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.
I count it such a privilege, and yet a sad privilege, that His Grace Bishop Anthony would have asked me to bring this homily today. Fr. Peter and I have known each other and labored together to serve the Lord for over 50 years now, and that’s a long time. You get to know one another pretty well. You sleep in the same bed on some of the trips we went, you travel in close quarters, you see the heart of a person. I felt I got to see inside the heart of Peter Gillquist, truly a man who loved God, who loved his family, who loved those that he served and that served with him. So it’s not been easy. I’m older than he, so, Father, you jumped the gun, went ahead of me here. By nature, he should be preaching at my funeral.
But we are so thankful for this man of God, because his influence and the power of his life will continue to go like ripples in a pond or in a lake, all out into the heavenly kingdom here on earth. I can’t speak for the kingdom in heaven. I’m looking forward to investigating that someday. [Laughter]
As I was trying to think what can I say, what kind of passage can I preach from that would in a sense honor this man and his life, and the only thing I could come up with was what we call the Great Commission, and I’d like to read these words to you, from Matthew 28:16ff.
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When the saw him they worshiped him.
This is after the Resurrection, and they really do understand who he is at this point. It says:
They worshiped him, but some doubted.
Uh-oh. Thomas is still in the group. And by the way, the only saint’s name I have is Thomas. My middle name is Thomas.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me, in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”
Well, that passage does honor this great man that we’re here to honor today, because he loved that passage and he lived that passage. I was sort of amazed that even after he was supposed to have retired, he still was doing all he could, right up to the very last.
Let me say a few words about Thomas who was in this group. Some of you have heard me talk about Thomas—I don’t know a lot about him; I just did a little bit of research on him—but these were some important points about his life, because in saying these things I think you’ll see how I am attempting to apply this to Fr. Peter’s life.
Thomas was one of the apostles who went outside the Roman empire to preach. There were only two of them. The other was Andrew. The other ten of the twelve all preached within the boundaries of the Roman empire. So going outside the boundaries was going out where the heathen were, where wild tribes that might turn on you in a moment for reasons you wouldn’t even know about and your life was in constant danger out in the outside world, outside of the Roman world. But St. Andrew and St. Thomas both felt that that was their calling, and they spent most of their lives doing this work.
I got some of this information from a Greek layman who has spent many years researching the lives of Thomas and Andrew, and he spoke of the places that Thomas had gone. It appears that Andrew and Thomas went through Russia, or part of Russia, northern Europe, and north Africa. Thomas’ life and journeys are recorded in the Syriac document, The Acts of Thomas. Thomas travelled a vast area on foot and by ship. It is recorded that he walked across the huge Parthian empire, on foot all the way, and that empire embraced Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which border on India. It appears he may have briefly visited China, but then he went to India, where he had his greatest ministry.
Finally, at the end of his life, Thomas was stoned and stabbed to death by a Brahmin priest on a mountain outside of Mylapore, India, on the 21st of December in 72 A.D. It is reported that Thomas had over one thousand converts from all four castes in India. That was almost unbelievable and unheard of. You could reach the poor castes, but you couldn’t reach the wealthy and the powerful. He reached into all aspects of the life of India, and the Church in India had a great early history. It’s still there. We need to pray that these places where the apostles first traveled will all be re-ignited with the power of the Holy Spirit and with the true Church, through the instrumentality of the true Church.
I believe that this is so much of what Fr. Peter felt. When we started out there were seven of us that were meeting together four times a year. That started in 1972. In 1979, one of the men left us—Ray Nethery left us—and that was a heart-breaking experience for me. Then we went on with the remaining six to continue to have meetings four times a year for six days at a time, wherever we could get a place to meet. We had some amazing experiences and went to some amazing places in those meetings. At some point, and I don’t remember the precise date, after we had chosen the name, “the Evangelical Orthodox Church”—and I think this was in the year of ‘79, when we met at Boulder Creek, Colorado—and we decided that Fr. Peter would be our presiding bishop, and that was a very wise choice. It was the choice of the Holy Spirit.
