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Eulogy for Angela Maria Volan
by Father Evagoras Constantinides
Given at the Funeral Service, Thursday, June 29, 2006
SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral

It is a rarity, indeed, in this day and age of selfisheness and rugged individualism to find a young woman so gentle, kind, helpful, learned and ambitious. Unfortunately, it is no rarity to hear, day after day, of tragedies that put abrupt and premature ends to such promising lives. Thus, it is our distressing lot today to witness such a tragedy as we pray to god to rest in eternal peace our beloved Angela.

But we did not come here today to speak of the tragedy or lament the futility, but to ponder, as Christians, the inevitability of death.

What is death?

Is it a cruel and heartless permanent separation of people united in mutual bonds of love? It is that, but not just that. Death is also an act of the love of God for man whom, through death, He relieves from trials and tribulations and endless travail, and brings to a place of bliss and blessedness beyond the comprehension of us the living. The difficulty of the general acceptance of this belief, however, does not lie in its lack of truthfulness, but in our inability to understand why death should come at what we consider an inappropriate age. Why, in our case, at the dawn of a most promising career? It is neither normal nor easy for parents to bury their children, and siblings to lament over the loss of younger siblings.

Is it the will of God, as some hasten to justify every death? Does God really actively will the death of this one by murder, that one by fire, the other by drowning, the other by earthquake, the other by accident, the other by incurable illness, after a short or prolonged period of agony and pain, and the other by blissful peace? I would think not. But just as the sun shines upon good people and bad, and the rain benefits the industrious, the lazy, the righteous and the evil alike, so does physical death arrive upon good and bad, young and old, indiscriminately as a result of one of three conditions surrounding human existence:

  1. our human ancestry—heredity;
  2. our environment; and
  3. our human undertakings and actions; our own or those of others around us.

When a human being is born he carries his genetic traits with him, which depend on generations of human heredity. As a scientist aptly put it, "We are the products of all the yesterdays." And there is nothing God can do about it without negating His own natural laws.

Angela became the victim of an unfortunate ailment which cut her life short just when her plans were completed for a very successful and promising future. As strong and courageous as she was, after repeated and painful battles she arrived at the point which our Lord defined as: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

No, Angela did not quit, her tormented body did; the spirit did not quit but the machine did; the driver did not quit but the car stalled right in the middle of heavy traffic, as it was about to hit the expressway.

Therefore, we should feel great relief by knowing that what is in the coffin before us is not Angela, but Angela's body. And what we shall bury a little later is not Angela, but Angela's physical remains. Angela who IS her living soul is now a free spirit in the company of our Lord, in the Great Beyond, free of the sufferings, pains and torments of the fragile flesh. And she is very much aware of us and of what we are doing. The body is asleep until the general resurrection, but the spirit is vividly alive wishing never to be forgotten but to be in evelasting communication with us. Continue then to communicate with her by recalling the beautiful stories her brothers told us last night; for whenever we recall situations including our loved ones who have gone, they join us spiritually, they are there with us. That's the meaning of Αιωνια η μνημη! — Memory eternal.

Angela was brought up in a milieu of love and worked in a milieu of love; through her scholarships and awards she earned the means to travel the world over; she climbed hills and mountains; she visited churches and buildings in search of art, in preparation for her academic career. Now she is at the very center of this love, the Kingdom of God.

Please do not think that these are so many empty words of a clergyman who has become used to these occasions and has no feelings. Never! Having baptized her and watched her grow, and followed with pride her many accomplishments, I would be very insensitive indeed if I did not feel a great loss at her premature exit.

As I say these things to you today, my mind goes back to 1977 when I had the misfortune, yet the sacred duty, to bury my 22-year-old niece, by strange coincidence, also named Angela.

I had to face the same tragic event in the life of man, death, and provide answers to a most difficult question. Not why people die, which has been accepted as an inevitable universal human eventuality, but why so young?

I said to my brother and my sister-in-law then, what I am going to say to George and Helen and the rest of the Volan family now.

No matter how strong we are, no matter how religious and ready to console others, when death comes to one of our own it becomes difficult to avoid the heartbreak. Especially, when the normal situation is reversed, when parents bury their children instead of the other way around.

Death comes suddenly or slowly, after warnings or unexpectedly, at a young age, middle age, or old age; but it does come. It shocks us, it saddens us, it hurts us and tears us up; we are bewildered, we cry, we lament, we get angry, we despair, we ask questions, we get no answers, but ... there is nothing we can do. Death does come!

We must accept, therefore, that death not only does come, but that death must come. It is God's only way to return us to Him; to carry us over from the temporal and ephemeral to the permanent and the eternal; it is the only way we can return to the state of bliss and blessedness which our first-created ancestors abandoned so long ago. It breaks our hearts, but accept it we must, and life must go on for whatever mission God has in store for us, if we really mean to do honor to the person who has left us.

Instead of lamenting, therefore, let us celebrate Angela's life of accomplishment which, even though not given the chance to come to full fruition, it accomplished more than most in the limited time it had to function. Much as Lord Byron who died at 36, Shelly who died at 29 and Keats who died at 26, established their name in the annals of poetry, so has Angela made her niche in the History of Art and has established her name for ever. It isn't how much you have accomplished, but how good is what you have accomplished.

As you look upwards, therefore, to the beautiful icon of Christ Pantokrator in the dome of the Cathedral which, along with myriad other works of art, filled Angela's delicate psyche with inspiration, listen to what she is saying to all of us from her heavenly abode:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there—I do not sleep;
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
...
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.

God rest Angela, and grant to all of you strength, guidance and consolation.