Death: Two different ways of confronting it
really that way? Is our atheist friend right, when he poses
such a question? Could it be that the behavior of the
faithful is contradictory, whereas that of the atheists is
far more consistent with their principles?
does an atheist believe about sickness and death? Let us
allow a well-meaning (and above all, honest and true to his
principles) atheist, whom we encountered in the blog (web
of a well-known and very noteworthy author who also happens
to be an atheist (albeit self-declared as an agnostic) – Mr.
– express himself in his own words:
“Death is the ending of every biological organism. Just as
everything in the universe (even the universe itself) is
finite and destined to end, so is Man. All living things on
earth strive to live for as long as they can, by
perpetuating their genes through reproduction.
After brain death, whatever I perceive
“me” unfortunately ceases to exist. After all, if we lose
every sense of our self after a serious stroke, are we going
to preserve it after the worms have eaten us up? The way I
see sickness is to regard it as a factor that can lead me
much faster to death and non-existence, in which case, I
place my trust in medical care, in order to confront it.”
These are the
things that an atheist usually says with regard to death;
apparently, it is nothing more a process that takes us back
to absolute nothingness from whence we have sprung and
according to his theory, the fact that we are afraid of
death is proof enough of the non-existence of life after
On the other
hand, what does a faithful Christian believe? He believes
that death is anything but a natural process. Quite the
opposite – he believes that death is a condition contrary to
nature; that it was beyond the will of God and a result of
Man’s fall (sin) – a fall that alienated us from God
which in turn became the cause of our physical death.
victory over death, however, gives the faithful person hope
and it fortifies him so that he will not be afraid of it,
but will see it
as a “passage”
into the true life (provided, of course, he has led a life
close to God, by heeding His commandments)
outlined the two views of death, we are instinctively led to
the following thoughts:
For a faithful
person, Man’s natural state is life, not death. Death is an
unnatural state, which can be overcome only through Theosis
Christian who has not become a saint, it is only natural for
him to feel unprepared to meet his Maker, which is why he is
not desirous of departing from this life earlier than
expected. And there is no other hymn of the Church that
describes a faithful person more accurately, than the
following one, sung during the Holy Week of Easter:
can see Your bridal chamber adorned, my Savior, and yet, I
have no attire to enter it –
brighten therefore the garment of my
soul, o Light-giver,
and save me”
person places his trust in the infinite mercy of his God and
Father, which explains why he doesn’t reach the point of
nihilistic desperation, even if he doesn’t feel prepared to
die. Quite simply, he surrenders himself with trust and
humility in His Hands, asking for mercy and assistance from
someone whom he regards as his beloved father.
We could now
in turn ask our atheist friend:
you absolutely sure that there is nothing, beyond death?
If you are so sure that there is nothing, then why don’t you
prefer to commit suicide? If indeed there is only an
absolute nothingness after death, then, if one were to
commit suicide, one wouldn’t have anything to lose. From the
moment the sense of “self” is lost after brain death, this
would essentially mean that I can no longer think, therefore
I cannot have any sort of awareness of my own nonexistence,
hence again, I would not be missing anything. I can claim
to have lost something, only when I can be aware of that
loss. If I cannot be aware of that loss, and never become
aware of it, then it is the same as never having lost that
thing. Thus, why live in the day-to-day agony of not
knowing what the new day will bring, for me or my family?
Why bother to toil on a daily basis, going to work and
earning a living by the sweat of my brow? Why must I be
tormented by sicknesses, difficulties and all sorts of
unpleasant events? If there is absolutely nothing after
death - except only an absolute darkness, absolute
nonexistence – then it would be a thousand times more
preferable to commit suicide and put an end once and for all
to that thing called life, which originated out of blind
chance on this planet.”
As we shall
see further along, in the case of a genuine atheist we
usually observe that an absolute desperation and thorough
From theory to practice
We can get an
idea of this desperation in view of the unavoidability of
death, from the following, characteristic random excerpts
found in the aforementioned author’s blog, along with his
not death that I’m
afraid of, but the “dying” – the process itself...
The idea that I will not be able to enjoy life fills me with
I feel the need to write insults and curses on my tombstone,
for all those who are alive and enjoying the things that I
deathlike – even the macabre)
be understood as being the opposite of the “peaceful
acceptance of death” (to quote Yannaras’
path towards an exemplary reconciliation with the finite
character of all beings and things (i.e., joy and sorrow:
the ‘leaven’ of the innumerable poets of the neo-Hellenic
you messing with my text,
nonsense and others’, who are merely slaves to sanctimony?...
“opposite of funereal’, what ‘peaceful acceptance of death’
are you talking about? By who? These quotes are nothing but
lame consolations by religious cronies….
Do not go gently into that good night...
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
- rage – and desperation!
and individual” and other fairy tales are you talking
about? It makes me feel
they are conning us!
