Johnny Cash: In Memoriam

johnny-cash-2In an age in which every deceased B-list movie actor is called “an icon” upon his death, that word has been drained of its meaning. But there really were great American artists who deserved that appelation. Johnny Cash was one of them.

In truth, America has been blessed with great singer-songwriters. In fact, I dare say that one hundred years from now, few people will remember the actors that we presently go ga-ga over. Instead, I think that America will be more remembered for its music than its movies. There really is such a thing as The Great American Songbook. And I think it will be recognized that a deep Christian influence –the creativity unleashed by the Gospel–permeated every facet of American music up until fairly recently. Not just Country and Blue-Grass but Soul and Motown as well. And it was out of the former (with a lot of Soul) that Rock and Roll sprang from should we forget.

Johnny Cash was firmly esconced within this tradition. Though he died ten years ago today, his musical legacy is still as strong as ever. A flawed man to be sure, there is no doubt that he had a deep love for the Lord. And it was this love that made him the man and artist that he was.

Thus it was with a sense of emptiness that I left the movie theater several years ago after seeing Ring of Fire, the “biography” of The Man in Black. I couldn’t put my finger on it right then because I was beguiled by the performance of Joaquin Phoenix (and because I think Reese Witherspoon is as cute as a button, at least when she’s not being pulled over for Drunk and Disorderly). Still, I couldn’t shake that feeling. Much later I remembered seeing all those Billy Graham Crusades growing up and seeing Johnny and his wife June Carter being a big part of those events. If I had never known any better, then I wouldn’t have known what a travesty this movie was. That’s one way Hollywood drains the life out of a man’s lifestory. Would it have been so hard to be a little more faithful to his life?

Anyway, my beloved mother always blamed “Hollywood” for the ills of society. She was right in many ways. Little did we suspect to what lengths movie producers go to eradicate Christian sensibilities, even when the story is a historical one and can be checked against original sources.

Please take the time to read this perceptive essay by Lee Habeeb. And get to know the real Man in Black. And do yourself a favor and listen to Johnny and June singing “If I Were a Carpenter,” probably the greatest love-song/duet of all time. For an intense encapsulation of his life, watch this video of Cash singing Nine Inch Nails’ haunting anthem “Hurt.”

How Hollywood De-Christianized Johnny Cash

Celebrating the musical legend on the week of his birth

Source: National Review Online

By Lee Habeeb

It’s an early scene in the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line. The young Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is auditioning for the man who might make him the next Elvis Presley. That man was Sam Phillips, the Sun Records impresario from Memphis.

johnny-cashThe fictional Cash walks into the room and begins playing a Gospel song. The fictional Phillips is not impressed, and tells the fictional Cash that no one listens to Gospel anymore, and that he should play something more meaningful. More relevant.

Cash did. The rest was history.

Well, not quite. It turns out that Cash, who was born on February 26, 1932, didn’t stop playing Gospel music at all. Nearly a quarter of the songs he wrote were in some way about his faith or the Bible, and many others were influenced by his Christian worldview.

But there wasn’t a single Gospel song on the Walk the Line soundtrack. Somehow, the screenwriters left out that important dimension of his musical catalogue. And there wasn’t a single mention of the greatest love of Cash’s life: Jesus Christ. That’s a love story the screenwriters of Walk the Line just couldn’t wrap their minds around.

Yes, he loved June, the love of his earthly life. But she too loved Jesus Christ, and no doubt Cash’s love for her had much to do with her love for Him. That fact too was omitted from the movie.

Cash recorded the entire King James Version of the New Testament, performed at countless Billy Graham revivals, made a movie about the life of Jesus, and studied the Bible as much as most divinity-school Ph.Ds. Somehow, none of that made it to the screen during the movie’s 136-minute running time.

The screenwriters left all of that out, and for reasons that are inexplicable.

Leaving out Cash’s Christian faith from his life story is like leaving out half-naked 19-year-old girls from Hugh Hefner’s. It’s like telling the story of Jackie Robinson without ever mentioning race or segregation.

