In sending my dear colleague, companion-in-arms, the respected Archbishop Udo Petersoo on his final journey I would like to recall the words of Apostle Paul to the Ephesians: For this reason I kneel before the Father... so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. (Ep. 3:14,15,17,18)
I have been able to experience Udo's grasp of this love. It extended to his family, countrymen, as well as to God. Using the words of the first Psalm: He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Can one understand another person, all that is hidden within him, and what purpose God has in store for him? When ten year-old Udo, son of the pastor at Jõelähtme, had to flee his homeland together with his family, did he have any idea of what was in store for him?
The late Dean Edgar Heinsoo has said about him Life itself will show that every nation will be given great figures, who with their rich gifts and strong will to act have risen to the forefront, adding that Archbishop Petersoo belongs in the class of honoured clergymen, who worked on two fronts — both for the Kingdom of God as well as for his own people's societal and national interest. How was all this possible?
In re-reading Udo Petersoo's sermons, I realised that they are full of inner strength, infectious belief and encouraging love. I quote: In the world of plants, the main objective is naturally the sun, light and spaciousness, which give plants life. In a person's personal and spiritual life, the objective is to find openness in knowing God, so that the fear of eternity could be lost... A people's aspiration, similarly by instinct, is to rise towards openness, towards the light, which has been named self determination and freedom.
And he continues: We know this force — a small acorn, when it falls into a rock crevice roots itself, grows upwards and splits the rock... God gave man the spiritual strength of belief. For this he sent us his Son, who split death and thereby abolished man's fear of death. He gave people the strength to feel the idealistic value of freedom, and if one really had to — to fight for ideals as well as treasure.
Young Udo Petersoo had to be that acorn in the crack of the boulder. He had to continue his interrupted schooling abroad, first in Sweden, then Canada and always in a new language. He graduated from Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, and from the University of Toronto with a teacher's degree. He was a whole hearted member of Scouting, received military training over several summers from the Canadian Armed Forces by serving in the Reserves, followed in his father's footsteps by joining EÜS, the Estonian University Students Society and had a vivid interest in music and literature. Having acquired an education in the field of English and as a primary school teacher, he shared his knowledge with young people for 17 years as a teacher.
Was it not the love of God — the force which carried him forward, which helped develop his talents and form his character? He was able to reach out, to feel the full scope of love, which forces one to search and to find life's joy. But this cannot be achieved alone. In 1966, Udo married his university schoolmate Reet Krabi. Forty years of walking along a common life trail! He leaves behind not only his loyal wife, but children and a grandchild. It must be the extent of love, which can reach from heart to heart, from generation to generation and through time.
But the breadth of love? This is other people, this is countrymen. Tragic memories from his homeland, the foreign yoke ruling there — these did not leave Udo untouched. He committed much energy to the fight for Estonian independence. He could not do otherwise. He was a part of the people. In one of his Independence Day sermons, Udo Petersoo stated that he was not in agreement with the argument that freedom had disappeared.
I quote: It is true, that freedom has been imprisoned, but it has not disappeared. Freedom can disappear only when the notion and demand for it disappears from our hearts. This understanding was clear to Udo, because the love of Christ frees one. He knew that it really is God, from whom our people receive their name and through whom they exist. Together with his compatriots he stood that the name of Estonia would not disappear from the world's political maps.
Udo Petersoo also spread his infectious yearn for freedom in many different émigré organisations. I name but a few here: The Estonian Central Council in Canada, Canadian Baltic Federation, International Estonian Central Council, and his great love — Scouting! When I counted all the organisations and positions, where our departed Archbishop was active, I counted over thirty! It was a wide field of work. It was the boundless breadth of love, which encompassed not only Estonians in the homeland, but also in the whole world.
All this was possible because this love had depth and height, a vertical measurement, which became definitive in Udo Petersoo's life. He was the son of a pastor, he studied theology, and his deep faith drove him to commit himself to the service of the Almighty. He awaited his calling and the right time. On February 9th, 1975 he was ordained a Lutheran pastor by Bishop Karl Raudsepp. Udo continued his father's work at the congregation in Sault Ste. Marie; he served St. Andrew's Lutheran congregation in Toronto from 1982 on. He also served in the roles of Dean and Assessor. Trust and respect for him grew. In 1990, Udo Petersoo was elected and installed as the Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad.
In his speech at the installation service, Bishop Emeritus Konrad Veem reminded us of Apostle Paul's words: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ro 15:5-6). Udo Petersoo worked in this spirit. He became a man of the world, who visited and served the scattered congregations of our people, uniting them through faith and love. He felt a spiritual oneness with the homeland church and found a way to encourage more co-operation and participation by working as member of joint committees. He worked towards this objective both in his ecumenical relations with local churches as well as the Lutheran World Federation.
The God of Endurance and encouragement wants us as members of the Christian Church of Jesus Christ to join together in love today, so that by helping each other carry our burdens we can thank and honour God for his servant and our friend Archbishop Udo Petersoo. He has been honoured with many worldly awards. The Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I will tell you the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10) He can be counted among those, in whose heart Christ has lived through his faith and who in his deep-rooted love has known and realized the scope, breadth, depth and height of love.
The upcoming Ascension Day will expand our view. The Bible's final vision, the Book of Revelations talks of the future heaven, Jerusalem, the length, width and height of which are equal. (Rev 21:16) This is the perfection of holy life, which we have and may experience here on earth through Christ. Who can separate us from the love of Christ asks Apostle Paul. And he answers: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 8:38-39) The power of the acorn is hidden here! Thus we can understand our brother Udo's words, when he says: a void, an empty space beside us has been left here in this world by those who have crossed the eternal border. But we must try to look at life according to the whole meaning of it, not just the part which is tied to our worldly years. That would be incomplete.
Because: Jesus says: " In my Father's house are many rooms... I am going there to prepare a place for you". (Jn 14:2) If we think for a moment, then this is the most firm of all promises and more encouragement than what we had when we fled... this is the truth, which does not need written proof or a signature, because this truth was written by Man's Son outside of man's years."
Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
(Translation of the original Estonian delivered May 27, 2006 at St. Andrew's Archiepiscopal Church)
Homily at the funeral of Archbishop Udo Petersoo (1)