His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Address at the Funeral of the Very Reverend Archpriest Richard Ballew
December 16, 2008
Elk Grove, California
The beloved Archpriests, Priests and Deacons in Christ; the Family of Father Richard: His wife, Kh. Sylvia; His sister, Betty; His children, Russel, Shelli, Richard, and Randall; His grandchildren; and all of his beloved parishioners and friends who have gathered here to honor Father Richard:
In my years as a Bishop, I have presided over many funerals. I have prayed over many a dear friend and many a powerful person. Yet, there are few times where I have done so over someone I would consider to be a historical figure. Today, we pray for the repose of a man I consider being a historical person, a man who has changed the world, a man who has made a difference in his time and place.
Father Richard has always been a big man, and not just in terms of is considerable physical presence and Texas mannerisms, but in the work he carried out in behalf of his friends, family and the Church. He was a great man in the sense that he devoted himself whole-heartedly to serving others, a way of life that is becoming more and more rare in our secular world.
His true work began when he and his fellows in Campus Crusade for Christ began to realize that there was a gap between their teachings and the reality of the Gospel. Truly, they had to live out our Lord Jesus Christ’s command for mankind to repent in the fullness of humility.
In their case, they not only had to repent of the sins that all mankind must, but they also had to repent of the teachings and doctrines which they had inherited from the Non-Orthodox. They began a long and difficult journey that required them to renounce all but God’s love as proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures. Father Richard’s love for the Bible saved him from his former delusion, and he and his brethren discovered the Truth of Christ in the Holy Orthodox Church.
This process of coming from darkness to light is hard enough for one to accomplish alone, but an even greater challenge when one tries to move an entire community in the same direction. Everyone made mistakes in this journey and there were casualties along the way. But, Father Richard never gave up on the struggle or on his friends, and as a result, he was able to enter, as it were, the Promised Land of the True Church, and to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit through the Holy Chrism.
It should not surprise us that, as Father Gordon pointed out to me, that Father Richard passed exactly 25 years after the repose of his mentor, Father Alexander Schmemmann. Father Alexander helped Father Richard and the others in their intellectual struggles to overcome their previous teachings and embrace the pure doctrine of the Church. But, I think more importantly, they found in Father Alexander someone in whom they could confide in. They found the truth of the Church in a person, which is what each Christian is called to do. We are all called to embody the teachings of the Church and manifest them as light to others.
Father Richard endeavored to make this his calling. He not only sought intellectual pursuits, but he truly tried to live out the Gospel. He suffered the insults and derision of many, both Protestants and even a few who consider themselves ‘Orthodox.’ He was not always accepted, but he never allowed himself to lose his love for God and the Church. He did not allow himself to become the prisoner of other people’s expectations, but instead remained faithful to God, to his brethren and to himself. He was, above all things, an honest man.
Father Richard’s intellectual honesty led him to carry out two great tasks that absorbed much of his life in recent years: the Orthodox Study Bible and the translation of the Septuagint. These were monumental efforts that taxed his body and soul. Yet, he refused to surrender to mental or even physical exhaustion. Instead, he pushed forward to place the message of the Orthodox Faith ‘on the map’ of the American religious awareness. Certainly, he sought to create works that would enrich the Faith of the Faithful, but Father Richard also understood the evangelical need for such works.
As a pastor and as an academic, Father Richard never abandoned the principle of evangelism. He was as firmly committed to the need to teach the commandments of Christ as he was to the love of God and his brethren. He wanted to share the Good News with everyone, and he devoted his talents to that end.
Yet, and this is the most remarkable thing about Father Richard, he never did so at the expense of others. Very often, people become so idealistic that they forget their most basic relationships. They abandon their brethren, their families and even their living connection to God for the sake of ideals. Father Richard never did so to Khouriyeh Silvia, nor to his children Russell, Richard, Shelli and Randall. He was always a loving husband and father who preserved the sanctity of his family.
Father Richard was a loyal and faithful priest, a man who could be and was trusted by everyone who knew him. As his bishop, I knew I could always count on him. He never once said, ‘no.’ He would drive all the way from Sacramento to the Chancery in Los Angeles and back in a single day just for a short meeting. He took his ministry as Dean so seriously that he routinely visited all of the parishes, all at his own expense. When a need arose, he would be the first to help and alleviate the needs of others. He manifested God’s own generosity on more occasions than I can count.
As I think about Father Richard, I am reminded of the fruitful tree of the Psalms:
"The righteous man shall flourish like a palm tree, and like a cedar in Lebanon shall he be multiplied. They that are planted in the house of the Lord, in the courts of our God they shall blossom forth." (Psalm 92:13-14)
In the Church, Father Richard became like that strong tree in the courts of the Lord, where he continued to labor and bear fruit even when other men would have long ago taken their permanent vacations. Father Richard bore much fruit, and yet he never stopped dreaming of greater things. He seemed to believe that nothing was impossible with hard work.
I remember the great joy he received at the ordinations of Fathers Stephen and Polycarp. You would have thought he himself was being ordained all over again and again! Why? Because, his greatest accomplishments were in his relationships with others. He treasured his family, his parishioners and his brother clergy.
As one who struggled and fought the good fight, we now lay over his face the aer of the Holy Gifts as testament to his sanctity. God has taken him because He knows, as most of us here would attest, Father Richard would never be able to retire to a golf course. Father Richard deserves a break from his toil, and so our Lord took him to Himself that he might enjoy a repast before the Triumphal Return.
He leaves behind, for a time, his family, his parish community and his loyal band of brothers who have stuck by one another through hard times and challenges. One may ask, what has he left as testament to his life. Books? Parishes? Wealth? I say that the most important gift he left was the many lives he touched and made better. His friendships and pastoral connections that healed and brought faith. He brought peace and unity to his Deanery and encouraged the clergy under his care. These are his legacies and why when we sing, “Memory Eternal,” we know that God will always remember him, but so will we.
He made the world a better place by being who he is and not holding back. I pray that all of us should do so well.
On behalf of His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP, the Bishops of the Local Holy Synod, the Clergy and Faithful of the entire Antiochian Archdiocese and especially the clergy and faithful of this Diocese, I extend to you, Khouriyeh Silvia, Russell, Richard, Shelli and Randall and the entire Ballew family, the parish of St. Athanasius and the Northern California Deanery our most sincere and heartfelt condolences. You all are in our prayers.