The tension between the flesh and spirit, between things of this earth and things of heaven, animated all of Cash’s music. It’s what drew audiences to him generation after generation. Sin and redemption, good and evil, selfishness and love, and the struggles of living by a standard set not by man but by God — all were driving forces in Cash’s work and life.

While the rock-’n’-roll crowd was busy extolling the virtues of sexual freedom and rebellion, Cash was exploring eternal themes. Even his secular songs mined unusual territory for popular music. Here are the opening lyrics to his first No. 1 Billboard hit:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.
I keep my eyes wide open all the time.
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you’re mine, I walk the line.

Not exactly “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Cash wasn’t walking just any line. He was trying his best to walk a Christian line.

He sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. Cash spoke openly about his bouts with drug addiction. He talked about his selfishness, and how he lost contact with God during those periods, and the toll those episodes took on his loved ones. On himself. “You don’t think about anyone else,” he said late in his life. “You think about yourself and where your next stash is coming from or your next drink. I wasted a lot of time and energy. I mean, we’re not talking days, but years.”

Believers and non-believers alike know about such struggles. That’s what attracted so many people to Cash’s music: his humility and his empathy. He had no tolerance for the false piety of many Christians, and he respected people of all faiths. And those of no faith, such as his friend Kris Kristofferson: The two simply agreed to not talk about religion.

Many great stories about Cash’s faith didn’t make it to the screen, but not because they were hard to find. Fans can find them in the remarkable biography by Steven Turner, The Man Called Cash.

One story that should have made it into the movie took place during a low point in Cash’s life, in the 1990s, 30 miles west of Chattanooga in the Nickajack Cave, an underground warren that’s home to over 100,000 bats. According to Turner, Cash spent time there earlier in his life, hunting for treasures such as Indian arrowheads and items left behind by Confederate soldiers. But on this occasion, Cash had different plans.

This is what Cash told the writer Nick Tosches in 1995:

I just felt like I was at the end of the line. I was down there by myself and I got to feelin’ that I took so many pills that I’d done it, that I was gonna blow up or something. I hadn’t eaten in days, I hadn’t slept in days, and my mind wasn’t workin’ too good anyway. I couldn’t stand myself anymore. I wanted to get away from me. And if that meant dyin’, then okay.

He was going there to commit suicide. And that’s when things got really interesting. Cash continued:

I took a flashlight with me, and I said, I’m goin’ to walk and crawl and climb into this cave until the light goes out, and then I’m gonna lie down. So I crawled in there with that flashlight until it burned out and I lay down to die. I was a mile in that cave. At least a mile. But I felt this great comfortin’ presence sayin’, “No, you’re not dyin’. I got things for you to do.” So I got up, found my way out. Cliffs, ledges, drop-offs. I don’t know how I got out, ’cept God got me out.

That would have been quite a scene in Walk the Line. But it never made it to the screen.

In August 1969, hundreds of thousands of young Americans gathered at Woodstock to watch Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, and others perform. It was a wet and wild affair as the counterculture asserted itself into the mainstream. Just two weeks later, Johnny Cash closed out his music-variety show on ABC with a Gospel song. It was a remarkable version of “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” Always, to the end, Cash was a countercultural figure. Always a rebel.

Perhaps his most famous recordings were the ones he made in prisons, especially his two shows at Folsom Prison. Cash seemed at home there. He didn’t see himself as better than those men. He was just one of the guys, and understood the prisoners in ways they realized, without his ever saying anything. It didn’t hurt that he’d written some of his best songs from the point of view of condemned and convicted men. The inmates loved him for that. America loved him for that.

“He doesn’t sing for the damned,” Bono once commented about Cash, “he sings with the damned.” That was the true mark of Cash’s Christian walk: the empathy he had for the men and women often overlooked in our society. Prisoners; the hardworking field workers in rural America; the down-and-out and downtrodden; those of us struggling with personal demons, the kind that rob from us the best parts of ourselves.

