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The Fathers



Source: https://orthodoxia.online/agion-oros//


“If you die before you die, you will not die when you die”. In other words this is a quote that refers to the contemplation of death, which for us Hagiorite monks has been for centuries a daily concern, and it makes us thirst for Heaven and Immortality; it gives rise to an outburst of  life - whose coordinates however are located in eternity.

After all, what more can genuine monastic living be about – deep down – than philosophizing about death? Philosophizing, about the things that lie within and beyond the time limits of our existence and the never-setting worlds when in the grave...  

Let us try to approach our theme with the ascetic Fathers of our Church as our travelling companions. The reason is something that since our youth had moved us but also helped us, on our course towards experiencing Orthodox spirituality. It was an inscription, which can be seen even in our time, either hanging on the wall of some some Holy Mountain monastery’s dining area, or in a humble abode of a Holy Mountain skete; an inscription that generates various concerns, thoughts, and – inevitably – becomes a topic for evening discussions among the temporary residents of the monastery visitors’ quarters.

The strange wording with its crucifixional-resurrectional context at first glance is more reminiscent of a play on words:


Of course, after three decades of living monastically, by the Grace of God we now comprehend that this inscription is basically telling us that:  when you are dead to the present world and to all worldly things and succeed in extinguishing your passions before the time of your biological death, you will not die ontologically when that time comes, but will live eternally, given that the catharsis (cleansing) and riddance of all the soul-corroding passions are basic prerequisites for your slavation.

Studying the subject of death is an imperative labour for a monk who wants to become dead to this world, as it will lead him to a fervent, actual state of repentance that will cleanse his soul of sin.

The blessed Saint John of Sinai in the renowned work of his (“The Ladder”) has a narration regarding a contemporary of his, the monk Hesychios, who “lived extremely negligently, without the slightest interest in his soul. One day, he happened to fall very ill and even reached the point where – for an entire hour – he seemed to be dying. However, he returned to his previous state and began to beg us all to leave immediately. After walling shut the door of his cell, he remained reclused in there for twelve years without talking at all - to anyone.  During all that time, he partook only of bread and water for sustenance. He simply remained fixed in the seated position where he had seen things in a state of ecstasy. He was eventually rendered so skeptical, that his (facial) expression never changed thereafter.  He was seen as being constantly absentminded, silently weeping with fervent tears. 

It was only when his hour of death had approached that we unsealed his door and went inside his cell. After bseeching him persistently, the only thing he said to us was “Forgive me, my brothers; only he who has learnt what is meant by ‘remembrance of death’  will never be able to sin thereafter”. And we stood there in wonder at the formerly negligent monk who had become transformed so suddenly after that blessed change and transfiguration.  After burying him piously in the cemetery near the castle, we went to find his remains after several days but did not find them there.  With that wondrous sign, the Lord was informing us how He had received with pleasure that monk’s meticulous and praiseworthy repentance.”

The remembrance of death on the one hand restrains a person from following his inclination to sin, and also motivates him to cultivate virtue. As Abba Isaiah teaches respectively:

Three are the things that are achieved with difficulty, and they are the ones that sustain all virtues:  grief and tears for one’s sins, and reminding himself of his eventual death. Because, he who daily recalls his death and tells himself ‘I only have this day to live in this world’ will never sin before God; whereas the one who hopes to live for many years will become embroiled in many sins.”

Saint Anthony the Great would say to his students:

In order to not fall into negligence for our salvation, it is adviseable to constantly keep in mind the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘I die daily’ – that is to say, we must live each day as if we are dying." And this “Professor of the Desert” (Saint Anthony) explains, as he continues his homily:

Each day, when we wake up, we must think to ourselves that we may not be alive by nightfall. And when we are about to go to sleep, to think how we may not wake up next morning, given that the duration of our life is by nature an unknown factor.  If we think like that, we will never sin, nor will we covet anything or become angry with anyone, nor will we accumulate treasures on earth. On the contrary, by expecting death on a daily basis, we will strive to be possessionless, and we will forgive everyone for everything.”

According to the Fathers of the Church, the remembrance of death is a gift of God to mankind. In the words of the blessed Abba Isaac the Syrian,

The first concern that divine philanthropy placed in the heart of man, which guides the soul towards life, is the remembrance of death. Pursuant to this mindset in a natural manner is the scorning of this world, and from that point on, every benevolent movement will begin inside man, which will lead him to life.”

And Abba Isaac continues: 

This mindset is especially hated by the devil, which is why he tries desperately with all his powers to eradicate it from within man. If he could, he would give man all the kingdoms of the world - solely to eradicate that mindset; the reason being that the wily one is well aware that if that mindset remains firmly set in man, his mind will no longer dwell on this false world, nor will the demonic wiles be able to approach him.”

Kindly have the writer of the aforementioned also in your prayers, my brethren.

From agioritikos.blogspot.com


Translation:  K.N.

Article created:  13-1-2024.

Updated on:  13-1-2024.