Death is Inevitable

And the clock is ticking

At seventy-four years of age I am no spring chicken, as the saying goes, and I’ve been confronted anew about my advanced age as I’ve witnessed my younger brother dealing with serious heart problems, and two aging priest friends facing serious health issues of their own. Although the clock is ticking for all of us, once we begin to witness the decline of close friends, we realize that life itself is but a fleeting moment in time, and the promise of eternity with God becomes something more than simple theological speculation.

A doctor friend made the observation that the greatest hazard to our life is conception, because it is a death sentence. From the moment we are born we begin to die. The best way to approach the inevitability of our own death is to face it head on. Yet our culture fears death, avoids the thought of death, and masks it with platitudes when it does happen.

My best friend in college died back in 2007. Since he was the only member of the Orthodox Church in his family they chose to have him cremated, so there was no final kiss, no burial, no closure. Following the funeral in the parish church his priest and I joined his family and friends at an art gallery, where his work was often featured. While mingling with his wife, son and their friends, I happened upon a small box sitting on a pillar meant for a sculpture. Looking closely I saw decoupaged photos of my friend’s life. Among them was a photo of the two of us taken back in the 60’s, during our college days. Looking around to make sure no one was looking, I lifted the box in order to take a closer look at the photo. Instantly I knew it was my friend’s ashes, given the weight of the box. Laughing to myself, I knew he’d have been amused at the site of me discovering I was holding his remains in this small box.

Since my friend was not responsible for the cremation, an Orthodox service was allowed. His priest, Father Nicholas, and I had a long discussion about the American approach to death, how we send our dying family members off to rest homes or hospices, and do everything we can to keep the unpleasantness of death out of sight.

Since we fear death, we do everything we can to avoid looking at it. Cremation is a convenient way of denying the reality of death because there is no body. Yet we Orthodox know that a burial service with an open coffin and graveside service are of benefit to friends and family because the whole process helps with closure.

Lowering the casket into the ground while everyone is there and allowing each person to drop a handful of earth into the grave, is a wonderful way of walking ourselves through the grief process. Denying the reality of death by hiding it from our consciousness only promotes a longer period of suffering loss of our loved one.

I have chosen the site of my own burial on the grounds of the monastery and hope to have a simple pine box built while I can still look at it. Setting it up in a corner of my cabin would allow me to use it as a bookcase before my death, remembering a man I once knew who used his pre-need coffin as a wine rack.

Facing my own mortality better prepares me for that moment when I will be standing before God and accounting for my life. I’m not in a hurry mind you. I’m praying God will give me many years more to repent. However, it is good that I think about my own death, for avoiding the thought will not prolong my life, but it can lead me to put off repenting of my sins.

Love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Sunday May 24, 2020 / May 11, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Pascha: The Blind Man. Tone five.
Hieromartyr Mocius (Mucius), presbyter of Amphipolis in Macedonia (295).
Holy Equals-to-the-Apostles Methodius (885) and Cyril (869), first teachers of the Slavs.
Equal-to-the-Apostles Rostislav, prince of Greater Moravia (870).
New Hieromartyr Michael priest (1920).
New Hieromartyr Alexander archbishop of Kharkov (1940).
Venerable Sophronius, recluse of the Kiev Caves (13th c.).
St. Joseph, metropolitan of Astrakhan (1671).
St. Nicodemus of Pech, archbishop of Serbia (Mt. Athos) (1325).
New Martyrs Dioscorus and Argyrus of Thessalonica (1808) (Greek).
Commemoration of the Founding of Constantinople (330).
Venerable Comgall, founder and abbot of Bangor (ca. 603) (Celtic & British).
St. Bessarion, Archbishop of Larissa (Greek).
Martyr Acacius of Lower Moesia (Greek).
New Martyr Olympia, abbess of Mitylene (1235) (Greek).
Blessed Christesia, called Christopher (1771) (Georgia).
St. Theophylact, bishop of Stavropol and Ekaterinodar (1872).
St. Wiro, Irish missionary bishop to the Netherlands, in Limberg (710) (Celtic & British).
St. Cathan of Bute (6th c.) (Celtic & British).
St. Asaph, bishop of Llanelwy, Wales (6th c.) (Celtic & British).
St. Mayeul, abbot of Cluny (994) (Celtic & British).
St. Tudy, abbot of the Tudy.
St. Comgall, bishop anf founder of Bangor Monastery (601).
St. Bassus.