When Cash got serious about his faith, and left the women and alcohol behind, some of his old friends were not very happy with him. “They’d rather I be in prison than church,” Cash admitted. Waylon Jennings was especially tough on Cash, according to Turner, accusing him of “selling out to religion.”

“He’d be attacked by agnostics and atheists if he appeared too pious,” explained Turner, “and he would be denounced by the religious community if he appeared too worldly.”

Talk about a tough line Cash had to walk. But he tried to walk it.

Cash was once asked how he was able to reach so many people with his message without ever hiding his faith. He had a simple, superb answer. “I am not a Christian artist,” he explained. “I am an artist who is Christian.”

Cash was revered by artists of every genre, from hip-hop to rock. Springsteen and Bono, Snoop Dogg and Trent Reznor all admired the openly Evangelical southern man. And all because Cash transcended stereotypes, and transcended musical categories.

He even transcended time, something few pop stars manage. His 2002 acoustic take on the Nine Inch Nails song about heroin addiction — “Hurt” — was about as courageous a recording as any ever made by a popular artist. Cash, who was 70, found an entire new generation of fans with that stark MTV video.

Thus was the universal appeal of the man called Cash. And that is the universal appeal of a man called Christ.

Steven Turner’s biography of Cash ends so beautifully that it is worth closing with his words:

The realm that Johnny Cash lived in was clouded by pain and colored by grace. He had the ability to transform the rough and commonplace into objects fit for heaven, just as he had been transformed. Rick Rubin remembers him taking Ewan McColl’s song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and turning it from a love song into a devotional song. “He loved that,” said Rubin. “It came really natural to him. It seemed like his devotion for life came from his devotion for God.”

Lee Habeeb is vice president of content at Salem Radio Network.

About GShep

Comments

  1. drugs, alcohol and? says

    Maybe you think that Joachim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (liked her better in the legally blond flicks) make the man but I see no icon here, just someone who cleverly gamed his industry and married one of the Carter Family

    http://youtu.be/D8Ojam9JA7I

    He did have his moments (here with June and her sisters)

    http://youtu.be/wvmM6zoPGGI

  2. Gail Sheppard says

    There is an interesting book about Bob Dylan that I found on one of those discount, half-price, bookstores on-line. It’s called, “Restless Pilgrim, the Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan,” by Scott Marshall with Marcia Ford. Although written from an Evangelical perspective, it was fascinating to see evidence of Bob Dylan being wooed by our Creator. I have long suspected that true genius, regardless of genre, is the result of the Grace of God. Great artists will acknowledge it and you see it in their work. – In Hollywood biographies, not so much. But maybe this is a blessing. Hollywood would romanticize it and cheapen it to make it sell. God doesn’t need that kind of advertisement. The work speaks for itself.

    Dylan: “I told you ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’, and they did. I said the answer was ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ and it was. I’m telling you now Jesus is coming back and He is. And there is no other way of salvation. . . There’s only one way to believe, there’s only one Way, the Truth and the Life. It took a long time to figure that out before it did come to me, and I hope it doesn’t take you that long.” 1979

    It is said that during one of Dylan’s performances someone threw a plain, silver cross at his feet. He purportedly never picked stuff up off a stage, but he picked up that cross. How do we know? – He was later seen wearing it.

  3. cynthia curran says

    Maybe you think that Joachim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (liked her better in the legally blond flicks) make the man but I see no icon here, just someone who cleverly gamed his industry and married one of the Carter Family
    Joachim Phoenix suffered like his brother River Phoenix in the most weird christian cults, the Children of God that practice sex with children. Now its called the Family and while they think fornication is ok they are less into sex with children. The Children of God started in Southern California during the hippie movement and the Phoenix brothers parents joined it.

  4. I listen to him reading the New Testament, am grateful that he made the audio book.

  5. Trudge at SmartVote says

    Thank you George for this feature on Mr. Cash.

    The Cash voice and persona resonate with masculinity as an icon of American blue collar manhood that sadly is passing. One that I can still look up to.

