By his father
July 20, 2017 (ns), St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney, TX
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Iíve written out only two sermons in my life. This is the second one, and the reason why is because I wanted to be able to say things and be able to get through them. The first sermon I ever said, where I had written almost all of it out, was for a wedding, of my daughter and Matthias, and it was a joyous occasion, and I had specific things I wanted to tell them, and I did not want my emotions to interfere with those things I wanted to say. This, too, is a joyous occasion. Thereís tears of sadness, but thereís been great blessing.
This past week, after his 13th day, there have been miracles that have occurred in human hearts. Thatís the most important thing. And so, it would be inappropriate to be sad. Now, to cry, to miss him ó thatís human. Our Lord cried. But to be sad ó that would be inappropriate. That would not be Christian: to mourn as if we have no hope. We canít do that; thatís not Christian. So, I want to tell you sort of the traditional things you say ó a eulogy ó a little bit about my son Daniel, but mostly I want to tell you some things about how we pray, because most people in this church are not Orthodox, and ever since I became a priest all I want to do is tell people about what is true.
My son and I actually sort of had ongoing conflict about this, to be honest with you, in that he always had these solutions to things, to world problems. Everybody says that he wanted to change the world, and he did. So did I, when I was his age. And he had much of the same ideas I had when I was younger, to do something political or economic or social, but, because of my experience, the solutions offered to him were always religious. That is the only way I know how to relate to anything, so we had a little conflict about that, but I think he understands me now.
So, I want to tell you: Daniel had a deep heart. Thatís a scriptural term from the Psalms. It means that a man has a heart that is deep enough for God. Thatís pretty deep. And the reason he had a deep heart was because he was kind. Those who knew him well will agree with me emphatically. My son was kind, to anyone: a two-year-old baby, an 85-year-old man, a street beggar or musician, someone having trouble. He was kind.
He was also 20, and that is a dangerous age.
Iím going to tell you the best way to mourn him, to remember him, to honor his memory.
First a little bit about his faith, our faith. We donít say when someone dies, that heís in heaven, or heís in glory now. We donít say that, and the reason we donít say that is because of humility, because we recognize that within us is the potential ó not only the potential but the actual ó of the great and the terrible. Sometimes in the same day, in the same moment, in the same breath, we can do something great and something profane. All of us have this capacity in us for greatness, for holiness, for purity, and also for depravity. So, weíre humble when we approach our God, not that we think that weíre condemned, but that weíre humble so we donít presume upon God. God is merciful, but itís His business how He gives Himself to us, not our business. And itís not our business to know His ways.
Itís inappropriate to question God as to why my son died at 20 years old. Itís human to wonder, itís human to be confused, but itís inappropriate at the depth of your being to question God. So, we donít say, ďHeís just with the angels now,Ē although some of us believe it. We recognize that since he is a man and has sins as well as virtues, that we must approach God with a sense of humility, so we quietly and not brazenly hope for his blessed repose and reception into the light of God.
And this word, ďhopeĒ ó people in America donít know what hope means. They say, ďI hope I get a good grade on a test.Ē Thatís incorrect. Thatís not the biblical, Christian understanding of hope. The Christian understanding of hope is to know somethingís going to happen and to wait for it and to yearn for it. Hope is not where you are not sure or you donít know; hope is where you are waiting, and itís something you want with all of you heart. So, we have that hope, but weíre quiet about it; weíre not brazen about it. Thatís why we pray for our loved ones.
All the prayers for the dead, if you listen carefully, pretty much every single one had this basic form: ďI am a sinner. I am unworthy, but Thou art merciful.Ē ďI am a sinner. I am unworthyĒ ó or if weíre praying in his name, where we say, ďHe is a sinner. He is unworthy. And yet thou art merciful.Ē Every single one of our prayers is like this. And if it doesnít say it exactly, the spirit is there. Thatís how we pray. We pray with humility when we approach God, because thereís so much that we donít know. We donít know things about ourselves or about others or about God, so weíre humble.
