Fr. Peter Gillquist fell asleep in the Lord on July 1, 2012 after a lifetime of faithful service to Christ. He was the retired Chairman of the Missions and Evangelism Department of the Antiochian Archidiocese of North America and he led some 2000 evangelicals into the Holy Orthodox Church in 1987.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Christ is in our midst! [He is and ever shall be!] Glory be to Jesus Christ! [Glory to him forever!]
As I said before, I will repeat today: His Eminence Metropolitan Philip sends his condolences and his sympathies to Khouria Marilyn, Fr. Peter [Jon], and the members of the Gillquist family, all the relatives and friends of Father. He had such a beautiful letter that I read yesterday. I only want to read one paragraph here from His Eminence. He says:
Many people walk on the sand of time without leaving behind them any significant traces. Peter Gillquist leaves with footprints which the wind and the storms cannot erase. He was a good author, a good lecturer, an outstanding speaker. He is now at rest, liberated from the broken world of sorrow and pain, and he’s in another world where there is neither sickness nor sorrow nor pain, but life everlasting. Amen.
And now His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel also sends his greetings. In it he writes:
A few years ago Fr. Peter joined us at the University of Michigan for a conference, and he saw someone and [he] sent Fr. Peter to him. “I’ll bet you are a Christian.” The man looked pleased and said, “How can you tell?” And Fr. Peter said, “Because you are joyful in your work.” God said, “I am working, and my Father is working.” Fr. Peter is still working.
It was there in that simple reach of love (says Archbishop Nathaniel) that we remember him. He was also received in Romania in 1990, after the liberation, and he proudly proclaimed, “I am Orthodox. I was Protestant, and I invite you to all be Orthodox. [Laughter] So Fr. Peter never lost his own enthusiasm. Glory to God in all things. Glory to God, for he surrounds us with goodness and kindness all of our life.
In Christ the Good Shepherd,
We thank him for that.
We cover the face of Fr. Peter with a veil, telling us that death is a movement toward God, a movement to the unseen world. The veil represents here the same thing that the iconostas represents. When a priest moves into the holy place, the holy of holies, the true one, then he leaves back the earth and he is there in heaven. Today Father enters into that glorious temple, and the veil is torn apart. The icon screen allows him to go through, and that’s why he is veiled now, because “Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” God will take the veil off when they serve that celestial liturgy that he was so happy to mention in his last lectures when the 24 elders bow before the throne of God, take their crowns off, and give them to God the High Priest, in whose image I stand now as a bishop in the Orthodox Church.
This is a great day for him. In the Old Testament temple, what you had depicted on the outside was creation, what God made, but when you got on the inside, of which only the high priest could see, and that but once a year, in the 16th chapter of Leviticus, was depicted past, present, and future—what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen—because you step into the timelessness of God.
Fr. Peter, I think, has been looking into the heavenly sanctuary for some time. I remember when he used to quote the sixth chapter of Isaiah, and he’d say, “I always called it the eternal greatest hits: Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of thy glory.” And the thing that he would always emphasize is we had Christ, but we need the place where Christ was. If you have the word, you need worship, and if you look in the sixth chapter, you don’t hear the word that touches the lips of the prophet until he’s through with the worship. He has to be embellished with the worship before he can inspire with the word, and this is true orthodoxy. If we can preach the word of God, it has to be in the framework of the artistic presentation of God that he created even in the book of Exodus with that beautiful blueprint of the tabernacle. And Fr. Peter would eloquently move from scripture to scripture to convince anyone who wasn’t convinced, and, after it was over, casually look over and say, “This is the only place to be.” [Laughter] Of which we were all convinced after that.
Listen to the words of St. Paul:
Christ has entered not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God on our behalf; but that he [has appeared] once for all at the end of [the] age, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. [Just as it is] appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment; so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time to greet all those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Jesus’ life in heaven is now going to be celebrated by all the priests who pass on from this life and join him in that heavenly place with all the elders, and today he comes into his own place to really have a wonderful opportunity in the celestial liturgy. We celebrate that Divine Liturgy at innumerable earthly altars, but that one heavenly altar is a forever anthem to the glory of God which never ends, the never-ending sound of the songs of the angels, accompanied by the elders, of which we are. I’m always amazed, brothers, that when I leave the holy place, what is the prayer we say at the Little Entrance?
