“It ain’t how you start, it’s how you end that matters!”
With that, a wise man began instructing a young man about the power of endurance, patience, integrity, and perseverance. You see, the young man was born in a home racked with division. His mother and father had split up when he was 9 years old. Dad was a sweet and amiable fellow, but just not much of a father. He spent his life in short term thinking and long term, sad, consequences. Mom was the rock. She was consistent and worked so hard to keep their little family together. Working two jobs, she would come home in time to feed her two boys, and tuck them into bed.
The young man was the oldest, and felt a strong responsibility to his mom and his little brother, but it seemed that life really wasn’t offering him much to hope for. Growing up when he did and how he did, meant that any notion of college or a career was a distant dream.
But the young man remembered the old man’s words, and he refused to give up.
That young man was the first member of his immediate family to graduate College. He even went on to get a Master’s degree. He was the first member of his family to own a passport, and he has traveled in Europe and Asia and seen things firsthand his family has only ever read about in books or seen on TV. Now he does what his heart always longed to do – serve God and His people.
It ain’t how you start, it’s how you end that matters!
Today we remember a Christian hero named Dionysios the Areopagite. He was born in a pagan family but was converted to Christ by St. Paul’s preaching in Athens. You can read St. Paul’s sermon in today’s Epistle Lesson in Acts 17:16-34. Dionysios was trained in philosophy and was schooled in rhetoric. He would travel with St. Paul at times and help with missionary activities, and even was a missionary himself in Gaul. There is a small chapel in Paris built by St. Dionysios.
He was made the bishop of Athens by St. Paul and was beheaded for his faith in Christ in 96 AD at the age of 90. St. Dionysios, pray to God for our salvation.
St. Dionysios started out as a pagan, but his beginning didn’t tell his whole story. It’s how you end your journey that floods even your past with the glories or the shame of your ending.
So, how do we end well? In practically every service in our Orthodox prayers we pray together “For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord. Grant this, O Lord.”
The first step in ending well is to keep your eye on your end! St. Siloan was told by the Lord “Keep your mind in hell and do not despair.” If we remember moment by moment that we will come to our end someday AND we are loved by God with a love that dwarfs all other loves, we will endure these temporary temptation to short term gratification and we will stay faithful to the task given us.
The next step is to build into your daily life remembrances of the two truths mentioned above. What do you do on a daily basis to remember your own mortality AND God’s never ending love for you? All the treasures of our faith are meant to equip you, yes you, with all you need to endure, to be patient, to be strong, and to end your life’s journey well. The services, the prayers, the incense, the icons, the rituals, the traditions, the whole of the faith piled up with every tool you will ever need to break the back of inconsistency and a track record of giving up and unfinished projects.
What knocks you off your determined and purposeful path? What hinders your ability to follow through on your goals? What creeping fear or heart sickness causes you to give up when tough times come?
Today, if you can remember “it ain’t how you start, it’s how you end that matters;” if you can recall all the spiritual and even physical tools given to you in the Faith; if you can, today, in this moment, remember your end, you will have that “right answer” before Christ’s throne and you will not just escape hell (what a small thing that is) but you will enter into unending love and peace.
So, today, endure! Don’t give up! Finish what you started! End well!