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It’s half past three in the morning, and I have just returned from spending two hours reciting the Psalms at an all-night vigil for my friend Jack Cutrer, who died in his sleep on Friday. It is the Orthodox custom to remain in church with the body of the deceased the night before the funeral, chanting or reciting the Psalms continuously. Our little parish has been doing it in shifts. We do this on Good Friday as well, keeping symbolic vigil by the tomb of Christ. Jack was a part of that ritual when he was with us. Tonight we are doing it for him.

My friend Chris relieved me, and I walked over to the candle stand where we light candles for the dead. I lit two for Jack. I don’t know why two, but I did. That’s his casket in the background of the photo. Afterward, I went to pray at his body. He looks so serene, as I have seen him a hundred times in church, lost in prayer at vespers or at the liturgy. Jack loved the Orthodox faith intensely. He was a sheriff’s deputy, and usually worked security at the parish courthouse. You would see him sitting at his desk guarding the door, reading during times when no one came around. What was he reading? The Fathers of the Church. He was so quiet and humble, but if ever there was a case of still waters running deep, it was Jack Cutrer.

Jack was one of the founders of our mission parish. He was one of the hard-working men who, by the sweat of his brow, transformed an ugly old workshop into a temple of the Lord. If not for his faith and work, we wouldn’t have that mission, which has become so precious to me and to all the others in our small church family. Tonight as I looked down at his body, lying there with his prayer rope around the wrist and a cross in his hand, I thought about how little more than a week ago, Jack stood in that very spot receiving holy communion, as he always did. And now he lies there dead.

Life is so short, and fragile. You know this and I know this, but we keep forgetting.

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