What Happened That Day in the Library

It is occasionally the case that we remember precisely where we were at a point in time, in which everything is before or after that moment. It is a Kairos, a particular moment that changes everything. There are collective moments of that sort: victory in Europe is announced; a President is shot; the Challenger explodes. There are also personal moments: the birth of a child; the death of a parent. There was a Kairos for me in the college library one day, that only became clear years later. My best friend, “Jimbo,” handed me a copy of Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church. “Read this,” he whispered.

St. Augustine tells the story of his conversion as taking place in a garden. He heard the voice of a child saying, “Tolle, lege” (“take, read”). He interpreted it as meaning the Scriptures. The rest is history.

There is such a thing as a Kairos that is inherent in the nature of an event. Dramatic, public events fit that category. There are others, however, that are driven by context. As much as anything, they are catalysts and doorways. Jimbo’s gift of Lossky was a doorway and a window for me. It was an answer to a question. However, I did not know at the time that the question was as essential and all-encompassing as it came to be.

My friend and I had lived together, started a commune together, and ridden the ecstasies of the Jesus Movement together. He made me think and want to learn. Indeed, he created a hunger in me that has never ceased. We hammered away at Scripture and banged our heads against hard doctrines. We sometimes prayed all night. I recall a common practice in which, from our separate bedrooms, we would antiphonally call out various “names” of Jesus (“Prince of Peace,” etc.) until, exhausted, we fell asleep.

Somewhere in our struggles, questions of the nature of salvation began to surface. Some of the questions were spurred on by various bits of esoteric Pentecostal thought. Privately, we had glimmers of “theosis” that would come up in our conversations. Then he handed me Lossky. What we had spoken of in secret and wondered about, was written clearly on its pages and revealed itself to be the teaching of the fathers. There was ever-so-much to learn, but I never took my hand away from that plow.

When, a couple of years later, I went to an Anglican seminary, I continued to read whatever Orthodox material I could find (there wasn’t much). That same pursuit continued over the years, unabated. Eventually, theology and ecclesiology came together and I knew that I could no longer study Orthodox thought – I could only be Orthodox. The thought should grow out of being.

My friend’s life is another story that I may share at another time. He fell asleep this past weekend. We had spoken earlier this year, mostly about Jesus and his sweetness. Horace once said of Virgil, “That man who is half my very soul.” I have always held those words in my heart when I think of my beloved friend. Sleep well, Jimbo.

63 comments:

  1. One of the strongest things in our conversations in those years, was the firm conviction that “thinking” something meant “doing” something. Theology was always existential. Jimbo was bi-polar (not diagnosed until the 90’s). His thoughts would swing wildly. He became a Catholic for a while (and lived in a Trappist monastery for a time – indeed, I had to fetch him out of the monastery to serve as the best man at my wedding). He had a short Buddhist phase and lived in a monastery at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It used to scare me until I was comforted in prayer about him in what I can only call a near-audible voice of God.

    But he died in the faith, confessing Jesus. He lived alone in the woods as an artist and did a bit of work in the nearby town to pay his bills. He kept it simple so he could keep it sane. Apart from my wife and kids, I’ve never loved anyone more.

    I think the necessity of “doing” something always haunted me. The more I loved Orthodox thought, the more torn I was from being anywhere else. We learned that together. Becoming Orthodox in 1998 was my last act as a Jesus Freak – it brought me home.

  2. This brought a tear to my eye. The Jimbo in my life is still alive. Sometimes I’ve wondered which of us will go first.

