I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27:13-14

I’ve known Fr. Constantine for thirty years. When I first went to the seminary back in 1994, he was the priest at a local parish in Boston. When I was a deacon, I served with him in his parish many times. He is retired in Florida and our paths cross at least once a year. We make it a point to chat on the phone at least once a month. Fr. Constantine is 35 years older than me. He has been a priest longer than I have been alive. He is the closest man to a father figure I still have left. I treasure our relationship.

For most of his life, Fr. Constantine was married to Presbytera Helen. They enjoyed marriage, raising children and ministry. In their later years, retired from full-time (though still serving into his late 80s) ministry, Fr. Constantine devoted himself to caring for Presbytera Helen, who battled various health ailments. He never complained about it. Neither did she complain about her challenges. Fr. Constantine also has been slowed down by various maladies and never complains about them.

Every person we meet has the potential to touch our lives in a memorable way. Fr. Constantine is a superb Liturgist, an amazing chanter, a thoughtful speaker, and a compassionate pastor. But these are not the reasons I admire him. No, there are three words that he says frequently—“The good Lord”—and these are the words I will remember him by. Because no matter what happens in his life, he always refers to the goodness of the Lord.

Shortly before Presbytera Helen passed away, he said to me, “I think the good Lord is ready to take Presbytera. I am not ready to let her go, but if this is what the good Lord wants, then I have to find a way to be okay with that.” Fr. Constantine is not of my generation, he was born in Greece and so he is not even native to our country. While much of the world, especially the younger generation, either does not believe in God, or worse yet, curses the will of God, Fr. Constantine rejoices in the Lord, in good times and bad times. When I found out that Presbytera Helen had passed away, I called Fr. Constantine to express my condolences and the first thing he said to me was “The good Lord came for Presbytera last night.”

If we truly believe in God, if we truly believe in His goodness, then not only will we speak about His goodness, we will live out that goodness, we will desire that goodness, and we will anticipate the fullness of that goodness when we prepare to depart this life.

In 1999, the Christian band “Mercy Me” recorded a song that is the number one played Christian song of all time, entitled “I Can Only Imagine.” It imagines what it will be like to stand in the presence of God. The refrain goes as follows:

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus, or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.
(Information on “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me was taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Can_Only_Imagine_(MercyMe_song)

I see colorful advertisements for exotic places I’d love to visit all the time on the computer. Color photos, videos and testimonials get us excited about going to places we’ve never been. Part of the challenge of Christianity is that we don’t have photos, videos or testimonials of the destination, heaven.

We have testimonials of faith, from people like Fr. Constantine, and the other people I have written about in this unit, who have lived a life of faith and were faithful at the time of their passing. We have images of holiness, like the icons on the walls of our churches. We have conceptual images, like the song by Mercy Me. We have images of perfection like sunrises and sunsets. Ultimately, the choice to believe in God, to believe that redemption is found in the salvific work of Jesus Christ, and to believe that there is life after death, these indeed are choices. This is what faith is, a choice to believe in what we do not fully comprehend, and what we have not fully seen. I have seen faith in the real life testimonies of people reflected on in this unit. I have experienced the majesty of God through many of these experiences, even in the ones where someone I loved passed away.

When we were young, we were introduced first to the goodness of God. Before we were old enough to read, to study, and to learn complex concepts, we were introduced to the goodness of God. Parents gently pointing out “look at Christouli” (Christ) in an icon. A simple prayer “God is great, God is good.” This was our introduction to God. We weren’t introduced to a scary God, or a vengeful God, but a good God. Thus, the common denominator throughout life, even as it gets complicated, even as faith gets challenged by circumstance, even as doubt creeps in, must be remembering the goodness of God, seeing Him as “The Good Lord.”

The Divine services of our church pray to God as a “good and merciful God.” God is described as “philanthropos” or “friend of man.” The world is twisting God into either a politically correct God who accepts all kinds of behavior, or it is twisting Him into a politically incorrect God who is intolerant and needs to be cancelled. God lives on neither of these extremes.

Like Father Constantine, I choose to believe in the goodness of God. Even when life doesn’t go as I had hoped, even when I feel disappointed in God (because I do sometimes), I still show up because I believe in Him, and in His goodness. In being privileged to see so many people at the end of life, those who have faith have such a great peace over them. This is not a peace of “resignation” (i.e. resigned to their demise, made peace with their death), but a peace of “conviction” (they believe in God, in the goodness of God, and in the mercy that God will have towards them).

If you are reading this message and you haven’t begun your journey of faith, if you’ve begun and taken a detour, or if you began and you have quit, the best place to begin or to restart is by reflecting on the goodness of God. I hope before my life is over to visit Iceland. The northern lights, thermal springs, gushing waterfalls, glaciers, I hope to one day see these things. Why? Because of things people I know who have been there have said, because of things I have read, and mostly because of pictures that show a place of majesty and beauty. What I’ve seen and heard makes this place seem like a good place to visit. It’s the same with God—get around people who speak of the goodness of God, read the Bible and read about His goodness, worship in church and reflect on the beauty of His image in the icons, and look to see goodness in others. And as Christians, we also have to be ambassadors for the goodness of God, we are to reflect His goodness, and we can talk about His goodness. What a blessing to hear someone, even in sorrow, still be able to talk about “The Good Lord.”

What will heaven be like? I can only imagine. However, I know what goodness looks like, I even know what the goodness of God looks like. So I imagine that heaven will be like experiencing an infinite and non-stop, undistracted amount of the goodness of God. And this is what gives me motivation to push through the sorrows and setbacks of life.

I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, the son of Thy handmaid. Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! Psalm 116:14-19

If we believe not only in God, but in the goodness of the Lord, what heaven will look like is not important. What is important is that we will be embraced by the eternal and infinite goodness of the Lord. That’s all that really matters.