The first time I met Father Thomas was probably about 3 and a half years ago and I can recall being “wowed” by his appearance. I cannot recollect clearly, but I suspect I might have thought he was a monastic, but irregardless there was no mistaking his long white hair and beard and his black cassock as being tell-tale signs of a very traditional looking Orthodox clergyman.
Last night after the funeral (much more to say on that later) a good friend and I both agreed that on a surface level Father Thomas sometimes seemed unapproachable – as my friend put it: I was afraid I might soil him. This of course had much less to do with Father Thomas and much more to do with us, for while I agreed that I could not help but feel intimidated while speaking to him, by the time you reached the second or third sentence you realized that behind this ascetic and holy-looking man there truly was a holy man. Holy, because he put you at quick ease with his mild and gentle mannerisms, his rich sense of humor, and his deep grasp of spirituality.
I lament that I did not have more time to get to know him better; to learn more from him. For nearly every conversation I had with him I would walk away with a golden nugget of wisdom to contemplate. And so it is not surprising that seeing him last night in his casket, that he should have left me with one last nugget of such immensity that I seriously doubt I can carry it.
Father Thomas would never let me get away with saying that something, which was unnatural, was natural. Even when he knew that I knew, he simply would not let the phrase escape my lips without comment – and I find that it has affected me in such a way that I am more consciously aware of the fact that just because everyone does something or perceives something, does not make it “normal” or “natural.” In fact I can recall one time I referenced a miracle on Mount Athos as being something that doesn’t “normally” happen and he very lovingly rebuked me (such that even now it makes me smile). Miracles, the Uncreated Light, and all those sorts of “non-everyday” events are perfectly normal and what we experience and call normal is in fact abnormal – albeit more common.
Father Thomas lying in his casket last night was the ultimate expression of abnormality and I shall post shortly on the funeral rite itself, which hammered this thought home. But I could almost hear Father Thomas speaking to me last night, reminding me that “This is not normal, James.”
Jesus is the first fruits of normalcy, as revealed in Pascha.
May Father Thomas’ memory be eternal…we will miss him. Please keep him, his family, and our Parish in your prayers. As I write, my wife and many others are preparing to take Father Thomas back to the monastery he loved so very much, one last time, where he will be laid to rest.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:40 AM [+]