  3. May God bless him with peace — Eternal Memory to your friend Jim. My kairos moment, memorable and strange when it happened, but in retrospect, life-shifting — occurred with a visit to Patmos. God bless you Father

  4. Peace…very nice Fr Stephen! A beautiful memory shared. I will recommend the book to others too!
    Thankyou & God bless…

  5. There’s this interesting comment in the introduction to Brothers Karamazov, in which Dostoevsky speaks of a second volume of the Brothers, the more important one, so to say–a volume that Dostoevsky never wrote. It has always seemed to me that “the second volume” is the book which comes to life in every reader’s soul, the book that lives in my after I read Dostoevsky’s writing. Perhaps this is how we live in other people’s hearts as well: what we do comes to life in our brethren’s souls. Today, your friend lived (acted) in me. Reading this, I was taken from the day’s tumultuousness in a place of peace. In a sense, I have never “met” your friend; in another sense, I have. Memory eternal.

  6. I have an Orthoxox friend, that I call June Bug. We studied our Bibles together when I lived in TX. She’s 93 years old. I will do a memory eternal for her when she passes. We were new to the Orthodox Church back then. We are both happy that we found the TRUE Church.

  7. Father Bless. Thank you for sharing your memory of your friend.
    Recently buried my first Orthodox friend, spiritual father and priest, Fr. Michael Storozuk. Memory Eternal of both of them.

  8. Tavi,
    I stood in the Church on Sunday morning, having just received news of Jimbo’s death, and looked at the whole thing – the Church, the beautiful iconostasis, the people, the children, everything that was lively, faithful and wonderful, and new that this was one of many waves sent out from those simple words, “Read this.” He was like an enormous rock in the pond of life…and never really knew that he had been such.

  9. I can relate so much to this in my own journey to Orthodoxy. How can we say there is no God when He gives us the answer before we even know the question?

  10. Memory Eternal! And may the memories you have built with your friend be a comfort to you as you grieve.

  11. What a blessing Father – to have known such a person and such a moment in your life! Rejoice in the memories and moments, and my condolences on your loss of such a dear friend. But remember your own words – A ONE story universe! He is yet with you, and will continue your journey with you, until you meet in person again in our Heavenly home. Only his body is gone. His spirit lives on.
    Once, in losing someone dear to me, they made the comment – “Don’t grieve for me, my spirit is free. We will meet again.” On my own gravestone, the back says – “Don’t grieve for me, my spirit is free. I’ve gone back home with God to be. See you all again in eternity.” It came to me when I was praying about what to put on my stone, and it just fit. Memory eternal.

  12. I am sad to learn that Jim is gone. If there is a reunion of the departed, I will rejoice to be in his presence again.

  13. Dear Fr Stephen—what a wonderful gift of friendship and brotherhood you express here! Thank you for sharing this very important person to your life and also a bit of detail about his life. God is so good! Glory to God for All Things!

  14. Memory eternal. My condolences, dear Father. I think the hardest part about getting older is the repose of our friends, especially ones with whom we have significant and meaningful shared history.

    Dana

  15. May you be comforted, Father!

    You are very fortunate to have that sort of “loved right after family” human ingredient in your life. I’m hurting a lot without my own Jimbo.

  16. Thank you Fr. Stephen for sharing your story and friend with us.
    I am old enough now to have had close friends for 40+ years…wonderful! Though they live 1,000 miles away, when we meet again it is like we have never parted…life’s conversation continues.
    I’ve often noted with my wife that friends in Christ are often closer than our own family brothers and sisters who do not know Christ. Father, I will pray God’s blessing upon your friend. Precious memories eternal.

  17. Fr Stephen
    Fr bless. Thank you for sharing this story. Thank God for those moments and those people, so significant in our lives!
    Dear Tavi.
    Thank you for your post. I will always remember your words. Your words are so true. The best book, is the the one written on my heart. The one whose content is veiled to others, except by the love I share. The one only God can read, like that little stone in the book of revelation with a name only God, and the one who receives it knows. May I (we all) live to become that person of the heart, God created us to be, in the Presence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  18. Dear Father Stephen
    This brought tears in my eyes –
    May his memory be eternal and may we all have in our lives but one such a friend. Those people in our who are kindling and stoking the fires of our faith and friendship and we for them are gifts

    Your article me of a quote from Saint John Chrysostom – it’s actually a long quote but here is part of it. Youve probably all read it before … but here it is.