I am upset and I’ll tell you why.
older I get and as time approaches, the more indignant I
become with all those fairy tales that priests and
theologians supposedly console us (but in actual fact mock
us) with. I get so annoyed with the unfairness of death
and I have so little tolerance whenever I hear complex
speculations that essentially exploit human suffering.
Between Yannaras and a religious
crony there may be a difference in standards, but not in
orientation. Their basis is the same. Some become
religious as they grow old.
I am the
indeed Dylan Thomas’ verses express my sentiments:
against the dying of the light!
any further, we would like to point out certain details.
observe here a huge contradiction.
If atheists truly believe that we are merely creatures of a
random natural process, how do they explain the
comment regarding “the unfairness of death”? The laws of
nature aren’t “fair” or “unfair”; a characterization of this
kind has no meaning. Why? Because the notion of morality
(fair-unfair) applies only to the conscious choices
and actions of Man. What do they mean by “the natural laws
are unfair”? Nature is supposed to be EVERYTHING, to an
atheist. There is no issue of moral speculation, in events
that take place mechanically and inescapably, under certain
presuppositions. For a natural law to be “unfair” there
must be another law – one that is superior to nature - that
would render it “unfair”. Deep down, they are admitting
(unwittingly?) that they are PERSONS that desire to be
ABOVE AND BEYOND NATURE AND DETERIORATION.
Now the issue
of whether nature is precedent or the person is an
opportune one, and it is only Christianity that affirms that
PERSON OF GOD precedes nature;
all the other worldly philosophies, paganism and atheism,
have, out of necessity, given precedence to nature.
an image of God as well as a person, is of course desirous
of transcending natural necessity; and he does in fact
transcend it, “in spirit and truth” – in other words, in the
Holy Spirit and in Christ, by worshipping God the Father.
Hence, it is that very exasperation of the atheists over the
“unfairness of death” that constitutes proof that they are
indeed images of the Creator.
from the point of view of a faithful Christian?
At this point,
we would like to narrate a special experience, of a dearly
beloved friend of ours, Mark (photo below). Mark, a truly
handsome young man, with a very fulfilling job, was married
to a young girl, M…., equally good-looking, educated and
with a very good job as well.
newly-weds, they both shared a deep love between them, which
was to be fulfilled soon after, with the arrival of their
first child. It would be proper at this point to mention
that Mark was a very conscientious, faithful Christian, and
an active participant in the liturgical life of the Church.
an advanced stage of her pregnancy, they discovered that
Mark was suffering from an incurable form of cancer. About
one week later, M. miscarried. This left the couple
struggling with chemotherapies, radiation therapies, and the
innumerable comings and goings to the hospitals.
About one year
later Mark died, at the age of 30, leaving his beloved
wife M. behind, alone and childless.
these events superficially, an atheist would probably
I tell you?
is no God.
existed, He would never have allowed this injustice to
happen, much less to “one of His own”.
But, we prefer
to let his wife
sequence of events,
so that we can have a better understanding of the matter.
We have selected a few indicative excerpts from the various
emails that she had sent us, herebelow:
George….. despite all the sarcastic prodding he would get
from me, he would never tell me what he was reading. I remember
he had a hard-backed, maroon colored prayer-book…now that I
have taken a look at it, I noticed it says “Holy Monastery
of the Prophet Elijah, Preveza”..
I have no idea how he came to possess it; during the six
years that we have been together, he has not once been to
Then, in the afternoons, on our return home for supper,
relax himself by reading Vespers, after-supper prayers and
other such things. I would walk past the sitting room, look
at him and nod my head, asking him “Are you reciting the
prayer, the prayer?” My sweetest love would laugh and say
“yes, I’m saying the prayer, except that I’m saying ‘My Lord
Jesus Christ, have mercy on M.’….”
Christ so much…he
would exert himself ascetically in things that were
inconceivable to me, and he would read so many Patristic
texts in his so limited daily schedule…
I am now
reading the Theology by Saint Gregory Palamas, and I can see so many points underlined by
Mark, which are totally strange to me: uncreated light,
incommunable essence, energies….
taken down another book of his, underlined everywhere….it
says “Saint Maximus the
Confessor, 400 Letters on Love”. This book, with the
exception of the introduction which is slightly tortuous,
seems passable, even to ignorant people like
next to the things related to his line of work, I can see so
many Patristic writings and I am left amazed….
Philokalia (I have no idea what
it is about), numerous articles by Holy Mountain monks, and
quite a few other writings, by (this surprises me, because I
do not know him) the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, a certain father
I used to
say to him “it’s fortunate that I found you in time, before
you were able to become a monk” and he would reply “the
blessed Chrysostom says that there is no difference.