  6. Patrick Henry Reardon says

    I saw the interview with Cash’s son last week. He spoke about Cash’s well read and carefully annotated Bible. He even mentioned Cash’s reading of Josephus.

    This is certainly a step beyond the ordinary.

  7. M. Stankovich says

    Today marks the 14th anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of Blessed Bishop Basil (Rodzianko), who died on September 17, 1999.

    He was born Vladimir Mikhailovich Rodzianko in the Ukraine, to a wealthy family with an ancestral estate. He was the grandson of Michael Rodzianko, the last president of the Russian Duma (congress) at the time of the revolution, and as such, formally requested the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. Vladyka carried this fact, not as metaphor, but as δίκη, the ancient Greek notion of a familial, generational wrongdoing in need of reparation, and repented of it. In 1920, he and his family were forced to flee to Yugoslavia, where a large community of exile Russian were received under the protection of the Patriarch of Serbia. It is quite astonishing – even unimaginable – that at even an early age, he would begin to establish relationships with those we would later appreciate as fathers of our generation and Saints: Sts. John Maximovich, Justin Popovich, and Nikolai Velimirovich; and Met. Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and Met. Anthony (Bloom). Prof. SS Verhovskoy frequently noted, “The parents of St. Basil the Great were saints, and so were his siblings. It seems somehow a little easier to be a saint, given the circumstances.”

    He graduated from the Department of Theology of Belgrade University in 1937, married his beloved Maria Kulyubaeva, the daughter of a priest, in 1938, and in 1940 he was ordained a priest. While then monk Anthony Bloom was a trauma surgeon during World War II, Fr. Vladimir was the Secretary of the Red Cross, securing the delivery of life-saving assistance to those afflicted. In 1949 he was arrested by the Serbian Communists and spent two years at hard labor. He told the stories of being dragged by his beard and his cassock stripped from his body and dragged through the mud by soldiers. Yet, there are the well-known stories of his being surrounded by other prisoners so the soldiers could not reach him, and celebrating the Great Blessing of Water on the falling snowflakes on Epiphany. After two years of hard labor, and with the direct intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was released, first to France, as a guest of Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) – later the OCA Bishop of San Francisco – and then to London, where he served as a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church. And it was in London, on the BBC, that he began what would become the greatest mission and purpose of his life: a broadcast mission of hope and evangelization to the Soviet Union. Following Fr. Alexander Schmemann, he became one of the most familiar voices of Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union.

    Two events occurred in London that changed the course of Vladyka’s life. In what police believed was a botched attempt of the KGB to assassinate him related to his BBC broadcasts, Vladyka’s teenaged grandson was shot and killed in his stead. Then, his beloved wife, Maria, began to experience illness and was in increasingly poor health. One particular event he described in a sermon, he attributed as a miracle of his friend St. John Maximovich, and was considered in the process of his canonization. It was, however, short-lived, as her health deteriorated, and she fell asleep in the Lord in 1978. As was the case so many times in NY at his niece’s home, I sat mesmerized listening to him speaking to someone, when he turned to me and asked me to go upstairs to get a book from his room. I wandered off, entered his room, turned on the light, and was shocked to see a large picture of his wife in her casket next to the bed! I forgot why he had sent me and had to foolishly return and ask him. Later, when I asked him, he said, “We were crowned into the Kingdom, and I feel no separation from her.” In 1979 he was tonsured a monk, taking the name Basil, was received into the OCA and served as the Bishop of San Francisco. He was retired in 1984, but before leaving, stayed at the deathbed of Archbishop John (Shahovskoy), nursing him, recalling the hospitality Vladyka John had shown in France many years previously.

    Returning to Washington, DC, he began his broadcasting career in earnest. So much has been written of his home/chapel/studio that I will not belabour the point. But I will emphasize this: you must hear his voice! Like the voice of the archangel. There are a number of recorded talks and sermons
    here. The first, “Remembrance of the Cross in our Life and Faith,” was at my home parish at our Christmas Retreat, from the amvon, without a single note, and with only his bishop’s staff. There was a total congruence of his voice and his demeanor; he was a man at peace. He described to me the occasion of his being an official delegate to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and being immediately set upon by the Soviets. “They were polite but aggressive, and I was patient but persistent.” In the end, he said they actually shook his hand and expressed their respect for his argument. I thought, “How could you expect to disarm a man with a faith so simplistically disarming?”

