As a rule I do not share personal things on my blog. I consider that my office as a presbyter/ teacher obliges me to transmit the teaching of the Church and deal with challenges to it when they arise. My personal feelings, life, and relationships are irrelevant to my ministry and my blog, and so I try to keep them quite separate. How I feel about individual persons, therefore, is no one’s business but my own, and I usually keep my personal life quite separate from the thoughts I share on my blog, refusing to comment about personal events. This week, however, I will make an exception, and feel I must share something personal.
This week I experienced something personally grievous. On Friday July 12, Dr. Edward Hartley died in a nursing home after a week long decline, ending a long a fruitful life in Christ. I lost a friend and parishioner, and many people lost someone who was a great gift to them from God.
Dr. Edward Hartley, with his wife Vivian, was the founder of St. Herman of Alaska mission in Surrey, B.C. He was an Anglican, born in Nova Scotia, Canada, who came out to British Columbia to begin a medical practice here. He met and eventually married Vivian Robertson, and together they had three children. More significantly, over the years they had many more spiritual children. I have lost count of their godchildren. Dr. Hartley and Vivian decided that they should join the Orthodox Church in a time when such a course of action was so difficult as to look a bit crazy. There were no English-speaking Orthodox missions in the Vancouver area in that time, and so they joined the local OCA church which worshipped in Slavonic and spoke Russian. A far-sighted bishop in the parish welcomed them, and they learned to cope with Slavonic, becoming members of the Russian OCA parish. Vivian learned to sing in Slavonic as part of the choir, and Dr. Ed (as he was known) read the Epistle in English after it had been read in Slavonic.
They had the sense and foresight to see that raising their children in a Russian church in the Vancouver area was not the path of wisdom, and so they received the blessing from their bishop to begin a mission in English, worshipping in a chapel they built in their backyard. Those were difficult years, with one step forward and one step back. I came to their little backyard mission in 1987 when there were about fifteen people there on a Sunday. They had no stipend available for a priest, and no other building. Their priest would have to find a secular job to support himself and his family while the mission grew. But they all had enthusiasm and commitment, and the parish slowly grew.
Dr. Ed was a man of humour, zeal, and effervescence. He was always ready with a joke and smile. When I would phone his house he answered the phone often by saying, “Greetings and hallucinations—I mean greetings and salutations!” In all the years I was his parish priest I never recall him frowning or being in a bad mood. He wanted to convert absolutely everybody to Orthodoxy, and his home was an open house, a place of welcome and kindness. I may add that his wife Vivian and his children shared in his kind and zealous spirit. Vivian reposed in 2013, but his children are still faithfully serving the Lord, being wonderful chips off the old paternal block.
Dr. Hartley breathed his last at 2.28 p.m. this last Friday, and stepped into the Kingdom, doubtless escorted by a multitude of angels. As my wife commented, the following Sunday at St. Herman’s was a busy one. We baptized an infant, a child of South Asian and East Indian-Caribbean descent. We baptized the Anglo-Canadian husband of one of our Russian ladies. We baptized another adult North European/Canadian convert. We also received by chrismation the Armenian mother-in-law of one of our Romanian immigrants. Before the baptisms, a lady who was a longtime friend of the Hartleys was finally entered into the catechumenate, joining a young Ethiopian catechumen. Dr. Hartley would have been pleased by all this, since he wanted everyone to become Orthodox, regardless of their upbringing or national identity. I would like to think that the Lord allowed him to peak down into the nave of his old parish, and rejoice in the work in which he and Vivian had been so instrumental in bringing to birth.
Dr. Ed will be missed by all who had been privileged to know him. He was one a pivotal generation who was prepared to work and sacrifice to join the Orthodox Church in a day when the cost for doing so was very high. If conversion to Orthodoxy is now somewhat easier, this owes much to Dr. Ed and those of his generation who were prepared to pay the price and hold the door open for us. Our debt of gratitude to him and those like him is very great.