May Archbishop Job’s
Memory Be Eternal
by Fr. Oliver Herbel
One Friday morning, many of us in the American Orthodox world learned of the untimely repose of His Eminence, Archbishop Job, bishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest in the OCA. This is sad news for both the OCA and the Orthodox Churches in America across jurisdictional lines.
As the member of the executive board of SOCHA who is in the OCA and as one whose life has been directly affected by him, I have decided to write a personal reflection on what his ministry means to me and what I hope it can mean to us in America as we move forward.
On January 18, 2003, Archbishop Job ordained me to the priesthood at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Following this liturgy, knowingly in the presence of extended family who were not Orthodox, he gave basic but important pastoral advice that I remember to this day—a priest must love his parishioners. Love must come above all other feelings. Everything must be done out of love for them. I am sure I am hardly alone. I would think that all priests remember the advice given to them on the day of their ordination. Perhaps, this was Archbishop Job’s standard admonition at priestly ordinations.
Regardless, this advice speaks of the concern His Eminence had for the life of the Church. It must be founded on love because that is how people are to know that we are the true followers of Christ. That is our evangelism! If a person wants to know how to succeed in parish life, both in terms of sustaining the life already there and increasing the life of the parish, one need only read St. John the Theologian’s epistles. We don’t need schemes and programs. We need love.
Not long after my ordination, he showed me that love personally. I had applied to a few doctoral programs in the Midwest, but had heard negatively from all but one. Therefore, I was likely soon to be assigned to a mission in the Upper Midwest. Not long after +Job and I had begun discussing the details, Saint Louis University, the only school from which I had not yet heard, accepted me and offered me a research assistantship to cover my costs. I did not know what to do, so Lorie and I received counsel from two priests whom we trusted. They suggested we lay it out before +Job, which we did. His Eminence, being reasonable and prudent, agreed with the perspective of these priests, that academic doors do not open often, and gave me his blessing to attend SLU. He knew of our commitment to being in the Diocese of the Midwest and he spoke of how things are directed by God’s providence. Not all bishops would have done this, but Archbishop Job did. He has done much more for other priests, for I have seen that as well. Mine is but a small example of how he loved his priests.
As a pastor who has spent several years attached to another parish, where I assisted the rector in his ministry, and who has been pastoring a mission with its own turbulent yet admirable history, I have come to see the full dimensions of what it means for a priest to love his congregation. When times are difficult, we are there. When times are good, we are there. When people cower in the sight of parish life and run, we remember that love entails free will and allow them such freedom, all the while keeping the door open for their return. When parishioners struggle with aspects of Church life or tradition, or even something we have said, we show patience and endurance. In rare cases, we even know that loving the congregation means the vine must occasionally be pruned, painful though this process is to all. We also know that when the times are difficult, we are the ones who must step up and take the blame, for we will receive it, and when times are joyous, we praise the parish.
Archbishop Job himself knew of the struggles of loving the flock under his care. I have seen him in deanery meetings, providing solutions to problems. We have all seen him as he stood up and asked whether the allegations of financial misconduct were true or false. Yes, it is true that it took behind-the-scenes cajoling and much support to encourage him but he did it. He asked the question all other OCA bishops were too scared to ask or refused to ask. What he did was not miraculous, but it was episcopal, it was what a bishop must do—ultimately, when push comes to shove, stand for what is good and true. Would that the Churches in America would have many bishops willing to ask such questions and take such stands!
We have also seen His Eminence demonstrate extreme humility even when there was no need to do so. We know he prostrated before Bishop Nikolai and asked forgiveness. This was unnecessary, but in the heat of the moment, Archbishop Job chose to forego any pretense, even though there would have been no sin at all not to have done this.
Recently, I and the parishioners here in Fargo, North Dakota, also benefitted from his willingness to stand firm and further the development of Orthodox Christianity within the diocese of the midwest. Archbishop Job responded to the actions and appeals of the faithful themselves. Not every bishop would have done this, but he did what he felt was best for the growth of Orthodoxy in the Upper Midwest.
Ultimately, it is this concern for the ongoing health of Orthodoxy that I hope we take from his memory. He cared about the health of Orthodoxy in the Midwest. We must care for the health of Orthodoxy wherever we are. Without good health, it will not matter what methods are devised for uniting Orthodox jurisdictions in America. Without good health, it will not matter what we enact in our parishes to build them into even more loving communities. Without good health, we will fall far too short of the glory of God to attract others or save ourselves. Archbishop Job has served Christ’s Holy Church to this end.
May we do the same, and may his memory be eternal!