March has been quite a month. This Lent has been quite a Lent. Looking at the calendar, it was on March 1, the Sunday of Orthodoxy no less, that Fr. Matthew Baker passed away in a van accident. Some seventeen days later, Fr. Thomas Hopko succumbed to his battle with amyloidosis, on the Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, a week when we remember and venerate the precious and life-giving cross.
I have expressed my thoughts, raw and personal, on this site both in the form of reflections and in elegies. Having just returned to my church following the funeral for Fr. Tom, the hymns are still echoing and the emotions are still swirling. It was such an honor to be present and to be a part of the whole experience, a fitting way for us to say good-bye to a man of keen and profound intellect as well as deep compassion.
The cross remains such an important part of our Lenten journey, and it is made all the more poignant in the repose of these two priests. Both have written powerfully about the centrality of the cross, and both, in their passing, have brought the reality of the cross into very sharp focus.
The cross, as the instrument of death for our Lord, reminds us of the ever-present reality of suffering. Our Lord suffered before His crucifixion, and he suffered in being crucified. In some small way, maybe even some infinitesimally small way, we share in that suffering. Our God is not remote from us; He wept as we weep, He suffered we suffer, He even died as we die.
Yet we do not grieve like those who have no hope, as our funeral service reminds us, quoting I Thessalonians. No, we are very much a people with hope. We are a people of the resurrection. Because even though our Lord died like we died, the saga does not end there. No, He destroyed death, that last enemy of humanity. So in becoming participants in Christ’s life, we also share in His death, and ultimately we also share in His triumphant resurrection.
So how fitting, then, that the Triumph of Orthodoxy and the veneration of the Cross be so central in the repose of these two great preachers and teachers and exhibitors of the faith. We will feel their loss for some time. But we have the assurance, brought to mind to us by our Holy Thursday first Gospel reading that our Lord will not abandon us, we will not be forsaken. So while Lent and its dark and its challenges are dramatically present for the time being, we will once again don our “bright whites” and joyfully sing the hymns of Pascha. Through suffering there is relief, through death there is life. Through the cross has joy come into the world.