Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and
upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
- The Paschal Troparion
Once more the merciful Lord has brought us to the beginning of another Great Lent, in which we will prepare to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is very appropriate, then, to reflect on this central reality of our Faith:
the conquest of death by Christ.
It is essential to remember that death was not God's Plan A. He is not the author of death or of anything evil. Death is not a separate creature, a separate reality, from life - it does not have an existence of its own, but rather, like all evils, it is a parasite, a negation of the good. The all-good Lord created our First Parents as
a body/soul unity, intended never to die, but rather to live forever in complete happiness and spiritual communion with God, to grow continuously and eternally in greater and greater joy and holiness.
Because they listened to the lies of the devil, however, and disobeyed God's command, they cut themselves off from God, the Source of Life, and death entered into the world.
By His saving death on the Cross and His Resurrection, Our Lord Jesus Christ destroyed the power of death over us. All those who believe in Him and are united to the True Church through the saving and correct confession of Faith and Holy Baptism, are enabled thereby to overcome sin and death. For the Christian, the
power of sin over his life, and the power of death to destroy him eternally, are no more: death no longer has power over him. If we cooperate with God's grace in the Holy Church, if we constantly cleanse our souls through confession, constantly take into our organism the Medicine of Immortality, Holy Communion, we
change from being corruptible and mortal creatures to becoming immortal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Death is transformed from the destruction of our life into the gateway to eternal life.
At every Divine Liturgy, and at every Vespers and Matins service, we pray for "A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense at the dread judgment seat of Christ." Death for the Orthodox Christian comes painlessly, blamelessly, and peacefully when he has lived his life in repentance, characterized by prayer, fasting, and good deeds. He forgives all of his enemies, knowing that God has forgiven him all of his many sins. He places all of his hope in Christ,
Who alone offers us the hope of salvation.
If we lived every day mindful of death, we would never sin. If we thought of every day as our last, we would be eager to maintain ourselves in a grace-filled state of forgiveness and purity from sin. We should ask ourselves every day, "If I died today,
what answer would I give the Lord at His judgment?"
Great Lent is the ideal time which the Church, in Her divine wisdom, has arranged for us every year, to review our lives, to repent of our sins, to turn from a worldly and carnal way of thinking to an other-worldly and spiritual way of thinking. What a great relief, what joy comes to the soul, when she is unburdened from carrying the load of worldliness and the defilement that comes from sin, and she is re-born through Confession and Communion! She experiences the resurrection ahead of the resurrection. That is, when an Orthodox Christian rises in soul through Confession and Communion, he has a firm pledge of rising in the body, on the Last Day, not unto eternal punishment,
but unto eternal life.
May the Conqueror of Death, Our Lord Jesus Christ, conquer death within us and give us eternal life! Kali Sarakosti - a blessed Great Lent to all!
Death: the Gate to Eternal Life
Words of wisdom from S. Cosmas Aitolos:
- There is no better teacher than death.
- If you want to see your fate, rise a little early in the morning and go and look at the graves of the dead. Reflect, and say to yourself, "They, too, were human beings like me, and they died. Tomorrow, I shall also die. Henceforth, I will not dare to perform wicked deeds,
for this will lead me to perdition."
- Have death before your minds: the time when you will leave this unreal world and will go to the other one, which is eternal.
- We who are pious Christians must henceforth not weep for the dead, like the impious and the unbelievers, who do not hope in the resurrection. This world, my brethren, is like a prison. When must a man rejoice? When he enters the prison or when he is being liberated from the prison? It seems to me, when he enters the prison he must weep and be sad, and when he comes out of the prison he must rejoice. Therefore, my brethren, do not grieve for the dead, but if you love them, do what you can for their souls: offer liturgies,
memorial services, fasts, prayers, alms.
- What does Christ tell us to do? To think of our sins, of death, of Hell, of Paradise, of our soul, which is more precious than the whole world, to eat and drink as much as is sufficient for us, similarly to have clothes that suffice, while the rest of our time we should spend for our soul,
to render it a bride of Christ.