Like our Lord, this Texas-native priest is apt to describe life in terms of a shepherd and his flock. As he fully reenters the pasture of his parish, Fr. John outlines his vision for equipping his fellow-laborers for ministry to grow the “ranch”–and to begin the difficult but rewarding task of being a rancher.
Now safely at home and ready to return to his parish tonight, Fr. John takes time to acknowledge some of the people who helped make his pilgrimage possible — especially you, the reader, for taking the time to learn about the men and women who have answered God’s call to minister to the world He created.
From his super-secret rest-and-reflect location somewhere in the “Lower 48″, Fr. John writes his final regular Blog entry. It is one last message to those who eagerly await his return and a tip of the hat to everyone who followed him along the way, especially his parishioners from back home who furthered the work of the Gospel in his absence.
In a poignant letter written to those who so deeply touched his life while serving in Marshall, Fr. John exhorts his Alaskan elders — the spiritual descendants of the missionary saints he sought to follow on this 112-day journey — to hold fast and continue to instruct their children in what Christ taught his Apostles and what his Apostles taught the Holy Fathers down through the centuries.
Despite the fervent prayers of an “agnostic,” Fr. John’s perpetually fog-delayed flight finally departs from Marshall, Alaska. He says goodbye — “piurra” in Yup’ik — to all the people who made his temporary residence feel as much as home as the one he now makes his way towards after four long months following the footsteps of St. Herman.
While doling out doughnuts and beginning his goodbyes, Fr. John finds what he was searching for. Here in Marshall every moment spent with one another truly was a sacramental encounter: a way of making all of one’s existence a prayer to to our Lord. That’s what the priesthood — and Christian life in general — is all about.
Fr. John pauses to remember those who lost their lives during the savage attacks of 2001. The day is not one of sorrow, but one of wonder and delight: first a visit a cemetery, then an unforgettable trip on the very same waters the missionary St. Yakov once traversed. What links it all together is the reality that not one who is dead shall remain in the tombs, but all shall come forth unto the Resurrection.
Two relatively rare things slip into Marshall to make an appearance, bringing joy and excitement to the Outsider. As a light orange slice of sky hovers over the Yukon River, the hunt is on for meat and fur. Fr. John is eager to report this breaking news but can’t help to come to the bittersweet realization that he soon will leave the village behind.
Something many of us take for granted is received as if it were the most valuable of treasures as dozens of Marshall residents line up to accept their new Orthodox Study Bibles. And so, a day that started out dreary is transformed into a night of unmeasurable joy, inspiring a new mission for Fr. John: Bibles for the entire Yukon population.
In one of Fr. John’s most touching posts, the sight of a golden eagle flying free along the Yukon riverbank triggers a wealth of emotions, evoking vivid memories of his late father. In tribute to him, Fr. John recalls the majestic beauty witnessed on his journey and thanks his dad for instilling in him the ability to appreciate it.