“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God. “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him! “.” (Mark 1:23-25)
It’s nearly 2.30 am as I start today’s reflection. I’ve been sitting at my desk for more than an hour in silence. It was shortly after midnight that I received the message from my old friend, Father Iovane, telling me the news – that our beloved brother, Father Elias, is dead.
Iovane tells me that Elias was last seen alive near his home in the Netherlands on Monday night. On Wednesday morning the brothers went looking for him and found him dead in his room. The police are investigating.
It is difficult for me to write this. There are few people in this world that I have loved and admired as much as I did dear Elias. He was my mentor as well as my friend. He lived with my family for more than a year. He loved and prayed for us all.
Elias and I originally met through the Fighting Fathers Online Forum in 2007 where he asked me if there was someone near to where he lived who could train him in boxing and in coaching. He was then part of a monastic community in the Caucasus Mountains, on the southern border of Russia. He posted pictures of very blond teenage lads with boxing gloves on. They seemed to be training in the catacombs of some ancient monastery.
I told Elias that he’d have to come and train with me in Sydney. I didn’t expect him to take me seriously. I was shocked when he told me he’d discussed it with his superior and had been given permission to come. He arrived a couple of weeks later.
I initially expected Elias to stay for a month. He was with us for more than a year. He asked only for a bed, saying that he would be supplied with enough money to buy food. He borrowed a bicycle. All his clothes and other belongings were in his backpack. His first request was that he might do all the ‘monkish’ jobs around the house, such as cleaning the kitchen each night.
Elias worked alongside me in our youth drop-in centre on weekdays and trained at our fight club in the evenings. I still remember when the Archdeacon came by for an impromptu visit and asked me what on earth I was doing, working alongside a Catholic monk! I hadn’t bothered to tell the Diocese about our arrangement.
Elias was wonderful with the young people. The pic below is of him with dear Daniel Bowtell, who sadly took his own life not long after this pic was taken. Perhaps if he’d spent more time with Elias, things would have turned out differently.
Elias was also a great preacher. As all of you who have enjoyed his pre-recorded homilies know, he always found an angle on things that the rest of us missed. He was a true academic too – speaking multiple languages and authoring a number of books. I still remember one that featured bizarre artistic depictions of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, written in a language that I did not understand.
Elias was scheduled to give us our pre-recorded homily this Sunday. He’s been saying how much he really wanted to join us live. I was thinking that maybe this would be the week. We had also been talking about raising money for an airfare to fly him back to Oz. The plan was for him to move into Binacrombi and develop it as a spiritual community and place of prayer. Elias said he needed a change. This was not the change we were looking for.
Our Gospel reading today describes Jesus’ first act of ministry – dealing with a ‘man with an unclean spirit’. This man is the first of many disturbed and shadowy figures that Jesus confronts in Mark’s Gospel. The striking thing about this initial clash though is that it takes place in a synagogue!
We may be tempted to imagine some lunatic coming in off the street and gate-crashing the service. There is no suggestion of that in the reading. I’m guessing that the possessed man was a regular member of the congregation and that this was a kind of turf war. Perhaps dark forces had been at the helm of that congregation for some time. They didn’t want Jesus coming in and taking over.
So often we find darkness in the very institutions that are supposed to be testifying to the light. Perhaps that’s what we should expect – that places of prayer and worship will be the first to be targeted. When I worked with the church in Kings Cross in the 1980’s they told me, ‘If you’re not getting shot at, you’re not in the front line’. How true those words have proven to be.
I wonder what dark forces Elias had been battling. It seems that he didn’t die of natural causes. Where did the shot come from that took him down? God knows I will miss him.
Our Sunday Eucharist
Our Sunday Eucharist last weekend went very well, despite the predicable technical issues that so often plague the satellite broadcasts from Binacrombi. A big thank you to Karyn, Andrew and Joy, who joined me on the panel, and a special thank you to Father Ola who put together a rather stunning pre-recorded homily on Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians – that ‘those who are married should live as though they were not’ (I Corinthians 7:29).
I had the privilege of marrying Ola and Jessie only a couple of years ago. I’ll let you make up your own mind as to whether the pressures of parenthood influenced Ola’s thinking on this one. Either way, you’ll find a recording of his reflection, complete with transcript on the member site or you can hear it as a part of the service below.
This week I’m looking forward to having Andrew Madry and Doug with me again on the panel. I was, of course, expecting Father Elias to be with us as well.
Father Iovane assures me that Elias will be joining us this Sunday even if not in the form that we had anticipated. Join us from noon at TheSundayEucharist.com, and on Facebook , YouTube, Twitter, LinkedInand Streamyard.
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- Saturday, January 27th – Boxing at @Legends Gym, Kensington, from 11 am
- Sunday, January 28th – Our Eucharist at noon @ thesundayeucharist.com or through Facebook , YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or Streamyard.
- Tuesday, January 30th – Boxing at the Mundine Gym in Redfern from 6 pm.
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- Saturday, February 3rd to Sunday 5th– @ Binacrombi. Please join me.
- Saturday, February 17th – Concert for Julian Assange @ The Gaelic Club in Surry Hills from 5 pm. Click here for tickets.
Let me conclude today by again thanking Father Mark for all the work he’s been put in to www.israelandpalestine.org. Mark has curated multiple articles there this week. The site is indeed becoming a valuable resource for up-to-date commentary on the ongoing tragedy of Gaza.
Please do visit www.israelandpalestine.org and stay informed. I appreciate that there is nothing encouraging happening there at the moment. Even so, we must not lose heart. We must continue to pray and to bear witness to the truth.
I shouldn’t go without wishing you all a happy Australia Day, though the world seems like a very dark place to me today. Even so, as Saint John would remind us, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness is never going to put it out (John 1:5).
That’s as true of this country as it is of all human history. It’s true of dear Father Elias too. His light will continue to shine through all of us who knew and love him.
May the Lord bless and strengthen you so that your light might continue to shine.
Your brother in the Good Fight,