    I had the great fortune to know his family on both coasts, totally serendipitously and spontaneously, at one time divided over “jurisdiction,” calendar, tradition, and history, but always united by Vladyka Basil. We celebrated, for example, what appeared to be a “normal,” joyous, extravagant Christmas dinner at a huge extended table, until a closer look revealed that everyone left of center was eating a meal conforming to the Christmas Fast, while everyone right of center enjoyed a dinner commensurate with the Feast. And seated at the center? Vladyka Basil, who had celebrated the Festal Liturgy. This spoke to the fact that whenever he was present, someone had to speak with him: family, extended family, clergy of any and all “jurisdictions,” laymen, writers, someone had to speak with Vladyka. And as often as I could, I would sit and listen. Mesmerized.

    There are endless stories to tell of the life and piety of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko), but he would be the first to say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) He was unpretentious, he was obedient, he was faithful, he was tireless, he was a servant, and he was longsuffering. Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev) writes that St. Simeon the New Theologian’s exegesis of Ephesian 5:15-16 (“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”)

    [uses] images taken from the life of merchants. The verb ἐξαγοράζω (‘to redeem’) means ‘to buy up’, or simply ‘to buy’. Our earthly life is the time for commerce. We see that some merchants run fast to the market, leaving the others behind them, and on arriving immediately strike bargains in order to make a profit. But the others go to the market without hurry, waste their time in chatting with friends or in eating and drinking; as a result they remain without profit. The same happens in spiritual life. Eternal goods and eternal life are sold: the price includes bearing disasters and temptations, as well as mortification of the body. One person uses each opportunity to ‘redeem the time’ through patience, fasting, vigil and other virtues; another wastes his life without profit. As a result the first is saved and the second is not.

    This “merchant of eternal goods” is Vladyka Basil who endured until the end, who rescued from loss what we in this world would conclude as hopeless disaster, and “the Lord brought him rest” (2 Chron 14:6). I believe he is numbered among the saints. May his memory be eternal. Venerable Bishop Basil pray to God for us!

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      Thanks for posting this, Mr. Stankovich! I have written here briefly of my own encounter with Bishop Basil, at the tiny historic Holy Trinity church in the old Cascade foothills mining hamlet of Wilkeson, Wash., in 1981. What he said at that time had a great impact on me, is one of the things that has finally moved me to Orthodoxy, and is a story I tell people when they ask about what I am doing with this “conversion thing”.

      Only 25 years or more later, when the internet world was here, did I “look up” +Basil and learn something of his wonderful story.

      There have been several indirect statements made here over the last few months about Bishop Basil’s resignation from the diocese in San Francisco. It would appear that that resignation ultimately was a good thing for his larger work. Can someone describe the circumstances which led to his departure without beating around the bush?

    • Honoring Bishop Basil says

      Dear M. Stankovic,

      Thank you for your memories of Bishop Basil. Please give us more of them. I am particularly interested in how he was divested of the title of Bishop of Washington and sent to California under Metropolitan Theodosius. Bishop Basil gave nice sermons and was a joyful person. I heard some sermons but never really knew him. I consider it a blessing to have been able to kiss his ring.

      Today in Washington, he was remembered in two services, one at St. Nicholas Cathedral and one in his little home chapel. I attended the latter service. A photo of his dear wife was next to the koliva made by a very devout woman and this was surrounded by pictures of him in life on his table. One Rodzianko was in the choir and there were several clergy ranking high and low. The matins, liturgy and memorial services were all beautiful and joyous. There was a tiny glitch while we passed out the OCA panihida books. A forcibly retired Metropolitan honored a forcibly retired Bishop. It seemed fitting. After we shared the koliva, we shared a small potluck meal.

