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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Most people know I don’t write something when someone else has written it. So, here is a timely reflection by Fr. Tryphon, Abbot of the All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, WA:

http://morningoffering.blogspot.com/2014/03/death-thinking-upon-our-own-death-saint.html

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Descent into Hades

Descent into Hades

Condemned to Immortality
A meditation on the Resurrection
from Philosophical Gifts
by Archimandrite Justin Popovich

People condemned God to death; with His Resurrection He condemned them to immortality. For striking Him, God returned embraces; for insults, blessings; for death, immortality. Never did men show more hate towards God than when they crucified Him; and God never showed His love towards people more than when He was resurrected. Mankind wanted to make God dead, but God, with His Resurrection, made people alive, the crucified God resurrected on the third day and thereby killed death! There is no more death. Immortality is surrounding man and his entire world.

With the Resurrection of the God-Man, the nature of man is irreversibly led toward the road of immortality and man’s nature becomes destructive to death itself. For until the Resurrection of Christ, death was destructive for man; from the Resurrection of Christ, man’s nature becomes destructive in death. If man lives in the faith of the Resurrected God Man, he lives above death, he is unreachable for her; death is under man’s feet. Death where is thy sting? Hell, where is thy victory? And when a man who believes in Christ dies, he only leaves his body as his clothes, in which he will be dressed again on the Day of Last Judgment.

Before the Resurrection of the God-Man, death was the second nature of man; life was first and death was second. Man became accustomed to death as something natural. But after His Resurrection the Lord changed everything: and it was only natural until Christ’s Resurrection, that the people became mortal, so after Christ’s Resurrection it was natural that the people became immortal.

Through sin, man becomes mortal and temporal; with the Resurrection of the God-Man, he becomes immortal and eternal. In this lies the strength, in this lies the power, in this lies the might of Christ’s Resurrection. Without the Resurrection there is no Christianity. Among the miracles, this is the greatest one; all other miracles begin and end with it. From it sprouted the faith and the love and the hope and the prayer and the love toward God.

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Remembrance of Death

My husband’s brother died today. He was very sick, so it was no surprise, but it was still a jolt, and a reminder that death comes to us all. We never know when it will come, so we must work at all times to be prepared.

The saints call this, “remembrance of death.” St. Ignaty [Brianchaninov], speaking to monks (although all should take this to heart, whether monastic or lay), said it this way:

A monk should remember every day, and several times a day, that he is faced with inevitable death, and eventually he should even attain to the unceasing remembrance of death.

Our mind is so darkened by the fall that unless we force ourselves to remember death we can completely forget about it. When we forget about death, then we begin to live on earth as if we were immortal, and we sacrifice all our activity to the world without concerning ourselves in the least either about the fearful transition to eternity or about our fate in eternity. Then we boldly and peremptorily override the commandments of Christ; then we commit all the vilest sins; then we abandon not only unceasing prayer but even the prayers appointed for definite times—we begin to scorn this essential and indispensable occupation as if it were an activity of little importance and little needed. Forgetful of physical death, we die a spiritual death.

On the other hand, he who often remembers the death of the body rises from the dead in soul. He lives on earth like a stranger in an inn or like a prisoner in gaol, constantly expecting to be called out for trial or execution. Before his eyes the gates into eternity are always open. He continually looks in that direction with spiritual anxiety, with deep sorrow and reflection. He is constantly occupied with wondering what justify him at Christ’s terrible Judgment and what his sentence will be. This sentence decides a person’s fate for the whole of eternity. No earthly beauty, no earthly pleasure draws his attention or his love. He condemns no one, for he remembers that at the judgment of God such judgment will be passed on as he passed here on his neighbours. He forgives everyone everything, that he may himself obtain forgiveness and inherit salvation. He is indulgent with all, he is merciful in that indulgence and mercy may be shown to him. He welcomes and embraces with joy every trouble or trial that comes to him as a toll for his sins in time which frees him from toll in eternity. If the thought comes to him to be proud of virtue, at once the remembrance of death rushes against this thought, puts it to shame, exposes the nonsense and drives it away.