    “A friend rejoices at seeing his friend and expands with joy. He is knit to him with a union of soul that affords unspeakable pleasure. And if he only calls him to remembrance, he is roused in mind, and transported. I speak of genuine friends, men of one soul, who would even die for each other, who love fervently. Do not, thinking of those who barely love, who are table-companions, mere nominal friends, suppose that my discourse is refuted. If anyone has a friend such as I speak of, he will
    acknowledge the truth of my words. He though he sees his friend every day, is not satiated’.

    For him he prays for the same things as for himself …so dear a thing is a good friend, that times and places are loved on his account. For as bodies that are luminous spread their radiance to the neighboring places, so also friends leave a grace of their own in the places to which they have come. And oftentimes in the absence of friends, as we have stood in those places, we have wept, and remembering the days which we passed together, have sighed…

    From a friend we may both ask a favor, and receive one without Suspicion. When they enjoin anything upon us, then we feel indebted to Them, but when they are slow to do this, then we are sorrowful. We have nothing which is not theirs. Often despising all things here, on their account we are not willing to depart from here; and they are more longed for By us than the light… And do not wonder: for it would be better for us were the sun to be extinguished, than that we should be deprived of friends, better to live in darkness, than to be without friends…”

  19. Memory Eternal Jimbo. My Karios moments as far as the faith is concerned have been “without hands”.

    That is until I met and married my lovely Merry who shows me something important and indelable about life in Jesus Christ every day if I am willing to see with my eyes, hear with my ears and know with my heart.

  20. Father Stephen,
    I’m so grateful to have experienced all of your writings, but am moved to have been allowed to share in the raw vulnerability of your heart at the death of your beloved friend. It truly is such a blessing; loving one another, bearing our humanity to the best of our ability, and rejoicing in all the Church triumphant provides us in every phase of our lives. May He comfort you with peace and love.

  21. Beautiful eulogy Father; may we all touch someone’s heart the way Jimbo touched yours.

    That everything is part of God’s plan is something very few us are given the grace to understand early in life — i get the feeling that you have been blessed with it. (From personal (in)experience i know that obedience — to God, to one’s parents, elders, teachers — is one of the necessary requirements for receiving this grace.)

    p.s.
    You comment about the altar getting crowded reminded me of this wonderful story about a meeting between Elders Porphyrios and Sophrony: http://www.oodegr.com/english/biblia/Porfyrios_Martyries_Empeiries/C8.htm.

  22. Oh Father…I am sorry to hear about your loss. How we miss our loved ones when they pass.
    God’s peace to you all.
    May Jimbo’s memory be eternal.

  23. Cindy, et al
    What I can say is that my Orthodoxy is one of Jimbo’s gifts to you all. It is greater than he was – and he gave it to me without understanding it himself. But his strong sense that to do theology meant to act – even though it made trouble in his life – was a correct instinct. And it has been his gift to me. Never underestimate your life or the significance of a single life in the world. In my last conversation with him, I tried to find a way to tell him what he had meant to me, and what God had done with it. I don’t think it registered at the time – though I believe it will now.

    This is, I think, something that is true of the saints (if he was a saint, then he was truly one of the “hidden ones”). In Orthodoxy we say that God sustains the world through the prayers of His saints in the world. We do not know, at any time, who those saints are. Jimbo is, for me, an example of the “connectedness” of true “relation”. I would not be here doing what I do except for that relation. And he did not know it.

    Such a sweet God.

  24. Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord
    Perpetual light shine upon him
    May he rest in peace.
    In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
    Amen.

    And may the Spirit of God, who is merciful beyond measure comfort you, Father, while you suffer from grief . Amen

  25. How glorious God’s providence is – how wondrous are his ways! “For with a secret hand the Lord wages war upon Amalec to all generations.” [Exodus 17:16 – LXX]

  26. Thank you Father Stephen for your testimony so alive, full of kindness …. As the heart is stimulated !
    Peace in the Lord and eternal memory for your very dear friend Jimbo !

