1 Question: Tell
us something about death, something that comes spontaneously to you,
something you consider extremely important.
What comes spontaneously to mind is that death is a terrible
mystery, as we chant in the funeral service, which is a poem by St.
John Damascene. This is related to the fact that the soul is
violently detached from the harmony of its union with the body. It
is also a sad event, because it is related to man’s corruptibility
and mortality which is manifested in all life.
it brings to my memory the Service of the Resurrection of Christ,
which we Orthodox celebrate with splendour. We hold lit candles in
our hands and sing triumphally the paean of victory: “Christ is
risen from the dead, by death He has trampled down death, and on
those in the tombs He has bestowed life”. This beautiful image shows
our attitude towards life and death. We are corruptible and mortal,
but we possess the “medicine of immortality”, which is the
resurrected Christ. Employing modern terminology, we may say that by
the incarnation of the Son and the union of human with the divine
nature in the person of Logos, a “spiritual cloning” has taken place,
our mortal nature has been united with the life of God. This is why
death has changed its name and is now called dormition (falling
asteep) and the places where the departed ones are buried are called
cemeteries (“dormitories” in Greek), not burial grounds.
So, when I
see people holding a lit candle and chanting “Christ is Risen” on
the night of the Resurrection of Christ, I understand better that we
should regard death as a process of passing from the “land of Egypt”
to the “land of Promise”, from death to life, which takes place in
Christ, and as a hope for our resurrection which again takes place
in Christ. It would be very fortunate if we were to anticipate death
in this position, holding the candle of the Resurrection and
chanting “Christ is Risen”. After all, we are “ strangers and
pilgrims” in this life, our true country is elsewhere. I am always
impressed by the words of St Nikolaos Cabasilas (14th century) that
while we live here on earth we are like an embryo in his mother’s
womb, and at the moment of death we are born, we get out of that
womb. This is why in the Orthodox Church the saints are celebrated
on the day of their dormition or their martyrdom, not on the day of
their physical birth.
Question: We understand from the Holy Scripture that there are
two kinds of fear: a holy fear, which is fear of God and the
beginning of wisdom according to the psalmist, and another kind of
fear inspired by demons, which is pathological fear. To what
category does the fear of death belong?
there is a fear of God which is an energy of the grace of God and
the beginning of salvation, that is, man fears/respects God and
starts obeying His commandments, and there is a fear inspired by
demons which causes anxiety and anguish. However, besides these two
fears there is also another fear so-called psychological fear, which
is related to a person’s insecurity and emotional inadequacy.
The fear of
death means something different for each person. For secular and
atheist people it is related to the course to “nothingness”, that is,
they think that they leave the only existing world and end up in the
nothingness of non-existence. This is something that does not exist
for us Orthodox. For Christians, the fear of death is related to the
soul’s departure from the world they know, the friends and relatives,
and its entry into another world they do not know yet. They do not
know how they are going to live, what will happen with God’s
judgment which follows death. This is why hope and proper
preparation is needed.
those Christians who have reached the illumination of the nous and
deification and have been united with Christ transcend the fear of
death, as exemplified by the life of the Apostles, the Martyrs and
in general the Saints of the Church. In reading the Synaxaria we see
phrases like: “on this day saint (so and so) is perfected in peace”
or “is perfected by the sword”, etc.. It has to be underlined that
in Greek the verb “teleioutai” means “is perfected”, is led to
perfection, and differs from the verb “teleionei”, which means
“ceases to exist”. We may also say that the life of the senses (“vios”)
is terminated by death, while life (“zoe”) is perfected but not
important is that, with the spiritual life we live, we should defeat
the fear of death and feel death as a path towards an encounter with
Christ, the All holy Virgin and the saints.