What significance can our virtue have in the judgment of God? What value can our virtue have in the eyes of God to Whom even Heaven is impure? Remind and remind yourself: “I shall die, I shall die for certain! My fathers and forefathers died; no human being has remained forever on earth. And the fate that has overtaken everyone awaits me too!” Do not fritter away the time given you for repentance. Do not rivet your eyes to the earth on which you are a momentary actor, on which you are an exile, on which by the mercy of God you are given a chance to change your mind and offer repentance for the avoidance of hell’s eternal prisons and the eternal torment in them. Use the short spell of your pilgrimage on earth to acquire a haven of peace, a blessed refuge in eternity. Plead for the eternal possession by renouncing every temporal possession, by renouncing everything carnal and natural in the realm of our fallen nature. Plead by the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. Plead by sincere repentance for the sins you have committed. Plead by thanking and praising God for all the trials and troubles sent you. Plead by an abundance of prayer and psalmody. Plead by means of the Jesus Prayer and combine with it the remembrance of death.

These two activities—the Jesus Prayer and the remembrance of death—easily merge into one activity. From the prayer comes a vivid remembrance of death, as if it were a foretaste of it: and from this foretaste of death the prayer itself flares up more vigorously.

It is essential for the ascetic to remember death. This remembrance is essential for his spiritual life. It protects the spiritual life of the monk from harm and corruption by self-confidence, to which the ascetic and attentive life can lead unless it is guarded by the remembrance of death and God’s Judgment. It is a great disaster for the soul to set any value on one’s own effort or struggle, and to regard it as a merit in the sight of God. Admit that you deserve all earthly punishment as well as the eternal torments. Such an appraisal of yourself will be the truest, the most salutary for your soul, and the most pleasing to God.

Frequently enumerate the eternal woes that await sinners. By frequently docketing these miseries make them stand vividly before your eyes. Acquire a foretaste of the torments of hell so that at the graphic remembrance of them your soul may shudder, may tear itself away from sin, and may have recourse to God with humble prayer for mercy, putting all your hope in His infinite goodness and despairing of yourself. Recall and represent to yourself the terrible measureless subterranean gulf and prison which constitute hell. The gulf or pit is called bottomless. Precisely! That is just what it is in relation to men. The vast prison of hell has many sections and many different kinds of torment and torture by which every man is repaid according to the deeds he has done in the course of his earthly life. In all sections imprisonment is eternal, the torments eternal. There insufferable, impenetrable darkness reigns, and at the same time the unquenchable fire burns there, with an ever equal strength. There is no day there. There it is always eternal night. The stench there is insupportable, and it cannot be compared with the foulest earthly fetor. The terrible worm of hell never slumbers or sleeps. It gnaws and gnaws, and devours the prisoners of hell without impairing their wholeness or destroying their existence, and without ever being glutted itself. Such is the nature of all the torments of hell; they are worse than any death, but they do not produce death. Death is desired in hell much as life is desired on earth. Death would be a comfort all the prisoners of hell. It is not for them. Their fate is unending life for unending suffering. Lost souls in hell are tormented by the insufferable executions with which the eternal on of those rejected by God abounds; they are tormented by the unendurable grief; they are tormented there by most ghastly disease of the soul: despair.

Acknowledge that you are sentenced to hell for eternal torment, from that acknowledgment there will be born in your heart irresistible and mighty cries of prayer that they will incline God to have mercy on you, and He will lead into Paradise instead of hell.

You who consider yourselves deserving of earthly and heavenly rewards! For you hell is more dangerous than for flagrant sinners because the gravest sin among all the sins is self-opinion, self-confidence—a sin of the spirit invisible mortal eyes and which is often covered with a mask of humility.

The remembrance and consideration of death was practised the greatest of the holy Fathers. Of Pachomius the Great the author of his life says that he ‘maintained himself constantly in fear of God with the remembrance of the eternal torments pains which have no end—that is, with the remembrance of unquenchable fire and the undying worm. By this means Pachomius kept himself from evil and roused to the better.’

