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Wonders of the Small Church

The small church has incredible importance and value, although it may not carry the pomp of churches in Europe and elsewhere. I have one particular small church in mind: ours.

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In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

God is One.

Something about this moment is so perfect, so illuminating, so joyous. Our dear +Tom Shakun is not simply in church, but in this church, a church he was married in, and devoted nearly his entire life to. We honor him and rejoice in his work here. Yet, something is also very disturbing, sad, and lonely this evening. He enters the church one final time, devoid of breath and life, never to seen or heard from him again in this world; and our hearts break.

The church teaches that the life we are all called to is a life that is inseparable from God, and unconquered by death. However, in the normal course of human life, we grow old, our bodies decay and begin to fall away from us, and we die.

Yet, in the course of our earthly journey, if we have come to the knowledge of God, have made the attempt to live in communion with him, and have been diligent in fulfilling his Divine will for us (these are the three reasons why God calls us into human existence), then today is not the end, it is absolutely not the end; but it is a beginning of a new life which is vested in the resurrection garment of Christ’s victory of life over death. This garment is what covers +Tom now as he is escorted by the angels, we pray, into God’s eternal kingdom.

+Tom Shakun was the icon of what God intends for each of us: love of God, joy of the church, love of family, and in Tom’s case, love of country.

A Russian translator for 33 months in Germany during the Korean War, an accomplished equestrian, and a lover of sail boating on Long Island Sound, Tom was a sort of renaissance man. He often said he needed two lives to do all that he wanted to accomplish.

Several years ago, four years in fact, there was a shift in +Tom’s life. His dear Saint Nicholas Church, the one he lived for and loved for nearly eight decades, was no longer able to have the Divine Liturgy served every Sunday due to various circumstances. It was the perfect time for +Tom to fade away from a well-lived and long church life, and fill his Sunday mornings in other ways. While some might have used this as an excuse to do just that and walk away, +Tom, still full of life, looked for, and found opportunity at Holy Trinity Church in nearby Willimantic. For the past four years of his earthly journey, +Tom came to be with us: and he was there every week. He loved us, and we most certainly loved him. While others might have been away on a Sunday morning, Tom wasn’t. Not even once. He was always in church. His horses, his sailboat, and even his beloved Coast Guard Band in New London, could wait until Sunday afternoon. First things first.

This is important to understand for the remainder of this eulogy.

Nearly a week to the minute prior to his death on February 9, 2019, at 11:30 in the morning, I received an email from Tom. It was sent on Saturday, February, at 11:57am. In the subject line, it read: Out of Hospital. +Tom then went on to write: “Father – I had hoped to be at Liturgy tomorrow, but I am just two weak; am hoping for next Sunday. Tell everyone at church, thanks for the cards and prayers.” Signed, Tom.

When I think of +Tom, I am reminded of the Woman With the Infirmity (Luke 13:10-17). This woman was bent over for 18 years, and not able to stand fully upright. She was healed one day when our Lord saw her present in the synagogue. She did not ask for healing, didn’t reach out or beg for it, either. She was healed simply because of her presence in the synagogue that day. We will assume this was not the first time Christ noticed her. Healing was granted to her by virtue of her presence and her prayer. Isn’t that a beautiful account?

+Tom was like that woman, in that he was always present in the synagogue, God’s house of worship, the church.

We learned from +Tom that we should not live apart from God. Some do; and that is very, very dangerous. Instead, Tom made a conscious decision to be in places of God’s mercy, his power, and his healing. +Tom found God and rested with him daily in the places where He can be found: in the Eucharist, in Confession, in Liturgy, in prayer, in service, in the feasts and fasts, and ultimately in active pursuit of Christian virtues.

As a result of living his life this way, his always being in the church (synagogue), our dear friend +Tom was never, ever separated from God in his earthly life. We pray, we can even say we know for certain, that +Tom, due to his earthly devotion, will not be separated from God in eternity, either.

+Tom will now know the joy of the Kingdom.

Isn’t that comforting? Isn’t that so beautiful?

Memory eternal, my friend. Go with God.


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