This sermon was delivered at the funeral of the Rev. Protodeacon Alexis Washington on Friday, October 7, 2016. Memory eternal.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” – John 5:24
What is special about the Resurrection? What is important and significant about it? Clergy can discuss this for hours, and do, but it is not my desire to go into that. The Resurrection has a universal and all important place in the meaning of life and the entire universe.
The reality is that the meaning of the Resurrection is the restoring of sacrificial love as the center of the universe. It is the meaning of our lives. It is the critical mass around which orbits everything else.
I find myself at a terrible disadvantage speaking to you tonight. To speak of the servant of God, Protodeacon Alexis, is an assignment quite beyond my powers. I’m not kidding, and I am not exaggerating.
We met 15 years ago, but only in the last 5 did we become very close. Many of you knew him longer and better than I, and I ask the Holy Spirit to make up whatever is lacking in my address, and the Holy Theotokos, to whom he had a strong devotion and relationship, to forgive my poor words, so insufficient, and so weak for this task.
Talking with him was always a joy. Every basic truth I could discover was always met with a response as if I had plumbed the depths of Divine economy, or discovered something which St. Paul or St. John Chrysostom had missed.
“O Father, that is so true!”
He possessed a stratospheric intellect, belied and concealed constantly in a manner of ordinary habit. He was a member of the scholarly Ossorgin dynasty which contributed so much to American Orthodoxy, music, and American higher education. Though he possessed a deep knowledge of history, theology, anthropology, sociology, and who knows how much medical and professional knowledge – He rarely made theological conversation of the excited type that frequents discussion of clergy or seminarians. It was only in more recent, quiet conversations that he cracked open his book of knowledge and shared the encyclopedic bounty which he possessed.
His warm smile and easy manner veiled the great level of his spiritual attainments, keeping everyone comfortable and without guard in his presence. He was a presence of constant interior prayer, and a living example of what the Diaconate in Christ is at its very height of celebration and praxis.
When we first met, I was in Ohio, I was assigned to a parish that had a catastophic event. I was sent to put it back together, restore broken relationships. It was hard, meticulous work. At the 45th anniversary of the parish, I decided we needed something big, bigger than anyone had ever seen before. Therefore I prepared for a service which included the Altar Consecration, a full hierarchical liturgy, priestly ordination (of a man who was brought up and sent to seminary from the parish), and several subdeacon and reader’s ordinations. It was a massive undertaking.
I wrote to Archbishop Job for permission, which he granted, and knowing Fr. Alexis’ excellent reputation for liturgical celebration, I invited him as well.
On the day of the event, we had 6 priests coming, I forget how many deacons, and a multitude of minor clergy and servers. Like most priests, I labored long and hard preparing an appropriate service book for this monumental occasion, trying to include enough rubrics for the clergy to follow without getting lost.
I asked Fr. Alexis to show up a few hours early, to go over the service book and make sure he was prepared for what was about to take place, as it would be many hours long. I gave him the booklet, and began to explain what was included in it, he flipped through it, carefully looking at key places in the service, then smiled, closed the book and said to me,
“Excellent, father. I’ll take it from here.”
Then he walked away. I was worried. The priests weren’t bad, and as far as anyone could see nothing was out of place, but we had controlled chaos in the altar. One priest spilled oil all over himself, servers, cameramen in the way constantly – but thanks to Fr. Alexis’ calm and competent direction, the entire long service went off without a single hiccup. One deacon even told me half way through the service, that we would never be done by noon. But the service continued, smoothly, without hurry. We finished just before noon!
After that, whenever Fr. Alexis told me he’d take it from there, I never had any more worries. It was always done right, with what appeared to be ease, and always with beauty.
We live in an age of regular and frequent reminders of thanklessness among men. His life displayed love, sacrificial service, and deep and abiding thankfulness – he was thankful, for being able to be here in Phoenix, for being able to serve at the Altar, for being able to assist Bishop Daniel, and the parish – he was grateful – something which we see has become particularly uncommon, as examples of thanklessness display themselves in rapid succession before our eyes and ears daily.
It is impossible to describe the sobriety and joy with which he approached the celebration of divine services. His devotion to God was entirely focused in service at the altar, particularly in the Eucharist – the method of Thanksgiving prepared by God. THE LITURGY MUST GO ON, he would say. The monumental act of celebration and sacrifice which is our Divine Liturgy, he was a master of liturgical celebration. In this role, he was most discerning and particular, but characteristically gentle.
He understood the deep meaning of the Eucharist, as life in the Resurrection, as restoring sacrificial love as the center of the universe. THE LITURGY MUST GO ON.
In his final appearance here at Ss. Peter and Paul, he was too fatigued to celebrate the Liturgy with us, and as this was his great joy – how often we remarked to each other “THE LITURGY MUST GO ON” – he quietly prayed in the Sanctuary for the service. He vested, and having received the precious Lamb of God, his strength at that moment surprisingly restored, strode boldly upon the Solea before the Royal Doors, lifted his orarion, and in full voice led us all in the Litany of Thanksgiving.
The Lord was pleased to lay upon him a thorn in the flesh, which he battled and bore with superlative dignity and grace.
He was a true friend to the victim of injustice, a feeder of the hungry, comfort for the punished and despairing, who helped the poor, and clothed the naked. The truest friend to those who needed to know that true friendship truly existed.
Thanks for always being there, father. Concerning your love, your service, and your example to those who knew you, and all your service to God and his Church, all I can say is thank you – and take the chance to reciprocate his words to me on so many occasions,
“Excellent, father. We’ll take it from here”
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”