Eulogy by Fr. Christodoulos Papaïoannou for his son, Kyprianos

20 March 2023

On 28 February 2023, an appalling head-on collision occurred between two trains south of the Tempe Valley in Greece. The crash involved a passenger train and a freight train and killed at least 57 people, while many others were injured, some of them seriously. This funeral oration is by Fr. Christodoulos and is addressed to his son, who was one of the victims.

[We went to get] the body and they told us that it was burnt, it was in pieces. They wounded our souls deeply with their words.

I wrote down a few words. I didn’t know there would be so many people here; I’ve never been among so many people. Thank you.

I wanted to say a few words as a father about Kyprianos.

‘Where are you going to spend Cheese-fare Sunday, my son?’ I asked him. ‘I’m going to go to Andros with Christina, so that we can pray and get St Marina’s blessing.’ ‘You have my blessing. Go, be careful, and may you come back safely.’

These were the last messages I exchanged with my son, Kyprianos. On Tuesday morning he called me to say, ‘We had a lovely time, we were spiritually gladdened in our beloved monastery. Glory to God.’ ‘How will you return to Thessaloniki, son? By plane or train?’ [I asked him.] ‘I’ll take the train, which is cheaper. I’ll save money and study on the journey, so I don’t waste time. I must finish, dad, because, as you know, I have commitments.’ ‘Go ahead, son, and we’ll be right beside you.’ The commitments referred to his wedding that we had booked for the 27th of August to his beloved Christina.

Ultimately, this is the only promise we can make to someone: Go ahead and I’ll be right beside you. But in what space and in what way? Only our great Father and Almighty Lord can tell us. Now, too, I am beside you, my son, beside your martyr-like body. But I am also beside your soul, which is full of light. May St Marina, the Holy Apostles, Apostle Barnabas (whose Dismissal Hymn you used to sing with such passion) and our All-holy Mother—when you sang ‘Pure Virgin’ I didn’t want it to end—be with you, my pride and joy.

Once a Bishop came here and I said, ‘Kyprianos, sing ‘Pure Virgin’ with Yiannis instead of the Communion Hymn,’ because it was near the feast of the Mother of God, ‘although it’s not normal practice, sing it, son,’ and I saw the Bishop remained in the altar. He lingered briefly and said, ‘Don’t bring out Holy Communion yet; wait a bit longer. I don’t want it to end. I’m enjoying what I’m hearing.’ And I thought to myself, it’s not just me who’s  enjoying it because he’s my son. I have other sons who can’t chant and one who can.

Kyprianos inherited his gift for music from his grandfather, Fr Yiannis. At the age of two-and-a-half, he came to me by himself and sang  ‘Mother of God and Virgin, Rejoice’ to me without a single note out of tune. He could sing and chant whatever he heard with accuracy. It’s a gift from God, I would say: Glory to God.

It was Tuesday evening, the 28th of February of this year. The next day, the 1st of March, was the first day of spring. Your fiancée, Christina, had just arrived after midnight, worried. ‘Kyprianos isn’t answering,’ she said. ‘I took the plane and Kypros took the train. That train… Something’s happened.’ ‘Wait, let’s see what has happened.’ From the internet I learnt that there had in fact been a crash or something in Tempi in Larissa. I thought, ‘How can it be possible? Let me look into it. Oh, God, let nothing serious have happened.  God, my little child, my son…’  For I’m a father: I have my children, I love them dearly. But I said to myself: I’m also a priest, I perform the bloodless sacrifice on behalf of the whole world; I cannot think only of my own child. So I said, ‘God, help them all, but look after my son as well!’ My thoughts were confused. ‘God, what should I pray for?’. The accident was a tragedy. We started hearing of deaths; I learnt that some people had died. ‘Oh, God, not my son!’ But again, a cry from within me said to me, ‘Why not your son? Are the others less deserving than your son?’ My soul, my heart were deeply pained. If it was time for him to leave, who was I to say the opposite, if this is God’s providence?  ‘Yet he’s my child; I love him. But he’s not just my child. First and foremost, he’s a child of God. You entrusted him to me, God, so that I could look after him, so that he could become the image of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as far as possible. From when he was a young boy’ – this is what I said to myself- ‘his mother and I saw to it that he received Holy Communion continually. There wasn’t a single Divine Liturgy at which Kyprianos didn’t take Holy Communion, always, up to the present day, once or even twice a week, during Lent at Presanctified Liturgies, too.

We noticed that he developed some gifts that God had given him. He was meek. He had a zest for life. He was a sensitive person. He was extremely temperate, whereas I’m not at all temperate. But he didn’t take after me; it was a gift. He was satisfied with very little. He was interested in everything, he wanted to learn everything, but at the same time his relationship with God was a relationship characterized by exactitude. He made no allowances for himself.