Question: We know from the Holy Tradition that at a person’s
death angels, saints as well as demons are present. What can you
tell us about this?
the teaching of Christ and the whole tradition of the Church we know
that both angels and demons exist, and they are not personifications
of good or evil, but individual beings created by God. Demons were
angels who lost communion with God. Many saints proved worthy to see
angels, as well as demons of temptation, while in this life.
the teaching of our Fathers, angels and saints, often even Christ
and the All holy Virgin, appear to those about to die in order to
support them, to strengthen them to avoid the fear caused by death.
The demons also appear, especially when they are able to influence
certain people because of their passions, and they demand power over
their souls. We are reminded of this in the prayer to the All holy
Virgin in the service of the Compline (“Apodeipnon”): “At the hour
of my death, care for my miserable soul and drive the dark faces of
evil spirits far from it”.
teaching of the Church it is well known
that each person has a “guardian angel” protecting him, and this is
why there is a special prayer to the guardian angel in the service
of the Apodeipnon. Fr. Paisios, a monk on the Holy Mountain, used to
tell me that he would often see his guardian angel beside him and
embrace him. He used to say that we must strive to reach salvation,
so that our guardian angel, who has been to so many pains to protect
us and help us in our life, may not go empty-handed to God, if we
are not saved due to our indifference.
with emotion that my father, when he entered the Church, would go to
the northern gate of the holy Altar and kiss the icon of Archangel
Michael and ask him to receive his soul in due time, when he had
repented, protect it from evil demons, and lead it to God. Perhaps
this prayer, among everything else, helped him have a good dormition
and a happy, smiling face in the coffin.
Question: We read in the Holy Scripture that mercy has exceeded
judgment. Does this mean that almsgiving absolves a multitude of
have to see what mercy means. In reality, mercy is the feeling of
divine grace, the love of God. When we pray saying “Lord have mercy”,
we ask God’s mercy, God’s grace. He who experiences divine grace is
generous to his brothers with all sorts of charity, expressed by
prayer, theological words, material contributions, and thus puts
into practice the beatitude “blessed are the merciful for they will
be shown mercy” (Matthew, 5,7). In this sense it can be said that
the feeling of God’s mercy and almsgiving transcends judgment.
He who has
been transformed spiritually and has been united with God does not
fear judgment, for what Christ said applies to him: “I tell you the
solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who
sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed
over from death to life” (John 5,24).
the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, there are three judgments.
The first occurs throughout our life , when we are faced with the
dilemma of whether to follow the will of God or to reject it, when
we have to choose between a good and an evil thought. The second
judgment takes place when the soul exits the body, according to St.
Paul’s words “people are appointed to die once, and then to face
judgment” (Hebrews, 9, 27). The third and final judgment will be at
the Second Coming of Christ. The first judgment is important.
the New Theologian says that, when a person is united with Christ in
this life and sees the uncreated Light, then the judgment has
already taken place for him and he does not wait for it at the
Second Coming of Christ. This reminds us of the words of Christ I
At this point
I would like to repeat the saying by St. Basil the Great and other
Fathers of the Church that there are three categories of those who
are saved, that is, the slaves, who follow the will of God in order
to avoid hell, the wage-earners who struggle to earn Paradise as a
reward, and the sons who obey God’s will out of love for God. So,
throughout our life we must advance spiritually and pass from the
state of the slave to the state of the wage-earner and from there to
the mentality of the son. This means to pass from fear and
recompense to love. To love Christ, because He is our Father, our
mother, our friend, our brother, our bridegroom and our bride. This
way we transcend the judgment.
Question: Tell us something about sudden death.
assessment of sudden death depends on each one’s viewpoint. For
secular people, sudden death is good, accepted and desirable,
because they will not suffer and they will not be tormented by
illnesses and old age. For believing Christians, though, sudden
death is bad, because they are not given the possibility to prepare
better for their encounter with Christ and the heavenly Church. When
someone visits a high-ranking official, he prepares accordingly. We
should do the same with respect to our encounter with Christ.
by repentance, is essential. This is why Father Paisios of
everlasting memory used to say that cancer is a saintly illness
because it has filled Paradise with saints, meaning that a long
illness prepares people with prayer and repentance. According to the
teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor, pain cures pleasure.
