Eulogy of Ernest J. Saykaly
by Metropolitan PHILIP
My dear Vivian, Mark and Louise, Nancy and John, Janet and David, Grandchildren, Members of the Saykaly family and faithful of our Montreal community, Very difficult circumstances prevented me from being with you during this sad time. I have asked my Brother-in-Christ, His Grace Bishop ALEXANDER, to represent me at the funeral of my beloved friend, Ernest Saykaly. Death in human experience has never been easy; whether it comes suddenly or after a long illness, whether it comes in youth or in old age, it always leaves in its wake sorrow, tears, longing and loneliness. May the cooling hand of God touch your hearts to accept this great loss in the Light of the Cross and the Glorious Resurrection. “Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen.” The last time I saw Ernie was Thursday, February 16. I found him fighting and in a state of semi-consciousness. I was overwhelmed with sadness. I said a tearful prayer for him with Vivian and Nancy at his bedside. “Thy will be done.”
As I looked at my friend Ernie in disbelief, I prayed silently. “Dear Lord, if your will is for Ernie to remain in this broken world, please grant him health so that he may spend the remaining years of his life with dignity and comfort, and if you want to take him to your heavenly abode, please take him and do not let him suffer.” “Thy will be done.”
On Wednesday, February 22, Father Elia called me and said, “I have just anointed Ernie with holy oil. A few moments ago, Ernie fell sleep in the Lord.” I said, “Christ is Risen! My beloved friend Ernie is now at peace. May God’s name be glorified forever and ever.”
I came to know Ernie at the historic Archdiocese Convention in 1974, which was hosted by our two great parishes, St. Nicholas and St. George. After observing the work of Ernie as Co-chairman of that successful convention, I decided that this distinguished gentleman should serve on the Board of Trustees. On Friday, before the end of the General Assembly, Ernie was nominated to the Board and was elected by a huge majority. In a very short time, Ernie earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues on the board; and in 1979, he was unanimously elected as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees, which made him the highest ranking layman in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.
In 1978, we purchased the Antiochian Village in Western Pennsylvania. In the early 80’s we decided to build the Heritage and Learning Center and asked Ernie to chair a North American financial drive for the erection of the center. Ernie became an active participant in all my dreams for the future of Orthodoxy on this continent. When the Village Council was organized, I asked Ernie to be its first Chairman. He gladly accepted this challenge and remained as such until he retired from the Board of Trustees in 1999.
Ernie never accepted any half solutions to any problem. His idealism and sense of perfection were recognized by the members of the Board, who nicknamed him, “Mr. Perfection.” When we embarked on building the first and second phases of the Heritage and Learning Center, Ernie supervised the work; I still picture him on the roof of the building supervising the work. Today, his photograph adorns the walls of our auditorium at the Antiochian Village as a gesture of gratitude. If the Village could speak, it would tell a wonderful story of love between Ernie and the Village, i.e. the churches, the camp, the children’s cabins, the Village staff, the beautiful dining hall, and even the trees.
I have had the pleasure of traveling with Ernie to Europe and the Middle East at least three times. I want all of you to know this: when you traveled with Ernie Saykaly, you always traveled first class and when Ernie entertained, it was always first class. He was a school of good taste, perfection and generosity. He knew the art of giving and when Ernie gave, he did not want people to ring bells for him. He gave himself cheerfully and joyfully. Walt Whitman said: “When you give, you give yourself.” Every time we built a new church for a small growing parish, Ernie would donate the iconostasis, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Ernie’s success in business illustrates what we call the “American Dream.” What is the American Dream? It is to be honest, decent, to struggle, to persevere, to have visions and to realize your dreams. An Arabic poet said: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ernie began his journey in the business world in his teen years. He was fifteen when he assumed leadership in his business. The rest is nothing but success. I will not elaborate on his tremendous success in business because all of you know that. Success, however, to Ernie and Vivian was not in the accumulation of wealth at the expense of the poor. Ernie and Vivian shared God’s blessings with the less fortunate people of this world.