I built a small chapel dedicated to St Nektarios in my house, and I gave him the responsibility of looking after it from when he was a small child, from when he was 8 years old.  And I never needed to tell him off; he looked after it without me ever needing to ask him again.  The votive lamp of the saint was always lit and the chapel was always clean.  He would come up to me and start discussions on spiritual matters that really struck me: how could such a young child have such questions?  When he was 10 he wanted to understand why God was called God the Trinity: how could three be one?

In our home Kyprianos was first in obedience.  Before I could finish saying something Kyprianos would be off to do it with such zeal that I used to ask myself why he was doing it so quickly and with such goodwill: was he perhaps afraid of me?  But then I contemplated his character and I realised that he found joy in serving others: glory to God.  Thank you for the gift that you gave me: in this age, when young people are dependent on so many things, that Kyprianos’s soul should be free from passions, free from passions of the soul.  He was always careful in his choices; he was always careful about what he acquired.  I used to tease him and tell him that he took after his grandfather in this, who wants everything to be perfect.  ‘Kyprianos, may you take after him in everything else’, I used to say. He chose his friends but without rejecting anyone. He rarely insisted or upset anyone. Kyprianos always tried not to upset his mother. He was very careful and would help without anyone asking him to, even when he was tired: he was always there.  He was always making jokes, really funny ones, and not immoral jokes: jokes that you missed when he was not there.  You longed for his presence because he was like salt to assembled company.  He would observe the fasts from the age of 6, without any prompting: we had never discussed it, and it was as if fasting was like a game.  He was an example for me in abstinence, as I said. I would say to myself: since Kypros can fast and eat so little, I will take this as a principle to follow, but I did not manage it. Glory to God; God is looking after things.

Apart from ordinary school, which he completed, he asked me for books on history, on religion, to fill in gaps in his knowledge, to acquire an awareness of Greekness, an Orthodox education at the heart of which are the homeland and God.  He said to me: I want to put a big Greek flag on the roof of our house.  He put it there but it did not stay there for long; it was too big and it became torn.  He said to me one day: why did God allow Grigoris Afxentiou to burn? He saw his burnt body and he was horrified at this.  We spoke about it and we spoke of love for country and God, and we concluded that there is no love without sacrifice. At the beginning of March he would always remember the burning of Grigoris Afxentiou and be moved; he would talk of this constantly.  He went to [Famagusta] Music School, where he made friends with the children there and with Spyros the director, and for him they were like brothers.  He learnt a lot there: I thank all those who gave him all these good feelings. He would speak with enthusiasm about the Byzantine music teacher, Evangelos, and then of Mr Manoussis in Thessaloniki.

Discerning as he was, he chose the finest girl with whom to live his earthly life, and here he proved to be above human passions.  ‘I do not want to wound my beloved; but I want to know her as God wants me to.  I like the Byzantine marriage ceremony, and I would like to do this too.’  A great blessing: we set the date for 27 August 2023. And at the Byzantine marriage ceremony we can have crowns for wedding garlands.  Elder Cheruvim had some at his monastery, and I said to Kyprianos, ‘Go and get the garlands, the crowns from the monastery, and we will be here’.  They went, and took the Body and Blood of Christ for the last time at the Monastery of St Marina. Holy Communion is the provision that accompanied him in this vain life.  And so now he is with Christ, whom he loved, with the ever-Virgin Maiden and Queen of Heaven, and with the holy virgin Great Martyr St Marina—Kyprianos  was also a virgin, for he died before he could get married. For if you were to see his body; he died in a martyr-like way. I washed his body myself; you can see that his face has quite a few bruises, but his body is whole.  They insisted that we would find only pieces.  They didn’t show it to us there; they didn’t allow us to see it. We saw it afterwards, only yesterday. Ιt’s whole, but it is martyr-like, and has many wounds. And so in a martyr-like way he entered the place of the light of God. My son, humanly I am torn apart, as is your mother, your brothers and sisters, Eva, Ioannis, Andreas, Nektarios, and little Marina who is only 6 (it was her birthday yesterday), and all those who know you and love you.  But human things pass; you’ve entered into the light, and this is how we must see you.  We mourn you in white today; and in prayer we rejoice. My son, we’ve been chanting for you from 8 o’clock last night: all those you love came here today to chant, and I cannot get enough of the chanting.

You were tonsured Reader at the Monastery of St Marina, and yesterday I watched the video and I saw the ceremony, and it made my hair stand on end.  I said to myself: from St Marina the Great Virgin Martyr you took the blessing to be a Reader and to read the Holy texts.  But on leaving the Monastery of St Marina you also took your exit papers from this world, as a virgin and as a Reader, in the realm of the angels. My son, may God give rest to your soul in the land of the living: eternal memory to you. Pray for us, from where you are. Amen.