For various reasons, death seems a particularly present reality right now. Of course, there is the tragic death of Fr Matthew Baker this past Sunday (and, once again, please consider helping his family). The day before Fr Matthew died, some very good friends of mine lost their 6-year-old daughter, who had been suffering from a degenerative genetic condition. Shortly before this, Angelina Dickson, a spiritual daughter of St John Maximovitch and a holy woman in her own right, whom I was privileged to know, passed away. Twenty-one Coptic Orthodox men were martyred in Lybia. And of course, so many thousands more die every day — each death its own deep tragedy, both because of the pain of those left behind and also because death itself is an enemy (albeit an enemy that has already lost the war).
In the midst of this death, it is good to remember those who came before us who also experienced tragedy and sorrow. We can learn something from them. Yesterday, Fr Christopher Morris wrote a beautiful account of the great suffering of Fr Nicola Yanney, who, among other things, lost his young wife and newborn daughter and was left a 29-year-old widower with four children, and then had to bury his other daughter a few years later.
Today, I am printing an English translation of a letter written by Fr Demetrios Petrides on March 7, 1917 — 98 years ago this weekend — following the death of his own child. Fr Demetrios is not well known today, but he was a great man — a widower priest who stood up for Orthodoxy and suffered for it, and who mentored a black Jamaican convert, Fr Raphael Morgan, and even invited Morgan to live in his (Fr Demetrios’) home. As I said, Fr Demetrios was a widower, and like Fr Nicola Yanney, he had an active priestly ministry while also being a single father. (To learn more about Fr Demetrios, see this article and my podcast episode on his life.) Here is what he wrote after his son died:
My dear John,
My warmest thanks to you for your participation in our mourning and for your condolences, and for the wonderful selection of expressions for the death of my beloved boy, my George, my brave one. Ah! It is impossible to describe on this lifeless piece of paper the pain in my heart. I was not able to save him! I made every effort, much surpassing my strength. My God! What a torture it is. My eyes were changed into oceans and my tears had no end. But even going through this, blessings in the name of the Lord.
And from me as well as from my family, we express our thanks to you and to your wife.
I am aware of your love,
D. Petrides, Protopresbyter
Fr Demetrios, like his contemporary Fr Nicola Yanney, is a model of faith in the midst of sorrow and tragedy. Also like Fr Nicola, Fr Demetrios died an untimely death — in his case, six months after writing this letter, Fr Demetrios died from diabetes. May his memory be eternal!