Whatever monks do, also applies to us in the world.”
now that Mark can’t hear us, I ask myself: Why? Why was he
destined for such a death, whereas I, the monster, am still
alive? I’m not saying that I was an atheist of any kind, but
I wasn’t very observant with the church either… I was
entirely ignorant about books like these... therefore, what
should I surmise?
As I had written to you before, we knew from the beginning
that there was no hope, but we had told Mark that it was a
curable form of cancer. I don’t know if he had believed
what we told him. Anyway, three months before his departure,
we were in the …….. Hospital, where they took him for a
tomograph. He asked the doctor
there, and the doctor replied “your case is an extremely
difficult one, but in medicine, we never
say never”. From that moment on, Mark was sure of his
condition. And we learnt about this
from the doctor, not from Mark himself. Mark was a case of
sufferer supporting his environment - not the environment
supporting the sufferer.
always very calm; he would never become stressed, and
whenever I asked him where he drew his confidence from , he
would say all sorts of things that I can’t remember, as well
as the words “….and all of our life let us appose to Christ
the Lord…”. He had faith, and whenever I would ask him why
I can’t “see”, he would say “when you pray, you must say
‘Lord, shed light upon my darkness’..”
collapsed and dropped the “mask” of a calm person, he would
show me his icon of the Holy Mother of……..
the one he had next to him, and
would say “Don’t be so upset; the Holy Mother – the joy of
the sorrowed – will not ignore you. I will get well,
don’t be afraid.”
evening, I broke down and said to him “I will put an end to
everything, if something happens to you – I will put an end
to it”. And you know George, his eyes opened wide as though
he was hit by an electric current, and he said “End? Don’t
ever say that word again! Put an end to it, and lose
wore a wooden cross on a leather strap around his neck; he
never took it off, not even in the sea. In the hospitals, he
also held another cross, in his palm. It wouldn’t fall out
of his palm, not even when he fell asleep…
cried, he would say “hold the cross and say to yourself
“holy crucifix of Christ, save us by thy power”; or, say
“rejoice, blessed wood”, and other expressions that I had
never heard before, not even in liturgies…
from the fever and the therapies, he would frequently say
“You are my patience, Lord” and would ask me to say it along
with him. I can clearly remember his last words, noon,
September 13th. The doctors had already informed
us on Sunday that he had passed on to a general, multiple
organ deficiency and that it was his heart only that was
still keeping him alive. Just a few hours or a few days,
they had said to us….
At midday on Monday
opened his eyes and said to me:
name of the child they
have) and teach it to love ………..
place of birth).
started to sob uncontrollably, he held my hand with what
little strength was left in him, and said to me “don’t be
afraid, I am fine, THE IMAGE OF HIS INEXPRESSIBLE GLORY
his last words. He sank into a final coma.
September 14th , at
in the afternoon, he departed...
months later, when I had just barely begun to recover, I
repeated those last words to the Elder at the ……..….
child”, he said, if only you knew what he meant; if only you
knew where he is now, and yet, you are mourning…”
That was Mark!!!
get a better idea of what happened exactly, we need only
recall the following: In just one week, Mark saw a
personal drama unfold before his very eyes. He
saw the loss of his offspring.
experience with miscarriages at such an advanced stage of
pregnancy will know exactly what we are talking about. And as though that weren’t enough,
onset of death
threateningly before him, in an excruciatingly painful form.
Then he had to
watch the end
approaching and be slowly deprived of everything that linked
him to life – and in fact amidst much pain. He even had to
watch his physical beauty vanish, gradually thwarted under
the “forms” of chemotherapy. And he underwent all the above,
while “on good terms” with God; while remaining faithful to
his obligations… And yet,
Mark did not
accepted the Cross that Christ promised us. Mark loved his
cross; he embraced it, he kissed it, and he carried it
willingly, right to the end.
We wonder, is
it sheer coincidence, that Mark
“departed” on the day of the ‘Raising of the Cross’ – the
cross that he had loved so much that during his ordeals, he
would cite the Salutations to the Cross? So, what happened
in the end? Quite simply, for us, a miracle!
His last words
were an excerpt from the funeral service,
which was a clear indication that he had reached «the
that he had attained sainthood. One might say that he was
ranting. Yes, he quite possibly may have. But, when someone
comes out of a coma brought on by a multiple organ
deficiency, it would be more natural for him to use familiar
phrases and images that he used every day, and often connect
them in an incoherent manner.
Except that in
words that he uttered,
“THE IMAGE OF HIS INEXPRESSIBLE GLORY AM I”
they are not cited by any Christian in daily prayers.
would have been more logical (given that he was ranting),
was for him to be saying various prayers that he was
accustomed to reading every day.
And of course,
everything that Mark had uttered was perfectly logical, and
it made sense. Mark was not ranting.
Nothing out of the
his was the way that men “depart”; his was the way that
saints are reposed; his was the way that the following
resurrectional claim takes on “flesh and bones”:
arose from the dead, thus trampling death with death…»