The last couple of months have seen a spate of deliveries to Paradise.
After long lulls, the passing of beloved souls seems to often pick up momentum, only to slow down again, and so on. I would like to mark the passing of one beloved soul, special to me because he is my father-in-law: Mr Emile Bassilious, who passed away peacefully in his sleep some time early in the morning last Friday. He was 81. I know that many of the things I will fondly remember about him will strike a chord with many who read this, remembering their own dearly departed relatives. That is why I would like to share these thoughts, for our mutual consolation and to celebrate the beautiful souls who have gone before us, learning from them as much as we can, helping their legacy to live on after their departure.
Uncle Emile was an incredibly gentle soul. He was brought up in a time and place where life was much simpler than it is now. He spent much of his youth roaming the countryside with his friends (among them a young man who would become HE Metropolitan Domadius of Giza, to whom he is related). After completing his studies he worked for various petrochemical companies based in Egypt and experienced some remarkable adventures. One time, as war began between Egypt and its enemies, he and his fellow employees were forced to evacuate their base in the Sinai desert and make their way back to Egypt on foot – a sort of ‘reverse Exodus’!
This image characterises Uncle Emile well. He was a man who did much, but spoke little. His actions spoke louder than his words, as it should be for the genuine Christian. He would go on to marry a remarkable woman, Aunty Ramza, who must have been chosen by God to be the perfect second half for him. In so many ways they completed each other as neatly as the two halves of an apple. After nearly fifty years of marriage, finding her way in her new life alone is not going to be easy. God is good and will not leave her for a moment.
They brought up two wonderful children together, Sam, the eldest, and my lovely wife Dalia, the cute baby of the family. So many of the virtues of the parent are manifest in the children. Each has gone on to live a full and rich life, whether in their secular careers, in their family lives or in their spiritual life and service to God.
Uncle Emile was a ‘doer’. He was one of the motive forces behind the C.O.P.T. organisation, which has pioneered the publication of books and resources for the Coptic community and raised the standard of publishing to a new level. Together with his wife, he translated dozens of books for HH Pope Shenouda III into English for younger generations to enjoy. Who can say how many lives have been touched and transformed through access to these spiritual treasures in their own language?
To his dying day, he was active in both services. This in parallel to other services too numerous to mention. There are some in this world who retire from work and find themselves at a loose end. That was never the case for Uncle Emile. In a way, it might be said that retirement for him was the beginning of his real work, his single minded dedication to service to His beloved Lord and his beloved Church, which up until then had necessarily been only part time.
He never sought the limelight, indeed actively ran from it. He never sought any personal goals in his service, seeking only to give without expecting anything in return. His generosity was of the legendary brand of his generation, stemming from a heart so sensitive and so sincere that even a sick animal could bring him to tears, much less a human in misfortune. His many acts of generosity will largely go unknown to all but those who benefited from them, and His gracious Father.
Despite his quiet demeanour, he was a deep man. His thoughts and ideals were rich and often accurate. He cared deeply for the Church, and was deeply, deeply pained by hearing the news of any kind of disturbance or problem that the Church had suffered, whether from within or from without. In this he embodied a beautiful idealism that 81 years of life on this earth could not corrupt. For him, right was right and wrong was wrong, and woe to him who sought to confuse the two! Never did a lie or falsehood come from his lips in all the years I knew him. He was as straightforward as they come; a trait that probably caused some to misunderstand him at times, but that endeared him to all who came to know him and his gentle loving heart.
More than ever, our Church and our world need such people in these difficult days. Though one has left this world, his ideals have been an example to many who I pray will continue to live as he lived, fearlessly following the Lord of Truth and Love wherever He may lead.
I have lost three fathers now: my own father in the flesh who passed on thirty years ago; Fr Mina Nematalla who accepted me to share the service with him at Archangel Michael and treated me like a son; and now, Uncle Emile, who accepted me into his house and granted me the great gift of marrying his precious only daughter. Each of them had his own unique personality, each of them is inspirational in his own unique way, yet all of them share the same outlook on life, the same dedication to core Christian principles, the same love for the One God.
Our lives are immeasurabley enriched by their presence, for which we gratefully thank our Lord. I cannot help but feel joy for this latest of a long line of blessed men and women who have fought the good fight, who have kept the faith, and who have now gone to receive their heavenly crown.
Perhaps you too have such shining lights to illuminate your life? Perhaps, even, your lights are still here on this earth. If so, please: go to them. Sit with them. Talk to them. Observe them. Learn from them. Record their wisdom and their experience, before the day comes when you will see them no more…