My grandfather passed away yesterday mainly from severe dementia/Alzheimer’s. As a result of his illness he forgot the most basic and essential things; including how to eat and drink. A week before his passing I was spending time with him, he was exhausted that day and barely drew enough strength to fling himself and sit on a chair beside his bed. He barely spoke and rarely completed the sentences he started. For some reason I started singing “Agios”, since he was the one who taught me the hymn, hoping it would comfort him. To my surprise, he not only joined me but also corrected me! And that’s Gedo Moheb, he lived the liturgical life of the Church until his very last moments. The priest at the hospital chapel had a beautiful reflection- saying that grandfather passing just before Christmas is like Simeon the priest, saying “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
I’m making it a point to write a blogpost about this because I don’t want to forget who he was and what he’s done. My grandfather was a direct reflection of his name (Moheb; “the loving one”). He was the one I go to knowing that I will always find mercy, love and safety. He taught me most hymns I know, and showed me the importance of living a liturgical life. Perhaps this was most evident in how seriously he took his service as a reader; When he lost vision in his right eye, he didn’t give up his service and succumb to his handicap. Instead, he went and printed most deacon responses in large bold writing and laminated the print-outs so he can use them during the liturgy. Similarly, when he realized he was slowly losing his memory to dementia, he proceeded to write out the bible- word for word- so he can memorize and even internalize the words before he’s unable to read, write or recite.
On Sundays, I would make sure to wake up early enough to catch my grandfather before he leaves for Church. We would then walk together and practice different hymns and rites on our way to church. Upon arrival he would go to Atiya, the man usually selling Orban (Holy-bread) infront of Church, and he would buy the big Orbana set aside for him as he knows how much my sister and I love Orban. He would then go to church, leave me in the front row and he would go inside to serve in the altar. I distinctly remember his voice when he read the gospel, it was a strong voice that shook the room and called to attention to the gospel. When I talked to him last, even though he could barely draw breath and spoke softly, I still heard his words with the voice that read the gospel many years ago. After liturgy, he used to take me and we would go downstairs to the bookstore and he would buy me pictures and stickers of the saints. Some days we would walk together to a nearby kiosk where he would buy me comics, magazines and would take me to the bakery to get me fresh bread, then urge me to eat it before I get home so grandmother doesn’t yell at me for eating bread before I have breakfast! Lastly, he was a man of prayer. He used to sleep in my room and used to pray audibly- for two hours at a time- and I would always stay up (pretending to be asleep ofcourse!) until he finishes the Agpeya (the book of the hours) prayers and starts praying for the family- and I would stay up until I hear my name then I would go to bed. After my family left Egypt, and him and my grandmother were waiting for their papers to be accepted to come and join us, he kept buying my magazines every single month for three years– not knowing when I will be able to go back and read them.
I wrote this not only to remember his love, but to make sure I acknowledge what I’ve learned from him. The biggest lesson I learned from my grandfather is how to be an active member of the body of Christ, the Church. He was living the liturgical life in its entirety, his calendar was the church calendar, his food was Holy-bread, his books were the bible and words of the fathers, his songs were the church hymns, his language was prayer and his art was the icons of the saints. The Church, being the body of Christ, is life by the Holy Spirit. My grandfather lived by the Holy Spirit in everything he did, and that’s why I’m sure he’s praying for us henceforth as he partakes in the eternal living Church, joining me in every liturgy I attend and every hymn I sing. I hope these few words captured the essence of who he was; my teacher, my friend, my saint, my Grandfather- the loving one.