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.
Mr. John Maddex: We are talking with our very good friend, Fr. James Ellison, pastor of the St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Urbana, Illinois, near the campus of the University of Illinois. Fr. James, I understand you were with the Gillquist family and Fr. Peter when he reposed last evening, which would have been Sunday evening, July 1.
Fr. James Ellison: That’s correct. I actually arrived just as he breathed his last. I came into the room and we were able to pray the prayers for the departing of the body, the whole canon of that. It was a wonderful time with the family. His wife, Marilyn, was there, and a couple of his daughters, his son, Fr. Peter Jon, his in-laws, and a couple of the grandkids. We sang the service together and then “Christ is Risen” and a few other hymns at the end, and then we waited while his body was prepared to leave the hospice facility he was at, and sang the Trisagion as it worked out. He was the only one in the facility, so we were able to sing in the hallway and not disturb anybody. It was very wonderful.
Mr. Maddex: Wow. How many people were there?
Fr. James: About ten, I think.
Mr. Maddex: What other clergy were there besides you and Fr. Peter Jon?
Fr. James: That’s all. That’s all.
Mr. Maddex: I know Fr. Gordon Walker had been there.
Fr. James: He had been there and had left earlier in the day. The family said that Fr. Gordon— he actually rallied a bit Friday, when Fr. Gordon arrived, and they had a good little conversation, and then the next day Fr. Jon Braun had called, and they had a little bit of a visit with Fr. Gordon there. Marilyn thought it was just wonderful that his two best remaining friends were able to be with him in the last hours of his life.
Mr. Maddex: When was the last time you were able to speak with him?
Fr. James: I was here Thursday a week ago, so about ten days ago. I spent really half a day with him that morning. My wife came along and spent some time with Marilyn. Fr. Peter, we just had a wonderful visit that morning, talking about some of his continuing hopes and dreams. That particular morning he was feeling good enough that he wanted to go back home and do even a little more work, which was of course very optimistic and it turned out not to be the case. He was sharing some of his very best memories from his life and some things that we had shared. It was a wonderful morning.
Mr. Maddex: Wow. He has touched so many people, including the two of us. What were his spirits like, though, in that last conversation you had with him?
Fr. James: Very good, I would say. He had gone from… He had come in the hospital just a few days before, and they had thought that at that point that he had months to live, and just the day before I arrived they had changed that diagnosis to days or weeks. Of course, that would throw anyone off-balance a little bit. He was kind of: okay, what does this mean now? But very positive in the sense that his faith was quite strong and secure, and he had said that he was ready, and that he and Marilyn had prayed when he was first diagnosed with melanoma 13 years ago that God would give them some more time to grow old together and for him to accomplish a little more work that he had in mind in terms of spreading the Orthodox faith in this country.
I was just thinking actually last night as we were waiting for enough people to come and take his body that the one thing about Fr. Peter that has always struck me—and this is might be a surprise to some—was not his ability to evangelize and spread the Gospel, but that he was such a peacemaker. I just thought of all the times he had worked at making peace between people and how much he did not like judgmentalism and conflict, that he always worked to restore the peace of the Church. That’s one of my clearest memories of that morning.
Mr. Maddex: That really is true. I’ve seen that a number of occasions. Fr. Peter served on our board, of course, at Conciliar Media Ministries, which includes Conciliar Press and Ancient Faith Radio. How many times when we were in discussions and talking about matters of the Church that he would be a voice of calm, reason, and love, and a great model to all of us. Such an evangelist as well.
I know that arrangements are being made even as we speak for the vigil and funeral, the vesting, of course, before that. What do you know right now?
Fr. James: I think Fr. Peter Jon and Marilyn and the family probably hope to—of course, with clergy… The area clergy that can come, actually gather and dress, anoint, wash, dress, and vest a priest for [his] funeral, just as if we ourselves were getting ready to serve a Liturgy, with all the vesting prayers and the vestments are put on. I can tell you, from having done it a few times, it’s one of the most holy things I’ve ever done. So we’ll probably try to do that on Wednesday. Then the body will lie in state for the vigil service and for people to pray through the evening with him on Wednesday here at All Saints in Bloomington. Then they’ll move the body to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Indianapolis (or Carmel, actually) on Thursday and repeat the process, saying vigil and prayers through the night there at Holy Trinity, and then have the funeral Liturgy and funeral service on Friday, probably Friday morning. The times are still up in the air, so I don’t want to say that, but I’m sure Fr. Peter [Jon] will be posting that on the All Saints Orthodox website in Bloomington, Indiana. Then there will probably be a memorial meal, and the body will be brought back to All Saints Orthodox Church in Bloomington, the cemetery on their church property here.
Mr. Maddex: Yes, I’ve been there, and it is a wonderful setting: a little parish there in kind of a park-like setting, and right next door they have their own cemetery. I know Fr. Peter’s wishes, even as he and Khouria Marilyn moved to Bloomington from their home in Santa Barbara a couple of years ago, that that was his desire: to spend his last times on earth there with his son as priest, and to be buried right there at the parish cemetery.
Fr. James: One thing I could mention is that last long visit I had with Fr. Peter: one of his regrets that he expressed to me was that he had hoped to be kind of the point man for a fundraising effort to raise money for the building program at All Saints. They’re ready to build a temple. The building they’re meeting in currently is kind of built as their fellowship hall, and they want to build an actual church on the same property. I would just suggest to people that in lieu of flowers—and of course this is subject to the wishes of the family, but if people wanted to remember Fr. Peter in a permanent way, gifts to the building fund of All Saints would be a wonderful memorial to him that would last.
Mr. Maddex: Yes, it would, and I know he would love that.
Fr. James: That really was one of the final things he said to me, that he really was regretting not being able to do that for his son and the parish community here.
Mr. Maddex: We were with him in December of this last year, and actually recorded the chapters of a book he wanted to complete on his memories of God’s mercy. I will treasure those couple of days that we spent with them. We also did an interview with Fr. Peter and Marilyn and Fr. Peter Jon in their living room about his retirement, which just took place in January of this year. If you wanted to hear that interview it’s available right now on our home page at Ancient Faith Radio.
Fr. James: He mentioned that to me as well, especially a conversation that he had had with Fr. Thomas Hopko in the process about Fr. Thomas mentioning how thankful he was that Fr. Peter and the coming in of all the former Protestants into the Orthodox Church, the difference that it had made and how thankful he was for Fr. Peter’s ministry in that regard, and that really touched Father.
Mr. Maddex: Just looking at the comments on the All Saints Bloomington website where people have had an opportunity to share their thoughts and love with the family, hundreds of them, and how many have mentioned “Fr. Peter’s influence on my life was profound,” and that’s true for many of us. If you would still like to express your love and appreciation for the family, you can do that at the All Saints Bloomington, Indiana, website.
Well, Fr. James, thank you very much for sharing this with us, really the day after the repose of our beloved Fr. Peter Gillquist, retired chairman of the Department of Missions and Evangelism for the Antiochian Archdiocese, author of Becoming Orthodox, and really the leader and the model for so many of us as he showed us the way to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Fr. James Ellison, our guest, who is the pastor of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Urbana, Illinois, and who spent the final moments with Fr. Peter and the family as he reposed last evening, Sunday evening, July 1, at around 9:20 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. Thank you, Fr. James.
Fr. James: Glory to God.