On Tuesday, 1 July 2014, the Parish of the Dormition, Holborn, held the funeral of the well-beloved and highly-respected Archpriest John Lee. Fr John had led the parish since the division of the Diocese of Sourozh in 2006, and he was the main link back to the times of Metropolitan Anthony, whose precepts he understood uniquely well and always upheld firmly.
It was a beautiful summer’s day. The sunlight streamed through the windows of the church and bathed the interior in brightness, as if the sun itself were giving its last kiss to a man who had radiated spiritual brightness to the faithful of London and beyond for so long.
The church was full from well before the start of the funeral service, as so many had come to pay their respects in advance. Naturally, the core of the congregation was made up of members of Fr John’s own parish, but many more had come from all over Britain, as well as from France, Russia and elsewhere. They included members of other Orthodox jurisdictions – the diocese of Sourozh, the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain – as well as non-Orthodox, showing how widely Fr John’s influence and the love that he generated had spread. In the midst, and striking an exotic note, were Fr John’s widow, Shanta, and her Indian relatives, the ladies dressed in creamy white saris, according to their native custom.
Nearly a score of priests concelebrated, with two deacons, forming two long lines adjacent to Fr John’s coffin, in which he lay with that same quiet serenity that he had always conveyed in life. The choir of the parish was augmented by singers from other parishes, including Ennismore Gardens, producing a strong, rich sound that lifted the hearts of the people to support their dear Fr John on his way to the Kingdom.
The noise and bustle of London could be heard from outside, but the funeral service for a priest moved at its own steady and timeless pace: Psalm 118, “Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way”; the four pairs of Apostle and Gospel readings with their intervening antiphons and troparia, “If the Lord had not been on our side, we had not been able to withstand the assaults of the enemy”; the Canon, “O Saviour, make thou an heir him who hath been translated hence”; guiding all thoughts and utterances beyond death to life, until with one voice we sang the splendid Ikos, “making of our funeral dirge the song, Alleluia!”
The last kiss was a moment of tears for many, but the tears were of joy as well as grief, for all knew that, after many years of trouble and sickness, Fr John would now take his place among the saints, himself saying, in the words of the Exapostilarion, “Now am I at rest, and have found great release, in that I have been translated from corruption and have passed over into life. Glory to thee, O Lord.”
“Eternal Memory” was sung, and Fr John’s coffin closed. Preceded by the choir, singing the Thrice-Holy Hymn with the waiting angels, it was lifted and carried out of the church.
Many people followed the hearse to Richmond Cemetery, where Fr John was laid to rest in a tranquil spot. Each paused on the edge of his grave to say one final prayer. When the burial service was over, all joined in singing the great Troparion of Pascha, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs he has given life.”
What more needs to be said?