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Celebrating the decease of death

 By George G.

Very often, in a conversation between a faithful person and an atheist, the atheist will pose the following “shocking” question, convinced that he will vanquish the faithful one with the unshakeable logic of his arguments.  The question usually posed is:

Are you really that sure about your faith? Are you really sure about the existence of a Kingdom of Heaven after death? If you are, then why don’t you (or those nearest and dearest to you) desire to die? In my opinion, a person’s struggle to preserve life is the most persuasive evidence that –unfortunately– there is nothing after death…”


1. Death:  Two different ways of confronting it

Are things 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?

So, what 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 diary , http://nikosdimou.blogspot.com/) of a well-known and very noteworthy author who also happens to be an atheist (albeit self-declared as an agnostic) – Mr. Nick Dimou – 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 as being “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 death.

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 (=spiritual death), which in turn became the cause of our physical death. 

Christ’s 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 simply as a “passage” into the true life (provided, of course, he has led a life close to God, by heeding His commandments)

Having 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 (deification). Therefore, for a 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:

 “I 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”

A faithful 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

“And are 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 darkness prevails.


2. 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 visitors’ comments:

(http://nikosdimou.blogspot.com/2006/01/blog-post_19.html, http://nikosdimou.blogspot.com/2006/04/blog-post_04.html).


However, it’s not death that Im afraid of, but the “dying” – the process itself...

The idea that I will not be able to enjoy life fills me with indignation.  Sometimes, I feel the need to write insults and curses on my tombstone, for all those who are alive and enjoying the things that I love….

Black Swan (commentator)

The funereal feeling (the deathlike – even the macabre) should be understood as being the opposite of the “peaceful acceptance of death” (to quote Yannaras’ own words), or, the 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 pantheon)   


Why are you messing with my text, quoting Yannaras nonsense and others’, who are merely slaves to sanctimony?...

What “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.
Dylan Thomas


Rage - rage – and desperation!
What “person and individual” and other fairy tales are you talking about?  It makes me feel nauseous…
Friends, they are conning us!


Yes, I am upset and Ill tell you why. The 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 opposite. How accurately indeed Dylan Thomas’ verses express my sentiments: Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

 Before going any further, we would like to point out certain details.

We must 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 the PERSON OF GOD precedes nature; all the other worldly philosophies, paganism and atheism, have, out of necessity, given precedence to nature.

And Man, being 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.

So, what kind of reactions do we see, 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. 

Being 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.

When M. was in 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.

On seeing these events superficially, an atheist would probably exclaim:

-Didnt I tell you There is no God.  If 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 unfold the 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: 

 «My poor Mark, dear 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 Preveza…

Then, in the afternoons, on our return home for supper, he would 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.’….”

He loved Christ so muchhe 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….

Now I’ve 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 myself....

And now, 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 Hierotheos

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.”

George, 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
conversation from the doctor, not from Mark himself.  Mark was a case of sufferer supporting his environment - not the environment supporting the sufferer.

Mark was 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’..”

Whenever I 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, dont be afraid.”

One 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 Paradise?”

He always 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…

Whenever I 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…

Exhausted, 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
he suddenly opened his eyes and said to me:  “You must remarry, and have ………(the name of the child they
couldnt have) and teach it to love ……….. (his place of birth).
When I 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 AM I

Those were his last words. He sank into a final coma.

Tuesday, September 14th , at 5:42 in the afternoon, he departed...


About eight months later, when I had just barely begun to recover, I repeated those last words to the Elder at the ……..…. Monastery
“Ah, my 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!!!  And to 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. Those who have had some 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, the onset of death also appeared 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 buckle under.  He 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 likeness of»; 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 this case, those words that he uttered, THE IMAGE OF HIS INEXPRESSIBLE GLORY AM I are not included in ANY prayer book; they are not cited by any Christian in daily prayers.  What 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 So, what happened? Nothing out of the ordinary….

Quite simply, 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”:

«Christ arose from the dead, thus trampling death with death…»


Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 22-9-2007.

Last update: 22-9-2007.