Orthodoxy in action

This page is dedicated to the Memory of Deacon Fr Philip (Frank Gilbert) who fell asleep in the Lord on May 29 1997 AD. Memory Eternal!

On October 26, 1996 Deacon Philip was seriously injured, whilst on Fire/Rescue Duty.
The letter below was sent to me by my brother in Christ Mitch Bright
in the process of regularly updating us on the condition of Fr Philip.
Deacon Philip Update - 23/3/97

Dear friends of Deacon Philip,

I'm sure I won't be able to do justice to the wonderful weekend that Deacon Philip experienced these last few days, but I am going to do my best. I wish I could have video taped the highlights and somehow included them with a much shorter note. My words are simply not going to express the joy that I feel.

For those who are already wondering if something "spectacular" happened with our paralyzed friend, the answer is, no.

But the weekend was miraculous nonetheless.

I went up to Northwestern for my usual Friday evening time with my brother in Christ, Deacon Philip a bit weary from a long week. As I entered the room I could see two men standing near his bed. Deacon Philip didn't see me come in, so I decided to stay outside the curtain, which encircles his bed, until the visitors were gone, and not interrupt their time with him. But after just a few seconds standing there, I heard something which I hadn't heard "live" since October 25th. His voice! I couldn't hold myself back. I went around the curtain and said, "Was that you?" He said (in a very raspy and wearied voice), "You bum... I was going to surprise you!"

"You did," I said, while holding back some tears.

The visitors were fellow fireman and it was wonderful to see Deacon Philip be able interact with them without them having to read his lips. I couldn't help but worry if it was too much for him to talk... and laugh... and cry... and joke... with them, when it was obviously very difficult and labor intensive for him to communicate. But my concern was unwarranted, for he is currently allowed to use his vocal cords between 3 and 4 hours a day. Though it's painful to watch him speak, since he says six or seven words, waits for the respirator to fill his lungs with air, and then speaks another few words, it's fantastic to hear his voice again.

After his buddies left, he and I watched the Bulls annihilate the Indiana Pacers on television. It was so cool to hear my old pal nearly shout, "Ohhhh, yes!" whenever Michael Jordan made one of those unbelievable shots he makes so often.

During half-time we decided to surprise Deacon Philip's wife, Kim, and I dialled her up on the phone. Even though I was quite a distance from the phone, which I was holding to Deacon Philip's ear, I could clearly hear the joy in her response, when his raspy voice said, "Hi Babe, it's me!" It was great!

We concluded our visit, as usual, with the Evening Prayers. I wondered for a minute if the nurse who was attending to Deacon Philip was going to join us. She seemed to love the prayers as much as we, and she kept telling me not to stop chanting, whenever I would pause to get out of her way. She made me wonder how many people will discover the Holy Orthodox Church of Jesus Christ through this tragedy of Deacon Philip becoming a quadriplegic.

Now for the best part of the weekend!

Most of you are familiar with St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero, Illinois. That church is the home of "The Miraculous Lady of Cicero", the icon of the Theotokos which began to weep in April of 1994, as Orthodox Holy Week was about to begin.

When thousands flocked to witness the miracle first hand, the building had to undergo a number of alterations and enhancements. One of the additions was a lift, so the physically impaired could avoid negotiating the stairs.

Today, March 23, 1997, for the first time since his accident on October 26, 1996, Deacon Philip was able to attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy!

My family and I were blessed to witness this heart-moving event, which we had been anticipating for many, many months. I will try to recount the service as best I can.

It took longer than anticipated to maneuver and secure Deacon Philip into the lift-van, and make the drive from Northwestern, so he and his family, and two of their dearest friends and care-givers, arrived a few minutes after the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.

The lift at St. George's turned out to be a bit to small for the special wheelchair that Deacon Philip was in. It has life support - the respirator - and very large (and heavy) batteries. It also is set up so that Deacon Philip can "puff & sip" into a special straw that drives and maneuvers the wheelchair. I've been told that he's quite the expert during his practice drills at the rehab center. So... with the lift not being a viable option for getting Deacon Philip into the church, there was only one thing to do. Six men (maybe there were even more) lifted that heavy and bulky chair, and Deacon Philip, and carried him up the front stairs of the church building. They then made a slight turn and carried him up another flight of stairs, to the nave. Anyone who's familiar with Deacon Philip's type of injury, and the incredible weight of one those "super chairs" would tell you that it was very dangerous and a little crazy to transport him like that, but he had come to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and nothing was going to stop him.... or those who wanted to help him!

The ushers had reserved a front-row pew for the special guest, and Deacon Philip was brought in and carefully positioned so that his wife and children could sit on either side of him, directly before the beautiful and miraculous icon.

It didn't take long for the tears to begin to flow; both from Deacon Philip, and the rest of the worshippers.

Shortly after Deacon Philip was positioned, and made as comfortable as possible, Fr. Nicholas Dahdal, the pastor at St. George and long time friend of Holy Resurrection and Deacon Philip, turned from the altar and saw Deacon Philip. He immediately gestured to someone who brought forth a stole. Fr. Nicholas approached Deacon Philip and with tears in his eyes, placed the stole around his neck. He then gave Deacon Philip the kiss of peace and blessed him. I don't think a dry eye could be found anywhere.

The Liturgy proceeded as usual until it came time for the reading of the Gospel. All the clergy of St. George approached Deacon Philip, and with acolytes standing on either side of his wheelchair, and the Gospel book being held above his wounded body, the Gospel was read in English and Arabic. I can't remember the last time I was so happy to be Orthodox.

