Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Archpriest James Bernstein has reposed in the Lord

It would be hard to overstate the influence Fr. James had on American Orthodoxy. Surprised by Christ alone brought many people to the Church. And his constant evangelism and willingness to speak to all comers endeared him to many, many people. I fully expect his writings, talks, and pastoral love of Christ to resonate for many years to come.

(Antiochian.org) - Archpriest James Bernstein, 78, reposed in the Lord Jesus Christ in the early morning hours of June 17, 2024, surrounded by his family.

Arnold Bernstein, better known as Fr. James, was born May 6,1946 to Isaac and Belle Bernstein in Lansing, Mich. Soon thereafter, the family moved to Queens, New York. Young "Arnie" grew up helping in his father's candy store and playing chess, even winning the U.S. Junior Chess Championship at 16. At home, his parents spoke Yiddish to one another, but chose not to teach the language Arnie or his brother Solomon because they wanted them to be more "American." Still, their Jewish roots and ancestry were deeply entwined in their lives and identity. 

As a teenager, Arnie obtained a copy of the New Testament, and his life took a dramatic turn as he felt called to learn more about Christianity and Jesus Christ. This was difficult; he read the Scriptures secretly under his bedcovers with a flashlight to avoid creating conflict in the family. Eventually, his deep thirst for Christ and His truth resulted in a revelation in which "the inner light went on and God became ever-present."

At 20, Arnold was sent to Jerusalem to stay with family; his father hoped this would help him embrace Judaism. However, Arnold returned home still firmly committed to Christ. 

At 24, Arnold moved to California and helped establish "Jews for Jesus," a Hebrew Christian outreach organization. He also became more involved in the "Jesus Movement," ministering to both Jews and Gentiles. He became a member of the "Christian World Liberation Front" and was involved in Christian Street Theater.

Arnold met his beloved wife Bonnie at a Christian retreat and as Fr. James later recalled, "the winter's cold could not diminish the blossoming of love's flower at our first encounter." The couple was married seven months later in July of 1971. Their shared Christian faith was central to their lives and their commitment to God and one another set the foundation for a blessed marriage.

Over the next 11 years, Arnold and Bonnie welcomed their four children: Heather, Holly, Peter and Mary. In 1979, they entered the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC), and Arnold became a pastor. Still, he continued his search for "the Church that created the New Testament," ultimately discovering and joining the Orthodox Christian church in 1981.

Arnold felt called to the priesthood, and in fall 1985 returned to New York, entering St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. In 1988, at 42, Arnold was ordained a priest and given the name Fr. James. Bonnie became known as Khouria (Kh.) Martha. Bonnie also obtained her master's degree in midwifery from Columbia University. Fr. James would say, "What a team we were… she could deliver babies and I could baptize them!"

In the fall of 1990, Fr. James was assigned to serve as the priest of St. Paul Church in Lynnwood, Wash., a small Antiochian mission of 30 souls. Soon the church expanded, and the congregation built their own temple in nearby Brier. Fr. James catechized many inquirers, and through the grace of God, St. Paul Church grew, matured and thrived. His evangelical roots remained central to his priesthood. Through his pastoral outreach, Fr. James met Fr. David Hovik, then a Protestant pastor, and shepherded Fr. David and his congregation (St. Andrew Church of Arlington, Wash.) into Orthodoxy.

There were countless highlights to his priesthood, such as when a smiling, exuberant Fr. James, dressed in white Paschal vestments on Holy Saturday would joyfully throw rose petals and sprinkle holy water on the faithful. For 27 years, he ministered to his beloved congregation as a teacher; catechizing, baptizing, marrying and burying his flock.

Fr. James was also a strong supporter of the establishment of St. Thomas Church in Snohomish, Wash., a congregation led by Fr. David Sommer, his very own son-in-law! For many years, moreover, Fr. James served as the dean of the Pacific Northwest Deanery, fostering and building many lifelong friendships with his brother priests. In 2008, Fr. James published his book "Surprised by Christ" which has touched countless lives and led many to Christ and Orthodoxy. His book has been published in seven languages.

In 2017, Fr. James retired from pastoral ministry. He and Kh. Martha moved to Snohomish to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Over the next seven years, he deeply enjoyed his leisurely days, spending quality time with those he loved. 

An informal ministry continued as Fr. James became a beloved fixture in downtown Snohomish. There, he made a daily trip to the bakery with his son Peter, where they would sit for hours conversing with each other and passersby. Fr. James was always recognizable, carrying the leather satchel housing his book and booklets, pipe, tobacco and harmonica. He was always eager to enter into conversation about the Orthodox faith and gifted many of his books to those interested. He attended St. Thomas Church, serving alongside his son-in-law.

We remember Fr. James with love and affection: his humility, honesty, easy and bright smile, unexpected sense of humor, and, always, his humble and unwavering faith in his Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Fr. James shared Orthodoxy with an unwavering enthusiasm. He had a great impact on so many; his life is a testimony as Fr. James sought Christ with his whole heart. Our beloved father will be greatly missed.

In the 'phenomenal' words of Fr. James, "There you have it!" Glory to God for all things! Christ is risen! Memory eternal!

Fr. James is survived by his wife Khouria Martha (Bonnie); children Khouria Heather (Fr. David) Sommer, Holly Bernstein, Peter Bernstein, Mary (James) Curry; and grandchildren John (Audrey), Nicholas, Ephramia, Elizabeth, and Irene Sommer; Violet Bernstein, Noah, Levi, Lina and Sarah Curry.

Funeral information:

Wednesday, June 19

7:00 a.m. Divine Liturgy at St. Paul Church, St. Paul Church, 21236 Poplar Way, Brier, WA 98036.

10:00 a.m. Funeral Service

Three Holy Hierarchs Romanian Orthodox Church, 6402 226th St. SW, Mountlake Terrace, WA 98043.

In lieu of flowers, Fr. James requested donations be made to the St. Thomas Church building fund, P.O. Box 1367, Snohomish, WA 98291.

His Eminence Metropolitan Saba and the hierarchs, clergy and laity of the Antiochian Archdiocese extend their love and sympathies to the family and friends of Fr. James. May his memory be eternal!

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