From The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, by Bishop Ignaty (Brianchaninov), translated from the Russian by Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991), pp. 66-78.

May his memory be eternal! And may we all keep the remembrance of death in our minds and hearts.

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From an e-mail I received this morning:

“Through the great, saving mercy of God, Father Damian (Hart) had a peaceful repose, Saturday evening, March 7 at 11:13 Pacific time. May his memory be eternal!

Father Damian had been suffering from small-cell lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. When treatment failed, he went back to the monastery where he was tenderly cared for by the monks there. They read the Prayers at the Departing of the Soul from the Body as he reposed.

This is a very bittersweet moment. The Ol’ Curmudgeon and I helped him found the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension in Resaca GA, and he was instrumental in helping us think through our decision to move to ROCOR. We loved him. He was a wonderfully kind confessor, and a good priest. He was a dedicated monk. The world is poorer for him no longer being here. My tears are mingling with the tears of all the others who mourn him.

My correspondent included the following sermon which Father Damian preached on Holy Cross Day, September 14, 2004:

THE UNIVERSAL ELEVATION AND THE EXALTATION OF THE PRECIOUS AND LIFE-CREATING CROSS

In the Name of God: the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are celebrating the Feast of the Life-creating Cross which drove away darkness and brought in the Light. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12 : 32) As we keep this Feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain eternal life. Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete, wrote: So great and out­standing a possession is the Cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us. (Oratio 10 in Exaltatione sanctae crucis: PG 97, 1018 – 1019)

Had there been no Cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no Cross, Christ Who is Life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if Life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water, for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be canceled, our transgressions would not have been blotted out, we should not have obtained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no Cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell harrowed.

Therefore, the Cross is called Honorable, Precious, and Life-creating. The Cross is Honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. The Cross is Precious because through the Cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation–all in fact, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The Cross is Life-creating because it stands for Christ’s suffering, for on it he freely suffered death for us men and for our salvation; and it is also Christ’s trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the iron-barred gates of hell were smashed, and the Cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.

The Cross is called Christ’s glory; it is saluted as His triumph. We recognize it as the cup He longed to drink and the climax of the sufferings He endured for our sake. As to the Cross be­ing Christ’s glory, listen to His own words: Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. (John 13 : 31) And again from the high priestly prayer which He prayed the night on which He gave Himself up for the salvation of the world: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (John 13 : 31) And once more: Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice (the same confirming voice which spoke after His Baptism in Jordan and was heard by Peter, James, and John on Tabor at the Transfiguration) from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. (John 13 : 31) Here He speaks of the glory that would accrue to Him through the Cross. And if you would understand that the Cross is Christ’s triumph, hear once more what he himself also said: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12 : 32)

And Christ is lifted up, again and again and again for all men. He is lifted up for all men at each Divine Liturgy just after the Words of Institution: This is My Body; this is My Blood, when the common elements which we have offered back to God become the Precious and Holy and Im­maculate Sanctified Gifts–those Holy Things of which, by God’s mercy, we receive a portion–those Holy Things which He has sanctified for us and given to us that They may be a provision on the way to life eternal, an acceptable defense at the fearful judgment seat of Christ, and the means that we have, together with all the Saints, to be made partakers of those eternal good things, which the Lord has prepared for those who love Him (Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great): Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee on behalf of all and for all. And again He is lifted up for all men, just before at the Fracture, just before we receive these Precious Gifts, when His Immaculate Body is commingled with His Precious Blood: Holy Things are for the holy. He does indeed draw all men unto Him, for He Himself fills all things, being Himself uncircumscribed. Now you see that the Mystery of the Cross is Christ’s glory and triumph and our salvation.

