Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Impossible Dream?

I am not one who pays much attention to dreams, but the other day my wife related to me a dream she had. It is not normal that she would even share one of her dreams with me. I found it to be most profound. Here is the dream in a nutshell. She is engaged in a game that involves a series of obstacles that are impossible to overcome. No one can win the game. Those involved are continually being killed off. 

What can this mean?

For me, I immediately saw this dream as an analogy for earthly life. We are born into a world where we are faced with unending obstacles. We overcome one obstacle only to be faced by another. There is no way of winning. At the end we all die. A sobering thought.

I asked her what she did in this dream and she said, "I woke up." Isn't it also true that we say we "wake up" when we realize the true nature of our life on earth? When we realize that in the end we cannot win and we will die? When we seek for something more than the pleasures of this world and begin to seek a relationship with God?

I then asked her what she did after she woke up and she said, "I immediately began saying the Jesus prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.' This comforted me and I went back to sleep." This too is an important lesson. She called on God for mercy and was comforted. 

This is what we must all learn to do. It is only in the Kingdom to come, God's Kingdom, that we can have hope for eternal life. All the obstacles of this worldly life are only trials to prepare us for this eternal future lived in harmony with God. When we are able to call on Him as we are engaged in our worldly life's struggles we will retain hope, be comforted and led to a greater realm. But first we must realize the impossible hope of "winning" through worldly pursuits. We can only "win" by keeping focused on God no matter what obstacle we are presented with.

Where is the pleasure in life which is unmixed with sorrow? Where the glory which on earth has stood firm and unchanged? All things are weaker than shadow, all more illusive than dreams; comes one fell stroke, and Death in turn, prevails over all these vanities. Wherefore in the Light, O Christ, of Your countenance, the sweetness of Your beauty, to him (her) whom You have chosen grant repose, for You are the Friend of Mankind. (from funeral service)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Pray For the Dead?

When you die you will face what is known as the partial judgment. This will include a complete examination of your life.  With a good account you will be led by angels to a mystical place where we will anticipate the joys of Paradise awaiting the final judgment and your resurrection.  If you do not know God at this point and have not lead a life of repentance you will be controlled by the demons who will lead you to a place where you anticipate the torments of Hell or an eternal life separated from God.  
Elder Cleopa tells us this about those who are destined for eternal torments,
"If someone at the partial judgment is destined for eternal torments and is a Christian and servant of Christ, he has but one hope.  His hope is in the intercession of living Christians who are able to pray to Christ for him to be rescued from the torments of hell or at least to find some relief from them."
Paul tells us, "we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10)  but Elder Cleopa points out that Paul also said to Timothy, "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men." (1 Tim 2:1)  Also James says, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16)

Elder Cleopa says,
Consequently, if our prayers are able to benefit the living for what reason are they powerless to benefit the dead, granted that they also live by their souls? God is everywhere present and hears both the prayers for the living and for the dead.

We can see in the Old Testament witness to prayers for the dead (2 Mac 12:442-45, Bar 3:4-5).  We also see in Holy Tradition and in the Divine Liturgy prayers for the dead.

Praying for the dead does not place our hope of salvation in the hands of humans. Those who are separated from God will not be saved, but those who have their hope additionally in the prayers of men of faith may be helped through their prayers much like Paul depended on the prayers of his followers.  We must remember that God is all powerful with unlimited goodness. He is surely able to rescind the eternal anguish of man.  He asks for our love and our love of each other.  When we pray for each other this is an act of love. We know the Theotokos and the angels and all the saints are always praying for us especially when we join with them in our services, such as a memorial for the dead or the Divine Liturgy.  Jesus told us, "Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mk 11:24)  Elder Cleopa says, "Consequently, prayer for the reposed is not only a sign and strengthening of the love we share between us, but also proof of our faith. Thus the Savior says, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mk 9:23)

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) we are told of a great chasm that exist between heaven and hell.  
Elder Cleopa tells us, 
"Yet, this chasm does not have the power to impede the mercy of our great God, Who hears our prayers for the reposed. We do not suppose, as do the Roman Catholics that there exists a purgatorial fire, but we say that only for those who sinned very severely and did not confess their sin is the passage from Hades to Paradise impossible.  For those who sinned more lightly this pathway is not definitely closed, given that in the future judgment each one's place, either in heaven or hell, will be decided definitely, inasmuch as after his judgment someone whose orientation was Hades can no longer pass over into Paradise. For those who sinned unto death, our prayers are completely futile...
God looks down from the heavens with attentiveness upon that which springs from love, for love is in its entirely the sum of His commandments."

Reference: The Truth of our Faith, 123-133

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.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Death - views from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

metropolitan anthony of sourozh
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
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 fulness 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, and 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 was 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’s true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence.

[From St. John Climacus, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), p. 70.]