The Good Shepherd has departed. He received the call from his Lord,” Well done, good and faithful servant; … enter thou into the joy of thy lord. ” (Mat. 25:23). Father Barnabas has rested in peace. May his memory be eternal.
That Tuesday, June 22, we were deeply shocked and saddened to receive a phone call from Presbytera Maria who told us that Father Barnabas had died. Just ten days before, we had visited him in Labasa. There, we had prayed together in the church services and Divine Liturgies and had made plans for the future. He, who was in good health during our visit and was very happy to be with his Metropolitan, suddenly and completely unexpectedly, felt unable to breathe that morning. Within a few hours after his transfer to hospital, on the same day, he breathed his last and fell asleep in the Lord.
An undiagnosed weakness of his heart, (Heart Failure) which was probably caused from the gradual development of diabetes, so common among the poor of poverty nations, once again took, prematurely, a life in the Pacific.
We all know well though that everything is in the Providence of God, the Good and Heavenly Father. It was the Lord who called him when He found him ready, fulfilling the duty that had been entrusted to him with his ordination, exactly eleven years and eleven days before his repose. He had applied in practice with simplicity and obedience the counsel he had received from his Elder: “Love everyone, pray for everyone, sow the seeds of the Word of God and they will bear fruit.” And indeed, the seeds flourished and bore fruit.
The humble Church of Saints Nicholas and Athanasius, by the Grace of God and the selfless service of Father Barnabas, became a vibrant parish, large in number and exemplary in charitable activities, filled with people from non-Christian backgrounds, who would rush to this spiritual oasis in the middle of a spiritual desert, to find Christ.
We arrived in Labasa 2 days after we had first heard the news. The Metropolitan came to pray for the repose of Fr. Barnabas’ soul, to support the family and members of the flock and perform the funeral service. People had already started visiting the house to venerate their departed shepherd and express their sympathy to Presbytera Maria. On the eve of the funeral, throughout the night vigil, on the morning of the funeral, even after the service, hundreds of people had passed to bid a last farewell to the kind-hearted labourer of God, to pray for his soul and to express their deep sorrow and grief to the family. People of all religions– Hindus, Muslims, Orthodox and of other Christian denominations – whose lives had been profoundly affected- even changed- by their meeting and friendship with this true and good servant of Christ.
The expression of these people was sad and happy at the same time. Their feelings reflected both joy and sorrow. They will miss that good shepherd, but their own life has changed forever for the better. A man approached the Metropolitan: “It is very hard to find a good man like him.’ Another walked by and said, “could you please send us another priest like Fr. Barnabas?’ And that man was not even a member of the church! Towards the end of the funeral, the Imam came and made a deep bow before the priest’s dead body. For years, the natives, including doctors, knew that if you were sick, even with a disease which the doctor could not cure, or if you had been affected by some sort of magic, you should go and find the priest in the black robe, the black cassock, and ask him to pray for you, which he would always do for anyone, at any time and without payment. There were so many miracles! The stories were amazing and endless.
As expected, the grief was intense when the body was brought from the morgue into the church in the open casket.
Once inside the church, Presbytera Maria stayed near the relic all night. Later, she said to us, “We had hardly begun to read the Gospel after having brought him into the church when his face lost that initial expression of annoyance and became calm. His lips were expressive, as if he was smiling.
She fondly said that she had recognized that expression as the smile he would put on whenever he teased her in a good- natured way.
At the end of the funeral, the Metropolitan invited everyone to approach the coffin, venerate the Gospel and kiss the hand of their priest, and thus receive the final blessing from him and bid a last farewell. There was a large number of people attending the service, but patiently and respectfully, each one approached and kissed the hand which, after seven days, was still soft and supple
Besides the Imam and the Hindu priest, there were many other people present whom that hand had blessed and healed—probably even that little Muslim girl who had touched his robein the market and was cured of the bleeding she had been suffering from some years before. Other people too, imprisoned, orphaned and homeless, whom his heart had loved and his hand had given support selflessly and often secretly.
When Father Barnabas and Presbytera Maria became Christians, they had a hard time from many of their friends and relatives who were opposed to their decision to embrace Orthodoxy and rejected them for a few years. Over time, most of them were reconciled with that idea, as they were experiencing the positive change in them and the power of his priestly prayer. There was one particular cousin of theirs though who kept rejecting them, and even went as far as accusing him of practicing sorcery in his face. His answer was “How can I work magic with the Gospel?” However, on the day of the funeral, despite her rejection towards his conversion to Orthodoxy and the severe chronic pain in her leg, which was making it very hard for her to walk, she was there. Presbytera Maria noticed her hold her husband’s hand and pray. The next day, the same cousin came home again. That time she was smiling and was clearly walking normally and comfortably. She said to Presbytera Maria, “My cousin may have died, but even though he is dead, he healed me. Look at me, I’m fine!”
Our beloved Father Barnabas, with the blessing and wish of our Elder, Metropolitan Amphilochios, the small Orthodox church in Vanua Levu was transformed through you into a spiritual oasis and point of reference. Christ, even crucified, became your strength and enthusiasm and worked through you. You became an imitator of the Apostles, as they were also fervent labourers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Parishioners will always love you, the whole of Vanua Levu, Fiji, our Holy Metropolis will always rejoice in the Lord with you, and our Holy Orthodoxy will always be proud of her child.
Archimanrite Meletios Pantic