A Tribute to Bishop Basil of Wichita

Bishop Basil and Matthew Namee, 1996

Bishop Basil Essey, the longtime Antiochian Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America, is preparing to retire at the end of this year. Many Antiochians learned of this for the first time over the weekend, when the Archdiocese held a virtual convention. Metropolitan Joseph announced Bishop Basil’s retirement in his address to the convention:

In particular, I would like to thank my beloved brother, His Grace Bishop Basil, for his service to this archdiocese over fifty years, as archdiocesan youth director, as a deacon, as a priest, and as a bishop. Some of you may know that, after writing to me, with my reluctant support, Bishop Basil has written to His Beatitude, our Patriarch, requesting retirement from active ministry by the end of this calendar year. His Beatitude has placed the matter on the Holy Synod’s agenda for its meeting this October. We certainly owe much gratitude to Bishop Basil for his ministry over so many years, and we wish him many more healthy years and blessings. Bishop Basil will remain in the Wichita area, and we will continue to benefit from his wisdom and love.

I grew up in Wichita, and I have known Bishop Basil for as long as I can remember, going back to his days as parish priest of St George Church (now Cathedral) in that city. I attended Wichita’s other Antiochian parish, St Mary, but then-Father Basil and my father were old friends, and I still fondly remember his visits to our house during his time as a priest. Under his leadership, the parish of St George built a magnificent new temple, and at its consecration, Metropolitan Philip declared the new church to be a cathedral. Soon after this, Father Basil was elected by the Holy Synod of Antioch to be an auxiliary bishop to Metropolitan Philip, with the title “Bishop of Enfeh.” I remember watching his consecration as an eight-year-old, looking down from the balcony of the cathedral in Wichita. For a brief period of time, Bishop Basil was assigned to the Antiochian chancery in Los Angeles, and it was during this period that he oversaw the reception of a Reformed Episcopal parish in Fairfield, California into Orthodoxy. My future wife was part of this community.

I was overjoyed when he was sent back to Kansas, to live at the newly-established Wichita chancery. I started spending as much time as I could at the chancery, and some of my most precious memories from my childhood are of serving as the altar boy at early-morning liturgies in the chancery chapel. I spent untold hours with Bishop Basil, asking him every question that I had about the Orthodox Faith. Although I was cradle Orthodox and my parents were very active in the Church, there was so much that I did not understand.

Once, when I was about twelve, I asked Bishop Basil, “Why are there no more miracles, like there were in the Bible?” His eyes lit up, and he jumped from his chair and took a red book from the top shelf of a nearby bookcase. It was the life of St Seraphim of Sarov, by Fr Lazarus Moore. This book, and this moment, set the course of the rest of my life. For the first time, I learned that there were saints in the modern world, and that the Holy Spirit was still working great wonders, up to the present day. I came to understand that, even if I could not “prove” certain facts from Scripture, the undeniable reality of modern saints was unimpeachable proof of the truth of Gospel. If St Seraphim was real — which he clearly was — then the Orthodox Faith was true. This certainty became, for me, an anchor throughout my adolescence.

Not long after this, I suffered an injury, and Bishop Basil anointed me with oil from the vigil lamp over the relics of the newly-canonized St John Maximovitch. This was my introduction to St John, who had lived even more recently than St Seraphim — he had died in 1966, during my parents’ lifetime — and had even lived in the United States of America, not faraway Russia. I became kind of obsessed with St John, writing countless letters to people who knew him and collecting their stories. I had phone calls with one of his disciples, a remarkable woman named Angelina Dickson, and heard firsthand of the miracles God worked through St John. This experience is what sparked my interest in church history, which is why this website exists.

Bishop Basil taught me so much besides all of this. He taught me the Jesus Prayer, and to love the services of the Church, and later, when I unfairly thought ill of him, he taught me what it means to humble one’s self in reconciliation — he, a bishop, condescending to me, a prideful college student. So I owe a great debt of gratitude to Bishop Basil, and although I knew it was coming, the official news of his well-earned retirement is bittersweet. Without his guidance and mentorship, I would not have survived the difficult years of adolescence with my faith intact, and I certainly would not have gone on to write church history or have a full-time career serving the Church, as I am blessed to do. I will be forever thankful to God for the blessing of Bishop Basil’s influence on my life.

3 Replies to “A Tribute to Bishop Basil of Wichita”

  1. Beautifully written! Shocking news but happiness for BB!
    Matthew I met you in LATE 1996- hard to believe i knew the boy in that picture .

    1. This photo is from the Nativity of the Mother of God — September 21, 1996. So, very shortly before I met you guys.

  2. I first met Sayedna when I was still Roman Catholic at the house of a then-subdeacon. When Bishop Basil discovered that my house was under renovation and my family out of town for it, he insisted that I stay with him until renovations were complete. When I came to the Church and my wife could not find her way there, he refused to permit me to be Chrismated until she could at least accept it. His advice? Love your wife and pray to the Mother of God– she will take care of it all. Because my wife could not accept the parish priest, he offered, instead, to be my confessor– in his words, he refused to lead me but only to walk alongside me on the way to the Kingdom. Sure, he has his faults, but He has been nothing to me and my family but Love in human form. He taught me that the knowledge of God is not to be found in books but in the pouring out of oneself for others– and he teaches that not in words but in deeds. My beloved bishop, I owe you my very soul. May my family and I reach Paradise by your prayers.

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