Remembering Fr. Pihach

fr-dennisSaturday morning began with a thunderbolt: a dear fellow-priest from my diocese began his phone call to me early that morning with the words, “Did you hear about Fr. Alexander?” I had not heard about Fr. Alexander Pihach, but soon was informed that he had died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier that day. After travelling to Toronto from Saskatoon on his way to Moscow where he served as priest at the Representation Parish of St. Catherine’s, and arriving in Toronto very late, he had been picked up at the airport and was eating at the home of a fellow priest in Toronto when he suddenly collapsed afterward on his way to bed and died. He had been lately been given a clean bill of health after his cancer treatments, and was looking forward to many more years of fruitful ministry. He was 64.

I was not the only one who felt as if he had been struck by lightning. Fr. Alexander (or “Fr. Dennis” as he had been known for years) had served as Chancellor in the Canadian diocese for many years, and as Rector of parishes across the country. He was well-known, and even more well-loved.

I met him when I was still an Anglican priest investigating Orthodoxy. I had travelled three hours from northern Saskatchewan to the city of Saskatoon to observe the odd phenomenon of an Orthodox Liturgy being served in English. Dennis was a deacon at the parish there. I had many questions, most of them dumb. I also asked him, “What’s the deal about this ‘jurisdictions thing’?”. He and his priest exchanged a meaningful glance, and then Dennis answered, “The only place to talk about Orthodox jurisdictions is either on your knees or in a bar.” I didn’t understand it then, and could only later appreciate the combination of wit, wisdom, pragmatism and humour that characterized Dennis Pihach. It was a combination that would later help keep many people sane when he served as Chancellor for the diocese through some interesting years to come.

If I had to pick one phrase that described my friend of many years, it would be the phrase “holy pragmatism”. Fr. Dennis was above all things a holy pragmatist, determined not to die on any hill but the one chosen by God. He knew how to roll with the punches (and there were many punches), to find the one thing needful, to keep both his integrity and his sense of humour—no mean feat—and to share his wisdom and perspective with those who needed it most. He had the gift of friendship, of connecting with people very different from him in both point of view and temperament, and of enriching them by that gift. He had no time for pretentious unreality (what the world calls “BS”), and sat lightly on worldly honours. If Fr. Dennis/ Alexander thought that something was nonsensical or that a man was an idiot, the thing in question probably was nonsense, and the man probably was an idiot. He had a judgment and discernment that could be relied upon, and yet he despised no one. He saw the Church with all its flaws, and loved her just the same.

Fr. Dennis/ Alexander was a big man, and his big frame contained a big heart. Those of us who knew him well knew that we had a place somewhere in that heart. He would sometimes call me from Moscow (across heaven knows how many time zones) just to talk and connect and encourage. Alas for me and for us all: our phones may now ring many times, but he will never again be on the other end of the line. We are all the poorer for his passing, and will not soon see his like again. May his memory be eternal.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you, Fr. Lawrence, for your fine obituary. I’m now in Victoria via Saskatoon (St. Vincent of Lerins), some of my Ukrainian-Canadian friends there knew Fr. Dennis (Danylo Kulyk, others). They too are doubtless saddened by his sudden passing. Memory eternal!

  2. I am much saddened by the sudden passing of Father Alexander. He and I concelebrated my son’s wedding in St. Catherine’s Church on Saturday September 17th. I will never forget his kindness nor his sense of humor. I was blessed also to have served the Sunday Liturgy with him twice while I was in Moscow. He made a beautiful impression on my daughter – in laws family. Nicholas and Tatiana were much sadden by his death. Viewing the wedding pictures will be a lasting tribute to him. May his Memory be Eternal!

    Archpriest Father R. George York ~ Holy Virgin Church, Carnegie PA

  3. Thank you, Father Lawrence, for your kind words about a man who welcomed me when I, too, came to holy Orthodoxy from Anglicanism. He knew me when I was in Dauphin, ten years before I made the leap of faith, and informed me when, as a recent convert I met him in Edmonton, that he had known then that it was “just a matter of time – and prayer”. God provided the time and Father Dennis/Alexander the prayer. He will be missed. My dear wife discovered in him a gracious and kind spiritual father – a gentle giant of a man – who always had exactly the word she needed.

    May his memory be eternal!

  4. Fr. Lawrence, thank you for capturing, with your gracious words, our much loved Fr. Alexander, who was our priest in Edmonton for many years. It was a shift to reality for me as images formed, seeing him come to life in your memorial. He was a great guardian of our souls. His deep faith will always be a reassurance to me and to the many lives he touched.

    Memory Eternal!

  5. Rest In Peace Father Alexander! Our family in Moscow will always remember you. Your presence here on earth will be missed. Memory Eternal ! Michael, Serafima, Oxana

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