This past Friday morning, I arrived to visit my invalid father, only to find that he had fallen asleep in the Lord some five minutes earlier. Today (Monday) we laid him to rest beside my mother to the sounds of an Orthodox funeral – a source of reality and hope. His passing is something of an “End of the World” for me – an end of my childhood and the myths I might have nurtured in my psyche. Death is always an “End of the World” for those who are most affected. My father’s death is my death, and that of my brothers and children as well.
It is also an occasion for re-writing history. His passing has given definition to his life, and more than anything, his life is now defined by Christ, for no earthly concern can pass beyond the grave. Sins are forgiven. Words spoken are now unspoken, or must take the gracious form of a Panikhida. Pray for the servant of God, James, newly departed, and pray for yourself (and me) for the End is always near, seeking to draw us to the definition that transcends all transient matters. May paradise consume you!
There is a Russian proverb from the Soviet period: “History is hard to predict.” The re-writing of history was a common political action – enough to provoke the proverb. Students of history are doubtless well-aware that re-writing is the constant task of the modern academic world. The account of American and World History which I learned (beginning school in the 1950’s) differs greatly from the histories my children have learned. Some of the re-writing was long overdue – while other projects have been more dubious. Of course re-writing is not a recent phenomenon. Virgil’s Aeneid was an effort to re-write history, giving Rome a story to rival Greece’s Iliad and Odyssey. The Reformation became a debate not only about doctrine but also about the interpretation of history and the Church. The rise of historical studies in the modern period, which questioned long-held beliefs about the historical veracity of the Scriptures, gave rise to an anxiety within modern Christianity. Many of the debates that permeate Christianity at the present time turn on questions of history and historical interpretation. As the debates rage, history becomes increasingly harder to predict. I would suggest that it is a mistake to describe Christianity as a “historical” religion, despite the space-time reality of its central events. It is more correct to describe Christianity as an “eschatological” religion – a belief that the end of all things – the fulfillment of time and history – has entered space and time and inaugurated a different mode of existence. To put it in the simple terms of the Gospel: the Kingdom of God is at hand. There has been a tendency in some forms of Christian doctrine to draw abstractions from the concrete events of the Gospel. Thus atonement theory often speaks in forensic terms that primarily describe God’s own acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, whether as payment or punishment fulfilled, etc. In a manner, the event verges on being reduced to modern symbol (something which stands for something else) the abstractions and theories carrying most of the weight of significance. For this same reason (I suspect) most modern Christians overlook the Scriptural doctrine of Christ’s descent into Hades: it does not fit within the atonement theories put forward in many circles. Even the Resurrection is diminished by many atonement theories – serving as a mere proof of Christ’s divinity for some – or a dramatic reassurance of forgiveness for others. Thus, though these historical events are considered to be important in their historical reality – few articulate precisely how this is so. I would agree that history alone is insufficient for an understanding and interpretation of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Christ is crucified on a particular day and hour in a particular place. But the Scriptures also teach us that the “Lamb was slain from the foundation of the earth,” making Christ’s sacrifice something that also exists outside of space and time. His Crucifixion is an intersection of time and eternity, of heaven and earth. It is a manifestation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. In like manner His Resurrection has elements both of history and of something that utterly transcends history. The Kingdom of God is made manifest. This is the very heart of the Christian faith – not simply that events happened about which we now theologize. Rather, the events are the in-breaking of Reality itself – earth fulfilled by heaven. We glorify Christ’s Resurrection – but we also know it, because though it is a historical event, it is also an event of the Kingdom. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection because these events, though historical, are accessible to us in the mysteries of the Church. The Orthodox faith is not what it is because it is simply the oldest, etc. Such concepts become entangled in the typical give-and-take of historical argument. The faith is what it is because it lives within the Kingdom of God throughout history. If it is not a way of life that incorporates us into the Kingdom – then it would be of mere historical interest. As it is, the Church constantly invites us into a way of life that is life in the Kingdom, despite the historical nature of our existence. When the Orthodox faith is described as “mystical,” it is this very real proclamation that is being referenced. In Christ, the Kingdom of God is come and nothing will ever be same. What came into the world in Christ, abides in the world with us, and in that Reality we are changed – earth united to heaven – creation to the Uncreated – man to God.
May his memory be eternal!
Dear Fr. Stephen,
May the servant of God, James’, memory be eternal! My prayers are with you and your family.
My condolences on the repose of your father. May he rest with the blessed.
Our condolences on the passing of your father. We pray for James and for you “for the End is always near”.
May his soul dwell with the blessed. Memory Eternal!
May his memory be eternal!
Dear Fr. Stephen, Thank you for sharing this! May James’ memory be eternal. He shall be easily remembered in my prayers as I pray for my son, James, and my husband and his father and the many men and boys in our lives who are called by this name or who ask the prayers and intercessions of St. James, the Brother of Our Lord.
God bless you!
Memory Eternal! May God remember James in His Kingdom!
Praying for you now in your time of loss, Fr. Stephen. May the Theotokos’ intercessions comfort you and your family.
May the Lord show mercy to you and your family, and provide rest to the soul of his servant James where the light of His face shines eternal.
We give thanks O Lord, for your mercies and for the life of the beloved. Memory Eternal!
“Christ was born to die and we were born to live” (the quote by memory which is not very reliable in this case). He designed us to live with Him in His Kindom forever and ever. Is that why every death here even “natural” and “of old age” feels painful wrong and not right?
May Christ be merciful to us when we meet Him face to face after our earthly death!
This summer I visited my fathers’ grave back in Russia. He fell asleep five years ago. It is still feels not right.
Dear Father Stephen!
Memory Eternal to your father !
And my deepest condolences to you and your family!
May he rest with the blessed and his memory be eternal.
Memory eternal, and blessings to you and your family, Father Stephen!
May God grant your father memory eternal, and may His blessings be on you and your family
Memory Eternal…. and may God grant comfort to all who mourn James. My condolences on your loss, and may your memories of him always be a blessing to you……
Memory Eternal. May God grant comfort to you and your family.
Memory Eternal…may the soil rest lightly on his grave.
Memory eternal, and condolences to all of you.
May the memory of your father be eternal, and his legacy live on through your inspiring work in the Holy Church. God Bless you both always!
God have mercy on your dead!
memory eternal… my small prayers are with him and you…
Grace on his sleep and on us all!
Memory Eternal! Words don’t suffice for occasions such as this, but I’m sure you know Father that the prayers of the community of your readers are rising like sweet-smelling incense to our Lord and Savior. Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Father, bless.
May God grant you consolation. It’s a very different place in life when both parents have fallen asleep, no matter how old one is.
Their souls shall dwell with the blessed.
Memory Eternal to the servant of God James.
Prayers and condolences to you at this time Fr Steven. My family is approaching the anniversary of the falling asleep of my mother-in-law and I feel for you in this time of loss.
God grant him eternal rest and may His perpetual light shine upon your father forever.
My own Dad is 85 and with Alzheimer’s. The end is near for me too.
May his memory be eternal!
Memory eternal, Father!
I don’t know if this music is at all up your alley, but I recently sent this link to a friend of mine whose second child just celebrated her 1st birthday. The first child of my friend was stillborn, but he is remembered and loved. It struck me as I listened to the lyrics of this birthday song that it would make a good song for the next big birthday after this life – it seemed equally appropriate for both of her children. Anyway, “when you wake up it will be the beginning of the world.”
(from a group called the innocence mission. In this video, husband and wife Don and Karen Peris, presumably singing for their child.)