      By happenstance, a copy of a miraculous icon ordered from Russian for a church of the icon’s name in America got stuck in Washington and made its way to the chapel so we all venerated it and heard its history from both Bishop Basil’s secretary (See story below where she is misspelled) and from a Russian woman, with many people cheerfully helping with translations. During the recounting of the history of the icon, so beloved by the royal family, I was facing int he direction of Bishop Basil’s grandson’s artwork on the wall.

      I myself was remembering the 10th anniversary of his repose service at St. Nicholas. For that service, many people had traveled far to attend including Vladimir Morosan who conducted the pickup choir. That memorial service can be watched here:

      http://vimeo.com/7938548

      An issue of Jacob’s Well is another good read on Bishop Basil:

      http://www.jacwell.org/Fall_Winter99/bishop_basil_rodzian.htm

      Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov in his book _Everyday Saints_ has a chapter on Bishop Basil that he has posted on the website of his book in English :

      http://everyday-saints.com/eminence.htm

  8. In 1979 he was tonsured a monk, taking the name Basil, was received into the OCA and served as the Bishop of San Francisco. He was retired in 1984, but before leaving, stayed at the deathbed of Archbishop John (Shahovskoy), nursing him, recalling the hospitality Vladyka John had shown in France many years previously.

    Yes, in 1984 Bishop Basil of thrice-blessed memory WAS RETIRED by his brother bishops on the OCA synod. It was not a voluntary retirement like that of Metropolitan Jonah. Like Bishop Basil and Metropolitan Jonah, Mark Stokoe was a close participant in both “retirements.”

    Let us pray that Metropolitan Jonah will find his ministry in “retirement” like Bishop Basil did. Let us also pray that his brother bishops will leave Metropolitan Jonah alone as they eventually did with Bishop Basil.

    May his memory be eternal.

  9. I found this piece, entitled “Johnny of the Cross”, to be of interest: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/johnny-of-the-cross-44

  10. M. Stankovich says

    In writing this “panegyric,” my attempt was to describe Vladyka accurately for those who knew little of his history and influence, and to share my experience of him as I knew him personally. In the back of my mind, however, was the concern that, rather than focusing on the fact that “the Lord will defend the righteous forever” (Ps 111:6), and that we should unhesitatingly trust that our God will not tolerate injustice to the Righteous – “Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom 9:14-15) – it would not be enough to simply celebrate the life of Vladyka Basil.

    In response to the questions and comments posed above, I would suggest that the chapter in the book of Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, Everyday Saints – which I would suggest belongs in your library regardless – tells you more than you need to know. In my estimation, the only thing to be said is that Vladyka knew in his heart from a young age that he was called to be to be a priest. He was from his first day until his last day a servant, obedient, the “last” and never the “first” (Matt. 20:16), and, who like the merchant who found the pearl of great price, “sold all that he had to purchase it.” (Matt. 13:46) These are the lessons of Vladyka Basil, not comparisons of events and persons in this world. For anyone who had the great gift to see him or see photographs of him even as he reposed, as he was prepared for burial, this was a man at peace. There simply is no reason to pursue these details of Vladyka who rests with the Saints.

    • Dear M. Stankovich,

      My particular reply message was not intended to hit you with a barrage of questions, but rather to assure you that Bp. Basil was remembered properly, to try and give you a sense of the event I attended and to reassure you that there was another memorial event even locally in DC.

      More than a question, I would reiterate that your memories are precious and are welcomed.

      • George Michalopulos says

        Agreed, Dr Stankovich’s rendition of the late Bishop Basil’s life was eloquent and sufficient. So far, I’ve found no criticism at all nor the need for them.

  11. Michael Kinsey says

    I keep my eyes wide open all the time.

  12. M. Stankovich says

    Please, I did not intend to stifle any sharing the wonderful details Vladyka’s life by my comment! Honoring… thank you for sharing the details of the memorial! and Mr. Mortiss you are forever blessed with your “calling” by Vladyka!

