Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of the British Isles and  Ireland
"the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

[Acts 11:26] 

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The Funeral Service of Fr. Michael Harper

Funeral Fr. Michael

The funeral service of Archpriest Michael Harper took place in the Cathedral of St. George, London on Thursday 14th January.  Present were a number of Deanery clergy together with the Priest, Fr. Samir Gholam and Deacon Naim El-Hage who serve the Cathedral community.  Also present were Fr. Yves Dubois and His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia representing the Greek Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, His Grace, Bishop of Elisey of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate), Fr. Peter Farrington of the Council of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Fr. Simon Smyth representing Abba Seraphim of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and several other ecumenical guests.  Fr. Jonathan Hemmings of the parish of Holy Cross, Lancaster gave an inspiring homily and the Dean, Fr. Gregory Hallam, Protos at the service read a moving address from the Bishop, His Eminence Metropolitan John who could not attend on account of an illness confining him to home.  The committal took place in Cambridge on the following day.

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MEMORIAL & CONDOLENCE PAGE   Jeanne Harper and Fr. Yves Dubois

From His Eminence, Metropolitan John

Met. John

A Message from Bishop John to Father Michael”

 The just are remembered with praises, but for you the Lord’s testimony suffices, O Forerunner.”

(Apolytikion of the holy and glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John)

In these blessed days, in which our Lord Jesus Christ came from Heaven to our world to be born from the Virgin Mary and to be baptized by John the Baptist for our salvation, two feelings – of sadness and of joy - are combined together.

Sadness, because we have lost a very beloved brother and friend, Father Michael Harper, but also joy, spiritual joy, that Father Michael left us at the Feast of Theophany, for the central concern of his life was to proclaim the good news of God made manifest in Christ.

One of his last public actions in late November was, I am told, despite rising ill-health, to put down on video the last of three talks he has contributed to our outreach programme, The Way, on central aspects of the Orthodox Christian Faith.

I cannot forget that last year he asked me to write a prologue to his book A Faith Fulfilled, which is being translated into Greek. Appropriately, I wrote my introduction on the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, 2009. We hope also that in the very near future we will have Father Michael’s book A Faith Fulfilled, translated into Arabic. 

Saint John the Baptist, one of the main characters in the drama of the Theophany, is reported as saying of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).

However, when the disciples asked the Lord about Saint John the Forerunner, the Lord replied: “I say unto you, among those that are born of woman there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist”. (Luke 7:28). That is why we sing to Saint John these words: “The just are remembered with praises, but for you the Lord’s testimony suffices, O Forerunner.”

The witness of the Lord and the testimony of Saint John’s works were sufficient for people to admire him. So it is with Father Michael: his achievements are enough to speak his praises.

Father Michael was the first to manifest what I will call an Antiochian consciousness in heart and mind. Thanks to his efforts and labours, his sweat and tears, we now have a very marked presence in the United Kingdom.

He was the first one to join the Antiochian Orthodox Church and then, slowly, slowly, the Deanery was founded, of which he was the first Dean.

By God’s grace, the Deanery has grown, consisting now of more than twenty-four Fathers in about twenty parishes in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Be sure, beloved Father Michael, that this effective and dynamic presence will keep growing and multiplying, day by day, led by our new Dean, Father Gregory Hallam, who will continue to follow in your footsteps on this path that you first began to walk upon.

No words can describe the emptiness that we feel after Father Michael’s resting in the Lord. Contrary feelings are in my heart at the same moment: sadness and joy, emptiness and fulfillment, crucifixion and resurrection.

Sadness because we have lost a very beloved brother and friend, Father Michael Harper, and we miss him; and joy because we know that now he is celebrating the Theophany with the Lord Himself in the Heavens. Emptiness because we feel the gap that Father Michael has left in the Deanery and in our hearts; and fulfillment because we know that Father Michael is living and enjoying the full light and glory of the Theophany in Paradise. Crucifixion because our hearts are wounded with the spear of sadness at his death, and Resurrection because we are sure that he is now enjoying eternal life in the bosom of Abraham with all the saints.

I can see with the eyes of the heart, that Saint John the Baptist is waiting for Father Michael at the gate of Paradise, leading him by the hand before the divine Throne, showing him the Lord in His glory, and saying: “Come and see. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” This is the Lamb that Father Michael used to sacrifice at every Divine Liturgy, giving Him to the faithful, in the Body and the Blood, for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life.

