The following is a transcript of Father Michael Johnson's Eulogy for Sophronia which was delivered during her funeral service on June 26, 2007 at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
I was asking myself, since the time is so short and her life was so full of things, if I could think of one image of Presvytera that to me would say a lot about her, perhaps sum up her life. And I was surprised what I came up with. My mind wandered to the many, many years we spent working together in many different ways.
I came to church camp. There was a place where I saw Presvytera a great deal. And my thoughts turned to evening. And it was dark - it was nighttime. And I'd go out for a final look around. I'm kind of a night owl. And I think I might have been one of the few people still up. The children, of course, were all asleep after a wonderful day.
I notice there's a light in the chapel. And so I wander through the grounds to the chapel to see why there's still a light on. And there in the chapel sits a lone figure. And it's Presvytera. And she is painting icons. No, actually re-painting icons.
You see, Presvytera had a passion for teaching. And she had a natural gift for it. She understood that children, and for that matter, the rest of us, need to learn by doing. It wasn't enough to just teach the children about icons and show them an icon. If they actually did an icon, then they'd really understand. Some children are quite gifted at art and their icons turned out wonderfully. But some aren't so gifted, and their icons were not so great, even though Presvytera was very helpful and outlined the icons and so on. And she said, "You know, I can't have the child take this home. I'm going to improve on it."
So she'd come in at night and sit in the chapel, just sort of improving things here and there. And the children - the children believed that an angel came in each night (LAUGHTER) and beautified the icons. And they were right, of course. They were absolutely right.
And I remember going in there and it was really quite late and she was obviously tired. You see, this was an angel in the flesh. The flesh gets tired. "But Presvytera," I said, "you look tired. You've got a big day tomorrow. Go to bed."
"No, she said, I've gotta finish a couple more, just a couple more. I can't have the kids take something home like this." And so night after night the angel came and the icons got more and more beautiful at camp.
And, you know, that came to me as quintessentially Presvytera - working tirelessly in the background for the children. She knew how to teach. She taught me how to teach. She always knew what to teach. And she knew how to get it across.
Recently, the family told me that a man who was very involved in his faith said, "I learned the Jesus Prayer from Presvytera at camp. And it has been with me - it's been part of my prayer life ever since." She knew what to teach, for sure.
But at the same time, if someone else had done the teaching, the man might have forgotten what he'd gained from that wonderful lesson. But he never did forget it because she never just taught a kid. She always taught this particular kid. This particular kid with his or her abilities and his or her needs.
She taught a person. And the person responded. That's how wonderful she was. It's a great lesson for anyone who wants to teach, so she leaves a lasting legacy. I never got to be taught by her as a kid. It must have been wonderful. What an experience. But her legacy wasn't just for little kids.
I was full grown when I first met her. But she taught me. She mentored me. She got me to do things I never thought possible. She seemed to be able to see my strengths in spite of my weaknesses. And she'd reinforce the positive and lead me on to do things. I owe that to her. And if you knew her - and of course you did - you know exactly what I mean. Accepting, encouraging, there she was. She was, in fact, a professional educator in the public schools. Not only a teacher, but she went on to get her PHD.
And that was extraordinary. Not because she didn't have the keen intellect, but because it leaves us wondering, how did she accomplish everything? She had to get the PHD in spite of being all of the other things - priest's wife, mother, artist and so on. And she managed to do it. It was a great moment. Somebody who came from an immigrant Greek heritage, from a place where probably getting any kind of education was difficult, especially for a woman. For such a woman to get a PHD - wow.
From that time on, I was so proud of her. Whenever I addressed any correspondence to her I always wrote down, "Presvytera Sophronia N. Tomaras, PHD". Not that she needed that. She never flaunted the fact that she was Dr. Tomaras. But I knew she was proud. And she should have been. It was groundbreaking. It was tremendous. And she gave that same ability to the church, not only teaching at camp and teaching in Sunday School - but then teaching people how to teach in Sunday School. She played a leadership role in our metropolis in Christian education. She contributed in tremendous ways to the Archdiocese in Christian education.
What a lucky kid to be taught by her. She had a particular story about that. When she was teaching elementary school, there were a lot of African American kids in her class. And she would tell about how one day, for some reason, she got on the subject of religion. I'm not sure how you do that in public school. But somehow she managed to get on the subject of religion.
And a young African American girl came up to her and said, "Mrs. Tomaras, what church do you belong to?" And Presvytera said, "I belong to the church that was actually founded by Jesus Christ." And the young girl thought about it and said, "Oh, you must be a Baptist." (LAUGHTER)
Not quite the answer that Presvytera was looking for. Now, how do we handle ourselves in a pluralistic world? How do we handle ourselves in a world where other people differ from us? We look at television and we realize that people are killing each other because they believe that they have the right faith.
