06 March 2009

How Shall I Not Weep When I Think of Death

How shall I not weep when I think of death ? For I have seen my brother in his coffin, without glory or comeliness. What then am I to expect? And what do I hope for? Only grant me, O Lord, repentance before the end.
It is hard to believe that, on Sunday, it will be three years since one of my very best friends, Jared Rhea, departed this life. When you are 23 years old, saying goodbye to someone you have known for more than a decade is even more traumatic than you might think; a decade is almost fifty percent of your life in your early twenties. Someone who shared so much of it with you being gone, suddenly, is very wrenching.

I have been depressed because of this. Not really now, but certainly that first year. The first anniversary of his death, I was one month away from being officially received in the Orthodox Church. The unexpectedness, the urgency which I felt about my life after his passing drove me into the catechumenate officially, and pushed me to finally abandon all my own imaginative cogitations and self-deceptions about reality. It hammered home for me the lesson that "This life is given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits" (St. Isaac of Syria). All at once, the words of Fr. Seraphim of Platina took on a new dimension; it was later than I thought. Jared's death showed me that all our lives are like the grass which blooms in the morning, but is withered and dry by the afternoon, as the Psalmist says.

The quote with which this meditation opens is from the Canon of Repentance. It's part of my prayer rule that I visit weekly, in preparation for Holy Communion. Every single time I pray this Canon, and get to this line (which is repeated), I cannot help but think of the moment that I saw Jared lying in the coffin, and my world came undone. How suddenly, the old sureties of everything that I thought I knew were gone. It was at that moment that my heart cried out to God in groanings that cannot be uttered, and I knew--I knew--that I could no longer dally with or put off or think more about the Church. It was Orthodoxy or bust, at that very moment.

And weekly, I revisit that moment in the Canon. Time, of course, has a way of anesthetizing even deep wounds, even as deep as the loss of a dear childhood friend; more than a friend, a brother, a companion of the heart. As this third year comes to a close, I realize that the pain of our passing is somewhat lessened. The circumstances of my friend's life make me very sad; nevertheless, I pray for him as often as I pray...and that is reason enough that I should pray more often. Tonight, tomorrow night, and Sunday night, I will be praying these prayers for Jared; may the Lord be merciful to us all on the day of his dread judgment.

O Lord, grant to thy servant a firm remembrance of death
And that with great suddenness all men may be called to give account of their deeds;
Let not my foolish soul plan so much for the morrow,
Taking its ease in idleness, having rich store of treasure laid up for many years.
Lord, send not, sent not the rich empty away!
Rather, humble our vanities and our delusions, take away our pride,
And grant us a thorough repentance before the End.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, especially the prayers of St. Anthony the Great, St. Isaac the Syrian, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and Thy all-holy and immaculate Mother, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


JustinHesychast said...

*huggles* God bless you... :)

Justinian said...

Thank you for the sentiment, Justin.

I hope and pray that you are experiencing the fullness of Great Lent. Pray for me, a sinner.

Anonymous said...

A powerful and timely message during this Lent. I am sorry for the pain of this loss. Thank you for sharing how God used this in your life. Psalm 144-Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow. God have mercy on us and help to live each day prepared to meet our Bridegroom. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Justinian.

Justinian said...

Thanks, desertseeker. Too often, I am only compelled by the most extreme means; too often, I am like Pharaoh in the hardness of my heart. St. Theophan the Recluse said, "You must kill egoism. If you don't kill it yourself, then the Lord, hammer-blow after hammer-blow, shall send various misfortunes, so as to crush this stone." My selfishness and self-centeredness is entirely the cause of my pain and anguish--and yet, do I change? Only fitfully, and with many stops and starts.

Most holy Theotokos, save us!