Before King David, the prophet, became king of Israel, he was serving under King Saul, who trying to kill him because he knew that David was going to succeed him on the throne. Thus when his life was in danger, David told his friends: ‘Only one step separates me from death’.
I remembered these words now because I had to remind them to myself only a week ago. There was only one step separating my life from death. For a while I was near dying, having almost no pulse and my heart almost stopped beating. And yet the Lord had pity on me. I am still weak and can only talk to you while seated. But I want to say something important. I want to speak to you about death, since death is so close to us, as it was close to me last Saturday. Each one of us may die suddenly without expecting it. You already know that peoples’ lives end suddenly and unexpectedly.
You always ought to remember and keep in your hearts Christ’s words: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning” (Luke 12, 35). Do remember these words and never forget them. When people are getting ready to walk a long way or embark on a tough task, they always tie a belt around their waists. Similarly, when they walk in the darkness of night they hold lanterns; it is important that these are always kept burning.
The same applies to our spiritual life. Our ‘midriff must be belted and our lanterns burning’. We ought to be committed servants of the Lord, forever fighting against the devil, who is always trying to turn us away from the Lord and destroy us with the various temptations. For this reason the Lord Jesus Christ gave this commandment: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning”.
Never forget that our life on earth was given to us in order to prepare ourselves for eternal life; what will happen in eternal life depends on how we lived this life here; and also depends on whether we had been faithful to Christ and faithful to what He has revealed to his Apostle and disciple, John, in the Revelation. There Jesus said: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev.2, 10).
We ought to be faithful to the Lord, ceaselessly and tirelessly serving Him, every day, every hour and every minute. Our life is short; we must not spend the few days and hours of our lives pointlessly; we must always remember the hour of our death.
All the saints always harbored the memory of death. They kept a scull in their cells in order to see it and remember death. They were crying over it, thinking they too would follow the same path. They served the Lord tirelessly just as St Seraphim of Sarov did. Just like you, they also used to hear the words of the 33rd Psalm during the vespers every day: “Affliction will slay the wicked” (Psalm 34, 21) and “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalms 116, 15). I have witnessed many such instances. However, forty years ago there was one such case which has been ingrained so deeply into me that I will never forget it.
Once, as a regional doctor, I was called to the house of a renowned, rich landowner, who was an evil man. I was astonished by the disorder in the house. People were running all over the place. Then, there was this old man lying in bed, red in the face, who started screaming as soon as he laid eyes on me. “Doctor, please, save me! I am dying just by the thought that I maybe dying”.
Where was the man who was tormenting the others? What was he thinking when he was grabbing their money? Now death is approaching and it is too late for him to say: “I am dying just by the thought that I maybe dying”. His entire life should have been such that he wouldn’t be scared of death.
Is there anyone who is not afraid to die? Only he, who has been following Jesus all his life and has lived his life obeying His commandments, is not afraid to die. Such people are not afraid of death. They remember the promise Lord Jesus Christ gave during the sermon on the Beatitudes. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5, 11)
Saints die in a totally different way. St Seraphim died kneeling in front of the icon of the Most Holy Lady where he always used to pray. Thus he died on his knees and his death was precious in the sight of the Lord.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says: “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you” (John 12, 35). You still have the light of Jesus; you are still able to go to Church, to listen to the commandments, to hear the Gospel. Walk in this light. When death approaches, this light will be snuffed out for you. There is no repentance beyond the grave and you will receive the payment according to your deeds.
Thus, walk in the light, while the light is with you, before darkness overcomes you; this darkness is eternal; it is the darkness of death. Paul the Apostle says: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (B Cor. 6, 2). Time is favorable while we are still alive and so this is the day of our salvation. This is the time to think about our salvation and prepare for eternal life. This is what all Christians do and all those who love Jesus.
Seventy years ago a doctor, named Gaaz, used to live in St Petersburg. He was working in the prison. His heart was soft and full of mercy for the people. Using his authority as a doctor he was trying to assist the desperate people held in the penitentiary. He knew that they were sent chained to the dungeons and that they were made to walk thousands of kilometers until they reached Siberia; his heart was bleeding. Once he wore chains around his feet and walked in his garden for several hours in order to share in their pain. On his death bed, this pious man and doctor told those around him the following wonderful words which we must all keep well in mind. ‘Hurry and do good for other people”. ‘Hurry’ because death is waiting around the corner for each one. Do not be frivolous; be faithful unto death and the Lord will award you the wreath of life.
Prophet Isaiah also said something which we will do well to bear in mind and save it deeply into our heart: “Tremble, you women who are at ease, shudder, you complacent ones; strip, and make yourselves bare, and tie sackcloth around your waist”( Isaiah 32, 11). You ought to tremble because you live without care; you ought to remember death, remember the hour of your death and never forget it. If we are to remember this hour and not forget, if we are to follow Jesus and not be afraid of death, we need the assistance of the Almighty Lord. Without His help we will not be able to win over the devil’s temptations. We therefore need to ask the Lord to send us His grace. ‘Lord, have mercy on us sinners! Lord, help us!’
We ought to implore Him in the way the woman from the Canaanite region did as you have heard today in the gospel. When she saw Jesus and His disciples she started crying out loud and begging Him: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Mat.15, 22-28). The Lord paid no attention and went on His way. The woman continued to beg but He was silent. In the end His disciples told Him: “Send her away, for she is crying out after us”. But He answered: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Nevertheless, the woman went on begging. What did the Lord said to her then? “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. And He heard a reply, exceptional in humidity and meekness: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Give me, Lord a crumble from Your mercy. The Lord then stopped and said to her: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Mat, 15, 28). And her daughter was healed instantly.
Many people live the kind of life which is inappropriate for Christians. Many are heavy laden with various sins; many have forgotten the word of the Lord: “The sting of death is sin” (A Cor. 15, 56). Death injures the one who is a slave to sin. Therefore, aren’t we like the dogs if we are so weak, if the garments of our souls are so darkened from our sins? Shouldn’t we also cry out towards the Lord just as this woman did? “Lord, I am like a dog, have mercy on me!”
“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning”. AMEN.
Translated from the Greek: ΑΓΙΟΥ ΛΟΥΚΑ ΑΡΧΙΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΥ ΚΡΙΜΑΙΑΣ
‘ΛΟΓΟΙ ΚΑΙ ΟΜΙΛΙΕΣ ΤΟΜΟΣ Γ’’
Translated by : Olga Konaris-Kokkinos
Source: Θησαυρός Γνώσεων και Ευσεβείας