Not many people at St. Nicholas have met Fadi’s Aunt Ramia Toma. Some may have not known of her beyond praying for her during each of our services, and that she donated the beautiful Icon of St. Constantine and Helen. Yet her witness for love of our Lord, in the midst of a debilitating sickness is something that brought her closer to Christ, and closer to us.
At her funeral I talked about the struggle I had coming up with a sermon. Generally before I give a sermon I go for a walk to put things together in my head, and nothing was working. I would start, and then stop, start again and come to a stop unable to make any headway. I couldn’t speak about Ramia, to family and friends who knew her, loved her, were loved by her, cared for her, and were cared for by her; and I couldn’t speak about the providential love of the Lord who worked to save Ramia in her suffering.
Well, I guess I could have spoken about those things honestly, yet they both came across as being either trite, pithy, or sanctimonious given the person Ramia was, and the suffering she went through before she reposed. Then it dawned on me, that instead of preaching about what everyone knew, or preaching a “theological” sermon, I would preach about what Ramia showed and taught me.
My ever so few interactions with Ramia, chastened me because of my hard heart and skeptical nature. Visits challenged me to look beyond the comforts of life, and to carry my cross. She inspired me with a love of Christ that lacked nothing, her soul was full of a peace and calm that most people could only dream about.
Ramia showed and taught me what faith was, by her faith; for she even, at the darkest moments of pain, knew that Christ and his most holy Mother were with her, and death could not separate her from that love (Rm. 8:38). She showed and taught me about hope; for she clung to the promise that in Christ, and only Christ, could life be lived, fully and eternally. She showed and taught me about humility; for she would look at the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, and say, “what is my pain, compared to you seeing your son upon the Cross” and when she would look at the Icon of our Lord crucified, she would say “what is my pain, compared to your love for humanity, which You came to save and heal, and yet You were repaid with a desolate Cross on which You died for us”. For she had the humility to see that all of this was not about her, but the love of the Lord.
Profoundly she showed and taught me what thanksgiving was. In having nothing (in the eyes of the world) she found something to be thankful for; her family that cared for her, (even her young nephew Matthew’s dry and witty jokes). She was thankful to me and the Church for our prayers and services, and moreover she was thankful every time she received the Eucharist. When she received communion, it was as if all those things that cloud our vision of God’s love, would melt away, the pain, the anxiety, the fear, the concerns, even death itself (which was always a threatening presence). All of it, would be swallowed up in her reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood; the Thanksgiving of all thanksgivings!
For Ramia’s family and friends, the hard part begins; trying to understand and reconcile the loss of such a loving woman -a profound loss. But if we hold fast to what she showed and taught, there will be that peace she lived out, that chastens, convicting our hard hearts. Ever imploring us to soften our hearts to the love of the Lord in faith, knowing that He has conquered death by His death. A peace that challenges us to look beyond those distractions of a life that is passing away, through humility to see the love of Christ for us manifested upon the Cross; clinging to the hope of the Lord’s saving love that wipes away every last tear (Rev. 21:4). A peace that inspires us to love God and neighbour alike, for He has love us first (1 Jn. 4:19), and offering our thanksgiving to the Lord for His victory over death, shared with us in the Eucharist. Oh, that we would approach the chalice with her tears of thanksgiving!
For those at St. Nicholas who never knew Ramia, or only knew her briefly; the hard part is to understand and reconcile that the faith, hope, humility, and thanksgiving that she offered the Lord through unimaginable circumstances, revealed the “one thing needed…which will not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:42); life, true life (Jn. 17:3). It is a life that chastens, challenges, and inspires us to seek greater peace, and enter deeper communion with our Lord, who in His love for us “appeared on earth and lived among men. Becoming incarnate from a holy virgin, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being conformed to the body of our lowliness, that He might conform us to the image of His glory” (Anaphora of St. Basil).
The blessing is that we have Ramia showing and teaching us, praying for us, as we pray for her. Truly a sister in the Risen and Glorified Christ!
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!
!المسيح قام! حقا قام
May her memory be eternal.