Daily Reflection May 9th, 2020

Daily Reflection May 9th, 2020

MAY 9 Holy Prophet Isaiah


Fr John’s Reflection

If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach.”
(1 Timothy 4:6-11)

Today is a day of sorrows in the Orthodox Church in America. Our beloved teacher, father, friend, confidant, and confessor, Father Paul Lazor, former Professor and Dean of Students at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, fell asleep in the Lord this morning. My personal grief is for me, his family and the Church for we shall miss him desperately. But I have no grief or worry about him, for “a place of rest has been prepared for him.” I would like to share a few thoughts about the impact Fr. Paul had on me over the years.

Fr. Paul and I had two special connections that began before I was even born. Both he and my mother, Helen, were born and raised in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania (she was 14 years older than he). Then many years later, I was assigned to pastor Holy Trinity Church in New Britain, Connecticut. Fr. Paul was pastor there from 1967-1977. Both of those connections were special to both of us. Father always loved to discover common roots with people and was especially proud of his beloved Canonsburg and always reminded people that not only was Metropolitan Theodosius (his cousin!) from Canonsburg, but so was Perry Como and Bobby Vinton. Many, many times over the past few years when we spoke, he would hearken back to our roots and smile about where God had taken us.

New Britain was probably the defining experience of Fr. Paul’s life. His family was formed there and he left for a calling that he felt was from God — St. Vladimir’s Seminary. But he never quite “left” New Britain. That was so intimidating for me when I was offered the chance to take over as pastor in New Britain (there was a pastor between us). How could I fill those shoes? By that time, Fr. Paul had been my confessor for many years, and I talked to him about everything. When we spoke about New Britain, he was not only gentle and understanding, but encouraging. He told me not to try to fill his shoes, but to walk in my own! We ended up staying there for more than 16 years and he was my confessor for all of those years. I secretly hoped that all those years, he was getting “good reports” about my pastorate from those with whom he was still close there.

Father Paul was my teacher in Liturgical Theology, Pastoral Theology and life. I learned a lot of things about being a pastor and a Christian from the almost 30 years he was my father confessor. But a few stand out. The first thing that I will remember is the gentleness with which he treated me, especially in confession. When I was hard on myself about something, he would give an example from the fathers, from the scriptures or even from his own life, when mercy always outweighed the sin. One time I asked him when he was going to stop hearing my confessions because I was so stubborn and hadn’t changed much! He just laughed and continued the confession. I spoke with him about all the major decisions in my priestly life and he would listen intently and then gently lead me through the thought process to a decision. He never made the decision for me, but shined a light where light was needed. I have always tried to take the same approach to confession and counseling that he took with me. One thing he said to me in confession one time will live with me forever: “Fr. John, you can only be a priest to the people who let you be a priest.”

The second thing that I will always remember is the love for liturgy that he instilled in me (and, I believe, all his students). St. Paul said that “all things should be done decently and in order.” Fr. Paul followed that commandment and instilled it in me. Serving the services is perhaps the most important thing that a priest does. It must be done with preparation, dignity, and beauty. I have tried to bring that to every service I have served since being ordained. I agonize over every sermon, I straighten things “out of line” on the altar. I adjust vestments that aren’t hanging just right.

The third, and last, thing I want to mention (there is so much more that could be said) is that Fr. Paul (and my pastor growing up) taught me that a priest is a priest but also a human being. Fr. Paul had an amazing voice and he loved to sing at services, but he also loved to sing Elvis tunes. Every year, for many years, I would receive a cassette tape of him singing Elvis tunes, often accompanied by his daughter, Liza. He would sing at Pascha, he would sing at weddings, he would sing just to sing! He loved sports (he played basketball for the University of Pittsburgh) and would play football and basketball with the kids at seminary. He tolerated pranks played in a continual (and loving) war between Archbishop Benjamin and his beloved wife, Natasha. I have always tried to be respected as a priest, but I have never tried to be anything other than human. That’s one other thing I learned from Fr. Paul.

There is too much to say, so I’ll stop. St. Paul’s words above apply in every single way to the Archpriest Paul Lazor, a true minister of Christ who trusted in the living God — my father, my teacher, my confessor, my friend. Memory Eternal! Christ is Risen!