In the Name of God: the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Flo10.gif image by ewriggs

My correspondent concluded –

“And so, let our sadness be a bright sadness as we mourn the repose of Father Damian. Let us take up our Cross and let us put our confidence in our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ Who loveth man. Let us give joyous thanks for the life of Father Damian, ever proclaiming: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

May his Memory be Eternal!

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Gregory Nazianzen.

ADMONITORY ADDRESS TO A VIRGIN.

Parqene, numfe Cristou,
(The Greek is of varied metre, arranged in lines of generally seven
syllables each.)

O bride of Christ on high,
Thy Bridegroom glorify!
Always thyself keep pure,
In word and wisdom sure,
That bright with Him all-bright
Thou e’er mayst dwell in light.
Far better spouse is He
Than earthly spouse could be:
Thy union happier far
Than mortal unions are.
In bodily estate
Thou yet didst imitate
The intellectual powers,
Giving to Him thy hours:
And didst acquire on earth
The angels’ right of birth.
‘Tis “bind and loose” below,
Bodies from bodies grow:
Above each stands alone,
Nor loosing there is known.
Of pure existence, they
First bear the ethereal ray,
Spirit and fire: none rests,
Doing great God’s behests.
But now wild matter found–
All nature flowing round
With unresisted force–
A mingled intercourse;
But God the flood restrained,
And marriage laws ordained.
But thou hast hence escaped,
And upward thy course shaped;
From matter’s base alloy
To spirit’s holy joy.
Mind harmonized with mind,
Doth truest pleasure find:
Such harmony is thine,
A harmony divine.
With flesh thou war dost wage,
And helpest God’s image:
For thou art God’s own breath,
With body yoked till death:
That out of wrestling sore,
At length the battle o’er,
And earth well beaten down,
Thou mayst receive the crown.
To marriage also raise,
But only second praise.
That is for passion given,
This is bright light of heaven:
That founds a pure offspring,
This is self-offering.
This honoured was, we hold,
At seasons marked of old.
To this in Paradise
Lo! Adam testifies:
For this on Sinai’s peak
Doth Moses also speak;
And Zachary the priest,
Of God’s true saints not least,
And whom we hail the rather
As the Forerunner’s father.
But marriage hath its need:
Hence springs a holy seed:
And hence the virgin [26] bride,
Honoured at God’s own side.
Yet of the flesh it is, and earth,
All earthly from its birth.
When law and shadows ruled,
And we were sometime schooled,
Marriage held sceptre mild,
Yet like a little child.
But when the letter died,
The Spirit was supplied:
For Christ had come and borne
In flesh our woes and scorn:
Had brought Redemption nigh,
And then ascended high:
Christ, sprung from Virgin’s womb,
Christ, Conqueror o’er the tomb.
Then continence did rise,
And this base world despise,
Which should its course have mended,
And high with Christ ascended.

Thou journey’st well! but haste!
Behind is fiery waste:
Take to thy steps good heed,
And to the mountain speed.
Cast not one backward glance
On Sodom, lest perchance
Thou, fixed upon the ground,
A pile of salt be found.
In battling with the flesh
Take ever courage fresh,
Neither by terror bent,
Nor over-confident.
Faint not, for He is nigh
Who will all strength supply.

A spark may kindle hell:
Water the flame cloth quell.
Full means to thee are lent
For good self-government.
Let thou the fear of God
Freeze the rebellious blood:
Fasting the flesh control:
Keep watches o’er thy soul,
And pour it forth in prayer:
Such thy true weapons are.
Add tears: and lowly bed,
With reeds or rushes spread:
One constant flame of love
Rising to God above,
And lulling all desire
Which doth not up aspire.
The fallen rise by thee!
The shipwrecked pitied be!
Thyself live out the gale,
Expanding Hope’s bright sail.

They fall not who ne’er rise,
But they who try the skies.
Few mount on pinion wings:
Straight course to humbler things.
Fell Lucifer through pride
Angels in heaven reside.
One, traitor, sunk in night:
The eleven are stars of light.