    I first met him when his niece and nephew became members of my home parish, being the first in their family to leave their traditional ROCOR parish in an extraordinary coup for the time. Vladyka would come to NY to visit his sister who lived with her husband in her daughter’s home, a restored Victorian house on the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge. And entering the massive, open kitchen, he was – as I would find him so many times – seated at the large wooden table having tea with the “contingency” that always formed when the news spread that he had arrived. By arrangement with Bishop (later Archbishop) Peter of NY/NJ, Vladyka would be serving the liturgy at our parish in Pearl River, and since I passed by, his niece asked I would drive him to church early. I arrived early in my new Honda Civic Wagon, washed and cleaned for the occasion. I placed Vladyka’s vestment bag in the car, took his staff, opened the passenger door, and before I could react – Vladyka was a tall man – as he entered the car, the low ceiling knocked the klobouk right off his head. BANG! He looked up at me, “This car was made exclusively for Japanese bishops.” I just became so mesmerized when listening to him, I drove right past the exit on the NYS Thruway. When I saw the Garden State Parkway, I knew I had to turn around and casually mentioned it to Vladkyka, who continued to talk. Before I realized it, I had now missed the exit again! I quickly exited one exit before where we had actually begun, cut through the Village of Nyack & Pearl River and pulled up to the church, late. If Vladyka knew – and how could he not – he never said a word.

    I would also mention several memories that speak to his wonderful sense of delight and humor. He had been told that a classic rock station in New Orleans was donating broadcast bandwidth late at night for his sermons and talks to the Soviet Union. He was also told that they were “outlaw rockers,” (and my friend, David Maliniak – currently in the Diaconate Program of the Diocese of NY/NJ & worthy of your prayers – who traveled with Vladyka to the Holy Land verifies they did, indeed “rock”) and being intrigued with this notion, he decided to travel to New Orleans to meet them. He and I laughed heartily when he showed me the pictures of his new friends whose hair & beards rivaled his own! Secondly, apparently when Vladyka was consecrated a bishop, someone gifted him a very old, even antique mitre (I do not recall the details) that was very unusual. It was made of the material typical of bishop’s mitre, but it was soft like a skoufia, sitting low on his head. At the bottom-edge was a strip of fur – I presume real – approximately two inches wide. There was always controversy following that mitre – “The canons forbid anything that seems sacrificial, even honey & wheat… in the altar.” Following the Vigil for the Nativity of the Lord, there was a small reception in the hall with coffee for Vladyka, and some of the very young boys, who were apparently very “enamoured” with Vladyka’s mitre sneaked off back into the church… Someone went into the church, saw the boys wearing the mitre, told Vladyka Basil, who came to the door and was simply delighted! By then, mothers arrived and were mortified, yelling in the unmistakable Russian stage whisper, and the boys, seeing the imposing sight of the bishop, were frozen. Vladyka sat down with them, explained the mitre, and placed it on each one of them.

    And finally, while he had so many extraordinary family members I met – I could write forever on these wonderful, wonderful people who extended to me the greatest of kindness on both coasts – Vladyka had a twin sister here in San Diego, Alexandra, who fell asleep in the Lord of cancer several years ago. Alex was truly, truly a special God-fearing and God-protected person, and when you saw these twins together, the love between them was palpable. And if she was near him, it seemed her hand was never far from him. And when I was very ill, Alex would just say, “Fight.” and when I would say, “Alex, it’s hard.” Alex would just say, “Foo!” I pray that the first voice she heard in the Kingdom after the Lord was her brother! May her memory be eternal!

  13. Tim R. Mortiss says

    I hereby humbly withdraw my wisecrack!

  14. Thomas Barker says

    The Blessed Are the Peacemakers link on the main page is not working.

  15. “He doesn’t sing for the damned,” Bono once commented about Cash, “he sings with the damned.” That was the true mark of Cash’s Christian walk: the empathy he had for the men and women often overlooked in our society. Prisoners; the hardworking field workers in rural America; the down-and-out and downtrodden; those of us struggling with personal demons, the kind that rob from us the best parts of ourselves.