So, here we are again, expressing sadness at the abrupt passing of a son, brother, friend, comrade, and energetic man. Christopher Kyrillos Gillebaard, known to all of us as CK, flew his way to the heavens.
Unlike previous incidents, however, I actually knew CK. CK was one of, if not the first, youth that I met in this diocese. I was a novice at the monastery, when he, his two siblings and his parents came to visit the monastery. At the time I was actually mostly to myself, but him and his sister were active in the initiative in engaging me. He was a natural at putting people at ease, that within no time we were acting as though we had known each other all our lives. I know a lot of people say that, but what I mean is that we were literally pretending that we knew each other all our lives, to the great confusion of his little brother. We decided it would also be humorous to convince his little brother that he had been found on a pirate ship or something and been adopted. The three of us, CK, his sister and I, laughed at the young boy’s reaction, and a bond was beginning to form. CK likes for people to smile.
CK was one of the first people whose confession I ever took, which also made it one of the freshest in my mind. It was prefaced with a call from really concerned (and awesome) parents. His father first called me, gave me the preface and was full of reasonability. I was going to, with CK’s knowledge and consent, come to visit and just have a normal discussion about the concerns being expressed and hear CK out. Within 5 minutes of sitting together we were both laughing hysterically. There was no awkwardness. CK had no problem admitting a wrong, there was no need of any kind to convince him that his parents’ concerns in this particular case were valid, he already knew that and was more than happy to own up to it. He was full of life, joy and concern. I was impressed by his honesty and maturity of thought. He asked if he could start confessing with me, and that started a different kind of relationship with him.
That first meeting with its impression on me, however, was not a sole incident. Every time that we spoke privately, I continued to be amazed by his sensitivity and his compassion. CK was perpetually concerned about how conduct would make other people feel. The level of empathy that he was displaying was well above his age. He would want to know how he could do the right thing without alienating others, or how he could say the right thing without making someone else feel inferior or belittled. He was saying this without evasiveness about doing the right thing – he was willing to do the right thing – he wanted to know how to do what was right while not making someone else feel subordinate to him. He cared deeply about how his conduct would affect his siblings as well. He wasn’t the typical brother who cares a lot for his siblings when he gets older. On the contrary, he was so protective and loving of them.
To pretend that CK didn’t have his own share of vices would be a lie. He had them, just as we all have them. Like most of us, eventually there were the wrong things of which he was evasive or tried to justify as being okay. There is nothing mean in saying this, I am unaware of anyone to this date who has never done this in life, in spite of knowing that it’s wrong. I say this only for one reason, there was a period where he could be evasive, but even in evasiveness, he was sensitive. He cared so much about not disappointing people or upsetting them, so he would rather run away and hide until he had fixed something, then come and talk. There are people who do this because they just want to keep doing what they’re doing (I’m one of those people), but that wasn’t CK. CK would be evasive for two reasons: (1) he didn’t want you to be disappointed in him and (2) he wanted that when he had the talk that he actually give up whatever habit it was. He was very rarely in denial about doing a wrong, so long as there was a rational discussion about why the wrong is labelled wrong, but he was so sensitive to others and how he felt they would think. I think that he was actually the one disappointed in the wrong, while others were potentially quite understanding of it.
It was before CK left for the air force that period of evasiveness was extended. CK had made a decision about something that he knew he had been advised against. Any adult wouldn’t be shocked by the decision, but I think CK was sensitive about it because he was caught between two things: his human compassion at which he most excelled, and his rational brain telling him that something was not right. Thus began the typical teenage war with his parents. If you have never waged war with your parents – out loud or mentally – then hats off to you! I am not glorifying parental wars, but acknowledging their normalcy. All of this, again, is completely normal, and I am bringing it up not to put any kind of negative light on a vibrant young man, but to say that he was real in his battles, he was real in life, he was like you and I. He was a normal kid who strived genuinely to be extraordinary. He was doing a battle trying to find out if he could find God and do other things at the same time. He wanted to know the limits and the boundaries of the human condition while in the context of religion. We will return to this.
It’s that latter point that I want to most emphasise. CK cared about God, and not in a superficial way. CK’s life flowed out of his religion, no matter what he was doing – right or wrong. The foundation of his decisions were somehow brought to God. His compassion for others and his lack of judgment toward anyone stemmed from the gospel. Last night, when so many of his friends from Church were gathered, the recollections that were shared had one thing in common – the empathy and giving nature that he had. One person recounted how he would even think to turn on the air conditioner in the trunk to make sure that there was cold water available to those he was giving a ride. Another person talked about how he took sole full blame and responsibility for a prank in which another person had participated. He could put himself in others’ shoes, and fulfill the commandment that “as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31) CK lived this commandment on the highest level, he was willing to do for others even though he knew others would possibly not do the same for him, but he did not think on or consider that at all. He just gave, willingly and sincerely. He was learning to love as Christ loves. His buddies from the air force, spoke about the same virtues, and one of them told his mother how much and how often CK talked about his church and God. He was not ashamed to be a Christian, he boasted in it.
Death is a difficult thing. The searing loss that most people feel seems instinctual to most of us – yet, it is inevitable. Not a single one of us won’t shed the clothing of our bodies and move on to another life. We tend to live like we’re invincible, we live like death has no physical power over us. The reality is, we will die, and no matter how much we avoid the thought or that reality, it comes upon us regularly. The death of a young person, in particular, overwhelmingly manifests to us our vulnerability to death. So avoiding death is simply unreasonable. Instead, we need to ask ourselves if there is a death, what is the point of living? If your raison d’être, your reason to be is anything finite, then your meaning is so very limited. If your meaning is found in random kicks and buzzes, money, career, or even specific persons – then your reason is limited. Your buzz will end. Your money can be lost in an instant. Your health can fail. Other people might walk away from you. You have nothing permanent in something that is finite because of the very definition of something being finite. Your reason has to be in Truth. You didn’t create yourself, you were created, and you were created with purpose. You were created to be sons and daughters of the King of Kings. You are a Prince or Princess in the Kingdom. Call it cliché, and that’s fine with me, but it doesn’t negate the Truth of it all. If God exists, then your whole reason to be is Him – which is Love. Your whole reason to be is based on giving to others and choosing others over yourselves in righteousness.
CK lived for others, CK lived in love. I want to share with you the last text he sent to me before joining the air force. The period of evasiveness was completed, and the war with his parents wound down. CK had done his boundary testing that we spoke of, and found out as the wise king said, that ‘all is vanity’. The evasiveness of truth was ended. He found out that doing right actually mattered, and that the time of choosing wrongly was done. He sent this to me before heading out:
Hi Abouna I just wanted to let you know that tmmr I officially leave for the Air Force and I just wanted to say thank you for being there for me when I needed you. Last year was a tough time with my parents and you helped me get through it. You told me things would get better even when I didn’t think they would but you were right I just needed to have faith in God and I can’t thank you enough for that. I wanted to let you know that even though I’m leaving all my family and friends I’m hoping that I can take advantage of this opportunity to find myself spiritually and find God cause I’m going to need him more than ever now. Thank you again Abouna for everything (: I love you
– November 14, 2016 11:26 pm
I love you, too, CK. You were looking for God, and you found Him. He found you.
Pray for us, CK.
Friends, don’t be evasive of death, it will come to you regardlessly. Live purposefully and you will foil death by the resurrection unto life.