Presbytera Jeanne was at Father Michael’s side, as always and to the end, praying for him and preparing him for the great journey. She felt the sword of sadness pierce her heart as the Mother of God felt it in her day. But at the same time, in her heart, she was listening to the sweet voice of the Lord whispering to her just as He had said to His Mother: “Do not weep for me, as you see me in a tomb.” (Ode 9, Irmos, at Matins on Holy and Great Saturday).

From the depth of my heart, I pray to God to receive Father Michael in His Heavenly Kingdom. I ask Him, our good Lord and Lover of Mankind, to grant Father Michael the fulfilment of divine light and glory, to establish his soul in the tents of the righteous, to give him rest in the bosom of Abraham, and to number him with the righteous.

In this difficult moment, I can find nothing to say for consolation to all of us better than to tell you what happened when I visited Father Michael in the hospital.

Alone I entered his room. Presbytera Jeanne said to him: “It is our beloved bishop”. With difficulty he whispered: “I love you”.

Be sure, Father, that you will be always in my heart, with great love.

I greet you, Father Michael, for the last time with the Paschal greeting:  “Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed”.

May his memory be eternal.

The Funeral Homily by Fr. Jonathan Hemmings

Fr. Jonathan

In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen 

4 Kingdoms” Now the sons of the prophets in Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that this day the Lord will take away your master over your head?” So he answered, “I know, please be silent…” Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up and struck the water. The water divided this way and that and the two of them crossed on dry ground.”

It was God the Father’s will that the Lord Jesus Christ who blessed the River Jordan by His Baptism on the Feast of Theophany called our beloved father Archpriest Michael home on this day when, as we say in the blessing of the waters, the terrestrials join with the celestials and the celestials join with the terrestrials. The crossing over of the River Jordan by Elijah is a type of baptism, a crossing from this world to our promised inheritance.

St John Chrysostom writes:

“O how great is the virtue of the Saints! Not only their words, not only their bodies, but even their very garments are always esteemed venerable by the whole of creation. The sheepskin of this man divided the Jordan!”

As one who is unworthy to ask even a fraction of my spiritual father’s spirit, I raise my eyes to heaven in gladdening sorrow and like Elisha cry:

Father, O father the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!”

In Father Michael we have had in our midst not only an Archpriest and pastor but a man of prophetic ministry. St Paul writes to the Christians at Thessalonika:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.”

We give thanks to God this day for the life of our beloved Archpriest Michael. For God is faithful and true in every age and we have always had prophets in the Church of Antioch:

St. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles ch 13:-

“ Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

God, the Holy Spirit chooses and separates (which of course is the meaning of holiness) and in Father Michael he chose and set apart a man who combined vision with practical application to lead us over the Jordan into the Promised Land.

He used to say that one of the great influences on his early life was having an evangelical nanny. Apparently he was in good company in this respect. She encouraged his prayer life and took him to Baptist Chapels. Another formative influence on his early life was the Headmaster at St. Faith’s School in Cambridge, W.G. Butler. Evacuated to Devon during the war there he was taught and learned the value of a disciplined life that held the secret of happiness. This was honed, shaped and found voice as a young curate in All Souls, Langham Place, in London under John Stott. We thank God that this zeal and discipline abided with him throughout his pilgrimage of faith and that it eventually found its completion in Orthodoxy.

I believe the Orthodox Church will view with reverence this courageous pioneer whom God chose to go before us. Because we are Eucharistic creatures we give thanks to God for this good man and that He gave to his beloved servant Father Michael a faithful and fitting helper in Khouriya Jeanne. How richly God blessed you both, your love for one another-a love that was not self centred or self contained but a love that was generous; the agape of God is inclusive and spills over to others and it radiates to all in that circle of grace and beyond, for the Holy Spirit moves where He wills!

Father Michael was a friend to all and his words were continually of blessing. Whenever you were in his company you felt loved, warmed, wanted, important, valued-he would listen to you. He had that great capacity to place your needs as his responsibility and joy. I represent many who owe him a great debt and who are eternally grateful for his comforting presence, ministry and support. It was quite remarkable how Father Michael had the ability to engage with people even on first meeting-he would take the initiative and talk to anyone and everyone; whether it was the man in the corner store or the man on the pavement. We have a legacy of love from this good, humble man and an example of holiness.

