It was a measure of love for their bishop that Orthodox bearded priests and teenage girls alike wept as they departed Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Johnstown with the casket of Metropolitan Nicholas.
He died Sunday of cancer at 75, after leading the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A. since 1985. It was not only his own priests and faithful who mourned him. Many Eastern Catholic priests and sisters, including all students and faculty of Ss. Cyril & Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary, North Side, came to honor the man who had sought reconciliation between their once-bitterly divided traditions.
Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America led the service, saying that the metropolitan now prays alongside the angels and saints.
His prayers aren't only for his diocese "but also for 300 million Orthodox all over the world and for all of our Christian brothers," said the archbishop, who is the temporary administrator of the diocese.
"I am convinced he is interceding for all Christians, without discrimination."
The 500-seat cathedral was overflowing. Others watched the service on television.
The procession of robed priests included a half-dozen Orthodox bishops, with three from the Pittsburgh area: Bishop Melchisedek of the Orthodox Church in America, Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese and Bishop Mitrophan of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese. About 40 children from toddlers to teens carried candles, a tribute to the metropolitan's involvement in youth ministry.
Ecumenical dignitaries, including Bishop John Kudrick of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, had seats of honor.
The service was chanted to ancient melodies of the Carpathian mountains, tunes that Metropolitan Nicholas labored to preserve and promote. The voices of 500 people filled the cathedral as they sang "O Savior, rest the soul of your servant, keeping him for the blessed life which comes from you."
The Rev. Mark Arey, ecumenical officer of the Greek Archdiocese and a friend of Metropolitan Nicholas, read a letter from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the spiritual head of worldwide Orthodoxy. The American Carpatho-Russian Diocese, which was formed from a schism with the Catholic Church more than 70 years ago, is directly under his authority.
The patriarch called Metropolitan Nicholas a "devoted and dynamic" leader.
Archbishop Demetrios called Metropolitan Nicholas "a bishop who honored the name of God and the name of humanity" by his faith and his deeds.
"Bishop Nicholas, having kept the faith and having fought the good fight and finishing the race here on Earth, is now ready to stand before God and receive the crown of a faithful servant," Archbishop Demetrios said.
Metropolitan Nicholas is survived by two brothers, George and Michael Smisko, both of Perth Amboy, N.J., where he will be buried.
Ann Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.