Our beloved Archbishop Dmitri fell asleep in the Lord at 2am last night, surrounded by many of our close friends who were with him until the end. Yesterday, someone from St. Seraphim’s asked Jesse to post an article about his reflections and memories of our Vladika. I think the article turned out quite nice, so I am posting it here for you to read. I would post a link to his blog, but I’ve purposely kept it very separate from this one (despite it’s vast popularity among people of the OCA– thousands of “hits” a day).
My wife and I moved to Dallas towards the end of the summer of 2007. The day before we arrived – it was a Sunday – we went to Liturgy in a small little Antiochian parish in San Antonio. As we chatted with the good folks afterwards, the folks chimed in about possible parishes we might find in Dallas. Though we were coming from an Antiochian parish, and though these people were at an Antiochian parish themselves, they pointed us in the direction of the OCA cathedral. ‘’I’ve heard good things about Ss. Constantine and Helen’’, said one parishioner to me, ‘’ but you should also check out St. Seraphim. Archbishop Dmitri is a kind of Gandalf figure for the South.’’
That is the kind of endorsement one just cannot ignore. The following Saturday, on a late August evening, we found ourselves in a vigil service within the sanctified walls of the cathedral Vladyka Dmitri had built. I remember that the hot, evening air was quiet outside, but inside the cathedral people were worshiping and offering themselves as living sacrifices in the concentrated way that comes about from standing on stubborn Texas clay. After the reading of the gospel, Vladyka inauspiciously emerged from behind the kliros to give blessings to the faithful. I remember, before even receiving that first blessing from Christ by the hand of Vladyka, being struck by his presence. It was an odd thing: powerful and soft, graceful and magnetic, discernibly personable and discernibly heavenly, full of unique personality whilst also being an empty conduit of Christ. The ancient virtue the Greeks called megalopsuchia, and what St. John the Forerunner meant when he said ‘’He must increase, but I must decrease’’ was exemplified in the person of Vladyka Dmitri. He was truly magnanimous– ‘’ large souled’’ – because he was filled with the love of God, and the light of the Diocese of the South was the Divine Light reflecting with bright gentleness from this man, beloved of God.
I count it an unworthy gift of God that He blessed me to have this man in my life for the past four years. I was his parishioner, and he my Despota. I do not claim to have a privileged relationship to him: like so many others I drank gallons of coffee with him, both in the parish hall and in his kitchen, heard the same stories over and over, laughed at his jokes, and took questions to him as they arose. It was impossible to treat him like a legend or a celebrity. This, the occasional traveler would find out when, upon bringing Vladyka some dogmatic, academic, or formal conversation, he would break it off in favor of a pleasant story or to talk to an infant or toddler. I have often wondered if this was Vladyka’s favorite sermon – breaking off idle theologic in order to remind us that one must be like a child to enter the Kingdom.
These things everyone saw; But that this is not a privileged perspective only reinforces the greatness of the man.
He would love to share stories, often the same ones over and over. ‘’You’re from California,’’ he would say. ‘’I was first a bishop in California, an auxiliary bishop – Bishop of Berkeley – back in the 60’s.’’ At this point he would chuckle. ‘’I got along well with everyone out there. They would see me, wandering around the University in a cassock, and everyone thought I was like them!’’ His eyes would shine and from deep within his beard would come a soft laugh.
I once asked Vladyka about serving in WWII, where he was a Japanese interrogator for General MacArthur. He spoke with his usual kind-heartedness about his time in the service, but his maturity never threatened his characteristic levity. Because the Japanese were not trained on how to behave when captured – since they were never supposed to be captured – he said his job was just to talk with them; a task well suited to his nature. He told me of a ‘’chat’’ with one Japanese soldier who had occupied his time on watch by diagramming the deployment of the Japanese fleet. The man was so proud of his little sketch he proudly displayed it to the young serviceman Royster, oblivious of the consequences.
Our father in Christ, his children would lovingly share daily stories about him. He was known for always drinking coffee, no matter the time. He preferred his coffee strong, and if possible, with chicory. He had acquired the taste while in New Orleans for graduate school and ever since then Cafe Du Monde had been his favorite. After helping him out around the house one day, he gave me a can – one of about 15 some voyaging monastics who had stopped by previously provided him. When he made coffee at the parish, he would make it unbelievably strong. He would dump the recommended scoop into the coffee maker, say ‘’How about let’s make this a strong batch’’, feed it another scoop, and then – with customary twinkling eyes – ‘’Ah, three for the Trinity.’’ If you wandered into the parish hall when he had made the coffee you might be warned that you were about to drink, ‘’bishop’s brew’’.
His penchant for coffee was matched only by his assiduity for translation. He would frequently explain why he chose certain words over others. For the most part he used the King James; he believed the Gospel should be voiced as exaltedly as possible, and that the language we heard in Church should demand from us our very best attention. He would explain why he insisted on using ‘’debts’’ rather than ‘’ transgressions’’ in the Lord’s prayer. He would gently insist the readers pronounce ‘’victuals’’ correctly as ‘’ vittles’’ while reading through the Psalms. His homilies had the same thoroughness and attention to detail, but despite his incredible facility with languages, his decisive eloquence spoke simply and lovingly.
Vladyka was always found in the parish hall before or after the services. If you wanted to spend some time with him, all you had to do was show up an hour or two before Wednesday Vespers. He would be sitting at a table, talking to his dear friends who ran the St. Seraphim bookstore. You were always welcome to pull up a chair and join in. He was a fixture in the parish hall after each service. Though accompanied by one of his smiling subdeacons, Vladyka’s arrival was never ostentatious or distracting from the existing atmosphere in the hall. He would always stop and talk to the youngsters, whether a solitary newborn or boisterous group of five year olds. The babies loved him, and the youngsters adored him – running up to ask for a blessing or squeeze his knees. ‘’And who’s this little guy?’’ he would always ask of my little son, his short-term memory failing. ‘’Gregory? Well how you doing little Gregory?’’
In August of this year, during one of the last liturgies he attended, I walked by his table in the parish hall, carrying my infant son. One of the deacons who was sitting with Vladyka at the table stopped me. ‘’Vladyka wants to see him’’, he said, gesturing towards my son. I brought him to the table, where Vladyka, feeble but joyous, poked a finger at him. Gregory laughed. Vladkya could barely speak – the deacon, with an ear to his lips had to echo his words to those of us at the table. In a wheelchair, without a voice, he continued to preach his humble sermon to us in his life.
My most enduring memory of Vladyka is of him in liturgy, standing between the Royal Doors, cross in hand, sweetly crying out to God, ‘’Look down, Oh God, from Heaven, and behold, and visit this vineyard, which Thine Own Right Hand has planted, and establish it.’’ That image seared indelibly in my soul – the icon of a true bishop.
I knew Vladyka in the ways so many of us knew him, and he left his mark on us all. He loved the people of St. Seraphim, and they loved him back. It was not loud; quite the opposite. It had the soul-pleasing presence of a constant wind winding its way through the forest, or the soothing sound of the fingers of the tide tenderly touching the land. But behind the peaceful serenity of a lapping wave upon the shore is the fearful power of the breakers – and as Vladyka spoke and lived with us gently, the tremendous power in his life was evident. Many of us could speak of such things, but would rather take them and cherish them preciously and privately. There was Vladyka for us, and there was Vladyka for me; and for me it shall stay.
May our loving God grant Vladyka a rich entrance into His Kingdom. Memory eternal!
– Jesse Cone
St. Seraphim Cathedral
Sunday of Orthodoxy