Vol: 2 Issue: 10
Baba 1725 / Oct 2008
Lessons to be learned from Death
By: Pope Shenouda III
Left: Pope Shenouda III During a consecration service of Monks. The monks lying in front of the altar covered with altar curtain symbolising dying to the world
You learn not only from life, but also from death. It is the old professor for you, and for many others. Many of the fathers have learned from death the lessons of being detached, of the transitoriness of the world and the futility of all desires. The depth of this feeling has led some of them to monastic life and to renouncing the world altogether. An example of such people was the great St Antony. He looked at his father when the latter lay motionless on his deathbed, and addressed him saying: â€˜Where is your strength, your greatness and your wealth? You have departed from the world against your will. But I shall willingly depart from it, before they can take me away reluctantlyâ€™. Thus St. Antony resolved to lead a monastic life, and with this feeling in his heart, he was moved by the verse which he had heard in church; "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."(Matt. 19:21) And St Paul, the first of the anchorites, was also affected by death. He had been on his way to the court to carry out a lawsuit against his brother over a matter of inheritance, when on the way he had seen a funeral procession. He was so deeply affected by it, that he left the money and the lawsuit, and went to the desert to try and save his soul.
Then there is the story of the advice which a brother heard from St Macarius the Great. St Macarius had said to the young man: ‘Go and praise the dead’. And the young man had gone and said to them: ‘O righteous ones, O faithful saints...’ and then returned and the saint had asked him: ‘Did they make any reply to you?’ To which the young man replied, ‘No, not at all’. So the saint said to him: ‘Then go and criticise them’, which the young man duly did. The saint then asked: ‘And did they make any reply to you this time? Were they upset by your condemnation of them?’ To which the young man replied, ‘No, not at all.’ At which point the saint said: ‘This is how you must be, then, if you wish to be a monk. Be like these dead souls. Do not rejoice at praise and do not be sad at being disapproved of.’ And there is the story of how St Macarius once went to sleep having placed a skull under his head. Some of the saints used to benefit spiritually from the sight of skulls, from seeing the dead, and from visiting tombs. In fact, merely the mention of death used to benefit them. And to meditate upon it was a spiritual lesson for them. It was said about Alexander the Great, the most outstanding leader and emperor of his times, that he had commissioned a servant of his to say to him every day: ‘Remember that you are a human being, and that one day you must die. ’I wish that you too would benefit every time you hear of a death, and from every funeral you attend, and that you would learn from those upon whom death has had a deep effect, and take from them a useful lesson in setting your priorities in life.
The Death of the righteous and the death of the wicked
By: St Shenouda The Archimandrite
It is not only a single time that God has talked about the death of the righteous and of the wicked people, it is written that: "When the righteous person dies, it is regretted, but the destruction of the impious person is renounced, and people rejoice over it". And again: "When a good person dies, his hope does not perish, but the boasts of the impious will perish and their hope as well". And again: "The death of the righteous is precious before God", but "the death of sinners is evil." What is more precious than the death of someone who will leave his body and go with the Lord and be with Him forever. But let us praise God, my beloved; let us not be angry with Him! Rather, let us mourn by weeping for him who lives as if he were dead. For the righteous one has not died; rather, he is sleeping and awaiting the hour of the resurrection. When people who are evil in their lifetime die, it is appropriate to mourn them, for they are going to the judgment. But when good people die, it is appropriate to praise them, for their death is precious, as it is written: "The death of the Lord's holy ones is precious in his sight." (from a sermons titled “On Cleaving to Profitable Things” Trans: David Brakke) Page 2
The Building of the Monasteryâ€™s Tafoos
With the grace of God, the Monastery received the approval from the council for building a Tafoos (A Burial Place) for the monks. The Tafoos consists of a building with 24 Crypts as shown in the diagrams. Work on building the Tafoos should start in the next few weeks.
Front section view of the Tafoos.
Side section view of the Tafoos.
