Category Archives: death

They trample on it.

On my drive home yesterday, I listened in turn to both of the books that our women’s book group will discuss soon. This passage from On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius is one I’ve shared before; in its quiet way it reminds me of the enduring foundation of our Christian faith, that Christ has destroyed death. This is a thought and phrase that we Orthodox sing extravagantly every Pascha, but we don’t always act as though we believe it. St. Athanasius calls across the centuries to refresh our hearts by the witness of our brothers and sisters in the faith:

“A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by the present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised his body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead.”

-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Holy Martyr Gordius of 4th-Centry Cappadocia is one of those who took a fearless stance regarding death. He is commemorated on January 3rd.

Returning to non-existence.

“Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.”

-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, d. 373.

Read the whole book online.

A green wave full of fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KIRKYARD

A silent conquering army,
The island dead.
Column on column, each with a stone banner
Raised over his head.

A green wave full of fish
Drifted far
In wavering westering ebb-drawn shoals beyond
Sinker or star.

A labyrinth of celled
And waxen pain.
Yet I come to the honeycomb often, to sip the finished
Fragrance of men.

-George Mackay Brown

The Dark Horse journal is really too erudite for me, but I happened to look into this current issue that is wholly dedicated to the writer George Mackay Brown, whom I knew nothing about before. What I read made me curious, and prompted me to find a whole book, a selection of his poems, which are fruits of his life in the Orkney Islands, and from which I picked this one.

Tomorrow on Veterans Day some of us will gather for prayers at a nearby cemetery, where we are remembering our archpriest who resposed several years ago, whose name day was this week, and who also had been a military chaplain before he became a parish priest. I’m looking forward to visiting that place where my goddaughter is also resting in her grave; these images of soldiers, fish and honeycomb are already enriching my own experience as I anticipate being where I might catch that unique “kirkyard” scent of heaven. Memory eternal!

Much to be done with.

A HYMN TO GOD THE FATHER

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

-John Donne