  27. “What I can say is that my Orthodoxy is one of Jimbo’s gifts to you all. It is greater than he was – and he gave it to me without understanding it himself.”

    Father, I remember in the past you said something to the effect that ‘every person is Orthodox but they just don’t know it!’ (I’m pretty sure it was when Dana told us about the time her and her husband met you for lunch. Dana said you spoke to her husband, not ‘officially’ Orthodox at the time, as if he were) Sounds like the beloved Jimbo is a good example of this aspect of unknowing. He acted on a primordial instinct, this image of God within…he didn’t know, had no idea that through him God was to open up doors to ‘many’ others. And to you, the ‘one’, as a soul-mate (if I may use that phrase) like the friend in St. John Chrysostom’s quote (thank you for that, Victoria). Such a gift lines up exactly to our unity in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    It is beginning to dawn on me that of love God and of love neighbor is truly the same thing. As well as the many times you say it is folly to look for ‘results’ but rather to just ‘be’, to act upon our gift of the Holy Spirit by following Christ, His commandments, and God will, as the verse goes, “give more grace”, so we may experience this godly love…to be like Him…we want to be like our Father! And He wants this for His children.

    You say “never underestimate your life or the significance of a single life in the world.” Amen Father…not a single one. I can’t help but think how many are scorned for taking up the cause of the underdog!

    Jimbo, although gone, is even more alive in ways we can only imagine. He lives, because his Savior lives. We look for the day when we are all together in this Way.

    Thanks so much for sharing with us this poignant, bittersweet, season of your life, Father. It truly blesses us. Bless God…indeed He is sweet!

  28. It is for this kind of love we are born. Thank God you have experienced it with Jimbo. May his memory, indeed, be eternal!

  29. Today we celebrate the Synaxis of the archangel Michael and the other bodiless powers.
    We are blessed by saints among us, many times hidden.
    We also are blessed at times by visitation of angels unawares (Heb.13:2). Some years back a friend of ours was in hospital after being severely burned. One day during her recuperation a nurse opened the door of her room and asked, “Sue, you are a Christian, aren’t you?” Sue wasn’t, but in her surprise blurted out, “Why, yes I am!” She had no idea who this nurse was. She had never seen her before nor after. Yet, because of this “visitation” a few months later, she came to faith in Christ. Thank God for our angel’s protective presence over us, our loved ones and friends.

  30. Dean
    I heard [first-hand] of some very similar mystical encounters in hospitals with severely burned patients [from the recent fires in Greece] who were ‘hanging by a string’.

  31. Fr. Stephen,

    The moment you describe on the Sunday morning after you heard about his death – I’ve had those moments. My first reaction is to remember Maximus from the movie Gladiator. I keep letting my hands flow through the stalks of wheat and reaching for that door which will take me home. It makes my heart ache so badly. I know somehow that this is selfish but moments of beautiful make me wish to be delivered from this world and this body of death. I suspect when I’ve finally grown closer to God, I will stop looking to escape and will finally be at peace with our Lord, a peace which supersedes any pain or sorrow around me. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

  32. Father,
    My most heartfelt condolences on the loss of your dear friend.

    May God grant him rich and blessed entrance into His Eternal Kingdom.

    Lifelong friends are one of the greatest gifts, it’s often just one person who is a part of us forever. I met mine in the first grade of elementary school, and no matter how much time passes between our meeting in person (she still lives in Poland) it is always as if we saw each other just yesterday.

    Santosh, thank you for including the link to St. Porphyrios and Elder Sophrony story. I imagine Father Sophrony will also be glorified soon, but for now the Fathers in Essex are a bit upset when they see his icons already painted (I bought one somewhere, the image came from some Athos monastery fresco)… 🙂

    Dino, are there any of these stories you can share?

