Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
A PRAYER OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
Master, Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, You have been forbearing over our transgressions; And having led us to this present hour, When You were hanging upon the Life-Giving Cross, Opening the entrance into Paradise for the repentant thief, And destroying death by death, Be merciful for us sinners, Your unworthy servants. For we have sinned and transgressed, And are not worthy to lift up our eyes And to look upon the height of heaven. For we have indeed abandoned the way of Your righteousness, And have walked according to the will of our own hearts. But now we beseech Your unimaginable goodness. Spare us, O Lord, according to the multitude of Your mercy, And save us for the sake of Your Holy Name, For the days of our life have been spent in vanity, And forgive us our transgressions; Mortify our sinful inclinations, So that we may put away the old self, Put on the new man and live with You, our Lord and Master. And thus, by following Your commandments, We shall attain to that eternal rest, Which is the dwelling place of all those who delight in You, For You are indeed the true delight and gladness Of those who love You, O Christ our God, And to You do we send up glory, Together with Your unoriginate Father, And Your All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit, Now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On August 17th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Myron the holy Martyr; New holy Martyr Demetrios of Samarina in Eperos, Greece (1808); Saint Theodoritus, Enlightener of the Lapps; St. Theli Abuseridze of Georgia; Saint Achillius of Stavropol.
THE HOLY MARTYR MYRON THE PRIEST. He was a priest in Achaia, of rich and eminent parents, by nature kind and meek, and loving towards God and man. In the time of the Emperor Decius, on the Feast of the Nativity itself, pagans rushed into the church, dragged St. Myron away from the service and put him to torture. While he was being tortured by fire, an Angel appeared to him and strengthened him. They then cut off his skin in strips from head to foot. The holy Martyr took one of these strips and, with it, struck the torturer on the face. The torturer, as though possessed, took a sword and killed himself. Saint Myron was finally taken to the town of Cyricus and there killed with the sword, in 250 A.D.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 24:27-33, 42-51
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Zealous Christians have a certain technique that they apply to secure the continual remembrance of God more firmly. It is the constant repetition of a short prayer, ordinarily either, 'Lord, have mercy,' or 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.' If you haven't heard this, then listen now. If you have never done this, begin now." [Saint Theophan the Recluse]
THE TIME OF DEATH IS UNKNOWN
by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis [source: The Mystery of Death]
By the grace of the infinite and inscrutable love of God we come from non-existence into being and then commence our journey to eternity. But in order to reach it we are required by the all-wise divine economy to pass through bodily death. "One is the way, the way of death, and no other way that brings us there. Physical death is (the only bridge which does not have a side road), and is not only (obligation of all and the end of all); it is not only (the common cup), which all of us are called to drink. It is also the (divine sword) that spares no one. Death is not afraid of the king and does not honor any hierarch. It does not feel sorry for old age; it does not show mercy to beauty, nor partiality to youth. Death shows no compassion for the only child; it is not moved by tears and does not fear rulers. Death cannot be bought with money and does not take into account any one's person, nor again any one's representative, but comes equally to all". (St. John Chrysostom)
But, while death is a certain event in our life, the day and the hour of our death remains unknown. As the day of the Second Coming of the Lord "will come like a thief in the night"" ( I Thess. 5:2), so also, in a similar way will the death of each one come at an unknown time. For the hour of death "imitates that Second Coming because it is similar and related to it". That which the Coming of the Lord will do suddenly and at once, the day of death will do in part. Consequently, the end of life of each one of us is "an image of the end", and one would not be wrong to call death the end, the end of the present time of the world. This is why Saint John Chrysostom says that a man, who is inordinately concerned about when the end of the world will come: "Why do you concern yourself inordinately and why do you agonize over the common end? Is not death of each person the end of the present life of the present life of the world?"
Basically, we all live under the threat of the sudden coming of death. Death is not only "the impersonal extortioner of the human race"; it is also impudent, for it comes uninvited. It comes as "an unflatterable executioner", who sends no previous message. Death comes as the enemy who sets up a trap on the road of "the traveler, who journeys in both worlds", that is, man. There are times of course when death sends us some warnings, such as for example, an incurable disease; and there are times when death is invited by man himself! But the most desirable approach of death is that of suddenness! No one then really knows if he will reach the next day or even the next hour. This life holds for us the most unexpected and unusual events. You see death one day snatching the elder and tomorrow the graceful teenager, who is at the blossoming of youth.
Why Is the Time of Death Unknown?
