“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also…”
Luke 2:35

This year the Great Feast known as “The Presentation of Our Lord” or “The Meeting”, February 2, falls on a Sunday. Last Sunday, after celebrating Divine Liturgy, a gentleman who shares the love of the game of basketball with me entered the vestry and said, “Too bad about Kobe Bryant.”  I had not yet heard the news of his tragic death in a helicopter accident, along with his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers. My initial shock and disbelief soon turned to sorrow as I watched the news, learned about the lives lost and the families in grief. Living in Los Angeles County for the last 22 years, my family, and fellow basketball fans, watched Kobe Bryant grow and mature in the game and in life as a husband and father, and community philanthropist. Now we are watching as Los Angeles, our country, and indeed people all over the world remember him, and all of those who lives ended so suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I read the Gospel passage for The Feast of the Presentation (Luke 2:22-40), with the familiar narrative of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus to the Temple on his forty days, my heart was drawn to verses 34 – 35, when the Righteous Simeon spoke to the Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary saying, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”  In verses 41 – 50 of the same chapter, the Apostle and Evangelist Luke tells the story of Mary and Joseph searching for the 12-year old child Jesus for three days, and finding Him in the Temple, to which Jesus referred to as his “Father’s house.” Astonished that Jesus was sitting among the teachers, who were amazed at His understanding, Jesus returned to His home in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and Luke tell us that “his mother kept all these things in her heart.

My heart breaks for the family members who are the survivors of the nine who were killed in last Sunday’s helicopter crash, and by extension, for all who lose a loved one so suddenly. To whom do I turn to seek console and comfort in time of sorrow and grief? I turn to the most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary. Why? Because she is familiar with great loss and she is always ready to intercede on our behalf to God as the Queen of Heaven. There is a tradition that identifies seven sorrows in the life of The Theotokos concerning Jesus. These are known as the seven sorrowful mysteries, and these sorrows are often depicted in iconography and art as seven swords centering near the heart of The Theotokos. The seven sorrows are identified as: 1) The prophecy of Simeon; 2) The flight into Egypt; 3) The loss of Jesus in the Temple; 4) The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way to Golgotha; 5) The Crucifixion; 6) The taking down of the body of Jesus from the cross; 7) and the burial of Jesus. Knowing of her experience with grief, I find great solace in turning to the Theotokos during the Divine Liturgy, the Salutations, the Akathist Hymn, and the Paraklesis services offered to her. I am finding as I continue my devotion to her, I am indeed growing closer to Christ.

It has been reported that Kobe Bryant was a devout Catholic, and that he was witnessed attending the 7:00 a.m. Mass with his daughter Gianna at their local church in Newport Beach, where they both received Holy Communion. This story has been on the news as well as being posted on social media. I read that Kobe often took his family to church, made the sign of the cross in public, and went to confession in the spirit of humility and repentance. He was not only a great basketball player, but a family man, a “girl-dad”, and had a heart for the under privileged and homeless population. I met with our young adult and GOYA Basketball teams at practice this week, shared the above with them, and we stood in a circle at center court and prayed for the nine souls who died. I saw tears run down many of their faces. I spoke of the brevity of life, and how an accident or acute illness may take us or our loved ones away suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. The Holy Fathers speak of the “remembrance of death” as a spiritual discipline, a rung in the ladder of divine ascent. May we be aware of the fact that life comes with no guarantee of tomorrow. My wife, Presvytera Maria, always says, “Life is fragile, handle with prayer.” May the Holy Theotokos intercede to Christ our true God, for all who suffer the tragedy of the sudden loss of a loved one, and may she intercede for the all souls who have perished suddenly, who may not have taken the time to prepare for their departure in the spirit of repentance and in communion with our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.