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Orthodox Christian Missions

Memory Eternal: England’s Fr. Michael Harper

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A Message from Bishop John to Father Michael

“The just are remembered with praises, but for you the Lord’s testimony suffices, O Forerunner.”
(Apolytikion of the holy and glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John)

In these blessed days, in which our Lord Jesus Christ came from Heaven to our world to be born from the Virgin Mary and to be baptized by John the Baptist for our salvation, two feelings – of sadness and of joy – are combined together.

Sadness, because we have lost a very beloved brother and friend, Father Michael Harper, but also joy, spiritual joy, that Father Michael left us at the Feast of Theophany, for the central concern of his life was to proclaim the good news of God made manifest in Christ.

One of his last public actions in late November was, I am told, despite rising ill-health, to put down on video the last of three talks he has contributed to our outreach programme, The Way, on central aspects of the Orthodox Christian Faith.

I cannot forget that last year he asked me to write a prologue to his book A Faith Fulfilled, which is being translated into Greek. Appropriately, I wrote my introduction on the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, 2009. We hope also that in the very near future we will have Father Michael’s book A Faith Fulfilled, translated into Arabic.

Saint John the Baptist, one of the main characters in the drama of the Theophany, is reported as saying of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).

However, when the disciples asked the Lord about Saint John the Forerunner, the Lord replied: “I say unto you, among those that are born of woman there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist”. (Luke 7:28). That is why we sing to Saint John these words: “The just are remembered with praises, but for you the Lord’s testimony suffices, O Forerunner.”

The witness of the Lord and the testimony of Saint John’s works were sufficient for people to admire him. So it is with Father Michael: his achievements are enough to speak his praises.

Father Michael was the first to manifest what I will call an Antiochian consciousness in heart and mind. Thanks to his efforts and labours, his sweat and tears, we now have a very marked presence in the United Kingdom.

He was the first one to join the Antiochian Orthodox Church and then, slowly, slowly, the Deanery was founded, of which he was the first Dean.

By God’s grace, the Deanery has grown, consisting now of more than twenty-four Fathers in about twenty parishes in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Be sure, beloved Father Michael, that this effective and dynamic presence will keep growing and multiplying, day by day, led by our new Dean, Father Gregory Hallam, who will continue to follow in your footsteps on this path that you first began to walk upon.

No words can describe the emptiness that we feel after Father Michael’s resting in the Lord. Contrary feelings are in my heart at the same moment: sadness and joy, emptiness and fulfillment, crucifixion and resurrection.

Sadness because we have lost a very beloved brother and friend, Father Michael Harper, and we miss him; and joy because we know that now he is celebrating the Theophany with the Lord Himself in the Heavens. Emptiness because we feel the gap that Father Michael has left in the Deanery and in our hearts; and fulfillment because we know that Father Michael is living and enjoying the full light and glory of the Theophany in Paradise. Crucifixion because our hearts are wounded with the spear of sadness at his death, and Resurrection because we are sure that he is now enjoying eternal life in the bosom of Abraham with all the saints.

I can see with the eyes of the heart, that Saint John the Baptist is waiting for Father Michael at the gate of Paradise, leading him by the hand before the divine Throne, showing him the Lord in His glory, and saying: “Come and see. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” This is the Lamb that Father Michael used to sacrifice at every Divine Liturgy, giving Him to the faithful, in the Body and the Blood, for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life.

Presbytera Jeanne was at Father Michael’s side, as always and to the end, praying for him and preparing him for the great journey. She felt the sword of sadness pierce her heart as the Mother of God felt it in her day. But at the same time, in her heart, she was listening to the sweet voice of the Lord whispering to her just as He had said to His Mother: “Do not weep for me, as you see me in a tomb.” (Ode 9, Irmos, at Matins on Holy and Great Saturday).

From the depth of my heart, I pray to God to receive Father Michael in His Heavenly Kingdom. I ask Him, our good Lord and Lover of Mankind, to grant Father Michael the fulfilment of divine light and glory, to establish his soul in the tents of the righteous, to give him rest in the bosom of Abraham, and to number him with the righteous.

In this difficult moment, I can find nothing to say for consolation to all of us better than to tell you what happened when I visited Father Michael in the hospital.

Alone I entered his room. Presbytera Jeanne said to him: “It is our beloved bishop”. With difficulty he whispered: “I love you”.

Be sure, Father, that you will be always in my heart, with great love.

I greet you, Father Michael, for the last time with the Paschal greeting: “Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed”.

May his memory be eternal.

Source, along with pictures of the funeral and the homily by Fr. Jonathan Hemmings: Antiochian UK and Ireland Deanery website
A memorial page for Fr. Michael can be found here.

May Fr. Michael’s memory be eternal!

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Written by Stephen

January 16, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Death, United Kingdom

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