Contribution to this project is tax deductible and should be made to: St Shenouda Coptic School for Novice Building Fund A/C No. 032-274 BSB: 26-4341 Page 3
The Memory of Death By: Fr Anthony St Shenouda Every good and beloved soul… when it has been released by death from the body with which it was united… immediately experiences the joy and pleasure which it shall enjoy in full measure in the future… and though immediately after death the enjoyment is small, after when it shall again receive It’s celestial body at the resurrection of the dead, it shall enjoy blessings in perfect measure.” St Gregory the Theologian
Let us boldly plunge into our subject directly, without detours. It is time to approach this with courage. It is the memory of death that we will talk about. The memory of death (and I am speaking of our own death rather than a loved one’s death) has two aspects to it, one edifying aspect and the other is a joyful one. In both cases death should not be a gloomy subject that would stop us from enjoying the present life which is a gift of God. “Remember the end of your life and you will never sin” Sirach 7:36 The memory of death is beneficial in a variety of ways, because it restrains and prevents us from sin. The Desert Fathers used the exercise of the memory of death in order to keep themselves ready at all times. Once a young monk went to his elder asking him “how long do I have to be ready before I die,” the elder answered “only one day before you die” the young man left the elder very happy about the elder’s response; but another question came to his mind so he went back and asked the elder “when will I die” the elder replied “I do not know my son, therefore be ready every day as if you will die this day.” Bishop Sarabamoun the bishop of St Bishoy’s Monastery advices his monks to fight against bad thoughts by the exercise of the memory of death. The reason why the memory of death is so edifying and is able to drive away bad thoughts is that it is a point in our life when we are the most honest with ourselves no matter how long we have deceived our selves or others. The devil knowing the edifying character of death has for a long time deceived people. In the old kingdoms kings thought of themselves as immortal. When this lie was no longer effective as kings “actually died” he came up with a new idea of reincarnation to water down the edifying factor of death “if you cannot do it this time try again next time.” It is for this reason our Holy Church helps us practice the edifying practice of remembrance of death every day in the 12th hour prayer of the Agpia “Behold I am about to stand before the just judge… rise up from your laziness and implore the saviour in repentance.” “Maran Atha” 1Cor 16:22 The other aspect of death which we usually overlook is the Joy of Eternal life. We usually perceive death as an end to life rather than a beginning to an eternal life. In Fr Tadros Malaty’s book which he titled “The Gift of Death” he says that “Death is the beginning of a joyful journey into heaven and the funerary Page 4
prayer is a celebration of the start of this journey.” In the rite of consecration of monks, the funerary prayer is prayed over them and monks practice the exercise of the memory of death throughout their life, yet they are the happiest people on earth. Not only monks but the early church also used to greet one another with the greeting “Maran Atha” or the Lord is coming. It is the sweet anticipation to see Jesus who healed them, fed them, and forgave their sins, that brought them this joy. It is the longing to enjoy these joyful experiences—in perfect measure– with the Lord Eternally.
From The Sayings of St John Climacus
Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, for a while have no fear of death. And some (if such can now be found), through the action of the Holy Spirit, ask for their departure. St John Climacus
Anyone who wishes to retain within him continually the remembrance of death and God's judgment, and at the same time yield to material cares and distractions, is like a man who is swimming and wants to clap his hands.
