August 25, 2008

Tonight was the wake for the Very Reverend Father Nifon Abraham. Father Nifon was my priest from birth until he retired around a decade ago. This priest spent forty years serving the community of the Saint George Orthodox Church in Norwood, Massachusetts. In this capacity, he touched countless lives and dispensed copious wisdom. Tonight's full church was a testament to the number of people whose lives were made better due to one person. I have no doubt, Father Nifon was a very holy man. Among his virtues was the ability to deliver excellent sermons, in a thick Syrian accent. Here are a few of my favorites, recounted as best I can. These have stayed in my mind for at least a decade.

A man and his son were walking through a field when a snake snuck up on them and bit the son. The son died of the poison, and the father in anger struck the snake with a knife, cutting off his hind half. The snake slithered off. Years pass, and once again the farmer and snake met each other in the field. "Let us forgive and forget," said the farmer. The snake responded, "You cannot forget your lost son, nor can I forget that I am missing my end. But let us forgive. We can forgive, but cannot forget."

And this one.

I saw a women standing outside the mall recently, on a cold Winter day. She had the handle of a baby carriage in one hand and a sign in the other. The sign asked passersby to give her food, stating that she and her child were cold and hungry. I at first thought of giving her something, so that she might feed herself and her infant. But then I thought about it. Were she simply concerned with the well-being of her child, she would bring her into the warm mall rather than standing out in the cold. Instead, she was using her child as a way to create sympathy and induce people to give her money. I gave her nothing.

I remember Father Nifon telling me, as a young Altar Boy, to stand with my hands either at my side or clasped in front of me, not in my pockets or behind me. I remember encountering Father Nifon a couple of years ago while we were both taking walks; he told me that walking was good for the body and good for the soul. No one could forget his beautiful singing, in English and Arabic, as he conducted the liturgy. Looking at him, talking with him, I knew he was holy.

The last two times I saw Father Nifon alive were just this summer. Father Nifon was, until his death, still teaching Arabic at the local seminary, and he ran out of ink for his typewriter. Unable to find the needed printer cartridges, Father Nifon decided to learn how to use a computer to create documents. At the age of eighty years, he was still so dedicated to his teaching that he was willing to learn how to use a computer to better teach his students. So, Dad and I went to his house twice to teach him about using Microsoft Word. The house which contained the garden he still lovingly tended. Father Nifon and his wife were the finest hosts one could hope for. Effie, his wife, prepared food for us while we showed Father how he could create documents on his computer. He was especially pleased to learn that he could create borders for his pages. I remember admiring the spirit shown by an 80 year old willing to learn new ways to do things. The feeling of visiting Father Nifon was that of visiting a close member of the family. And of course, Effie always kept the house immaculate. I was willing to try raw lamb that she had prepared and ground herself, something I would not trust almost any restaurant to do.

Father Nifon married my grand parents. He married my parents. He has been a part of my life from baptizing me to blessing my family's home to conducting the liturgy for fifteen years to still serving the occasional liturgy when our usual priest couldn't make it. He is loved and he will be missed. Of all people, death must scare him the least, for he has always been a man with God. May God bless his wife Effie, his daughter Mona, and his three grand children.

May his memory be eternal.