Presvytera had this formula for how to get along. She knew she had the right faith. She was absolutely confident about her Orthodox Faith. It was the truth. And yet, she was always accepting of others. She could always see the good in others. She could learn from others, too. And she never lost her sense of humor. What a better world this would be if we could just accept our differences and have our sense of humor intact. She used to tell that story and laugh and laugh. That was Presvytera.
That wonderful positive outlook. I wish the world could learn it. We can learn that, can't we? I wish the whole world could learn that attitude. Father Anthony and Presvytera had a lot of respect for the African American community. And sometimes attended African American services. I understand that Father Anthony even got pushed up to preach at one of them. I wouldn't know where to start. (LAUGHTER) See, in an African American service, it's not just a sermon, it's a dialog. So the congregation is feeding back to you all the time.
I'm not suggesting we do that. (LAUGHTER) I haven't gotten the Metropolitan's blessing for that. But it does make a point. And the point is that nobody falls asleep during an African American sermon because you're involved in it. You see? Presvytera understood something. Nobody would fall asleep in a Greek Orthodox Liturgy either if they were participating.
But at the time, nobody did participate - at least, not the congregation. Indeed, there were people who would say, "In the first place, you can't possibly do a Greek Orthodox liturgy in English. It is not feasible. We can't sing English in Byzantine tones. We simply can't do that."
We were just doing that today, weren't we? But there were people who believed it could not be done. And certainly that it should not be done. And further more that if somebody did it, it wouldn't be the congregation.
Presvytera did not agree. She knew her Orthodox Tradition. And you couldn't convince Presvytera that it had never been done in the Orthodox Church before because she knew that it had been. And so she came up with her fabulous little hymnal. I've still got one at home. Thank God she autographed it for me.
And that little hymnal was groundbreaking when it came out. It got some bad reviews from some people who couldn't really see what needed to be done. But Presvytera was fearless in what she believed to be true. And now, all kinds of people are putting out hymnals like that. She left them that legacy. She proved in the Tacoma parish that the people could sing the liturgy in English and Greek, too, of course - in English and Greek, in Byzantine tones.
She proved it with that wonderful little hymnal, which contained the liturgy and some other important hymns we sing. And she knew that the children, who were the future of the church, and are now the present of the church, should be exposed to that. And they would learn because no one had convinced them yet that they couldn't do it.
And so at summer camp we used her hymnal. And how else could you possibly sing the beautiful song, (SINGS) Rich men have begged for alms, and hungered - except in her translation of it. I just can't imagine. It seems so absolutely apt and right. We sang that for grace at summer camp year after year. And it was wonderful - that groundbreaking book. It's hard to imagine in how many ways she led us.
She was - in every sense - a partner with her husband. That's not required of a presvytera. A priest's wife is not required to get involved in the parish ministry. There are many presvyteras who are wonderful people, good Christian women, who support their husband, are good mothers to their children, but are not particularly active in the work of the parish. But Presvytera Sophronia had the ability, the God-given ability to stand beside her husband Father Anthony and partner with him in the parish ministry. And they were a dynamite team. They did wonderful things together.
For example - how would you like be a missionary? You might say, "Oh, I think I could be a missionary." Good. But supposing I said, "You gotta travel around the world to be a missionary." You might say, "Well, I'm not sure I want to travel around the world." Fr. Anthony and Presvytera didn't have to travel around the world - they just had to travel across the mountains to the Tri-cities. In the middle of the winter that can seem like traveling to the other side of the world. (LAUGHTER)
They got over there faithfully year after year after year, building that mission in the Tri-cities. They estimated they had traveled 360,000 miles there and back to do that mission. That is 14.4 times around the world. I've got a calculator at home. You see I couldn't do that in my head. (LAUGHTER) Fourteen point four times around the world they traveled to do that mission. I'm not sure they knew what they were getting into when they started that. But nonetheless, it was glorious.
So she was a missionary, too. How did she do it all? I don't know. Mother, missionary, musician, teacher in the public schools, teacher in the church. How did she ever do it all?
I suppose we can draw her sustenance from some of her favorite quotes from Orthodox writers. She kept them next to her desk at home. One of them basically says, "Orthodoxy is life. You can't just talk about it. You have to live it." Or as Presvytera would be perfectly willing to say, "You've gotta walk the talk." In other words, if you don't live Orthodoxy, you can't teach it. You can't inspire people about it. But no one doubted that Presvytera lived the Orthodox faith. And so her teaching worked.
The other quotation near her desk basically says, "The body at work; the mind and the heart with God." Today, her body is no longer at work. But her mind and her heart are with God. So I come back again to that first image of the light on in the chapel in the night shining out in the darkness like the light of Christ shining into the world.
And Presvytera, tired but persistent, beautifying those icons. To me, it sums up her life. Because Presvytera didn't just paint icons for children. She painted icons in children. And in everyone of us who were lucky enough to know her. And those icons within us - like the icons at camp - even now, in some mysterious way, will grow more and more beautiful, with every passing day.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.