On Thursday the 27th and Friday the 28th of March, the Orthodox faithful of the Lackawanna River Valley in Northeast Pennsylvania bade farewell to a man whose short time among them nonetheless had remarkable impact: Archpriest Alexander Atty reposed on Sunday, March 23, from advanced pancreatic cancer. He was 62 years old.
Though born and raised in Pennsylvania, not long after his graduation from seminary, marriage, and ordination to the priesthood in 1979 by the late Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, Fr. Alexander and his young Matushka Olga were sent to Louisville, KY, where he assumed rectorship of St. Michael’s Church. The parish was not without its problems; several of Fr. Alexander’s predecessors had been at St. Michael’s for less than a year before requesting a transfer. Yet Fr. Alexander responded to every crisis and conflict with Christian love and charity, and remained rector of St. Michael’s for over 30 years.
He worked tirelessly to grow his flock and witness to Christ: in addition to constructing senior and special needs housing on the parish property, he served as chaplain to several police and firefighters’ chapters in the Louisville area. He served his Diocese, as well, first as the local dean and later as diocesan chancellor. Later, as ROCOR’s Holy Cross Monastery took hold in the hills of West Virginia, some three hours from Louisville, Fr. Alexander would travel there with regularity, making confession and supporting the blossoming monastic community, which in turn spiritually nourished the many Antiochian Christians living nearby.
Fr. Alexander was beloved by his flock; the Funeral for a Priest was served on Tuesday evening, March 25, and the capacious St. Michael’s Church was filled with his spiritual children, leaving only room to stand against the church walls; even non-Orthodox members of the community at large came to pay their respects to this man of prayer, whom they so respected and loved. The service was led by His Grace Basil, Bishop of Wichita & Mid-America of the Antiochian Archdiocese, co-served by over 30 of Fr. Alexander’s brother-clergy from several jurisdictions, including his brother-in-law and nephew, both priests in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).
Mount Athos was particularly dear to Fr. Alexander. Over the course of his life, he traveled to the Holy Mountain 15 times, each time drawing deeply from the centuries-old spiritual wealth offered by its ascetic laborers and coming home rejuvenated and ready to continue his pastoral ministry. His love for the liturgical life on Mount Athos was reflected thousands of miles away in far-off America: making daily services a cornerstone of parish life, Fr. Alexander found donors to build a smaller, Athonite chapel on the property. St. George Chapel is a jewel, a humble yet majestic house of prayer, where his body lay in state all day Wednesday as the faithful queued across the parking lot to pay their last respects and offer their prayers for the repose of his soul.
On Thursday, Fr. Alexander’s body was brought to Northeast Pennsylvania, to St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Mayfield, where a panihida was served that evening. During his three-year tenure as dean of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary OCA in South Canaan, PA, the Atty family fell in love with the tightknit Mayfield community, and attended services in the cathedral on feast days and weekends. It was Fr. Alexander’s dying wish to have his final memorial services performed there, before being taken to St. Tikhon’s Monastery cemetery (next to the seminary he headed) to be buried next to his parents, Dr. Alexander & Mary Jane Atty.
The panihida was led by the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude Tikhon, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America & Canada. The Metropolitan was co-served by the cathedral’s rector and Eastern American Diocesan vicar, His Grace George, Bishop of Mayfield, and Their Graces Mark, Bishop of Philadelphia & Eastern Pennsylvania (OCA), and Michael, Bishop of New York & New Jersey (rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary), and again over a dozen priests from several jurisdictions. Even more clergy – local priests as well as current and former seminarians of St. Tikhon’s ‒ filled the cathedral.
Prior to the beginning of the panihida, a short eulogy was read by Archpriest John Nehrebecki (pastor emeritus of Christ the Saviour in Paramus, NJ and Fr. Alexander’s father-in-law). After the panihida, the principal eulogy was delivered by Bishop Mark, who had long known Fr. Alexander while he was still serving in the Antiochian Archdiocese. Bishop Mark spoke about Fr. Alexander’s love for his fellow man and his zeal for the Gospel of Christ, and noted that while we mourn, we do so with faith and hope in the Resurrection and eternal life. Metropolitan Tikhon then delivered a short eulogy, as well, thanking Fr. Alexander’s family ‒ Matushka Olga and their children, Katherine and Alexander ‒ for their years of prayerful service and sacrifice to the Holy Church. As the faithful made their way home after venerating Fr. Alexander’s body and consoling his family, several seminarians remained behind in the cathedral, spending the entire night reading the Holy Gospel at Fr. Alexander’s side.
The following morning, St. John’s Cathedral dean Archpriest John Sorochka served the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, followed by a Litiya for the Departed. Several hours later, the faithful gathered once more, this time at St. Tikhon’s Cemetery, where they braved the wind and cold to attend the burial service, led by Bishop Mark. The large crowd of family, friends, seminarians, fellow clergy and former colleagues bore witness to Fr. Alexander’s stature, and the hole that will be left in his absence. Seminarians took the opportunity to reminisce on the unique formation and instruction they had received during Fr. Alexander’s time as dean and professor.
A lenten repast was offered in St. John’s Parish Hall, where the hierarchs, clergy, and faithful continued their interaction, reflecting on their shared loss and the inspiration Fr. Alexander had instilled in all of them to live the fullest possible life in Christ, no matter the obstacles or temptations thrown in our path.
The following eulogies from the lesser funeral service, performed on Wednesday morning, are available:
Introduction by Bishop Basil and Eulogy by parish rector Archpriest Alexis Kouri
Eulogy by Archpriest David Vernak (Fr. Alexander’s brother-in-law)
Eulogy by Bishop Basil
Memory eternal to Archpriest Alexander!