Saturday, April 25, 2015

Remembrance of One's Last Day

   The first of the Fathers of the desert, “St. Antony the Great”, says: “We must keep ever in our mind what we should be concentrating on if we in this given day were not to live to its end.” St. John Climacus writes, “Remember your last day and you would never sin.” And again he enjoins us to remember always our death. “St. Isaac the Syrian” said: “Always carry in your heart, man, the remem­brance of your departure from this life.” And all the saints personally always did the same and enjoined on others, who also were eager for salvation, to be attentive to this. And not only the saints but also the wise, secular philosophers agree that the remembrance of one's death is very important for moral perfection. But how can we, who are bound to our passions and so weak, learn to keep this: thought ever present?
   St. Isaac taught: “For perfection and integration the remembrance of our death and judgment is a gift and a supernatural grace from God.” Our inconsistency, our distractions, cause a great impediment. We plainly forget to recall death, judgment, hell, and eternal happiness. We often think of these; sometimes we converse with others about death. But deep within our heart we cannot seem to deepen this thought and remain rooted in its reality. But even with our good will and unceasing efforts, only with God's help and our work and in time can we make progress in this matter.

   But for one who really wishes to make progress, he must act in this way: Let him vividly recall what was taught above. Let him consider the greatest necessity and help it is to remember his own death. Let him be convinced that, just as bread is the most needed of all foods to survive, so also remembrance of one's death is the most required of all virtues. How is it possible that a hungry person will not recall the thought of bread?! So also for one desirous of salvation, it should be possible to have always in mind the remembrance of his death. Thus have the Fathers taught.
   Furthermore, let your mind focus itself and concentrate on various terrifying types of death, as the saints suggested in their writings, as, for example, Gregory the Preacher and many others. It is beneficial and helpful for us to recall to mind some of the different types of deaths which we have witnessed or have heard of as having recently happened. How many such types of deaths happened quite unexpectedly-not only to laypersons, but also we know certain monks who were thriving and enjoying a healthy life with the hope of living a long life, only to have been suddenly overcome by death. Many of these were overtaken so very quickly by death that they did not even have time to say the final dying prayer for forgiveness.

   Vanity of Vanities
   And so, meditate on the brevity of our earthly life. Let us be concerned with the hour of our death by not giving ourselves over to the worries of this world and to unprofitable cares. “Every person crumble to dust,” says Holy Scripture (see Jb 34:15). In spite of the fact that we and me whole world seemingly are in charge of ourselves, nevertheless, let us abide in the grave, taking nothing there of this world, neither beauty nor glory nor power; no honors nor any other temporal good creature. Let us look into the grave and what do we see? We see our created beauty, now without form, without glory, nothing good remaining. Seeing our bones, do we know to whom they belonged? Was he a king, a beggar, honorable or without honor?. All that the world considers beautiful, powerful, turns again into nothingness as a beautiful flower fades and dies, a shadow passes by. Thus all mankind must also pass away. Feel this instability and call out to your soul: “Oh, how strange, why does this remain ever for us a mystery? How were we brought into bodily existence?. Why do we return to dust in death? Truly, this is the will of God, for so it was written, after Adam's fall, he fell under sickness, subject to every woe. Death entered creation and it overcame us too. But the foreseen death of the Lord and his ineffable wisdom teach us that, by his coming, he overcame the serpent and gave us resurrection, transferring his slaves and servants into life everlasting.”
   Thus we should keep in mind the thought of our Lord's Sec­ond Coming and our resurrection and the Last judgment, recalling all that our Lord taught about these future events found in his Gospel the divinely inspired Matthew wrote: “For then there will be great distress such as, until now, since the world began, there never has been, nor ever will be again. And if that time had not been shortened, no one would have survived; but shortened that time shall be, for the sake of those who are chosen. If anyone says to you then, 'Look, he is in the desert,' do not go there; 'Look, he is in some hiding place,' do not believe it; because the coming of the Son of Man will be like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into the west. Wherever the corpse is, there will the vultures gather. Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of Heaven will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in Heaven; then too all the peoples of the earth will beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather his chosen from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mt 24:21-31).
   But the beloved disciple of the Lord, the inspired John, hands down the Lord's following words: “The hour will come, in fact, it is already here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live,” and “Those who have done good will rise to life; and those who have done evil, to condemnation” (Jn 5:25, 29).
Saint Nil Sorsky

   Maloney G. A. (2003), Nil Sorsky The Complete Writings, Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press.