Church Bids Farewell to Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko

20–23 March 2015 • The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA

On Monday morning, March 23, 2015, nearly 350 Orthodox Christian clergy and laity—from all corners of North America—gathered together to lay to rest Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, at The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA. His Beatitude The Most Blessed Tikhon, archbishop of Washington and metropolitan of All America and Canada, of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), presided at the “Order for the Burial of a Priest,” the office that concluded four days of liturgical services marking Fr. Thomas’s repose on March 18. Nearly 80 clergy, including eight other hierarchs, celebrated the final service with Metropolitan Tikhon, before the interment of Fr. Thomas’s body in the cemetery on the monastery grounds.

Father Thomas began teaching Doctrine and Pastoral Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 1968, eventually becoming a full Professor of Dogmatic Theology in 1991–1992. He rose to the position of seminary Dean in 1992, a post that he held until his retirement one decade later. As a beloved pastor, preeminent preacher, prolific writer, outstanding teacher, and sought after speaker, Father Thomas was known for being a “man of words.” At the end of Monday's funeral service both Metropolitan Tikhon, who offered a final word to mourners, and also the Very Reverend Dr. John Behr, current Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, who offered the main homily, centered their remarks on Fr. Thomas’s extraordinary gift to wisely and effectively use the power of words.

In his touching farewell to Fr. Thomas, Metropolitan Tikhon referenced Psalm 118/119, which had been read during the funeral service and which emphasizes keeping the commandments of God. His Beatitude directly and tenderly addressed the deceased Father in Christ, saying, “You've given us a multitude of words—podcasts, teachings, lectures...If there is anything you taught us, it is that you were not speaking to us because you had a lot to say. You only really had one thing to say: please follow the commandments. Is that not the foundation of all the teachings of our entire Church that we take thousands of volumes and pages and words to express? And yet it comes back to that: follow the commandments." ( Read Metropolitan Tikhon's full text here.)

Father John Behr’s eloquent homily reminded mourners of Fr. Thomas’s facility with language, his charismatic personality, his prophetic voice within the Church, and his love and kindness as a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. In particular, Fr. John spoke of the transformative power of death in Christ Jesus.Procession to burial siteFr. John Behr, seminary Dean and homilist, with Fr. John Jillions, OCA Chancellor (photo: Tatiana Hoff)Procession to burial siteFr. John Behr, seminary Dean and homilist, with Fr. John Jillions, OCA Chancellor (photo: Tatiana Hoff)

“[Father Tom’s] departure from us as a priest is likewise his complete offering—finished, perfected, with the aer soon to cover his face, concealing his identity, just as it conceals the Eucharistic gifts in the entrance to the holy place, and making his very identity, in his exodus from us as an entrance into the kingdom, to be a eucharistic offering with his body becoming the pure bread of Christ, just as with the martyrs Polycarp and Ignatius,” said Fr. John.

“And the silence of one gifted with words, with great eloquence, now has greater resonance than any merely humanly offered words,” he continued. So also now, the one we have known for his eloquence, his words, himself becomes a word of God, as we learn to see God at work in his creature; no longer hearing Fr. Tom speaking to us, but hearing God speaking to us through him.” (Read Fr. John’s full text here.)

Following the funeral service, clergy, monastics, and laity, with Fr. Thomas’s own family, processed through the monastery grounds to the site of his burial. Father Thomas’s grave lies across from the founder of the monastery, Abbess Alexandra, whom from the time of the establishment of the monastery, Fr. Thomas knew personally.

The seminary wishes to extend its gratitude to Matushka Anne Hopko and her family for so graciously making it possible for us, over a four-day period, to mourn our Father in Christ, even while they were experiencing their own deep personal grief; theirs was truly an act of selfless generosity. The seminary also extends its gratitude to Mother Christophora, abbess of The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, and the monastics there, for the hospitable, peaceful, joyful, and orderly atmosphere they maintained in helping us, and the Church, bid Protopresbyter Thomas farewell.

May our Lord be with Matushka Anne and her family, and may the memory of our Father in Christ Thomas be eternal!

NOTE: Many Orthodox Faithful attended calling hours and services for Protopresbyter Thomas from Friday, March 20 — Monday, March 23. Listed below is a summary of those who attended the final service, "The Order for the Burial of a Priest," with particular emphasis on those who are part of our seminary community.