St John Climacus
The Thought of Death By: Lucien Regnault Having come to the desert to await the Promised Land, the anchorites did not fear death any more than they did illness, which often resulted in it. All thought and spoke about it constantly. “Live each day as if you’re dying,” Antony repeated all through his long life. Evagrius and Cassian each reported Macarius as stating, “The monk must always keep himself ready, as if he were to die the next morning, and vice-versa, use his body as if he were to live with it for many years.” It was an excellent way to avoid discouragement and backsliding. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers often show how the monks put this rule into practice. In working with a spindle, an elder would think of death each time he brought it back up. Amma Sara did the same before climbing up a ladder, a measure of prudence always in season. An elder said, “I expect death morning and night, each day.” And yet, in general, the anchorites were not at all afraid to see the day of their death arriving. Egyptians have always looked kindly upon death. From Antiquity, their religious concepts led them to live half of the time on earth and half in the other world. Christianity only accentuated this orientation towards a future life, the real life. And this is the perspective that gives all its meaning to the existence of the Desert Fathers. In their attitude toward death, one must see a reflection of their ancestral beliefs and at the same time the expression of their Christian convictions. Among most of them, a certain fear is intermingled with joy and serenity, but it is a fear inspired by humility. One finds in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers a little of all the tones, sometimes with a note of humor that matches the naturally playful character of the Egyptians. An elder of Scetis, whose name is unfortunately unknown, was ready to die, and the brothers around his bed were crying. Opening his eyes, he broke out three times in laughter. When the brothers asked him why, he replied, “I laughed first of all because all of you are afraid of dying; I laughed a second time because you’re not ready; and I laughed a third time because I am quitting work to go rest.” And straightaway he gave up the soul. Humor can be a very discreet way of saying something serious; and also to veil an emotion. Regardless of what one might think at first glance, this elder was obviPage 6
ously not insensitive to the brothers’ sorrow at the thought of an imminent separation, but his pleasant reaction was a way of distracting them and inviting them not to make a drama out of an event which, for him, was very simple. Another brother, however, had reason to worry about imminent death. Abba Ares related how, each day, one of his neighbours would steal the money he earned by selling the mats he made. When abba Ares left to refill his water jug, the thief would enter his cell with a skeleton key and take the money. After six months of this, Ares divided the money in two and left a note asking the thief to leave him one-half for his subsistence. The other did nothing and continued his daily thievery for three more years, after which he took sick and, feeling death approaching, sent for his victim and asked to be forgiven. Abba Ares simply kissed the hands and feet of the dying one, saying, “May the Lord bless these hands and feet, because they taught me to become a monk!” Then the brother died and abba Ares buried him. (From: The Day to Day life of the Desert Fathers in Fourth Century Egypt.)
On The Fathers Who Have Completed Their Course By: St Isaac The Syrian
The powers of heaven stand ready in their ranks to advance with fear before the Bridegroom as he comes in glory on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead; and we do not believe. What then will come upon us in that hour, brethren? How may we there defend ourselves to God for our negligence of our salvation? If we do not now hasten and weep unrestrainedly, repenting fully in humility of soul and great meekness, how each one of us is going to lament at the tribulation!, changing our ways, let each one of us say with bitter tears, ‘Woe is me, a sinner! What has happened of a sudden? How has my life of slackness passed away? Thoughtless, I do not know how my time has been stolen from me. Where are those days of stillness, which I spent in distractions, that I may repent in sackcloth and ashes? And nothing has been gained from many words.’ Page 7
Question & Answer All these monastic practices makes monasticism seem to be full of grief and sadness, where does joy fit in all of that? At the first glimpse, monasticism looks like a life of grief, struggle, sadness and tears. A monk deprives himself willingly from the pleasures of this world, living in the dry desert, wearing black for the rest of his life. This is true, but this does not lessen the fact that monasticism is a life of inner joy, “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8). The monk is the happiest person on earth. The life of a monk is like the Tabernacle that Moses established in the wilderness, “Then he made a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of badger skins above that.” (Exodus 36:19) It looks ugly from outside, but so beautiful from inside. A Christian layman sometimes loses his inner peace and joy because of the world’s ever changing circumstances yet, a monk in the wilderness is away from these disturbing circumstances.
Practical Spirituality By: Fr Athanasius Iskander The Monastery has published a new book by Fr Athanasius Iskander titled “Practical Spirituality according to the Desert Fathers” Those who are interested in copies for their bookshop or youth group please contact the monastery. The price of this book is $5.00. The Book will be Available in November 08.
Born again in baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, and works in us so that we may reach spiritual perfection, although the Bible tells us what we need to do to reach such perfection and earn Eternal life, it does not tell us how. The Egyptian Desert became a university of this quest for perfection. The Desert Fathers made a science out of this quest, that we now call spirituality. In this university, research was done and experiments were published by many who came to seek the wisdom of those Desert Fathers. Fr Athanasius Iskander borrowed methods and techniques from these Holy Fathers and provided wise instructions on how to practically apply them to the struggles faced by young Orthodox people living in the Twenty First century. Page 8