John the Golden Mouth said:

“For Elijah left a sheepskin to his disciple, but the Son of God ascending left us

His own flesh! Elijah indeed cast off his mantle, before he went up, but Christ left it behind for our sakes, and yet retained it when he ascended. Let us not then be cast down. Let us not lament, nor fear the difficulty of the times, for He who did not refuse to pour out His blood for all, and has suffered us to partake of His flesh and blood again, what will He refuse to do for our safety?”

It is difficult to calculate in human terms the inspirational influence that Father Michael had on the countless number of people with whom he came into contact.

As a spiritual father Archpriest Michael offered an over-arching grace filled canopy under which his spiritual children could shelter from the storms of life and grow in the Holy Spirit. His wisdom, patience and humility guided souls to Jesus Christ. He was a true spiritual father –grace filled, always pointing beyond himself to the source of all goodness-the Father of Lights. One person who met him only recently spoke of him as “life –enhancing.” Another person wrote to me from Kazakhstan on hearing of his repose wrote simply:

He was one of those people who you would hope never will leave this world, because they are so much needed.”

Father Michael could be described as a living signpost to heaven-indicating the way by his words and actions. It was his courage and clear sightedness to further the Kingdom of God in this Deanery that has given us hope and encouragement.  Of course this boldness twinned with his gentleness and generosity was anchored and under girded by prayer, it was fuelled by the power of the Holy Spirit and it issued in the fruits thereof. The evangelical spirit and charisms that he brought with him from his 40 years of distinguished ministry in Christ into Orthodoxy has served well our sense of mission. In Father Michael’s own words in an interview with Robbie Low:

Our deanery is a mission deanery carrying on the work of the saints of the undivided church in this land and that is our priority.”

This is the vision that Father Michael sets before us today!

 The Orthodox Church is evangelistic and charismatic as well as Catholic and Apostolic and Father Michael was able to let people discover and realise this as he showed by his own journey and as is recorded in his book “A faith fulfilled.” He wanted to open up the Treasure Chest of Orthodoxy and share these precious jewels of our holy faith with those who seek the Truth and make them available and accessible to the people of these Islands. The fact that he attracted and brought people into Orthodoxy from the whole spectrum of Christian Traditions speaks for itself. He was a man of hope and faith for all seasons and circumstances.

We must hold on to that vision that our spiritual father has set before us, for he would want us to build on that foundation which he helped lay around Christ the Cornerstone. Like living stones we are being built into a Holy Temple for the Holy Spirit to make His dwelling. It really does not matter whether we are located in the foundations or the dome as long as we are a part of that Body-some sow, some reap but God gives the growth!

Father Michael was a brave soldier of Christ bearing opposition at the beginning of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy with forbearance, equanimity and forgiveness even to the point of forgetting. He leaves a rich legacy through his books,videos, interviews, lectures, sermons but especially he lives in the hearts and minds of people who knew him.

 When the Trojan hero Hector ( Homer’s Iliad XXII)realises his death is imminent at the hands of Achilles he says,” Let me not have an inglorious end and let my feat of arms come to the ears of generations still unborn.”

Brian Patten one of the Liverpool Poets writes:

“A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us, for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams.”

Elder Porphyrios of Mount Athos expressed this sense of carrying the vision forward like this:

“ The soul of the Christian needs to be refined and sensitive, to have sensibility and wings, to be constantly in flight and live in dreams, to fly through infinity, among the stars, amidst the greatness of God, amidst silence.”

Of course Father Michael continues to live in Christ, for he is as he has always been, in the Lord. As for us who are pilgrims and workers here in this corner of God’s Vineyard where Christ has placed us, we carry those dreams forward into a new chapter of the book of salvation history and with the help of the Holy Spirit we will further realise those dreams.

Father Michael once said:

 “Indeed the key to Orthodoxy is to understand that it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Scripture, Tradition, the Fathers, the Church - all the gifts are given to edify the body, there is no isolation or individualism.”

The Holy Apostle Paul speaks to his spiritual son Timothy thus:

“But you O man of God…..pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life to which you were also called and have confessed-the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

You are witnesses to this man of God.

We dare to ask God in His goodness like Elisha asked of his spiritual father Elijah that we may have a portion of Fr.Michael’s spirit to carry forward the vision and the harvest of his dreams.

Father, O father the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!”

Christ is Risen!

We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!

May Angels speed your to your rest and reward dear father. Pray for us dear father and May your memory be eternal!

To God be the glory now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.