Thursday, March 19, 2015

In Memoriam: Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, 1939-2015

Beloved pastor, galvanizing speaker, trusted educator, author and mentor, and faithful Christian struggler, Fr. Thomas Hopko, quietly reposed in the Lord yesterday, March 18, on the commemoration of the repose of St. Nikolai of Zhicha.

I have wanted for some time to prepare an "annotated" text of his excellent talk, 'The Word of the Cross', expanding on certain points which apply especially to the intersection of Orthodox Christianity and Islam. God willing, I may be able to do so soon.

Just last weekend, for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, I did key on a powerful dogmatic truth which Fr. Thomas expressed in 'The Word of the Cross' as follows (emphasis added):

Beyond the Cross there is nothing more God can do. Beyond the Cross there is nothing more God can say. Beyond the Cross there is nothing more to be revealed.

Today I am compelled to simply give thanks to God for the instruction and inspiration I have received from Fr. Thomas over my nearly thirty years as an Orthodox Christian. Although I only met him briefly at a couple of talks and retreats, his recorded presentations, available through SVS Press, Ancient Faith Radio, and YouTube, have made a deep impact on my life and my modest efforts at serving the Church. 

Last September, Fr. Thomas accompanied me on a grand pilgrimage out west, figuratively speaking, of course. I had the expansive blessing of driving from central Alabama to Dallas, then north-west to Santa Fe and Canones NM, where I stayed a couple of days at Archangel Michael Monastery (OCA), then up to Denver to visit a beloved monastic mentor of mine, and then back east-south-east. For my journey of over 3000 miles across the vast American landscape I decided it was the perfect opportunity to revisit Fr Hopko's multi-CD talk on The Lord's Prayer. I thank God for having such a 'companion' for my pilgrimage!

With this as with all his talks and writings, it has always seemed to me that Fr. Thomas was never merely theoretical or even theological, but was always pastoral. He always made the teachings real to his listeners. And this is because he clearly was applying it to his own life, his own circumstances (as could be readily discerned from his asides and self-deprecatory wit). The living and practice of our Christian life has to be real, otherwise it is worse than fake, it is unto condemnation.

Thank God for Fr. Thomas!
May his memory be eternal!

The distilled fruit of Fr. Thomas Hopko's lifetime of Christian life and service may be seen in the below text, '55 Maxims'. 

Additional key links are as follows:

  • The Hopko Family Blog: Updates on visitation, service schedules and funeral. You can also read back through prior entries to see how Fr. Thomas and his family approached his death. It is very edifying and instructional for Christian families to see how a pious churchman was surrounded by loved ones and clergy during his final weeks and days, how he strived to attend the divine services, how even standing to receive Holy Communion just a week before his repose was a great blessing to him, etc.

by Fr. Thomas Hopko

1. Be always with Christ, and trust God in everything

2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.

3. Have a keepable rule of prayer, done by discipline.

4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.

5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied.

6. Make some prostrations when you pray.

7. Eat good foods in moderation, and fast on fasting days.

8. Practice silence: inner, and outer.

9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.

10. Do acts of mercy in secret.

11. Go to liturgical services regularly.

12. Go to confession, and holy communion regularly.

13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts, and feelings.

14. Reveal your thoughts, and feelings to someone regularly.

15. Read the scriptures regularly.

16. Read good books, a little at a time.

17. Cultivate communion with the saints.

18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.

19. Be polite with everyone, first of all with family members.

20. Maintain cleanliness, and order in your home.

21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.

22. Exercise regularly.

23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.

24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.

25. Be faithful in little things.

26. Do your work, then forget it.

27. Do the most difficult, and painful things first.

28. Face reality.

29. Be grateful.

30. Be cheerful.

31. Be simple, hidden, quiet, and small.

32. Never bring attention to yourself.

33. Listen when people talk to you.

34. Be awake, and attentive, fully present where you are.

35. Think, and talk about things no more than necessary.

36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.

37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.

38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.

39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur, or whine.

40. Don’t seek, or expect pity, or praise.

41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.

42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.

43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.

44. Don’t defend, or justify yourself.

45. Be defined, and bound by God, not by people.

46. Accept criticism gracefully, and test it carefully.

47. Give advice only when asked, or when it is your duty.

48. Do nothing for people that they can, and should, do for themselves.

49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim, and caprice.

50. Be merciful with yourself, and with others.

51. Have no expectations, except to be fiercely tempted until your last breath.

52. Focus exclusively on God, and light, and never on darkness, temptation, and sin.

53. Patiently endure your faults, and sins peacefully, under God’s mercy.

54. When you fall, get up immediately, and start over.

55. Get help when you need it, without fear, or shame.