Today is a Day of Joy

A Sermon from the Funeral of Bishop Athanasius of Western Kenya

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His Grace Bishop Athanasius of Kisimu and Western Kenya was laid to rest yesterday at the Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral where his diocesan headquarters are located. Bp. Athanasius was a young bishop, having reposed at the age of 48, but he dedicated his short life to serving the Lord Jesus Christ in his holy Church. He became seriously ill while visiting America in November and was in the ICU at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts until he reposed on January 4, having suffered from a rare form of blood cancer.

OrthoChristian published what was perhaps his last interview, given just a few weeks before he became ill, and a reflection on his life from Fr. Silouan (Brown) the director of the Orthodox Africa charitable foundation.

Below is the homily offered by His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Nairobi at the funeral for Bp. Athanasius. A video of the homily was posted on Facebook by Fr. Eliud Muthru, the head of the St. Irene Orthodox Mission in Njabini, South Kinangop, Kenya.


Christ is Risen!

Today is a very special day, a day of joy, a day of celebration, because we have seen our brother and concelebrant in Christ, Bishop Athanasius, departing from this life to eternal life, the real life, the life in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In my mind I am recalling the words from the book of Revelation chapter 22, verses 12 and 20: Yes, I am coming, yes O Lord Jesus come. We all have a very special call to know that God is inviting us and He is telling us that He is very near to us.

And we are looking at one another and wondering what kind of life is this? God created us according to His image and likeness out of His great love for all of humanity, and we depart suddenly. All of us know that we are afraid because we doubt, although we know that Jesus Christ Himself told us, “I am the Life and the Resurrection.” In our Creed we repeat the very wonderful message “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” What an encouraging message! What a joy to know that we are not actually permanent citizens here. As I said yesterday, we are actually only passing through. We are coming and we are going, and this is the decision of God. It is not my decision, it is not your decision. This is why God is inviting us and is telling us, “Here I am, I’m coming, very soon.” The Kingdom of God is upon us. Be ready. Are we ready? Are we ready to forgive one another? Are we ready to love one another? Are we ready to embrace one another?

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Each and every one of us has to answer this question. In this question there is a very deep theological meaning. Yes, we are Christians, yes we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, yes we attend the services, but at the same time, do we really follow the messages and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in our life here and now? That is why I asked and why I now repeat the same questions: Are we ready to forgive one another? Are we ready to embrace one another? Are we ready to implement those wonderful messages of the Bible in our daily lives? It is not easy, but it is possible. It is possible because we belong to the Kingdom of God.

As I said before, we were created according to the image and likeness of God, which means that we can really become like God. We are here to sanctify ourselves. That is why we are here on earth—not to wait until after our departure. We should try to implement those wonderful messages in our daily life now, while we were here on earth, if we want to inherit the Kingdom of God. I know that each and every one of us, when we hear about the Kingdom of God, thinks that it is something very simple. Brothers and sisters in Christ, God is giving us time, God is telling us, “I’m coming soon.” He is inviting us to prepare ourselves now. Today. This moment. This instant, if we want to inherit the Kingdom of God. It will be the greatest joy for us. We will actually have the feeling of freedom and joy because we will be entering the Kingdom of God. Are we ready?

We thank God, because He is giving us time. He is telling us not to postpone our preparation, but to do it now. I have said this several times and will say it again. Here we are. We have our beloved Bishop Athanasius, a very young bishop with a lot of vision, a lot of preparation, a lot of life. He was so full of life, with a lot of expectations and dreams. He is no longer with us, but his spirit will always be around. His soul will always be around. Although he left us at this early age, he gave his life to serve our Church with a lot of humility and a lot of love. We have seen his work and each and every one of us recalls his strength and his readiness to work for the development of our Church.

What do we do now? What do we expect after this celebration? In our understanding, in our teaching, we say that the bishop is now sleeping. He’s not dead. He’s waiting, and then during the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ he will be resurrected. It is the same for each and every one of us. That is why I insist: Prepare yourselves. Be ready for this unknown journey. Whether we like it or not, it will come—today or tomorrow or the next day. Today, I am standing here in front of you. Believe it or not, tomorrow you will not see me again. That is how it is. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ is urging us, inviting us and telling us: “Here I am, I am coming soon.” And if we are ready, we should reply: “Yes, O Lord, come. Allow us to follow you, and let us go with You and inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not joke with our lives and let us not think that our lives are as simple as we think, because we have money, because we are educated, because we have different kinds of positions: I am the archbishop, I am the bishop, I am the governor, I am the president. I must tell you, in the eyes of God, we are all the same, and we will be judged in the same way.

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Please, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us open our hearts and let us speak to our Lord Jesus Christ, to forgive our brother and concelebrant Bishop Athanasius, and at the same time, all of us, because we are all sinners, and as I said before, we will all be judged by God. Only God is the Judge. None of us has the right to judge anybody. Our duty is to love and to forgive, and as I said before, to embrace one another.

Especially in this area where we are, let us be together the way we were before, with all the different tribes of this area. As I am now the archbishop in this area again, I invite each and every one of you to work together. Let us continue the work of our beloved Bishop Athanasius, and let us embrace one another and let us see that the Orthodox faith is really …1 in every corner of this region. And as we look at the school here and at the schools we have established in different areas, we thank God. And I think that we are able, if we are together, if we are united, to do more. We thank God for the work of the life of our brother Athanasius. We allow him now to take his journey in peace. We allow him to go. He is now in the hands of God. We will continue here on earth; we don’t know for how long. But as long as we are alive, we will continue serving our Holy Father in Heaven. May our brother Bishop Athanasius rest in peace, until we meet again. Amen.

I will take this opportunity now to convey my deep condolences to the family of the late bishop and to his friends and all the people of this area. You can imagine how I myself feel now. He was my student, I was his teacher, I was his archbishop, we were together as bishops, and now he is gone. I’m sure where he has gone, he will follow us and he will be praying for us. Let us pray that God will give him a place of repose in peace in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Amen.

1 One word is not clear here in the video.—O.C.
Nicholas Lovi2/2/2019 7:13 am
Bishop has been of very great importance to us.we're left orphans in peace the diocese of kisumu. May he rest in peace and I pray that we get another loving bishop like him.
Mark Karahalis2/1/2019 2:46 pm
I will never forget his presence. I will never forget his voice!
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