Death can be a mystery precisely because the triumph over death is not a mystery
By Abbot Tryphon, December 16, 2019
As a priest and monk of the Russian Orthodox Church, I am comfortable with the mystery of death, as all Christians should be. Death can be a mystery precisely because the triumph over death is not a mystery. As the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote, “in essence, Christianity is not concerned with coming to terms with death, but rather with the victory over it.” In the light of everlasting life, in the name of Jesus Christ, the dreadful threat and dark mystery that is death is transformed into a happy and victorious event for the believer, and “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:54)
Mourning the death of a loved one is an ancient ritual, one in which Jesus Christ participated. For all of us, all people, death is a common element of humanity, the common trait that we share, and the common enemy of our loved ones. And like grief, victory over death binds people together in a larger, more powerful community, the community that is found in the Christian faith. People accuse Christians of being members of a “death cult,” obsessed with a dying savior and focused on the afterlife to the exclusion of the present; but they are wrong. Christianity does not deny life, Christianity affirms life. Christianity affirms life even in death, because for Christians, death does not remove the relationship that exists.
As a priest of many years, I’ve witnessed large numbers of people try to shelter their friends and loved ones from the pain of loss, yet in doing so, making the pain worse. We all need to be there for people who suffer the loss of a loved one, knowing that in doing so, we are indeed helping them. And, as Christians, we must nurture the hope in both others, and in ourselves, that death, ultimately, will not separate us from those we love, for in Christ we have the hope of eternal life. Because of Christ’s resurrection, having conquered the power of death, we will one day be reunited with those who have departed this life before us.
With love in Christ,
Preparing for Our Death
We must always think upon our own death
By Abbot Tryphon, December 23, 2019
Saint Sisoes, the great ascetic, standing before the tomb of Alexander the Great, beheld the skeletal remains of one who was once covered in magnificent garments. Astonished, the saint mourned for the vicissitudes of time and the transience of glory, and tearfully proclaimed, “The mere sight of you, tomb, dismays me and causes my heart to shed tears, as I contemplate the debt we, all men, owe. How can I possibly stand it? Oh, death! Who can evade you?”
During these past few years I have also lost a number of old friends, and given my age, I expect to lose more friends as the next few years, progress. Death will come for us all, and it is to our benefit not to avoid the thought, for we never know when we will be required to account for our lives. The days of this Nativity Fast should be filled with thoughts of our own eventual death, and how we should use whatever time God has for us, in repentance for our own sins, and in service to others.
For the Christian, death itself is not to be feared, for Christ’s resurrection will be ours, as well. Yet we also know that in order to be joined to His Kingdom, we must have been transformed, that the Fire of God will not be for us, a lake of fire.
With love in Christ,
~Abbot Tryphon, The Morning Offering, https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2019/12/preparing-for-our-death/.