HERRIMAN, Utah – Fr. J. Matthew Gilbert, 58, the priest of Holy Trinity Cathedral/Prophet Elias Church in Salt Lake City and Holiday, Utah, for nearly 17 years, died in Phoenix after a brief illness on Sept. 7. He died barely two months after being diagnosed with aggressive bone cancer. He had been brought to Arizona for treatment.
Fr. Matthew was born Jan. 24, 1958, to Vincent and Eleanor Gilbert in Bethlehem, Pa. His mother passed away when he was nine years old. After completing public school in Bethlehem, he enrolled at Hellenic College, studying philosophy and religion from 1975-79. He continued his studies at Holy Cross School of Theology and earned a Master of Divinity degree upon graduating in May 1982. He married Denise Elaine Bruskas of Joliet, Ill., in Pheonix in August 1981. He was ordained to the deaconate Dec. 13, 1981 at St. Nicholas Church in Bethlehem by Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos at Holy Cross Chapel in Brookline, Mass. on May 16, 1982.
Before arriving at the Salt Lake City parish, Fr. Gilbert served as assistant priest at St. Demetrios in Chicago (July 1982-April 1984), as priest at Holy Trinity, Spokane, Wash., (May 1984-April 1988), St. Demetrios, Camarillo, Calif. (May 1988-1993), St. Basil, Stockton, Calif. (October 1993)-August 1994; and Assumption, Price, Utah (August 1994-October 1999). He went to Holy Trinity Cathedral as assistant priest before being named the presiding priest.
“Father Matthew was one of the most faithful and devout Orthodox priests I have ever known,” said Metropolitan Isaiah said in a lengthy story by religion writer Peggy Fletcher in the Salt Lake Tribune. In the 1970s, the Metropolitan was chancellor at Hellenic College Holy Cross School of Theology and Gilbert was one of the students. The two met again when Isaiah moved to the diocese of Chicago, and Fr. Gilbert was assigned as an assistant. “Father Matthew was loved by so many people,” the Metropolitan said. “As a priest, he was concerned for the welfare of all the members. He went out of his way to help so many persons. He will be missed by the very many people he served.”
“I first met Father Matthew when he was newly enrolled at Hellenic College in 1975. Our paths crossed throughout his ministry, and I knew him to be a devoted and faithful servant of the Lord,” stated Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. “I had the opportunity to visit with Father Matthew a few weeks ago and though he was physically weak, he was spiritually strong and prepared for his ultimate journey to the Lord’s Kingdom. I extend my deepest sympathies to his family whom he loved and cherished with all his heart, and who now greatly mourn his departure from this earthly life.”
Survivors include Presvytera Denise (Dionysia), children: Fr. Chrysostom (Christopher) Gilbert, Christina Kakis and her husband Stephen Kakis, Christian, Andrew, Aaron and Anthony Gilbert. He is also survived by his grandchildren Angelo and Sia Kakis, and was eagerly anticipating the birth of his third grandchild due this November to Aaron and Kyriaka Gilbert. He is also survived by his stepmother, Thespina Stelyn Gilbert, his sister Judy Gilbert, and stepbrothers John and Bill Stelyn. In addition, he is survived by Presvytera Denise’s parents, Chris and Rita Bruskas (Tempe, Ariz.), and sisters-in-law Diane Berry and family (Glendale, Ariz.), and Kristen Bruskas (Phoenix).
Funeral services took place Sept. 9 at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, Ariz., with Archbishop Demetrios officiating, assisted by Metropolitans Isaiah of Denver and Gerasimos of San Francisco, and Bishop Apostolos of Medeia, with other clergy attending.