He was the youngest among us. That was the natural thing to do. There’s a scripture that says that the young will lead the elders. And so we felt that this was a good thing, to choose him, and a unanimous decision among all the other five, other than himself. He led us well. He was a good organizer. We came back from that meeting. After we had started the meeting with some tension, and I told my wife Mary Sue; I said, “I’m not sure but what this will be my last meeting with these men.” This California crowd was scaring me with their talks about authority in the Church and things like that, and I was the anti-authority guy. [Laughter]
When we got there, Fr. Richard and I got into a bit of a tiff at the very beginning of the meeting. After about five minutes of this—and it was intense—the thought occurred: “You can go down to the bunkhouse”—we were on this sort of a camp area up there, a Christian camp area—I said, “I can go down to the bunkhouse, throw my things back in the suitcase, and I can hitchhike back to Denver, and I’ve got a ticket: I know I could transfer and fly home. I don’t have to be here.” And when I stood up to do that, a voice said, “Sit down!” Now, my father spoke like that. He didn’t use many words when he wanted me to do what I knew I needed to do. So I sat down. Within minutes—I would say no more than five—it was obvious. Here there were six of us only in this meeting, but the Holy Spirit came into the room in some way that I cannot explain, but it was a powerful experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
From that meeting on, we never had any more arguments. We had discussions, sometimes even debates, but not arguments—because we were all on the same side, pulling for the same goal, and ultimately we knew the Lord was with us. There were times when we wondered, “Is this going to survive? Will anything good come out of all of this?” As the years went by, ultimately, we did make contact with Metropolitan Philip after we had made a trip to Istanbul to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and it was sort of “nice to see you, but there’s no opportunity here.” That was the sad part about our visit there, but when we came back and continued to pray for God’s guidance, through a set of what I know could only be called miraculous events, we were given opportunity to meet with Metropolitan Philip.
Finally—and I’m really abbreviating a lot of things, but finally we came to the point that by this time we had about 30 of us of the younger men who were pastoring, most of them, house-churches—and I’m looking out at the faces of people who were in those house-churches or led those house-churches—and they were scattered about the United States and Canada and Alaska. It was amazing that when we finally met together with the Metropolitan at Englewood, New Jersey, here more than 30 men—I don’t remember the exact number, but we were able to plead our case with the Metropolitan.
However, there were forces that didn’t think we should come in, because we looked like a bunch of gringos or rebels or something that didn’t know what we were about [to] those who just saw the exterior. Metropolitan saw our hearts, and as it appeared that he was going to make the decision to have another meeting, I stood and said, “Your Eminence, if you don’t receive us, where will we go? We’ve been everywhere else. We’ve sought, we’ve knocked on all the other doors.” There was this long pause, and then he just held out his arms, and he said, “Gentlemen, welcome home.” And that opened the door for us, and I can’t tell you what a joy filled our hearts.
Fr. Peter had many meetings with the Metropolitan. They were very, very close. From that point on, all kinds of things began to happen. I pray to God that, much like the early apostles, there will be many, many doors open, even after the death of the twelve, there were great numbers who stepped forward to carry the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps now that there are just two of us left of that original group, but there are many others that I look at up here among these priests and deacons, and I know there is a great future ahead for our Archdiocese and for all of Orthodoxy in North America. I believe that the Orthodox Church in North America can become a tremendous light that will attract those who have soft hearts to the true faith.
So let us not get weary. Let’s not lose heart. When someone who was truly a giant among us—Father; Fr. Peter is truly in that category—when they pass on, it seems like it leaves a huge hole in our ranks, but the truth is: Christ is with us. He is with us. His prayers are with us, and we will be able to continue on with his support and many in the heavenly kingdom that have left our churches already. We have had many to pass on. Fr. Harold Dunaway was an apostle in Alaska and a powerful instrument for God in establishing that wonderful church there at Eagle River and all the missions that have come out of it. There’s virtually not a parish among us that has not started other missions. I think virtually all of them have. Not only we, but many others who were not a part of this EOC crowd, this Evangelical Orthodox Church—you know, the Metropolitan loved that name. [Laughter] And he still, to this day, when he sees any of us, he calls us “the Evangelicals.” [Laughter] It’s a beautiful name; it’s a name we should treasure and hold dear.
God is not through with us yet. He’s not through with Fr. Peter yet. He has a lot more that he’s going to do here in our nation, and not just in America: in other nations of the world, as this Good News of true, living Orthodoxy spreads—and it will spread. Thank God that we who are in this room today, this beautiful parish that has allowed us to come for this meeting—thank God. We will see things that we didn’t dream could happen. I’m so thankful for His Grace Bishop Anthony, and what a joy it is that he has been one of those that God has raised up. We need more bishops like you, Your Grace. Thank you for giving me this privilege. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.