“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death‚ where is your sting? O grave‚ where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
At a recent lunch at Arby’s, I casually asked the cashier before placing my order if there were any value meal specials. In response, the cashier removed a used coupon from the drawer and graciously handed it to me for my use. I expressed to her that I was very appreciative for her kind and generous act. She replied:
“Honey, life is short and death is certain. Gotta’ do some good when there’s still time.”
She was absolutely right that death is inevitable and the clock is ticking, but I was nevertheless taken aback by her comment. Few people in our society seem comfortable talking about death, even though we know that eventually we will all die. There is no escape from it. More often than not, we attempt to circumvent the reality of being mortal. We feel uncomfortable with conversations about death‚ even though we know this is achieved on a very superficial level. Our culture fears death, avoids the thought of death, masking it when it does happen. It is our illusion that we can somehow transcend the inevitability of death‚ if we don’t talk about it.
Orthodox Catholic Christianity has a different approach to the reality of our departure from this life. Every Sunday is considered a little Pascha, commemorating Christ’s Resurrection. Death is regarded as an integral part of life‚ as is birth or growing old. Of course death is still viewed as an unnatural state‚ a consequence of sin‚ but when the time comes‚ death is accepted with the great hope and expectation of the encounter with Christ. Such a simple yet profound approach to the end of our lives‚ accepting it as it is as part of the human condition, is fundamental to the Orthodox Catholic Faith.
Death is the only way to transition into the beauty of the life in paradise. The only fear a Christian should have is not being adequately prepared. This is why confession and communion are such an important part of our days on earth. Uncertain of the time of our death, we are compelled to strive more diligently towards being prepared at any moment‚ making participation in the sacraments a part of our regular life in Christ.
For a few years now, I have considered purchasing my coffin. Sitting it up in a corner of my room would allow me to use it before my death as a curio cabinet or a wine rack, but my children have vehemently forbidden me to do so. My children’s grandfather, a retired priest, already has his coffin and refers to it as his “comfort box.”
I feel that daily facing my own mortality better prepares me for that moment when I will inevitably stand before God and account for my life. I’m not in a hurry, mind you. I pray that God will grant me many more years; however, I consider it positive to think about one’s own death. Avoidance will not prolong a person’s life, but it can deprive one of repentance.
St. Basil the Great teaches that the greatest philosophy is the continuous thought of death. Not in a fatalistic way‚ but in the spirit of a heightened awareness of our everyday actions and their impact on our state after leaving this life. Instead of avoidance and denial‚ we should embrace the reality of death and transform it into an element of change in our lives towards a more responsible existence. Contemplating death makes us paradoxically more eager to live according to Christ, Who has conquered death by death and granted life unto the world.