Every time I wanted to start a project in the Archdiocese, Ernie would be the first generous contributor. We did not have a decent hard-cover English Gospel Book. I mentioned that to Ernie. He said, “Go ahead, Saidna, I will take care of the expenses.” That was an expensive project. Today, on every church altar within our Archdiocese in North America, you will find a hard-cover copy of this Gospel Book, thanks to Ernie. The first copy of this Gospel Book was presented to Vivian and Ernie as a blessing to them and their family from the Almighty God. This is but one example of Ernie’s generosity.
Different people have different concerns in life. What concerned Ernie most was his family, his parish and the Archdiocese. He was a family man par excellence. Whenever we got together for lunch in Florida, Vivian, the children and grandchildren were first in our conversation. To say he was a good husband, a loving father and grandfather would be an understatement. He was proud of his family.
There are so many qualities about Ernie which we could talk about, but unfortunately, times does not permit. On a personal note, I will miss Ernie very, very much. I have lost one of my dearest friends. I am going to read to you excerpts from two letters which Ernie and I exchanged between February 4 and April 8, 1999, the year he retired from the Board as Vice-Chairman.
Ernie wrote: “Circumstances during the past year entailed several additional trips to the Village as well as numerous hours of discussions on a daily basis, primarily with the Village staff. Unfortunately, I found these sessions both physically and mentally exhausting and although I, willingly, accepted the challenge of resolving the problems at hand, I must admit that it did take its toll on me to the extent that Vivian and my family were concerned for my health.
Given the circumstances, following many hours of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for me to retire as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees and to resign as Chairman of the Village Council. I will, therefore, not seek re-election at the upcoming convention in July, and would ask that my name not be submitted to the nominating committee. Throughout the years I have enjoyed thoroughly my work for the benefit of the Archdiocese and I consider it a privilege to have participated in some small way in the realization of so many goals and achievements.
Over the years, you have served as my spiritual father, mentor and friend and I will cherish the moments and time we spent at many productive meetings, conventions, social events and, in particular, at our private luncheons in Florida, which I hope we will continue to enjoy for years to come.”
I was deeply touched and saddened by Ernie’s letter and, contrary to my daily customs, I did not answer his letter until Holy Thursday, April 8, 1999, when I said in my letter: “I have not answered your letter of February 4 in which you informed me of your decision to retire from the Board of Trustees and the Vice-Chairmanship of the Archdiocese Board. Thus, I find myself writing to you with a very sad and heavy heart. You have been such an essential part of my ministry since your election to the Board twenty-five years ago. You have represented our Archdiocese with much dignity, integrity and efficiency, which are synonymous with your personality.
My mind is flooded with so many beautiful memories from the past — our trips to the Middle East and Geneva, Switzerland and our trips to so many conventions and events during the past happy and fruitful years. Your achievements are too many to enumerate; however, one stands out uniquely and that is the Antiochian Village Heritage and Learning Center. Since the inception of the Village Council, you have chaired this Council and accomplished so many goals for the glory of God and the future of Orthodoxy on this continent.
Henry Ward Beecher once said: ‘In this world, it is not what we take up, but what we give up that makes us rich.’ Surely, throughout the years, you have given much of your time and means to make this Archdiocese what it is today, and for this I am thankful. It is heart-warming to say, during your tenure as Vice Chairman, we never had one single misunderstanding.
Finally, my very dear friend and companion, I look forward to many luncheons with you in sunny Florida in the years to come. May God bless you, Vivian and the entire family and may the Eternal Light of the empty tomb always shine in your heart. Christ is Risen!”
In First Corinthians, 3:8, St. Paul said: “Every man receives his own reward according to his own labors.”
Farewell, my dear friend. You will live in the conscience of this Archdiocese forever and ever and your memory will be eternal. You have lived a first-class life. You have walked with God in a first-class manner. In everything you did, you did it first-class. I am sure God has prepared for you a first-class place in His kingdom.
On behalf of myself, the hierarchs of our Archdiocese, the Board of Trustees, the Order of St. Ignatius, of which Ernie was one of the charter members, the Antiochian Women, the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, the Youth of our Archdiocese, the clergy and laity throughout North America, we convey to you, Vivian, Mark and Louise, Nancy and John, Janet and David and all grand-children and relatives our deepest sympathy. May the soul of our friend Ernie rest in peace.
Courtesy of the
April 2006 issue of The Word magazine.