The name day of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.

The Scripture Readings

John 20:11-18

Mary Magdalene Sees the Risen Lord

11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

Acts 16:16-34

Paul and Silas Imprisoned

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The Philippian Jailer Saved

25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Acts 16:18 distressed

John 9:1-38

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

9 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6 When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 7 And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.

8 Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?”

9 Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.”

He said, “I am he.”

10 Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”

11 He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.”

12 Then they said to him, “Where is He?”

He said, “I do not know.”

The Pharisees Excommunicate the Healed Man

13 They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

16 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.”

Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

17 They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. 19 And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”

25 He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”

26 Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”

27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

28 Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.”

30 The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! 31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. 33 If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

34 They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.

True Vision and True Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

36 He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

37 And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”

38 Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.

Abbot Tryphon

About Abbot Tryphon

The Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon is Igumen of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.

7 comments:

  1. I truly hope you are with us a while longer Fr Tryphon, from half way around the world you are still teaching me about my orthodoxy on a nightly basis and it keeps me alive, sane and I hope to a path of salvation .
    I truly love the scripture reading of the blind man receiving his site, as Fr Alexis Rosentool explained it in one of his sermons at the monastery in Cooma, I had a profound understanding, I was like the blind man, I had turned my back on my orthodox heritage, but my sight was returned and I can never turn my back on my faith ever again and for this I am truly grateful.
    Yours sincerely.
    Victor, Sydney, Australia.

  2. More, the traditional Orthodox burial service reverences the remains of our loved ones as precious relics that once housed the Body of Christ through their participation in the Liturgy and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through Chrismation as a sanctifying presence in the Christian’s life. Additionally, an Orthodox funeral affirms our physical, emotional, and spiritual relationship with the individual we honor. An Orthodox funeral no less than the Mystery of Baptism marks the entrance and fulfillment of the promises of our initiation into the life of Christ and affirms that those who are Baptized into Christ have put on Christ forever.

  3. Sorry to hear of your brother ‘s condition , I had some cardio issues in the past. I’m curious , when did we start using the term “closure” in the course of someones passing? It seems one of those en vogue terms that had a “mission creep” into culture concerning a loss. I get the image of “ok , he/she’s gone – close the book of their life and put it on a shelf” – as if to be forgotten. “Coming to terms” and “acceptance” just seem to describe more aptly what one is going through at times of grief and loss , as there’s never really “closure” – memories linger .

    Just one of me pet peeves , Father , you have a blest day!

  4. Father bless. In this post you say “The best way to approach the inevitability of our own death is to face it head on.” How does one face it head on? It’s hard for me to contemplate my impending demise as I can’t predict the circumstances of it, or am I going about this the wrong way?

  5. Dear Father,
    In a related way, this week it occurred to me that each of us is given, at some point, a “key” that will open the door to Eternal life. It may be this virus, or something years from now. But we will need a key to move from this life to that. In that sense, it will be a gift. I have tended, instead, to look at those possible keys (illness, accidents, etc) as pure threat. . .”not that; not now!” It seems I may, with this metaphor, now be able to look with less fear and more expectation for the key that will be given. . .while still praying for a Christian ending to our lives: painless, blameless and a good defense before the Judgment Seat.

  6. Father Tryphon,
    My wife and I will be placed bodily in a mausoleum. Is this a good fit with Orthodox practices?

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