Lynette (Katherine) Hoppe was an Orthodox Missionary to Albania serving under Archbishop Anasatasios. A graphics designer she published the book Resurrection: The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania 1991-2003. Suffering from breast cancer Lynnette joined her Lord on August 27, 2006. She leaves behind her loving husband Nathan and two beautiful children, Tristan and Katherine.
“If we live, we live to the lord; and if we die, we die to the lord”
A christian witness of living and dying In honor of Lynette Hoppe (who joined her Lord on August 27, 2006)
by Fr. Luke Veronis
“But the righteous person, though she die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for people, and a blameless life is ripe old age. There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners she was taken up. She was caught up before evil could change her… ….Being perfected in a short time, she fulfilled long years; for her soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore He took her quickly from the midst of evil. (Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-15)
These words from the Wisdom of Solomon aptly describe Lynette Hoppe’s full life of 46 years. Many people have been greatly inspired by the witness of faith, courage, strength, peace, joy and love which Lynette and Nathan have displayed these past 20 months. St. Paul writes, “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14:8)) Lynette has modeled these words of the Apostle Paul, not only through the way she lived her life to its fullest as a Christian, a missionary, mother, wife, daughter, mentor and friend of so many, but especially through her unforgettable and inspiring journey of cancer, suffering, and death. While some people may wonder why such a person of God, a faithful servant of the Lord in the prime of her life and in the midst of a fruitful ministry, needed to face the path of cancer and death at such a young age – and no less with two young children – Lynette exemplified how such a path of illness and even death, when experienced with faith, does lead one into a fuller union with her Lord and offer a witness more powerful and memorable than many lifetimes on earth. She truly offered a contemporary witness of what saints throughout all ages have given to the world. As the Wisdom of Solomon so poetically describes, the righteous often don’t live to a ripe old age, but in the prime of their lives God calls them to remind the world of what a genuine, Christ-centered life of divine love and invincible faith is all about. The saintly Bishop Gerasimos of Abydou once said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Lynette embraced this divine, and sometime harsh mystery of life, and allowed it to hone her faith, deepen her love, and increase her compassion. She experienced the presence of God like never before through this mystery. From a human perspective, many will not understand this problem of cancer and death at a young age. From a divine point of view, however, life is a deep mystery that when lived properly, leads us into the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. And everyone who knew Lynette understood very well that she lived this mystery of life and death and experienced the Kingdom of heaven like few people we have ever known.
What has made this mystery even more poignant is how Lynette and Nathan invited others to join them in her final journey. They reflected a genuine understanding of Christian community by inviting others to share their experience and walk with them – both by inspiring others through their example and lessons learned, while not hesitating to ask others to pray, visit, and help them in their moments of darkness. The website www.prayforlynette.org has been invaluable to countless people worldwide in walking this journey with the Hoppes. I had the very special and blessed privilege to experience this journey from an intimate perspective. Not only are our families dearest of friends, but throughout her illness, I spoke with Lynette almost weekly, along with being able to see her six times over the past 20 months. From such contact, several aspects of Lynette’s journey brilliantly stand out as a light and example for all of us.
St. Paul once wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21) Throughout this journey of sickness, Lynette has repeated this phrase in her own words. Shortly before she died, she shared with me, “Although I cry at the thought of leaving my dear husband and precious children, I simultaneously realize that our heavenly homeland awaits me, and I look forward to dwelling in the continual presence of our loving Lord.” This life is but a brief sojourn on planet earth. God created us for eternity, and Lynette understood that eternal perspective so well. She had a passionate love for Christ, which filled her with the joy of going home. She mourned that she would not be physically present with her husband and children for many future events nor be able to continue her ministry among her beloved Albanian co-workers and friends, but she truly believed that she was “going home” to that heavenly dwelling place, which is in the loving presence of our Lord.
Of course, her illness held many deserts and “valleys of the shadow of death” which often humbled her. In following the path of the saints, though, she was an astute learner who realized that the closer she drew to our Lord Jesus, the clearer she saw her own fears, faults, weaknesses and sins. She humbly learned many invaluable lessons from her illness. She describes in her inspiring journal her struggles with pride, self-righteousness, lack of understanding, immature desires, and life-long temptations. Yet, while honestly critiquing herself, she discovered in new and amazing ways the unconditional and divine love of God. She repeatedly emphasized that her hope to enter the eternal homeland came solely from God’s indescribable and unimaginable love, mercy and grace.
