Thursday, August 4, 2011

Death, post 2

I've been torn as to where to head with death.  Death is so complex and it could be looked at from a number of ways..our death in baptism, the accomplishment of Christ's death, death to the worldly things, the remembrance of death.  Then there are things to say about life after death, judgment at death, grieving at the death of others, praying for the dead.  See?  There's lots and lots of ways to go.

So what to do?  Well wouldn't you know it, the man I am about to quote died 8 years ago today.  The irony was too great to ignore.  The following article was written by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (here's a very short bio about him from a prior blog post) entitled "Death: Our Way of Life".

Death is the touchstone of our attitude to life.  People who are afraid of death are afraid of life.  It is impossible not to be afraid of life with all its complexity and dangers if one is afraid of death.  This means that to solve the problem of death is not a luxury.  If we are afraid of death we will never be prepared to take ultimate risks; we will spend our life in a cowardly, careful and timid manner.  It is only if we can face death, make sense of it, determine its place and our place in regard to it that we will be able to live in a fearless way and to the fullness of our ability.  Too often we wait until the end of our life to face death, whereas we would have lived quite differently if only we had faced death at the outset.

According to St. John Climacus, one of the essential steps in the transformation of our fallen nature and the acquisition of the virtues is "meleti thanatou", or the remembrance of death.... In fact, Step 6 of his Ladder of Divine Ascent is dedicated to this very practice.  On October 3rd the Church guides us to read this specific chapter from beginning to end, because at the end is the tale of the Blessed Hesychius the Horebite whom we celebrate today.  St. John thought his tale to be the perfect seal on this beneficial chapter dedicated to the remembrance of death, and below I offer the ending portion of this chapter to see why:

"Some inquire and wonder: 'Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial to us, has God hidden from us the knowledge of the hour of death?' - not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation.  For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, only on the day of his death, would he approach baptism and repentance.  From long habit, he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible.

And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite.  He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul.  Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he expired.  And when he came to himself, he begged us all to leave him immediately.  And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water.  And, always remaining motionless, he was so rapt in spirit at what he had seen in his ecstasy, that he never changed this manner of life but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears.  But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions, this alone is all we heard from him: 'Forgive me!  No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.'  We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation.  We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort, and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them.  So by Hesychius' true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence."
This article was taken from Issue #23 of the zine publication/website Death to the World.    Just a word of warning if you are not familiar with this publication,  it is a little dark at times, but it definitely serves a certain demographic of Orthodox young adults.  I have read a large variety of Orthodox Christian literature, so I know where this fits in and I understand the perspective from which it comes.  However, I could see a person really freaking out if this was their only exposure to Orthodox Christianity.   All in all I really like the publication, but maybe your typical baba (an endearing name for a Slavic grandmother) would take a different route in which she presented her grandchildren the Faith. 

Next up (probably) is baptism and it's meaning in regards to death.

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