Now, I know this is a hard saying ó Scripture has that term ó for some of you who were raised with the idea that a person dies and automatically you say, ďTheyíre in glory. Theyíre saved.Ē We donít say that. Itís not that we believe that our loved one is not saved, but we have the common sense, the humility, to know that we have sins, and he has sins, and therefore we should approach God in a quiet way, not in a brazen way as if we deserve anything. We deserve nothing. We deserve death. But God loves us; he made us for life. He didnít make us to die, but we have to have the humility to know that the things that we do are deserving of death.
We pray for the dead, really, for one reason. My children know this answer and people in my church know this answer, and thereís only one reason why we pray for the dead: because we love them. God is love, and therefore we do things because of love. Period. Not because we think our prayers do a certain thing or alleviate a certain problem. We pray because of love. Itís the same for any prayer. You pray for someone who has cancer; you pray because of love. Maybe God will bring that person healing, or maybe not, and maybe the best thing would be for that person to suffer a little and die. Itís a hard thing to understand, but God knows these things.
We pray because of love, not really so much because weíre trying to get a particular outcome, as if weíre saying, ďGod, if I can give you enough of this stuff, will you trade with me the thing that I want?Ē We pray because of love, and we donít stop loving somebody because theyíre dead. What a crazy idea! We donít forget them. We canít forget Daniel. We havenít stopped loving him. We havenít forgotten him. We prayed for him before, and we pray for him even more after. We just pray. We give alms. We try to live righteously, because of love.
The Scripture says, ďLove is patient; love is kind.Ē So therefore we pray, we give alms in his name, because of love, because we want what is good for him, not really understanding exactly how things work out and all the exact stuff thatís going on in the afterlife and everything. You canít make a PowerPoint slide out of it. Itís not possible. We canít understand what happens. We only have sort of a little glimpse in, sort of like looking through a little hole in a fence and youíre watching something: you see only a little bit.
But we pray because we love, and weíre patient because part of love is patience, and we donít expect God to give us all this information, give us a special audience and tell us exactly whatís going on and how things are shaping up. We donít deserve to know that, and even if God told us, we would not understand, because these are things way too high for our limited intellect, that is, if our intellect is limited by sin. Iím not talking about brainpower here; Iím talking about the soul, and very few of us have the capacity to understand, when God visits us with information of this kind of nature, about the next life.
I want to give you some examples of our prayer, and the reason I want to do that is because, although this is a funeral for my son who lies in the grave now ó or I suppose almost in the grave ó my heart goes out to you, that some of you would see that these prayers ring true. And if they ring true, then thereís implications to their ringing true. These are actually mostly from what we call an Akathist.
One line says, ďJesus, may good deeds be multiplied in his name.Ē
So, we should multiply good deeds now in his name. Thatís a fundamental principle of praying for the dead and loving the dead. You do good deeds in his name. Daniel was kind and would go to any beggar and talk to him as well as give him money. So, donít pass by a beggar. Daniel was very patient in talking with people. He had an incredible capacity to listen to somebody and not interrupt them. Which one of us does that? Very few of us. So, we should do good deeds, whether it be those things or whether it be giving alms or whether it be visiting prisons, whether it just be being kinder to the people around you and not gossiping about themóyou do good deeds in his name and multiply good deeds.
Another verse says, ďJesus, may the labors of those who loved him serve for the salvation of thy servant, Daniel.Ē
Thereís another principle in our prayer and remembrance of the dead. With God, it kind of all mixes together. He sees the past, the future, and the present as one thing. We see it in a line, linearly, but really God sees it all at once, so we labor because we love Daniel. If you love Daniel and you say that he was an amazing man and all those sorts of things, but you donít labor to do something different in your life, then it doesnít matter what you say, at all. You have to labor based upon your love for him, and also for his salvation and for yours.
ďJesus, hear his heart-filled cry, offered by our own lips.Ē
Danielís lips are no longer open. He canít speak in this world, so we spoke for him today.
