From the Facebook Group Blessed Kevin, the Fool-for-Christ of Beaver Dam Lake:
Where my eyes once were, now I only see the name of Jesus.”
Blessed Kevin looked death in the eye for all of his 45 years. He was faced with a reality that many of us find convenient to overlook: that death is coming, and we have limited time to prepare ourselves to meet the Risen Lord. Kevin spent his entire lifetime preparing himself for Great and Holy Tuesday 2008, the day of his blessed repose in Christ.
Kevin was born with retinoblastoma, and lost his left eye to cancer at the age of nine months, his right eye barely functional due to radiation treatments.
Kevin was always aware that the cancer would return eventually, and the doctors gave him a life expectancy of about twenty years. Without a constant reminder of death, it is easy for us to worry about temporal things, while neglecting the “one thing needful.” Kevin was always searching for the ultimate questions in life:
“Who am I?”
“Where do I go when I die?”
“Does God exisit?”
“Who is God?”
“What is God’s relationship to Man?”
“What is Man’s relationship to God?”
Despite having only one eye, and that with marginal vision, Kevin spent 30 years developing a mastery of oil painting, using it as a means to work through these big questions.
After failing out of the Art Academy of Cincinatti, his parents enrolled him at Marion College, where he studied painting under Professor Rod Crossman. Kevin would get a Social Security disability check once a month with which he would pay his rent, buy enough ramen noodles for the month, and spend the rest of the money on only the highest quality paints and brushes.
Kevin explored various philosophies and religions before being confronted with Christianity at Marion College through the classes and counsel of Dr. Glenn Martin. Later, in 1996, he was introduced to the Orthodox Church which became his spiritual home until his death.
Unlike many converts who take an external pilgrimage to find the Church, Kevin’s journey was internal. He was not able to travel at will beyond where his bicycle could take him. What a blessing few have, to spend so much time alone contemplating eternal things. He had nowhere to go but within.
The Prayer of the Heart led him to Christ.
When his future godfather Aaron Haney introduced him to Orthodoxy, he was most attracted by the Prayer of the Heart. Kevin practiced the Jesus prayer on a crude prayer rope he made from a bootlace.
For six years as a catechumen, he survived six major cancer surgeries on prosphora bread. Referencing the canaanite woman, he said, “The prosphora and Holy Water are the only thing that kept me alive through six major surgeries. Prosphora is the crumbs from the Lord’s Table that dogs like me lick up.”
Kevin was received into the fold of the Church at St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church, Kokomo, IN, on Holy Saturday 2002 by Father Paul Gassios. Father Paul catechised Kevin, and for many years spent hours a week driving Kevin to and from Church. Father Paul introduced him to St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Perrysville, OH, which was the one place that Kevin loved more than any other in all the world.
There was nothing that Kevin loved more than attending the Divine Services. It is a mystery how a blind man living an hour away from the closest Orthodox Church was one of the most faithful members of St. Thomas, and always found transportation. Considering himself a burden, Kevin always humbly thanked those who drove an hour out of the way to pick him up, but those who did always felt like thanking God for the opportunity to spend time with this amazing man.
Kevin never married, and lived a quasi-monastic life in a small cabin on Beaver Dam Lake. It was here that he spent his days in Prayer of the Heart, and struggling through the great ascetic feat of slowly sacrificing his body to God through cancer. Kevin remarked more than once of his close relationship with St. John the Forerunner. “Saint John gave up his head on a platter for Christ. My head too is being offered to Christ on a platter, piece by piece.”
Nothing that Kevin desired ever came to fruition. In all things, Kevin died to himself and sacrificed his self-will to the good will of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lover of mankind.
Kevin loved painting, and greatly desired to serve the Church as an Iconographer. But he gave his eye to Christ in early 2005.
In 2006, he desired to serve Christ by living out the rest of his days in a monastery, and fully consecrate his life to Christ in monastic tonsure. But no monastery could be found that would accept him without training in blind school.
After praying to be co-crucified with Christ, cancer once again struck, and the treatments set plans for blind school back a year. Kevin miraculously raised $30,000 to attend the Colorado Institute for the Blind, and entered formal training in 2007. He hoped to eventually live in a monastery and translate the Services and Holy Fathers into Braille for blind Orthodox Christians.
But once again, Kevin died to his self will, and submitted himself to God.
Kevin was diagnosed with cancer for the last time in February of 2008. His last Great Lent was one of asceticism of the most extreme kind in giving up his very body to Christ. Archbishop Job agreed to tonsure Kevin as soon as he was able, which would be soon after Pascha, but even Kevin would have to sacrifice this too.
Kevin spent his last months in the Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, welcoming all visitors and frequently receiving the Holy Mysteries from the priests who came to visit him.
On Lazarus Saturday, his godfather and godson visited him for the last time. He was non-responsive on the evening of Great and Holy Monday. Early on the morning of Great and Holy Tuesday, April 22, his mother was awakened as Kevin jumped out of bed, and very excitedly tried to explain something to her, then collapsed on the floor.
Kevin’s funeral was celebrated by Father Paul and four other priests on Bright Monday. At his funeral, Father Paul, his father confessor, told the faithful “In the lives of the Saints, we read about the Fools-for-Christ. God has granted us to know one personally in Kevin.”
Kevin fell asleep on April 22, a feastday of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, with whom Kevin was particularly close, as St. Luke was a painter and a physician. After his first experience of Holy Week in the early years of his exploration of Orthodoxy, Kevin remarked to Aaron (his godfather) how profoundly it had moved him and that it was his heart’s desire to pass from this world during that time. Kevin always wanted to gather his strength to attend Church during his time in the hospital those last weeks, but was never able to. Kevin fell asleep during Holy Week, presumably since he could no longer withstand to be away from Church during these greatest services of the year.
Not coincidentally, his 40-day memorial fell on the Sunday of the Blind Man, whose life mirrored Kevin’s: “‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ but to this our Lord replied, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the glory of God should be revealed through him.’”
Kevin’s life is an icon for us to emulate. As Kevin’s body was physically torn apart from him piece by piece through cancer, so we too must spiritually remove ourselves, little by little, from the world. As a close friend of Kevin has said, “In truth, nothing can better describe my dear departed brother in Christ better than the title ‘blessed.’ For Kevin was blessed by God as long as I have known him.”
Lord, grant rest to your servant Kevin, and by his well-pleasing prayers, grant us remission of our sins!
With the spirits of the righteous made perfect give rest to the soul of Thy servant, O Saviour; and preserve it in that life of blessedness which is with Thee, O Thou who lovest mankind.
In the place of Thy rest, O Lord, where all Thy Saints repose, give rest also to the soul of Thy servant; for Thou only lovest mankind.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Thou art our God who descended into Hell, and loosed the bonds of those who were there; Thyself give rest also to the soul of Thy servant.
Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
O Virgin, alone pure and immaculate, who without corruption didst bring forth God, intercede for the salvation of his soul.
Blessed Kevin reposes in Oakridge Cemetery, Goshen, IN. The grave is marked with a simple wooden Orthodox three-bar cross. The coordinates are 41.594535,-85.841049
***DISCLAIMER***Kevin has not been glorified a saint in the Orthodox Church and is being honored by those who have been touched by his life.
A blog entry by a friend of Kevin’s: http://my.orthodoxcircle.com/_weblog/?id=OC/centurion&blogid=98706
St. Gregory of Palamas Monastery: http://sgpm.goarch.org/Monastery/
Pictures of the Monastery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/asdamick/sets/776447/
Aaroneous Monk: Kevin as a Painting Outline: http://aaroneous.blogspot.com/2008/06/kevin-as-painting-outline.html