Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing.
Fr. Basil served as an Orthodox priest for over fifty years. In his retirement, he attended different parishes in the area, and occasionally would worship at my parish. By the time I met him, he was beyond the ability to be able to serve, as his health was poor. One day, his wife called me and told me that he wasn’t doing well, and asked about having the funeral at St. John in Tampa, where I serve. This was a little surprising actually, since I didn’t know him well and I thought he was much closer to other priests and parishes than to me. I asked her “Does he have a file for what he wants at his funeral?” Many priests have a file where they have written down what vestments they want to be buried in, who should get their remaining vestments, etc. She answered, “He’s very particular, just like you, and he knew you’d ask that question, that’s why he wants you to take care of the arrangements.” I told her I was happy to do so.
It was Saturday, December 2, 2006, when Fr. Basil’s wife called me and asked me to come and visit him in the hospital. I arrived around 5:00 p.m., just before sunset. Fr. Basil’s blood pressure was so low that even the medical personnel were amazed that he was still alive. After exchanging pleasantries, Fr. Basil said to me and to his family, “I have been at the bedside of countless people who were at the end of life these last fifty years. I always wondered what it would be like when it was my time. I always dreamed that I would have my family around me, and I would have a priest hear my last confession.” With that, his family respectfully left the room so that I could hear his last confession.
I sat by his bedside, and looked out the window as the sun was going down over Tampa Bay. I thought to myself that this is the last time the sun will set on this man’s life. I wonder what he will confess. Will he be bitter from all the wounds we take in ministry? Will he be anxious?
In a very weak voice, in a very slow cadence, Fr. Basil began to speak: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. . .” He was reciting the Creed. It took several minutes for him to get through it. Initially I thought to myself, “What kind of confession is this? Where are his sins?” Then, as I heard the conviction in his very weak voice, I realized this man had been confessing his sins for his entire life. He had been repenting and making corrections his whole life. And now at the moment of his death, as he was about to close his eyes to life in this world, he wanted to confess his faith, and his belief and hope that he would open them again and see the Lord and a new life. His final confession was not a confession of sin but a confession of faith, made possible because he had spent a lifetime confessing his sins.
He finished the Creed, reciting those words “I look to the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen.” (Official Translation of the Nicene Creed, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, as found in the Divine Liturgy book, p. 47) Tears rolled down his cheeks. I could see a man of deep faith and profound hope in what was coming next. I could see that he was so tired and yet joyful. He reached for my hand, looked at me, and said “I’ll see you in Paradise, consider me good to go.” This wasn’t some arrogant or proud statement. He wasn’t claiming Paradise for himself. He was saying that his whole life had been leading him up to this moment and that rather than being in fear of the unknown, he was ready to meet the Lord.
I offered a prayer for Fr. Basil. His family came back into the room. I offered him Holy Communion. I took off my stole and placed it around Fr. Basil’s neck. I put in his hand a small blessing cross I carry to hospitals. His family then came to receive his blessing—as their father, grandfather, husband and priest.
I left the hospital shortly afterward and went home. I figured it would be just a matter of time before I got called back to the hospital, so I just stayed in my work clothes for a while. Around 11:00 p.m. I got tired and decided to go to bed. As I was getting into bed, wondering why I hadn’t gotten called back to the hospital, it dawned on me that Fr. Basil was going to die at the time of the resurrection—after the Sabbath had passed (after Saturday was over) and before the sun had risen on Sunday. I laid out a set of clothes next to the bed so I wouldn’t have to fumble around the room if a call came in the middle of the night. Sure enough, the call came at 5:30 a.m. that Fr. Basil was passing. I drove to the hospital shortly after as the sun was about to rise.
Many years later, in November 2023, Fr. Basil’s wife, Presbytera Loretta, also passed away. I visited her for what was our final visit. She remembered my final visit with her husband and she asked if she could do the same. We said the Creed, she received Holy Communion, and a few days later, she passed.
There are two things I have taken away from the death of Fr. Basil. The first is that when I have a sense that I am visiting someone for the last time, I always say the Creed. Sometimes the person will say it with me. Other times they are unconscious, and I hope that they are hearing it and saying it with me subconsciously. People often ask me the question, “What are the requirements to receive Holy Communion?” People get caught up with fasting and they miss the most basic requirement, which is to believe in God. That is why at the Divine Liturgy, we always recite the Creed, in order to confess our faith before we receive Holy Communion. Before we leave this life and meet the Lord, I think it is an important and beautiful thing to confess our faith.
The second thing I’ve taken away from the death of Fr. Basil is a greater understanding of confession. Confession is something we should be doing on a regular basis. Confession affords us the opportunity to rid ourselves of shame, to correct our course through repentance and to recommit ourselves to the faith. If a person has been confessing and repenting throughout their lives, then the last confession really should be a confession of faith. But that last confession of faith is only possible if one has been making a confession of sins and repenting throughout their lives.
Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for He is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars, He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, He casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God upon the lyre! He covers the heavens with clouds, He prepares rain for the earth, He makes grass grow upon the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens which cry. His delight is not the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He strengthens the bars of your gates; He blesses your sons within you. He makes peace in your borders; He fills you with the finest of the wheat. He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth His ice like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word, and melts them; He makes His wind blow, and the waters flow. He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know His ordinances. Praise the Lord! Psalm 147
Confession of sins and confession of faith go hand in hand. A lifetime of confessing and repenting of sins should lead to a confession of faith at the end that is filled with hope, and even joy.