ďJesus, in our tears, accept his repentance.Ē
In a way that we donít understand ó it tries to get defined by other people, but we donít define it ó in a way that we donít understand, sometimes our repentance is incomplete before we die. We donít understand how it really works out, but we as the living pray for the dead, and the dead then pray for the living. We, in our tears today, are asking God to accept his repentance, his cry in his last moments of his life.
ďJesus, through the intercession of all thy saints, grant him the grace of prayer for the living.Ē
If we pray for the dead and the dead are in blessedness, they hear those prayers, and they pray for us. Some of us have a quiet confidence that Daniel might be able to hear those prayers and pray for us, but weíre not going to shout it out like itís some sort of front-page headline. Weíre going to quietly think, but weíre also going to labor. Itís not any good to think something is already done, and then you get lazy. Itís not good to be lazy, so weíre going to pray and weíre going to struggle. Weíre going to try to multiply good deeds.
Then there is a little longer verse thatís very beautiful: ďLet us pray with tears while the memory of the one who has fallen asleep is painfully freshĒ ó so itís pretty painful; itís still very fresh for us ó ďLet us remember his name day and night, giving alms, feeding the hungry, crying from the depths of our souls: Alleluia!Ē
Thatís how you honor my son. Not by coming up and saying, ďMy condolences.Ē You can say that, but the way you honor someone that you have loved is to try to emulate them.
I will tell you that there are promises I have made to my son. Thereís basically a formation period this year that has gotten me ready for the death of my son. I didnít even know it was happening. Basically, the last six months have been this accelerated sort of change, for the Lord to get me ready and probably other people in different ways to get ready.
Iíll tell you one more prayer that expresses our feeling that we are unworthy and yet we are exalted at the same time. It was in the canon. It was in, I believe, the first ode that Vladyka read:
ďThou who adornest all things has created me, a human creature, a mixture of the lowly and the exalted together. Wherefore, O Savior, give rest to the soul of thy servant, Daniel.Ē
Iíve already told you about what to do. We honor Daniel by honoring him in word and deed, not just by memories of good times, but by memories of goodness: His deep heart, his patience, his kindness, his interest in everyone. Love does not forget and love makes promises. So those who love Daniel, if you love him in a Christian way, youíll make promises. Youíll say, ďDaniel, I will pray for you,Ē and youíll do it. ďDaniel, Iím going to be more kind to people that Iím normally not kind toĒ ó and youíll do it. Love makes promises, so you promise Ė whatever your heart tells you to promise. You promise certain prayers, giving of alms, etc.
Iíll only make one more mention, and that is we have something called ďDanielís List.Ē My son was very, very generous, and if he had lived to be 30, to be 40, to be 50, I think I know exactly he would have turned out to be. Therefore, we have created a foundation. We donít really know exactly what weíre going to do with it yet, but he was so generous with people, weíre going to take that money and weíre going to give it to whatever need there is, in his name. We will be multiplying good deeds in his name. Whatever goes in there, we will have it go out: to those who have needs, to those who cross our path.
We also have something called ďDanielís ListĒ ó the same name, but itís a list of names that we pray for, sort of associated with Daniel. When we came, my wife and Christina, and I, when we went to Berlin, we had only known our son was dead for a small amount of time, and we didnít know he was dead for 36 hours, so we didnít find out for 36 hours later. That crushed us. I couldnít pray for my son on the day of his repose because I didnít know he was reposed. When we got to Berlin, it was really tough. I was the least put-together of everybody. And there was great kindness among the people of Berlin. A priest, Fr. Andrei, very kind, very helpful, not just in terms of getting stuff done for us, but in terms of sharing our sorrow ó in a Christian way, not just saying, ďIím sorry for you,Ē but in a Christian way, sharing our sorrow and doing something about it. Heís on the list as someone who has been kind.
We have these categories: those who have been kind, those who have lost someone, those who pray for +Daniel.