O Master Lord our God, who has appointed in heaven orders and hosts of angels and archangels in the service of thy glory, cause that with our entrance there may be an entrance of holy angels serving with us to the glory of God in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It’s the angels that wait for the priest to enter. Wisdom. Let us attend. And they don’t go in before us. It’s a glory-full thing to be a priest. So this is what he is doing.
I just thought about all the things I read that [were] posted at All Saints, and I thought: Here stands me in my full episcopal presence under the great omophor of Christ the High Priest, reflecting but not possessing his glory, in the direct line of the apostles, and I’ve noticed some things. The cluster of consecutive great feast days and feast days is providential for Fr. Peter and unmistakable. The great feast of Pentecost, where the apostles themselves became great teachers and preachers of the Gospel; the synaxis of the North American saints two weeks later; the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul; the feast of the unmercenary healers, Cosmos and Damian—this was not coincidental; this was providential.
This is fitting for someone like him who was sent to bring Americans to Orthodoxy and who in that apostolic mission became the head of missions and evangelism in the great see of Antioch in North America, Antioch being not only the door through which he and many others entered but also being the missionary outreach of the Church of the Gentiles in the book of Acts. Indeed, it is in and through Antioch that they were first called Christians, and we are sure that though Fr. Peter was temporarily cured of his illness, maybe once and not twice, he was permanently healed by the prayers of the great unmercenary healers Cosmos and Damian, and prepared for eternity to take his place at the throne with Christ.
It will be hard to let God have him back, because he did not belong primarily to us in the first place, we have to give him back, but it will still not be an easy thing. But as he is clothed in the white garment of his baptism and received by God, let those tears, which will come in the future now and when you mourn him, to cleanse our souls, to make them white, so that we, too, can enter through repentance into the kingdom with him. So don’t be afraid of the tears; let them flow. They will clean us all and prepare us for eternity, for the never-ending day of his kingdom.
We are grateful, though, and when you think of it, he and his brothers, as Fr. Gordon has said, brought many souls to canonical Orthodoxy, and with them everything that went with him. Did you ever think that when you bring a person to the Church, you bring all of their loves with them? So it’s not just that you’ve brought thousands, but thousands upon thousands. And in the anaphora prayers, we pray for the whole world, so we came to canonical Orthodoxy, but through you and your prayers, you don’t know when God is going to include all kinds of people in canonical Orthodoxy. We cannot be bound by merely the revelation of the institutional and sacramental fulfillment of the Church, but God has sheep which are not of this fold, so he took sheep in so that more sheep could come in. Do you understand what I’m saying? This is the great hope of the world; this is the great hope of the Church. It’s not bound by time; it’s timeless. It’s powerful, it’s omnipotent; it cannot be thwarted by any plan of man.
So that’s what you brought in: their loved ones, their dreams, their plans, their hopes, giving them self-discovery into eternity. No momentary tragedy can ever be commensurate with his momentous triumph, and no good-bye lasts forever. It sounds like a song, but no good-bye lasts forever. It’s only an eternal hello that lasts forever.
I expected that he would have enough strength to sing all those songs in his hospice room, those hymns that I read about. I have to tell you a story. When Fr. Patrick, myself, and Fr. Michael Shanbour (Alan Shanbour at the time) started out in KERYGMA, [with] Fr. Gordon, and we thought we were something because we were the only one in the Orthodox Church that sang that way then—so who was to compare, you know? We could look in the mirror and say, “You’re sure good.” [Laughter] And there was nobody to say we weren’t. I still think we were good, by the way. [Laughter]
We were at an event in Colorado Springs, I think, doing a concert. Fr. Peter was there doing a retreat. So he said, “Boys, before you start, maybe I could be your opening act.” [Laughter] I said, “Sure.” So he took the guitar, and he brought down the house. [Laughter] And he gave the guitar back to me, and I said, “Now what are we supposed to do?” [Laughter] But we didn’t mind being… We should have been his opening act. But it was so casual. He was so comfortable with the Christ we love and the people he loved, that I think that self-assurance and confidence became contagious and infectious, and that—that confidence, security, responsibility—is what we’re going to miss. We’re going to miss that, because I don’t know how many of us have developed an unshakable confidence and intimacy with Jesus Christ, where nothing in the world can ever stop us from going forward into the other world.
Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “Only those who are in communion with the other world know how to live in this world.” That was his secret of living in the world—not a secret, but a discovery. So here we have this beautiful time. May God bless you all in your lives.