To the one who poses the obvious question, "Why doesn't God reveal the hour of our death?" we could answer with the word, of the Psalmist: "the judgments of God are like the great deep" (Psalm 36:6). The plans and the wise judgment of God, through which the life of men and nations are governed, are inscrutable, as inscrutable as are the great depths of the abysses of the oceans. Saint John Chrysostom, in pondering David's lines, notes that it is not by chance and without purpose and meaning that the day of our death is kept from us. This, too, is an aspect of God's love for man and of His incomprehensible Wisdom: "It is in the nature of God's wisdom, that we do not understand everything clearly". Consequently, if the knowledge of the day of our exodus from this life was to the advantage of our soul, surely God in His loving kindness would have revealed it to us. But let us examine this matter in what follows in order to marvel at the complete wisdom of our Triune God even here, as well as at His great love for us.
That inscrutable will of God to keep from us the hour of the end of our earthly life is particularly wise and beneficial for His rational creatures, will be demonstrated by the following five situations:
- Some pious and God fearing people say, "If I had known the hour of my death I would have made every effort to present myself before the throne of God better prepared, but now...". But let these people hear an important truth which escapes them: Virtue which is practiced under the power of the fear of death is not really virtue. It has the character of slavery and compulsion. Saint John of Damascus teaches that "whatever is done by force is not rational, nor virtuous". Saint John Chrysostom also notes that under these conditions not even the Saints would have the reward of virtue if they knew the precise day of their death. For, if they knew that they would certainly die "after three years but that it would be impossible to do so before that, what reward would be theirs in daring to undergo certain sufferings?"
- Not knowing the hour of death is a deterrent to the evil man from carrying out his criminal plans. For, if the evil man knew the precise day of his death, he would dare to do everything prior to that day. He would dare to avenge and punish his enemies, "committing whatever evil deeds he so chose". And he would then die, satisfied that he had avenged those who had harmed him. (St. John Chrysostom).
- Knowing the exact day of death certain people would perhaps be inclined to become virtuous. But others, and particularly the impious, those who are worldly and hedonists would apply their motto with greater zeal: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (I Cor. 15:32). Others, again, might fall into a state of depression and despair. Consequently with such people one would notice confusion, inertness and stagnation. In general, through the above manifestations, human society would suffer from constant disorder and agony with destructive consequences for the entire life of men.
- Saint John Chrysostom observes that if the day of death was known to man, "No one would ever practice virtue during an entire lifetime." If people knew the last day of their life, they would run the risk to work all manner of evil and only on the eve of their death would they make the effort to repent. Now, says the holy Father, that the soul is moved by not knowing the hour of death, many who have wasted the time of their lives in sin, come to be baptized as soon as they reach the last days of their life (for then people sought to be baptized at an advanced age). If they were to know the time of their end, "who would ever practice virtue?" If the fear of not knowing the hour of our death is removed, "who would ever become prudent? Who would be lenient? Not even one!
- Not knowing the hour of death also helps us always to be ready for the other life. "God has kept the day of our death unknown so that by not knowing when to expect it, we may keep ourselves in virtue always" (St. John Chrysostom). The Lord said to His Disciples: "Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (St. Matt. 24:44). But the day of the Second Coming, the Day of Judgment for each person is essentially the hour of death. Thus, by not revealing the day of our death, the Lord wants us to be intent constantly on virtue. That is, He wants us to be always in a state of readiness and preparedness; a state of ceaseless spiritual warfare, standing vigilant on the ramparts of our soul. The constant anticipation of death helps us so that we are encouraged to persevere in virtue (St. John Chrysostom).
One of the effective weapons of the devil to destroy us eternally is the postponement and the frustration of our repentance and return to God. This is why Saint John Chrysostom offers this advice: "Let both old and young remember death and not postpone their salvation. Let the youth not forget that many young people have died before the old". The Old Testament says: "Do not delay to turn to the Lord, not postpone it from day to day" (Wis. Sirach 5:7) "For you do not know what a day may bring forth" (Prov. 27:1). Therefore seek life zealously according to Christ. Do not say, "I have time" for these words "incur the wrath of God."
Consequently, the Lord Who loves mankind, Who in wisdom provides everything for the salvation of each person and Who works out in a myriad ways our return, has concealed from us the hour of our death, in order for us to reveal our diligence and concern for a holy life. All the more so when we see that the situation of the present world is uncertain, unstable, fluctuating and "filled with changes." We are not masters of our death, but we can and must become "masters of virtues."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God