Those of you who are Orthodox, already know what the designated Gospel passage was for today. You're quite aware of which verses of St. Mark's Gospel were read or chanted today, as Orthodox faithful gathered throughout the world to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on this second Sunday of Great Lent.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Orthodoxy, or aren't aware of which text was read today, it reads as follows:

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" (St. Mark 2:1-12)

As you can imagine, everyone was quite moved by the scene unfolding before them. It appeared quite difficult for Fr. Nicholas to get through the reading. Was this a simple coincidence, or mere chance? I, for one, say "No!"

I believe that it was NOT a coincidence that THIS was the day that Deacon Philip was first able to attend Liturgy since his accident. I believe that it was NOT a coincidence, that on the Sunday of the Paralytic, his friends and loved ones labored to bring their beloved Deacon to the Divine Liturgy, to the Lord of all, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Mysteries. I am NOT surprised or amazed. I am simply overjoyed to be a witness.

Following the Gospel reading, Fr. Nicholas presented a wonderful homily. As one would expect, he referred to our wounded servant of Christ as he spoke about the Gospel passage. Although I thought every word was full of hope and grace, I was particularly moved when he said that one does not need to be able to walk to get to Heaven. One does not need to be able to move his arms or DO anything with his body, to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. The only thing that MUST be healed, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, is one's soul. "And your soul," he said, while turning his eyes upon Deacon Philip, "is healed." I'm sure Deacon Philip would say that his soul continues to need healing, but we all knew what Fr. Nicholas meant.

Then came another touching moment. When it was time for the Great Entrance, Fr. Nicholas brought forth the 'aer' and placed it around Deacon Philip's neck. It is somewhat difficult for me to explain what the "aer" is, for my non-Orthodox friends, but, at the risk of showing my ignorance, I will call it a "cloth" that is normally used to cover the Holy Mysteries. It is also "worn" by the deacon -- tied around his neck -- during the Great Entrance. This is a very important "item" to the Orthodox, and wearing the "aer" is, of course, an honor. Again, everyone was quite moved by Fr. Nicholas' demonstration of love and honor toward our dear brother.

Immediately following the Liturgy, Fr. Nicholas and the rest of the clergy, gathered around Deacon Philip and offered special prayers of healing for him. During these prayers, Deacon Philip was anointed with holy tears from the miraculous weeping icon.

I must admit that I would have very much liked to see my friend leap from that wheelchair and shout for joy with a voice that was no longer hindered by a ventilator. After all, it had been just minutes earlier that we heard of the paralytic picking up his mat and amazing all, when our Lord healed him. Why not Deacon Philip?

Obviously I don't know. But I do know this. Deacon Philip's life has been miraculous already. We nearly lost him many times over. The accident could have easily killed him back in October. But he remains with us now. I know I can speak for Deacon Philip when I say that "we" will accept whatever the Lord has in store for us. If it is a miraculous healing, sometime in the future, fine. If it is life confined to a wheelchair and a respirator, fine. Whatever may happen, our God is good and he loves mankind. Blessed be the Lord!

When all the services and prayers were finished, we took a few minutes to take some wonderful photographs of Deacon Philip in front of the Iconostasis with family, friends and clergy.

There will be an article on Deacon Philip in the Antiochian Archdiocese publication, "The Word" in the near future, and one or more of these photos will most likely be included with the article.

We were all quite hungry after our time of worship, so those of us from Holy Resurrection went to a local restaurant. Just when I thought the day couldn't get any better, Deacon Philip surprised me again by actually eating (though he has to allow the food to "melt" in his mouth as completely as possible) and swallowing "solid" food. Though he could only tolerate very small samples, it was wonderful to watch him! For months I've been watching some blue-green liquid travel down a tube into a device attached to his abdomen. It's like watching someone exist on a diet of "Head and Shoulders" shampoo. To see his wife place REAL FOOD IN HIS MOUTH and watch him CHEW well, for me, it was a glorious end to a glorious day. Watching someone enjoy such tiny samples also makes you very hesitant to complain about the minor inconvenience of the Lenten Fast! Not that I would ever do that, of course. 8>)

After getting Deacon Philip back into the lift-van and saying good-bye, my family and I headed back to Hobart. We decided to drive over and take a look at the lot that has been donated to Deacon Philip and his family by a local home developer.

Contractors with a wide variety of skills have agreed to donate their talents (or at least give a hefty discounts) toward the construction of a new home for the good deacon. The home will be designed specifically for his special needs. The environment of the home will be voice controlled to help Deacon Philip function as independently as possible. Being a computer geek, myself I can't wait to see how everything will work.

We decided to check the odometer and calculate the exact driving distance from Deacon Philip's future location to our own front door. It's exactly 2.5 miles. It shouldn't take me more than five minutes to go see my buddy whenever he calls my name. Blessed be the Lord!

Well I'm sure you're all tired of hearing me go on, and on, and on, about the weekend. I know I'm tired of hearing the tap, tap, tap, of the keyboard. It's late (Monday morning now) and, as Bill Cosby used to say, the sandman is beating me to death.

As always if you don't wish to receive future updates on Deacon Philip (I'll try to make them shorter) just reply to this message saying so, and I'll yank you from the distribution.

I love you all.

Please continue to pray for Deacon Philip, and the faithful of Holy Resurrection Antiochian Orthodox Church.

In Christ, our Lord, Mitch

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