We are aware of people that have lost someone in a sudden, terrible way, like our son Daniel. I know of one story: a woman, she was pregnant and was almost ready to give birth, and she went somewhere in a car and was in an accident and lost the baby. She was so injured ósheís perfectly fine now, but at the time she wasnít ó she was so injured she could not see the stillbirth; she could not hold her stillborn baby; she could not be at his funeral, but her father was there, and her father, with his hands, held his grandson, Adam, in his hands. His father was ardently pro-abortion ó we Orthodox Christians, we are not ó and he was ardently pro-abortion, but when he saw this baby, this dead boy, his blood in his hands, he became ardently pro-life, and he changed his whole life. So out of something terrible, something good happened. And we pray for her, we pray for her son, Adam.
So thatís Danielís foundation and also Danielís list in prayer. Thatís part of our effort, as a family, to multiply good works in his name. So, I would ask you: the little thing that people get in funeralsÖ I used to go to funerals, Roman Catholic funerals ó the little card, right? Some saint on the front, and then a little thing on the back. Well, this is more. This was all our own labor, and we printed it out. It has a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but the most important thing in there is the insert. The insert is a prayer for a departed person, and I would ask you, especially during Danielís 40 days, to pray that prayer. It might be a little odd to some of you, but pray that prayer.
Remember that we pray because we love, and dead people are deserving of our love as well as those who are still living in the flesh. Besides, Danielís not dead, because his soul lives. Eventually his soul will be reunited with his body. We read about that in Thessalonians. So, if you only want to pray for living people, Daniel still fits that category, because his soul is alive. I believe on July 20 will be his 40th day, and we will commemorate him all throughout and then a special commemoration on that day. And I would ask you: take that insert and use it. See what happens. See if anything happens to you, if you say that prayer enough times.
I thank you for loving my son, for respecting him. It means a lot to us, that so many people loved him. We loved him. Weíre going to miss him terribly. I mean, itís very hard. Itís very hard, but it was Godís time. I canít go further on, because I go on too far. My wife says I go too far. But there are things that happened on his death that show that the Mother of God was embracing us from the time before his birth, through his life, and into his death. So, I canít go into those technical details, because it would be a 42-minute sermon instead of 22, but Iíve written a lot about it, and probably the vast majority of you, Bishop Peter notwithstanding, because he doesnít look at Facebook, but other people, most of us, youíve probably seen, and if you havenít, then write me and ask, and Iíll tell you.
I have an ulterior motive. Iím just going tell you flat-out. Itís not a hidden motive. Thereís no hidden agenda here. The Orthodox Church is the truth. I want to tell everybody about the truth. So, if you want to know it, you ask me. Thank you for loving my son and for honoring his memory. May God bless you and help you in all things. And may we all find paradise. Amen.
This homily is available in audio and text:
PDF format: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/funeral_2017+daniel-holland.doc †
L, R: Daniel at about age 11, with his mother and father. He had this picture on his phone. He saved it in a very low-tech way. He took a picture of Marina's computer screen. We would like to think that he looked at it often.; Marina at the grave, talking to and praying for +Daniel
 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ďBut I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.Ē
 A man shall draw nigh, and the heart is deep; and God shall be exalted. (Psalm 63:6b-7a, Septuagint, Boston Psalter)
 1 Corinthians 13:4 DRB† ďCharity (love) is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, is not puffed upÖĒ
 http://www.orthodox.net/daniel/dyptichs-daniels-list.html Also (and more up to date than the HTML) http://www.orthodox.net/daniel/dyptichs-daniels-list.doc& http://www.orthodox.net/daniel/dyptichs-daniels-list.pdf
 This is the insert referred to: http://www.orthodox.net/trebnic/prayer-for-every-departed-person-in-the-psalter.html or http://www.orthodox.net/trebnic/prayer-for-every-departed-person-in-the-psalter.doc †or http://www.orthodox.net/trebnic/prayer-for-every-departed-person-in-the-psalter.pdf
 See Thessalonians 4