Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Death - A Beautiful Moment

I just sat with my Mom as she took her last breath. It has made me think about how privileged I am to have been present at this moment.  My mom was 94 years old and married for 72 years. She had an incurable disease which allowed her to die gradually and peacefully without pain.  I witnessed her strong faith when six months ago she made the decision to accept Hospice care and to move to the nursing home where she died. Yes, she is at peace now and hopefully embraced by God in His Kingdom. But this moment is still a haunting one for me. Of course I miss her, but I wonder how I will face this same moment. Will I show the same faith?

She was a Methodist and in the process of making the arrangements for her I was troubled by their lack of  tradition to care for her soul.  She had made arrangements to cremated.  I had to honor her wishes and sat at the funeral home with mixed feelings as my father and I arranged for this event prohibited in the Orthodox Church.  The funeral home did have a policy of preparing the body for viewing prior to the cremation and emphasized the respect and care they had for the body once they received it which was a bit of comfort.

I then had to think about the services we would have for her.  When I talked with the minister, he said "What would you like me to do? What prayers and hymns would you like? I was a bit taken aback by this as in the Orthodox faith there are specific services for these important moments. Whatever service we wanted to have was to be tailored to whatever I and my family wanted. When I inquired about the internment of the ashes, I was told that it was not necessary for anyone to be there.  They would see that they were put in the memorial garden next to the Church.  They could be mailed to the church so we wold not be troubled in any way. Again no special attention or tradition. This is such a contrast to Orthodoxy tradition where there is no question about what to do at such moments because there are beautiful prayers and services that have been repeated for centuries for such occasions.

I had earlier contacted the local Orthodox Priest to see if he would be willing to do a Trisagion service at the viewing we were planning to have for the immediate family.  He said, "No, I cannot do this.  She has her faith.  They need to take care of this." As I was going through making all these arrangement with my father I felt separated from my church.  Neither my church or her church seemed to have a way to respond based on any tradition for such a time. We had to make it up. I wondered why the Orthodox Church would not be willing to pray for the repose of my mom because she was a Methodist.  It seemed to me our Orthodox prayers were needed in light of their lack of tradition.  I had talked earlier with my mom about the hymns she liked and other memorial services she thought were well done.  So I was able to put together a service for her memorial which was to take place three days after her death.  She had a favorite singer she had heard at her church.  My Dad called him the morning after she died and miracously he was just getting off the plane when he called and was open for the next days service. He has a wonderful smile and connects with his audience when he sings.  It was comforting to hear and see him perform. The minister, a presbyterian serving in a methodist church, organized the event. It turned out to be a very nice memorial but still nothing like our Orthodox funeral service with attention to the soul, its need for forgiveness and prayers.

We had the viewing, the minister came and said a short prayer.  We all said good bye to Mom and headed off to the memorial service which was held in a beautiful chapel that is part of the retirement community where they have lived for the last 20 years.  I did not feel emotionally upset, but felt a deep sorrow, not just for the loss of my Mom, but that I felt abandoned by my church in this moment.
The last breath of life is a beautiful one, it is when we begin to make the transition from this world to God's kingdom. One thing is for sure, from now on, this moment is imprinted in my mind in a way I can never forget. I will never take for granted the beautiful services we have for this as well as other significant moments in our life.  The value of tradition was made very clear to me.

Glory be to God for the Orthodox Faith.
Lord have mercy.


  1. I have thought about this, too. I am the only Orthodox member of my family having converted 9 years ago. My husband is Anglican and our group of friends say things like, "I want that played at my funeral." Before I converted, I had written everything out in my Book of Common Prayer - which prayers to use, the hymns I wanted. Now I sit in silence during those conversations and think how shallow it all seems.

    It is sad that there don't seem to be any specific Orthodox prayers for those who die outside the Church. I understand the reasons, but a compassionate priest can always say a few prayers for the benefit of his parishioner, even if it isn't part of a "real" service and is only private. Anyone can pray! My husband and I like to go to a National Military cemetery on Memorial Day and pray the Trisagion for the Dead there.

    My wonderful priest did a triasagion as a memorial service before a molieben service on the 5th and 25th anniversaries of my mother and mother-in-law's deaths. And when I asked for a 1 year memorial when my brother died, I said to my priest, "He wasn't Orthodox, but I beleive he is now." To which my priest responed, "I suspect he is."

  2. I am sorry the Priest treated you this way. I cannot find any reason why I would not do a trisagion service for someone who is not Orthodox especially if their family is! Sometimes we can be so cold!

  3. Fr. Dn.
    Christ is in our midst.
    Thank you for sharing this. It is very touching to me. I feel so sad that you were treated this way by the priest and I understand your feelings, there is no reason for this to happen. The Trisagion Prayers may be said for any Christian. My parents too are of the evangelical bent, very faithful and devout. But I am not looking forward to the awkwardness of the services following their death. Your Church has not abandoned you. A priest has. God bless you and grant your mother blessed repose and memory eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  4. Ann
    Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.

  5. It's very sad that the priest denied praying for her. It seems that it is a hard thing to acquire an authentic orthodox spirit. We so often follow owr own "ethics" instead of those of the Church and don't even realise.
    Memory eternal.

  6. Memory Eternal!

    I too am saddened by the response of this priest. I have had panakhydas for my departed Christian family members at my church and it has been very healing. I hope you can still have something done at a later time - perhaps at your home church - I know it is traditional to have a panakhyda done on the 40th day of the departed's repose.

