Archpriest Timothy Sawchak
I first met Paul Gassios in the fall of 1991. I was starting my second year at St. Vladimir Seminary and he was a new student. We lived next door to each other, and thus began our bond of mundane things like “Seinfeld,” and most importantly, our journey in Christ as servants in His Holy Church.
He was at my ordination to the Diaconate, and I was able to serve as a deacon at his ordination to the Diaconate. After each of us had been ordained to the Priesthood and assigned to parishes, we always spoke on the phone and commiserated about the joys and challenges of lives as pastors. Both of us were sons of the Diocese of the Midwest. His home parish was Transfiguration in Livonia, MI and mine was the Archangel Michael parish in St. Louis, MO. He immediately returned to the Diocese of the Midwest from Seminary and was assigned in Kokomo, IN and I was first assigned in the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania.
In 1997, I returned to the Diocese of the Midwest and was assigned to Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Lakewood, OH. This meant that we got to see each other in person a few times a year, at Clergy Convocations and Diocesan Assemblies. Because the two of us enjoyed chatting and solving all the problems of the world, (and because we liked to save a few dollars!) we were always roommates at the Clergy Convocation in Darien, IL.
Eventually, I was re-assigned to Holy Trinity Church in Overland Park, KS and Fr. Paul Gassios was re-assigned to, of all places, my home parish in St. Louis, MO. I’ll never forget visiting him in St. Louis and, in the rectory where I grew up, he introduced me to the television show “24.” From our time at St. Vladimir’s, we would always call each other “Kramer,” but then it shifted to “Jack.” God had other plans though, and Fr. Paul’s time in St. Louis was very short as he was re-assigned to the Cathedral in Toledo, OH.
This background of our friendship, by the Grace of God, led to two poignant conversations that will always be etched in my mind.
The first took place after the falling asleep of Archbishop Job. I met Fr. Paul in Toledo and I told him it was inevitable that his name would come up as a candidate for bishop. His immediate, heartfelt, and simple reply was “Why?” He could not understand why anyone would think he should be a bishop.
The second conversation was eerily similar. I visited Archbishop Paul in the hospital shortly after his diagnosis of brain cancer. I told him “Thank you for being my bishop.” Again, his honest and heartfelt reply was “Why?” I gave him an answer that was unsatisfactory for him, because he honestly and humbly would not let pride afflict him.
In both conversations, we were alone. It’s easy to say “Why?” surrounded by others and saying what you think people want you to say, but in this context, he could have easily said: “I know I’m not perfect, but I think I’d be a great bishop,” or “Yeah, I accomplished some good things as bishop.” But he did NOT! He was humble. I can’t help but think of the words from St. Basil’s Liturgy: “Therefore, most holy Master, we also, Your sinful and unworthy servants, whom You have permitted to serve at Your Holy Altar, not because of our own righteousness (for we have done nothing good upon the earth), but because of Your mercy and compassion (which You have so richly poured out on us)…”
At the funeral service of a bishop or a priest, we hear these amazing words from St. Paul: “For I am the least of the Apostles, unfit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Cor 15) Paul Gassios, Fr. Paul Gassios, Archbishop Paul lived this!
On a personal level, I continue to mourn the loss of a dear friend—“Kramer” or “Jack,” but, most importantly, I rejoice in knowing that a truly humble servant of God has been given rest by his Savior and he now intercedes for us in the Kingdom!
May his memory be eternal!