Archimandrite John Maitland Moir, of Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Community in Edinburgh, fell asleep in the Lord in the early hours of the 17th April 2013, aged 89 years.
I was still living in the North of England when I first met Father John in the late 1970’s. Attending the Edinburgh church on Holy Saturday for Resurrection Matins, we would process from the Chapel of Saint Andrew, downstairs in 23A Saint George Square along the cobbled lanes and squeeze back into the tiny church. Father John presented Orthodoxy to the people so that we had a “home” in Edinburgh just as much as in Whitby, Athens or Moscow. Over the years, ever increasing numbers were drawn to this church and Father John patiently and unfailingly gave of his time to their needs.
Some years later I moved to Scotland met Elizabeth who had been searching for Orthodoxy for some time. She travelled to Edinburgh frequently to see Father John, ferried him to Perth for the Liturgy and eagerly absorbed his teaching and his wisdom. By this time we were kidnapping Father John and driving him to Ardnamurchan for an occasional “rest.” Fr. John obviously planned one autumn visit well in advance that year as he announced “tomorrow, Elizabeth, I shall make you Orthodox, and then we had better see about getting you both married”. Father John received Elizabeth into the Church, in our little chapel dedicated to Saint Finnan and Saint Nicolas. He married us in Saint Andrew’s Chapel ( now upstairs in 23A ) in Edinburgh on a snowy November day in 1993.
Unfailing in his love of God, he was happy to teach, inspiring all by the depth of his faith and the breadth of his knowledge. He also led us in daily services; perhaps in the hope that one day I might cement it all together and seek the Blessing of the Priesthood. He painstakingly scrutinised most of my service books and corrected all of the typos, errors and odd translations, in immaculate pencil script complete with serifs. I had to chuckle when I saw the little pencil arrows and corrections in the Gospel book which was used at his vigil.
We were told that he preferred very plain food but he ate anything and everything on his plate be it simple fasting food or richer treats. We never did try him on “the boiled feeeeesh” which we were told he liked because he seemed to prefer a fair sized portion of Haddock Mornay with lots of boiled potatoes and fresh vegetables. He loved to encourage the cat to attack the pretend mouse with cries of “Kill it! Kill it!” followed by minutes of chuckles and “mmmmm..ye..e..ss just a little more fish perhaps.” He adored our dogs and was often seen as a black blurr encouraging them to fetch sticks which according to one of our crofting neighbours “he could throw for miles.” Introduced to Father John in their very early years, the children around here often asked when “God” was coming back.
More recently, his strength was certainly failing but that did not stop him from saying the daily offices, even if during the short walk to our chapel, the gales threatened to carry him to Nova Scotia!
In life, Father John, who described himself as “just a city Archimandrite”, taught us so much. His incisive wisdom could simplify the most complex subjects; his famous answer to the question “Why did you leave the Episcopal Church?” was “I didn’t – it left me!” summarises beautifully what many converts to Orthodox Christianity would struggle to express in a lengthy essay. In death, Father John’s example will continue to teach us.
It was a great honour to serve a Pannikhida as our teacher, spiritual father, friend and confessor lay in the Church before his funeral. Seeing Father John lying so peacefully in his coffin was just like seeing him reclining on his bed – but there was something different. It was some time before I realised that his hands and his prayer rope were not moving and he was finally as still as an ikon.
We must all be sure in the knowledge that Father John will never stop praying for us – no matter how brief our encounter and no matter who we are. He taught us to love, to be patient and practical, to pray, to be honest and to forgive. So sadness for us becomes a victory for Father John.
Father John MEMORY ETERNAL!
Sunday of Palms 2013
Fr John, sitting in the kitchen at Shielfoot is holding an Ikon of the Kazan Mother of God, which was painted on Mount Athos at the request of an escaped Captain from Stavropol who asked, on the reverse, to be remembered each October 22nd. He also requested that the ikon be taken to Stavropol when Russia is free of the evil yoke – and so we wait!
It is also strange that when I first moved to Scotland over 35 years ago I gave the ikon to Mother Thekla and Mother Katherine at the Monastery in Whitby for safe keeping as the cottage I had at the time was very remote and had in the past been used as an overnight base by hill walkers.