Today, we see yet another topic that tends not to be talked about much in the world today – mindfulness of death. Our culture has a fear of death, we sanitize death, we try to keep the idea of our own mortality as far from our minds as we can. This creates a sort of “live forever” fantasy in our minds. Sure, we know on some level that one day we will die, but so often we live day-to-day as though tomorrow is a guarantee. The truth is, we are guaranteed not one more second than we’re living now. This moment is all we know we have of time on this earth. This is the moment of salvation.

It’s for these very reasons that the Fathers encourage us to remembrance of death. St John phrases it this way:

“Do not deceive yourself, foolish worker, as if one time can make up for another. For the day is not sufficient to repay in full it’s own debt to the Lord” (6:23).

The whole point of St John’s encouraging us to remember death is not some sort of morbid, depressing activity. On the contrary, it is a call for us to live each and every moment wholly for our Christ. If we consciously understand that each moment could be our last, then our daily activities should be transformed. No more excuses, no more putting off our spiritual life – when the weight of our mortality is truly understood, then the things that are most important rise to the surface. For the Christian, this results in an incredible dedication of one’s life to Christ.

To show this, St John tells the story of Hesychius the Horebite. It’s a wonderful story that I won’t repeat all of here, but Hesychius says at the time of his death: “‘Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin'” (6:18). 

Another thought on the fear of death – there is a natural fear of death, a natural fear of the very unnatural separation of the soul from the body. We are not created for death, therefore a fear of the unnatural is understandable. Terror at the thought of death is another story – if the thought of death brings about a sort of paralyzing fear, then the Fathers would warn us that we are not in a good place in our relationship with Christ. Just a bit of food for thought…

“Just as the Fathers lay down that perfect love is free from falls, so I for my part declare that a perfect sense of death is free from fear” (Step 6:14).

Matthew Jackson

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