  33. Agata,
    For what it’s worth, the Elder Sophrony’s icon can be seen on the wall of the Trapeza in the monastery in Essex. I don’t think they’re upset at all. It is quite common for icons of a saint to be made and venerated prior to their glorification.

  34. Agata,
    I’d say that for the fitting communication of such events, especially when they so ‘proximate’, there are usually very specific persons, times and places. The Lord commands startling restraint (Matthew 7:6) in like matters.

  35. Father, you are right, maybe it was the way I *personally* presented my icon with a request for blessing…
    Your answer, combined with Dino’s, are a great reminder to work on that “restraint’ (my ‘enthusiasm’ is so often misinterpreted… But I am slowly learning my lessons 🙂 ).
    Dino, I guess I was just hoping for perhaps some story that is already out there in the Greek media (for those who can read it). I know many people still struggle to rebuild their basic lives in the effected areas. Let’s pray for them!

  36. Memory eternal Jimbo (wouldn’t it be great to have a saint Jimbo ?).
    My own life’s Jimbo, a man I have often found impossible to shake off, be angry at, not listen to even when I felt my problems were much worse, is a reminder of the saying: “my brother is my life”. I always worry about him and pray he remains authentic and true to his Saint’s legacy.

    Maybe he will always complain about the same situation, make a joke and then cross himself a few times. It’s a reassuring routine that he is handling life with some optimism stemming from his belief in God. I hope our friendship lasts to be so deep and life changing as yours, Father.

  37. Father, thank you for writing this – I feel so blessed and surrounded by love reading this. Your comment (I think the necessity of “doing” something always haunted me. ) haunts me. I am trying to understand.

  38. Your blessing Father.

    I can safely assume that for many of us here, frequent or infrequent posters and contributors, shy readers who do not write, but secretly hope for one more post, a comment that will open another door to their hearts for God to enter, this Kairos was the first time their friend (in my case Dino), sent them a link to this corner of Orthodoxy.

    May God bless you, our very own before and after defining moment.

  39. I’ve had many such experiences with a book. My Orthodox epiphany came from the first chapter of Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. I would find Lossky’s Mystical Theology not long afterward. I was amazed at the profundity that was so densely packed into each page, about things I thought I was already fairly acquainted with. It had the hallmark of good theology, in that it made the strange become familiar and the familiar strange, and it had that hallmark in spades. Raised in a Southern Baptist church, I had grappled with so much that my tradition simply didn’t address. I had done my best to articulate theological truths as best I could. In that regard, Orthodoxy was both refreshing and disappointing. I was refreshed to finally find people that “got it”; I wasn’t alone. I was disappointed to find that all my groundbreaking “originality” was actually 2000 years late to the party. On top of that, my “insights” were far more thought out and better expressed by orthodox thinkers from up and down the ages.

  40. Two years ago I lost a wonderful friend, who I loved like a brother, after years of fighting multiple myeloma. We worked at a summer camp together for 7 summers and that kind of shared experience makes for close friendships. He lived in Greenville, SC and I live in Mississippi so face-to-face visits were rare. Bobby was a social studies teacher in Greenville and one of the godliest people I’ve ever known. He had an amazing impact on more lives that I can possibly ever imagine or know. Bobby was only 43 when he died. Yesterday, seemingly from out of nowhere, the memory of the moment I found out he was at home and under hospice care with only a few days left to live came rushing back. And I found myself wiping tears from my face and my eyes while sitting at an intersection in my car.

    Memory eternal for both of our friends.

  41. Dearest Father
    Iam very thankful for the blessings we all have received through this  friendship. Thank you for sharing.
    We, Roman Catholics, have just conmemorated the deceased in an especial way, from  November, 1 to yesterday.
    Praying for your dear Jim and for you

  42. Father, bless. I thank God for the little ripple coming out of Jimbo’s life that changed my life for all eternity; I most humbly pray.