Others from St. Vladimir’s Seminary who attended the final funeral service included: the Very Reverend Dr. Chad Hatfield, chancellor/CEO; Protodeacon Joseph Matusiak, director of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Alumni Relations; Theodore Bazil, senior advisor for Advancement; Melanie Ringa, associate chancellor for Finance; Dn. Gregory Hatrak, director of Marketing and Operations, SVS Press and Bookstore; Michael Soroka, associate editor, SVS Press; Deborah Belonick, director of Communications; and faculty members: the Very Reverend Dr. Alexander Rentel, the Very Reverend Dr. Harry Pappas, Dr. John Barnet, Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff, Dr. Albert S. Rossi, and Prof. Richard Schneider. Faculty who participated in other capacities at the final funeral service included the Very Reverend Nicholas Solak (son-in-law of Fr. Thomas), and the Very Rev. Dr. John Jillions (Chancellor of the OCA).  Another faculty member, the Very Reverend J. Sergius Halvorsen, participated in services on Friday and Saturday. Among the former faculty who attended was a close friend of Fr. Thomas, Professor David Drillock, professor of Liturgics, emeritus. Additionally, the Very Reverend Eric G. Tosi attended, both in his capacity as  director of the OCA's Parish Mentorship Program at St. Vladimir's Seminary and also as Secretary of the OCA.

The Executive Chair of the Board of Trustees of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Alex Machaskee, attended, as did Trustee Tatiana Hoff.

Among the many faithful members of the seminary’s Three Hierarchs Chapel who attended was Matushka Marie Meyendorff, wife of Protopresbyter John Meyendorff (+1992),  former seminary Dean.

Countless seminary alumni, mostly ordained clergy, and other Board of Trustee members, came to pray for and say farewell to their beloved teacher and Father in Christ. They had traveled from as far away as Alberta, Canada and the State of Hawaii to pray for the soul of the mentor. In attendance as well was His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius, seminary alumnus who ruled as primate of the OCA during much of Fr. Thomas’s tenure as seminary Dean.

Among the hierarchs concelebrating the funeral service were seminary alumni from the OCA: The Most Reverend Benjamin, archbishop of San Francisco and the West; The Most Reverend Melchisedek, archbishop of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania; The Most Reverend Mark, archbishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania; and The Right Reverend Alexander, bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese; and a seminary alumnus from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, His Grace the Right Reverend Bishop John.

Additional hierarchs serving from the OCA were The Most Reverend Nathaniel, archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate; The Most Reverend Michael, archbishop of New York and New York and New Jersey. His Eminence, Savas, metropolitan of the Metropolis of Pittsburgh, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America also served. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be given to St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, NY; The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA; Ancient Faith Radio, and Good Samaritan Hospice of Concordia, Wexford, PA. Memorial gifts offered to St. Vladimir's Seminary will be used to build up The Father Thomas Hopko Scholarship Fund, established in 2007 to provide financial aid to the sons and daughters of alumni who are enrolled in any of the Seminary's academic degree programs. (Donate online)

Memory Eternal!

Letters of Condolence 

  • Letter of Condolence, from His Grace, Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos (Poothiyottu), Metropolitan of the Northeast American Diocese, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church 
  • Letter of Condolence, from His Eminence, The Most Reverend Hilarion (Alfeyev), Metropolitan of Volokolamsk and Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Russian Orthodox Church
  • Letter of Condolence, from His Eminence, Metropolitan Elias of Beirut
  • Letter of Condolence, from Fr. Porphyrios Georgi, Dean of University of Balamand, St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology
  • Letter of Condolence, from Saint-Serge Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe, Paris, France
  • Letter of Condolence, from Christ the Saviour Seminary
  • Expression of Sympathy, from His Grace Bishop Michael, Diocese of New York and New Jersey  
  • Tribute in the journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, written by Dr. Peter Bouteneff, associate professor of Systematic Theology                                                                                                    

Read the homily of Archpriest John Behr, Dean
Read the farewell address of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon
Read the tribute by former St. Vladimir's Dean, the Very Reverend Dr. John H. Erickson
Read the words of Mother Christophora after the Panikhida Sunday evening
Read the homily of Priest J. Sergius Halvorsen, assistant professor of Homiletics, at the 40th Day Memorial Service

View a commemorative photo gallery