AUBURN — The Rev. Stephen Mack, the pastor at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Auburn, was a friend, pastor, mentor and confessor to many.
Mack died Sunday at the age of 64 after battling liver and pancreatic cancer for five years.
He will always be remembered for his humility and generosity in the face of suffering, his wife Barbara Mack and parish priest the Rev. Michael Speck said Wednesday.
"He was a very good example of how one has to deal with suffering and he suffered significantly, very very much so," Speck said. "He would always downplay his illness. He never brought it up. He was fond of saying, until very recently when things got worse, 'Sometimes I think I'm the healthiest person in the whole place.'"
Mack wrote a blog on his church's website called Father Steve's Soapbox. He recounted his illness in one of the last posts he wrote before he died.
"I’ve been dealing with pancreatic and liver cancer for five years," Mack wrote on Oct. 7. "No complaints here. Life goes on, whatever we face we face with God’s help."
"He remained leader of the parish until last week when he fell asleep in the Lord," Speck said. "We're most certainly grateful for that because there's people who will handle suffering poorly, there are people who blame, who will ask 'Why me?' but that was never him."
Mack grew up in Cohoes, New York, and graduated in 1976 from St. Tikhon's Seminary in Pennsylvania. He married Barbara in 1978 after they met while working in a catalog showroom. The couple moved to Auburn on Dec. 20, 1984 after Mack became the pastor at St. Nicholas Church. Stephen and Barbara had two children together and one granddaughter.
Mack was the church's longest serving pastor, his wife of 39 years said.
Speck said it will be "difficult" and "strange" going forward without Mack, especially since some of the parishioners didn't realize how sick he actually was.
"Because of his optimism, everyone else was always very optimistic as well," Speck said. "When he did finally pass away, I think there were certain people who were almost not aware that he was sick because of his personal strength."
Funeral services for Mack will take place on Friday and Saturday at St. Nicholas Church. Calling hours will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday at the church, followed by an Orders of the Priest Burial. A funeral liturgy will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The Most Rev. Michael, the archbishop of New York, will perform the services, which is customary when an Orthodox priest dies, Speck said. Other Orthodox priests and deacons will attend the funeral as well.
As for the future of the church, Speck said it is up to the archbishop to decide who will replace Mack. Speck was ordained as a priest in 2015 to assist Mack with the church's duties once he became ill, so he is eligible to lead the church.
"Father Stephen or any pastor knows that the church doesn't belong to any pastor," Speck said. "It's just something they take care of for a certain period of time. It belongs to the people. It will certainly continue."