In any case,
death is the most certain event. We see it around us, everything
dies, all living creatures, our friends, our relatives. What is not
certain and is unknown to us is the hour of death, when death will
come. It may happen while sleeping,while walking, while travelling,
while working, while entertaining ourselves, etc. This is why we
should pray to God daily, as the Church does: “For the completion of
our lives in peace and repentance, let us ask the Lord”and “For a
Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering,
and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ,
let us ask the Lord”.
teaching of the holy Fathers we come across the truth that one of
the greatest gifts a person can have is the daily “memory of death”.
When this is maintained with the grace of God it leads man not to
despair, hopelessness , psychological fear, but to inspiration, to
prayer, creativity, even in human affairs, because he tries to
finish his tasks and prepare properly. When we live each day as if
it were the last day in our life, then even sudden death will find
Question: Which is the correct expression: the hour of death or
the moment of death?
depends on how one interprets the words “hour” and “moment”. In
speech we often use the word “hour” meaning the moment. But I
understand that your question refers to whether death is a process
or a moment.
What can be
said is that there is a process of death, that is, long illnesses
lead man gradually to death, but the separation of soul and body
takes place at a specific moment by the will of God.
is important, because man’s mode of existence changes and we cannot
know how it will be from then on. We know the state where the soul
is attached to our body, which communicates with the creation
through the senses. We do not know by experience what is going to
happen then and how we will be. At present we usually see the world
created by God, people, friends, the beauty of earth, not angels and
demons. Then, however, the soul will not see through the senses of
the body but will see what is presently invisible. This is why the
saints want to be conscious and pray during the process of death, in
order to leave this world with prayer and to have the strength and
grace of God accompanying them.
We have to
say that the privilege of being able to pray during these hours and
receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, in order to be
surrounded by the grace of God when the soul leaves the body, is
eliminated in our days with so-called life support eguipment in
Intensive Care Units. From a Christian viewpoint, the hour and
moment of death requires an appropriate preparation, that is,
confession, holy Communion, holy unction, prayer by family and
frients our own prayer. However, in Intensive Care Units it is
impossible to such an ecclesial-pastoral ministry. Thus, because of
exercise modern techniques and drugs, in our days more and more
people die not being conscious of what goes on at that hour and
moment. This is an important problem. Modern medical methods pose a
dilemma. “Prolongation of life or obstruction of death?”. With
everything that is offered by medical science the question is: is
our life prolonged so that we repent and devote it to God or is
death obstructed, which creates a lot of pain, physical and
In any case,
it is a great blessing from God for someone to die surrounded by his
beloved ones who pray and, above all, to die living in the Church,
with holy Communion, prayer, the blessing of his Spiritual Father,
the grace of God and the prayers of the saints. Our permanent wish
should be a death like the one depicted in the icon of the Dormition
of the Theotokos, with her in the middle surrounded by the love of
Christ, the Apostles, the Hierarchs.
Question: Some people die unexpectedly. Is it true that God
takes someone when his probability of salvation is at the maximum?
Christians absolutely believe that we have been created by the God
of love and that God directs our life, He gives life to us and He
takes it when He considers it to be the right moment. We also know
that God loves man whom He created and wants his salvation.
Therefore, it is certain that God allows each man’s death to occur
at the most appropriate moment.
God’s love does not abolish the freedom of man. Man has the ability
to act positively or negatively, to respond to the love of God or to
said that some people die unexpectedly, I would like to remind you,
that we should remember death continuously, we should not feel that
we are going to live eternally on earth, because this is a spiritual
sickness. There is an alternation between life and death, similar to
the alternation between day and night. Modern molecular biology
stresses that death is inextricably linked with life, because among
the genes there are the genes of aging, which are found in the
mitochondria. So, from the moment of our conception, death exists in
the DNA, and we see death in our body with the death of cells and,
generally, with aging, the passing of years, wrinkles, illnesses,
everything which theologically is called corruptibility and
mortality. We should not be myopic and behave like an ostrich.
