It is not easy to think about death and even worse to write about it, but there comes a time for both the one and the other. In view of the fact that even one of his parishioners is like the ostrich sticking his head in the sand, when death is in question, a priest must not, himself follow their example and stick his own head in the send by not warning them of that inevitable fact of life.
I remember one older Serbian who I visited in an old age home. Until then he had not had any ties to the Serbian community or the Serbs among whom he lived, so during a visit a nurse called my attention to him, saying that he had completely lost his English and that it was only possible to communicate with him in Serbian. He was facing a serious operation. At his request and due to my own sense of duty, in the face of that crucial event, I made my visits more frequent. We talked about all kinds of things we never touched on death. There was no way he liked that subject. He told me he had something like a hundred thousand in the bank and he planned to go to Srem and spend last days there.
He died during the operation or shortly thereafter. The nurse who first called me told me about it. Lord knows that just then nothing else concerned me other than how a man could be, in a Christian way, with a funeral service, properly ushered from this sinful land. The nurse told me that the whole matter was in the hands of his attorney and that there was nothing more she could tell me. At my subsequent insistence, a day or so later, she announced to me that, as far as she knew, he had still not been buried and she didn’t know what would become of him. I don’t know either, to this day, but with great certainty I suppose that he had a basic funeral – and cremation.
For this man, may I be forgiven, I’ve even forgotten his name. I think of him sometimes, particularly in our monastery, during holy Liturgies, during the naming of tutors, contributors, and benefactors of the monastery. I knew most of them – some I honestly and like a son loved – and whenever their name is mentioned I weave a thin wax candle of my own prayers with their kind souls. Thus they live in me and many for years for they changed the world.
Out of all this my message to all those who are concerned – and there is not one of you that it does not concern, or that it will not concern – that death is a fact of life, the most important and most crucial fact of life. That is the most important and the only sincere test that every one of us must take. If we hid to the end of the world, and in the darkest and the most hidden holes and caves of the earth, the Examiner will find us even there and bring us out in front of our caves. For the sake of life we must watch what kind of answer we give. “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death; and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it“.
When someone is about to embark on a journey in a few days, he takes care not to embark unprepared. He ascertains things, checks his documents. How then could he hide his head and not take any interest, and embark on a journey unprepared – he who is embarking on a journey of no return?
From that, occurs to me, that those who desire and pray to God, to grant them “ an easy death “, in fact, don’t know what they are asking of the Lord. They are praying to go to the Lord unprepared. Every night we should lay down in our beds with the realization that that bed could become our deathbed. Righteous people before embarking on the inevitable journey of no return, settle all their earthy accounts, make peace with everyone, declare their wishes and testament – even arrange for the details of their burial – and when comes the time for their departure they go to their Lord, peaceful and composed, just as they embarked on their other important affairs life.
Let us think about this prepare ourselves.