    There are Akathists you can say for the departed - I assume you know of these - but if you do not - I can send you one that I have on my computer. (roosjeblog @ yahoo. ca).

    My sympathies. Will light a candle for her today! Memory Eternal!!

  7. Lord have mercy on Ann, you and me!

  8. Forgive me. All I can think is that what the departed have are our prayers. My father died several years before I became Orthodox. I pray for him often - as well as others in my family who have passed that were not Orthodox, some not Christian at all.

    I am not a good Orthodox Christian, so all I have to rely on is that I receive prayers for my soul now, and when I am gone from this life.

    I have found that all people are not where we should look for comfort and hope - only Christ. I am a sinner, I have only His Love and Mercy to comfort me - for my own soul, for the souls of my loved ones...

  9. We just lost my mother in law this past week...I am so sorry for your loss, and I wish this priest had thought more out of love and mercy than a "she is not one of us" mindset. The other posters are right...the Church did not abandon you, it was one priest who should have done much better. I will pray for your mother, Ann, as I pray for my mil, Yolie. May their memory be eternal.

  10. Dear Fr. Deacon Charles,

    The Lord bless you and your family and grant a peaceful blessed repose for Ann. As Elizabeth encouraged you above, please seek these prayers in your home church also. Perhaps, looking at this poor unfortunate priest's refusal as merely another test from the enemy to attempt to dissuade you on your continual journey of theosis in the Orthodox Faith, might be useful. The Lord have mercy on this priest, grant him wisdom and compassion. May He strengthen you in your journey and have mercy on my sinful soul.

  11. I'm so sorry for your loss. I will pray for your mom, Ann.In Traditional Roman Catholic faith it isn't permitted to have a Funeral Mass) liturgy for one who isn't a member, but we do have wakes- prayers for the departed such as the rosary for the dead and Masses said for their soul. There is also the blessing of the ground where are loved ones are placed. I'm sorry you were treated so. Know that this was not the whole church, just one of the members. (My heart is Orthodox, but I can't join due to my husband being part of the Roman Catholic Church. Mass is only in Latin, which I enjoy, but I participate as well as I can.) My prayers are with you and yours.

  12. Thank you for your prayers and thoughts.
    I am still unclear about the position of the Church as I have been told at a nearby monastery that there cannot be any memorial services or commemoration in the liturgy for non Orthodox. In the parish where I serve this is not an issue as the priest will do a memorial service at the funeral home or at the grave site for non Orthodox who are part of an Orthodox. He also allows commemoration in sat of souls services. This approach makes good sense to me but this hard view you find in monasteries an some priests makes no sense to me. Those who are not Orthodox need our prayers as the make this transition, personally and in the community of the Church.
    I like the idea that my mom is now Orthodox. I guess I believe this too.

  13. After all the supportive comments you have already received, what can I add? In the Greek church that I belong to, the memorial services are sung for our non-Orthodox departed family members on their anniversaries. I know this is not canonical, but I don't think it is simply a swerve into people-pleasing or a weakening of Orthodoxy. Instead, I believe it is part of the (hopefully) growing awareness by the Orthodox Church, leaders and laity, that the Church is not and can never be divided and, based on that conviction, everyone who believes in Jesus is somehow part of the Church, and therefore should be ministered to as much as they will accept.

    Jesus is the Lord and Savior of all who call upon Him with faith. It can't be any other way. Our clinging to the rightness and exclusivity of Orthodoxy is in fact what has demoted our faith to, in the world's view, just another sect. On the contrary, there is nothing but what we dare to call the Orthodox faith, and that is Christianity in its fulness. This faith is, however and in spite of us, inclusive of all who confess Christ, not exclusive of them.

    As for my own beloved mother, who is reposed, as well as other family members who were not aware of the truth and commonwealth of Orthodoxy, we sing the memorial services ourselves, at home, or at the graves, with or without ordained clergy, for these loved ones.

    As for cremation versus bodily burial, the latter is preferred but the former does not bar the reposed of any of the grace or mercies of God. It is only willful rejection of God that turns away God's mercy to reveal His wrath. Cremation performed to dishonor God defiles faith, but no other motive has that effect.

    My wife's dear grandmother, the daughter of an Orthodox priest, asked to be cremated so that her mortal remains could be interred with those of her husband, otherwise her body would've had to lie in a faraway grave. The cemetery did not allow two caskets in the same plot, but in a smaller receptacle, her ashes could be buried resting on the lid of grandpa's coffin.

    So, every circumstance has a bearing on what we do, what choices we make, and not everything that crosses the canons the wrong way is an offense to God, who both says and does, 'what I want is mercy, not sacrifice.'

    May your Mother's memory be eternal, for she is worthy of blessedness, and may your heart be strengthened. She is waiting for you, now, at the finish line, with her Lord. Aionia i mnimi aftis.

  14. Lord have mercy on Ann, I will add her to the Akathist I say on Saturdays. I don’t think you should feel abandoned by the Church. Your mother chose her faith and she had a long, long life in which to become Orthodox had she wanted and she didn’t so perhaps it is best not to involve her in death in something she didn't want in life, at least that is how I felt when my father and cousin died - I was offered a memorial for my cousin and said no. She, with Ann, is in the hands of a merciful God which is all any of us can say anyway.

  15. Incredible, that is gorgeous. Think about all the looking at as well as writing you could do... Cool in the winter months although. Diablo 3 Gold


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