  43. Memory eternal Jimbo
    Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on the soul of Jimbo
    Thomas B, I like that a ‘St. Jimbo’
    I had a dear friend named Alexander Grey Frost III but everybody called him Tad (like a little tad of butter) which was kind of funny because he was a giant bear of a man (but gentle as a dove) he was always Alex to me.
    Evan though Alex was 30 years my senior we were of the same heart, I could start a sentence and he could finish it or vise versa.
    Father, you wrote about how you received consolation from God about Jimbo in prayer. In a way I had a similar experience with Alex (although not concerning faith he was always a man of deep faith in Jesus as long as I knew him) I had come home from work and received a message that he was in the hospital having emergency surgery to remove a tumor they had just discovered and that it was likely that he might not survive. At the same time that I was receiving this message I was filled with great consolation and joy and I knew no matter what God had him in the palm of his hand. Thankfully God is merciful and he lived for another 15 years.

  44. I’m relatively new to Orthodoxy, and I’ve seen or heard a few times this phrase: “May their memory be eternal”. Can someone try to give me a sense of what this means?

    To my uninformed ears, forgive me, it sounds somewhat pagan–in the sense that eternal life is gained through great accomplishments which are then remembered in the minds of those who will come after us. I can see how this could be adapted to more snugly fit within Christianity, but I suspect that I’m either missing something or am reading too much into it (or both).

    Thanks in advance…

  45. William,
    ‘Memory eternal’ refers to God’s remembrance of the deceased, not ours. I understand it as : God who ‘thinks’ or ‘remembers’ whatever exists into existence, is the One who also ‘thinks’ or ‘remembers’ (into eternal existence) the deceased for whom we pray ‘eternal memory’

  46. Father, I have been blessed by reading your blog for awhile now. I just prayed for Jimbo’s repose. Is
    I’ll pray for you as well.

  47. Thank you for that reminder Dino.
    I think many Orthodox forget/don’t know this explanation.
    I very much love “With the Saints give rest”… In fact, the funeral service is one of the most beautiful of all, I think.
    Memory eternal to all our departed parents, family, friends – may they indeed be in the presence of the Saints.

  48. Agata,
    I agree that our Orthodox funeral service is very beautiful. I was awed at my first Orthodox funeral now years back. At our funerals the focus is still upon God and worship of Him. Not at all like the “celebration of life” funerals so common nowadays. Yes, celebration of life, but even more celebration and honor to the Giver of life!

  49. Memory Eternal, Father. It is such a tremendous blessing to love another human being in this way, and to have been loved in return. I think it’s such love that proves the existence of God– it’s so unnecessary to a mechanical world, so rare, and so deeply desired– and the loss of this love due to death that reveals to us the depth of our need for that love. There is truly no imaginable universe without the beloved.

  50. Dean,
    I have been thinking about your comment these last few days…
    The “celebration of life services” I ever attended left God out altogether (although often gave me an impression that the people still have that hope in them somewhere deep inside). For sure these secular funerals give the ones left behind little consolation or peace. I pray that at my funeral, at least one (unbelieving) person will return to God… 🙂

    I want to share with you a really beautiful article with a some reflections on death by a priest in Russia. Maybe Father Stephen will at some point offer us some more stories from his years of serving.

    You will have to use Google translate (unfortunately the Ukrainian quote does not translate well). The third ‘story’ (and its highlighted conclusion) is my favorite:
    If you live in such a way that it is not scary to go to God, then peace and fearlessness will be passed on to those who stand at the grave

    http://www.pravoslavie.ru/115745.html

  51. Dino and David, thank you both for the information on the meaning of Memory Eternal. I had not heard much of this; it is good perspective!

  52. Fr. Stephen,
    To lose a friend of this caliber is no small thing. May his memory be eternal before the face of God and may we all look for opportunities to spur one another on towards love and good deeds, even as Jimbo did this for you.
    You have my prayers. ☦

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