For me, one of the most illuminating characteristics that Lynette radiated throughout her 20 months of illness was her spirit of joy and gratitude. St. Paul writes that we are to “Rejoice always… and give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess 5:16,18) Archbishop Anastasios has said that the absence of gratitude is a clear sign of spiritual sickness and immaturity. Well, I’m not exaggerating when I say that at each stage of Lynette’s illness, and especially when the medical news went from bad to worse, her first words to me would always be, “Well, although the news isn’t good, still I thank God…”
She possessed the rare, yet divine, ability to see God’s hand at work in the midst of any and every situation. She held a deep rooted attitude of gratitude, understanding full well St. Paul’s promise that “Neither death, nor life… nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38) I heard Lynette thank God shortly after she discovered her cancer. I heard her thank God shortly after she learned that her cancer had metastasized. I heard her thank God shortly after the cancer entered her bones. And even in the last days of life, when she informed me that the cancer had entered her liver and the doctors gave her a few weeks to live, she still thanked God for the abundant grace she felt throughout her illness, for the love showered upon her by her beloved husband Nathan, for her precious children Tristan and Katherine, and for the countless friends from around the world who supported her with their love and prayers. She thanked God for the lessons of life she so vividly learned from the illness – lessons about God’s love, about herself, about her relationships with others and about so many other things. She even thanked God that He gave her the strength and grace to return to Albania, her adopted motherland, during her finals months of life, actively ministering in the youth camps up to her final days. To be honest with you, if I had not talked with Lynette so frequently, and witnessed the authenticity of her gratitude, I’m not sure I could have believed that it was so sincere.
Feeling the concrete presence of God, and living with this spirit of gratitude, gave root to one of the most visible signs of a true, living relationship with our Lord – that of deep, spiritual joy and peace. In the midst of illness, suffering and dying, with the temptation of fear and doubt ever lurking nearby, Lynette never lost that sense of deep, inner joy. Mother Teresa once said, “Never let anything make you forget the joy of our Risen Lord” and Lynette lived by this principle. The Prophet Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” and Lynette found her inner strength from this joy of the Lord. As she wrote in one of her final diary entries, “Both Nathan and I feel ourselves overwhelmed by the amazing grace that God has given to us. We could not be so joyful without his help….I am happy and feel a great sense of joyful anticipation at my home-going. God is with us and will continue to be with us until the end.”
And such joy led to a deep inner peace. During one of her final days of life, my wife Faith and I sat around her bed, together with Nathan, her siblings and father, and other dear friends, singing hymns and reminiscing about Lynette’s legacy. In those final days and hours, Lynette radiated divine peace. At times, she would open her eyes and struggle to smile. Yes, she was dying, but simultaneously she dwelt securely in the peace of her Lord.
So much more could be said about what a gifted woman Lynette was. Her brother John half-jokingly said to me, “She’s the one in the family who got all the talent!” From her gourmet baking to her artistic crafts, from her creative St. Nicholas Day celebrations with which she entertained the children to her melodious and beautiful voice, from her humble, quiet, dignified demeanor to her compassionate outreach to the needy and poor, from her talents as a graphic artist to her becoming an author, from her model as a wonderful, tender Christian mother to her loving, supportive role as a devoted spouse – so much more could be said, but I think her beloved husband Nathan summarized it all when he wrote a few days before her death: “My eyes are full of tears as I write but I also have a strong sense of joy. The jewel which I have been privileged to hold a short time is slipping away from me, but I know that she will be held in far more worthy arms until we are reunited. I am so blessed in these days by her joy and her faith and her love. She is truly an icon of Christ to me.”
Although Nathan, Tristan, and Katherine will sorely miss their wife and mother during the days and years ahead, as will all her dear friends and family, yet still we all can find great comfort in the incredible witness she offered to so many throughout her life. She is not gone and dead. She is just physically absent. She now is dwelling with our Lord, watching over us and interceding for us with her motherly love.
Lynette, you may truly say, along with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is now laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8)
May her memory be eternal and everlasting!
By Permission of Fr Luke Veronis.