week I was blessed to visit St Ninian’s Cave near Whithorn.
I just found this blog a year and half too late. I was a student of Don’s at Dartmouth College where he supervised my Master’s thesis on Pavel Florensky and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers K. His lecture and conversion story shared here, which I heard when he lectured at Marlboro College with Skye who posted above, laid the ground for my entry into Orthodoxy, though it was nearly a decade later that I became a catechumen. I would recommend all to Florensky’s Iconostasis which is translated by Don. And he did translate the entire Psalms from the Septuagint. I am fortunate enough to have a copy of the manuscript, which I have from his wife has been accepted for publication by an Orthodox press, though I don’t know which press that is or when it will be released.
A caring mentor, and i will miss him; but, i know we will meet again…
Donald Sheehan and his family were “saviors” to me the fall of 1973 when I left Seattle, Washington to attend Franconia College. Dr. Sheehan was my lecturer for a course in Dante, and another where he led us through Goethe and Rilke. Carol, his wife, became a friend and they both fed me dinners and allowed me to spend evenings with their son, David, who had grown fond of me as a Franconia Nursery School teacher. Because I was so far from home, they included me at their Thanksgiving table (my first vegetarian Thanksgiving) – and they have hovered in my heart ever since.
I came across the beautiful lecture on Memory Eternal while looking up information on Russian literature. How sad to learn this great teacher is gone. I would have loved to tell him I learned to “write icons” with Russian teachers from Petersburg, but more importantly, I have never forgotten him, Carol or David. Blessings to all.
Thank you for the sweet memory of Dr. Sheehan. I have friends who knew him, though, unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet him. My first encounter was this wonderful article on Memory Eternal. I have loved him and prayed for him since. There are some deep echos in his article with some of my personal history. He took me to some very deep places and blessed them.
The link is broken. Do you know where i can find the article?
I have checked pretty thoroughly. I think the article is currently only available in printed form, included in the book, The Grace of Incorruption, which was published posthumously. It’s worth the price.
Wow! Thanks for the archive link. I’ll put it in the article.
You’re welcome Father!
That site came in handy many times for me when the link was “no longer available”!