Be pure, be wholly pure,
Of this make ever sure,
Lest thou, by heeding not,
Christ’s spotless robe shouldst spot.
Let modest be thine eye:
Thy tongue speak maidenly:
Thy mind not pandering,
Thy foot not wandering:
Nor loud laugh marking thee,
As one we blush to see.

Thy poor and tarnished wear,
Thy unadorned hair,
I bonour more than pearls,
Or silken dress, or curls.

Fair flower is modest face,
And paleness is true grace:
And virtues plentiful
Are braid most beautiful.
With paints let others dress
The living God’s likeness;
Live tablet they of sin,
And all that’s base within.
Whate’er thou hast of beauty,
Die let it all to duty:
But beauty of the soul–
‘Tis God’s–it keep thou whole.

Of men, though good they be,
The sight ’twere best thou flee.
Some cheat might thee entrance,
Or be entranced perchance:
Eye now with eye bespangling,
And word with word entangling,
Then cheek with cheek o’erglowing,
And mutual passion flowing.
‘Tis well: but not for thee:
Not thine the accursed tree:
The tree of Life thy care;
The serpent’s guile beware!

O maiden, hear my word,
Have thou no other lord;
Thy Bridegroom reigns above
And bids thee faithful prove.
Thou from the flesh hast fled,
And it to thee is dead,
Why turn to it again,
And make thy work all vain?
That singleness of thine
Is a rare gift divine:
Few they whom it adorns,
As rose among the thorns.

Such grace’tis thine to know:
High o’er the snares below,
By which the wicked fall,
Thou safely passest all.

Lo! one no sooner builds,
And bridal chamber gilds,
Than she with mournful gloom
Forth bears him to the tomb.
Felt one a father’s pride?
At once the loved child died.
And oh! the mother’s pain
Of travailing in vain!
And jealousy, ah me!
How frightful ’tis to see,
When each the other taunts,
Where stolen friendship haunts!

What wormwood and what gall,
Worst recompence of all,
To rear up family,
And then dishonoured be!

One care is thine, one call,
To look to God in all!
But little thou dost need:
That little God will speed.

Shelter and barley cake
Sufficient wealth will make:
Nor shall dire need impart
Keen edge to tempter’s dart,
As when Christ, hard bestead,
He bade turn stones to bread.

By thee, however tried,
Be all base gain denied:
Fowls of the air God feeds,
Sure then His saints He heeds.

Of oil, if faith prevail,
Thy cruse shall never fail.
By Cherith’s desert brook
At the great Prophet look!
To feed him ravens sped:
So too shalt thou be fed!

How Thecla from the flame,
And lions, unscathed came,
Thou know’st: and how great Paul,
Preacher of truth to all,
Bore hunger, thirst, and cold,
Through death’s worst forms still bold;
That thou might’st look, O maid,
To God alone for aid,
Who in the wilderness
With food can myriads bless.

Lo! beauty fadeth fast,
Nor will earth’s glories last:
Wealth is a failing stream,
And power an empty dream.

But thou, faith’s sail unfurled,
Hast fled this erring world,
Steering thy course on high
To realms beyond the sky.
There in the holy shrine
Thou shalt for ever shine:
And there with angels raise
The song of endless praise!

A better portion far
Than sons and daughters are!
But maidens, be ye wise,
And watch with longing eyes,
That when Christ shall return
Your lamps may brightly burn:
That with the Bridegroom ye
May enter in, and see
The beauty and the grace
Of His own dwelling place,
And share in truth and love
The mysteries above.

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Bilbo’s Song

There is much to be said for J.R.R. Tolkein’s perceptions of life and death!

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

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From the rock, I’ve been sleepily looking out at the Pond today. Can’t seem to wake up, can’t seem to drop off and go ahead to sleep. Weird bodily sensations. Not pain, except muscles and joints – they are as usual during flare.

Couldn’t decide what was wrong. Got to thinking – maybe I’m dying.

Don’t much care one way or the other. Not afraid of death, but not looking forward to the process. Should I die, I pray God will accept me, unworthy as I am.

Lord, have mercy.

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