Monday, July 18, 2005

Death and the communion of saints

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.

Most of the time we live as though we were writing a draft for the life which we will live later. We live, not in a definitive way,but provisionally, as though preparing for the day when we really will begin to live. We are as though preparing for the day when we really will begin to live. We are like people who write a rought draft with the intention of making a fair copy later. But the final versioin never gets written. Death comes before we have had the time or even generated the desire to make a definitive formulation.

The injunction "be mindful of death" is not a call to live with a sense of terror in the constant awareness that death is to overtake us. It means rather: "Be aware of the fact that what you are saying now, doing now, hearing, enduring or receiving now may be the last event or experience of your present life." in which case it must be a crowning, not a defeat; a summit, not a trought. If only we realized whenever confronted with a person that this might be tyhe last moment either of his life or of ours, we would be much more intense, much more attentive to the words we speak and the things we do.

Only awareness of death will give life this immediacy and depth, will bring life to life, will make it so intense that its totality is summed up in the present moment. All life is at every moment an ultimate act.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Orthodox Bishop)


Chris said...

Thanks for this post. Each encounter with death--either the death of a loved one or a personal brush with death--has the potential to shape our lives in ways that no other experience can match. When my first son was born I recall feeling a mixture of joy at his birth and a sudden new awareness of my (and his) mortality--I have tried to remember that moment whenever I struggle to be a good parent--I remind myself that in the grand scheme of life the moments of frustration that come with raising a 3 year-old boy are of no lasting consequence compared with the joy of life with him. Each moment and each milestone of his development takes on new signifigance.

Anonymous said...

Amen! I am only in my 30s, but I have really gotten into planning my funeral liturgy and thinking about arrangements for my burial ( People think this is morbid. When I asked my still vibrant, 60-something mother to tell me her favorite hymns, so that we can be sure to honor her in a manner she would want when she's gone, she said she didn't want to think about "any of that."

I certainly don't think I've resolved my fear of death issues, but I do find that when I am thinking about my life with my mortality in mind, it helps me to chill out about other things I get hung up on, if that makes sense. I should write more about this, but I am at my day job.

Thanks for the post!

Stasi said...

You would love Six Feet Under. I can't imagine how people in our country deal with the extreme denial of death. Actually, I can. There's been a lot of death in my family and I've watched how the different ones of us deal. There are some who literally have no hope, and that's a difficult thing to watch. But for those of us with a firm belief in after life, it's simply a bittersweet occasion.
Thanks for your comment. I will look at that website!