The Weekday Ramble is a daily dose of sports, music, culture, and more from Rambling On founder Erik Ritland. For more information check us out on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
Thursday March 19, 2015
Remembering one of my biggest influences and heroes, the brilliant, loving Eastern Orthodox priest Thomas Hopko.
A little background
I began working at the Cathedral of St. Paul in 2007. At the time I was a fairly confident ELCA Lutheran. I wasn’t living my faith much less practicing it, but intellectually I thought I had all the answers.
After talking to several intelligent Catholics for the first time in my life I began to question everything. Although he was a hardcore Catholic one of my friends turned me on to Ancient Faith radio, a music and talk station of the Eastern Orthodox Church. No, the Orthodox Church isn’t Jewish, it’s the only Christian Church other than Catholicism that can trace its roots back to Jesus and the apostles.
I eventually became enamored with Eastern Orthodoxy. Their gorgeous, ancient liturgy takes you into another world. Their theology, which focuses more on the awe-inspiring mystery of God than having an intellectual explanation for everything, was more appealing than what I saw as more rigid Catholicism. I even went through Orthodox catechism classes.
Although I ended up becoming Catholic, Orthodoxy still forms a large part of my Christian life.
One of my biggest Orthodox influences was Fr. Thomas Hopko, who died peacefully of heart failure yesterday afternoon. He was the Dean at St. Vladmir’s, one of the biggest Orthodox seminaries in America, for decades. His brilliance as a theologian was only matched by his warmth and loving attitude.
Two of his books have had a great impact on me: The Winter Pascha, a series of reflections for the time before Christmas, and The Lenten Spring, a similar work focusing on Lent. The short chapters are filled with his personal insight in addition to long, beautiful quotations from Orthodox liturgies and the Bible. I’d recommend them for any Christian, especially Orthodox and Catholic.
The biggest influence he had on me was through his hundreds of podcasts on Ancient Faith radio. Of course he focused on Christianity and Orthodoxy but the topics he covered were wide-ranging, from a charitable multi-part ode to Charles Darwin to reflections on practically every Bishop in Orthodox history. His podcasts about the Divine Liturgy and the major feasts of the Church year will always inspire me and deepen my faith.
His commentary was always insightful and put in such a way that you understood and respected where he was coming from regardless of whether you agreed with him. Which I almost always did, but even when I didn’t I always felt like he respected those who disagree. His podcast was called Speaking the Truth in Love and he certainly did this.
For a good example of his love and brilliance, read his famous 55 maxims.
I don’t consider many people to be my heroes. Fr. Hopko’s enormous influence in my life certainly puts him in that small category. May his memory be eternal.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.