process we should know that God did not create us to die, that death
is a consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve, and that God loves us
and cares for us. He is our affectionate father. It is not correct
on the one hand to pray with the “Lord’s Prayer”, the well-known
“Our Father”, and call God “Father”, and on the other hand to live
8 Question: Orthodox
faith attaches particular importance to repentance. We thank you
Lord for giving repentance to us. Can repentance on the time of
death be so great that a man is saved, even though he is burdened by
our Orthodox Tradition it is known that sin is not somethimg
moralistic it is ontological something, namely, the course from life
according to nature to life contrary to nature. Thus, repentance is
man’s return from life contrary to nature to life according to
nature. With sin man lost his communion with God, with his brother
and with the creation. With repentance he acquires this communion
once again. So, repentance is associated with a progression in man’s
liberation from everything enslaving him. The Fathers described this
progression in three words: purification, illumination, deification
and this is what is called therapy. This happens throughout life.
Therefore, salvation is related to therapy. The physician of the
body examines us, makes a diagnosis and recommends an appropriate
therapeutic method which we should apply. The same holds true for
the illness of the soul.
at the time of death opens for man the way to salvation. If he did
not have time to be cured spiritually, then the Church with its
prayers helps man to salvation, bearing in mind that perfection is
endless, it is a dynamic, not a static state.
our life we must have this “spirit of repentance”. We should
consider how we were created by God and the point we have reached
because of sin. If we read carefully the book of Genesis, according
to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, and see how Adam and
Eve lived and what they became afterwards because of sin, then
repentance will develop inside us.
who has the “spirit” of repentance throughout his life feels this
repentance at the hour of death, and actually he feels it to a great
degree. On the contrary, when he lives his life without repentance
it is difficult to show repentance at the last moment.
of everlasting memory, Metropolitan of Edessa Kallinikos lived
continuously with the memory of death. When he was told by the
doctors that he has a tumor in the brain, he confessed right away,
he wrote his will, he prayed and had absolute faith to God, saying:
“Perhaps God said to me “stop”. I don’t need you any more”. He would
pray continuously saying “your will be done”. He gave himself up to
God and had a peaceful and saintly end, similar to his whole life.
even though there is a possibility for someone who had some spark of
love for God in him to repent at the hour of death, we should repent
when we are healthy, so as to have the ability to be cured, that is,
to proceed from self-love to the love of God and love of men, to
reach selfless love out of selfish love.
Question: After man’s death, what are the links between the soul
and this world?
the soul is separated from the body, man’s hypostasis still exists.
As we see in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man
is conscious of his state, of his relatives who are still alive and
he cares for them. Thus, after death, men care for their beloved
ones and ask God for their salvation. All our prayers to the saints
are based on this truth. Of course, this link between the soul and
living persons is spiritual, not material.
In the book
of the Revelation of St John which describes the celestial Divine
Liturgy, one can see these relations of the saints with us and their
prayer for all people living on earth. This is why our Fathers
depicted in the Divine Liturgy this uncreated Divine Liturgy which
takes place in the Heavens, in the uncreated Temple. In the Divine
Liturgy we live the atmosphere of the heavenly Liturgy and we
often feel the love and protection of the saints, as well as of
those close to us who have departed from this world, and wish to
meet them. A spiritual child of mine was very happy at the hour of
death, because, as she said, she would meet this heavenly Church.
the soul continues to live after its exit from the body, it is not
led to non-existence. If a person lived in repentance during his
life, then his soul after exiting the body will enter this heavenly
Divine Liturgy and will pray, like a spiritual priest, for the whole
world, and will wait for the resurrection of the body. Then the soul
will enter the body so that the body too participates in this
heavenly Easter celebration.
Question: What advice should we give to those close to us
regarding our attitude to a person about to die on the day, or at
the hour or the moment of death?
process of death is very important for each man, because in front of
him is the road to salvation or the road to eternal perdition.
Unfortunately, in these circumstances, many people look only after
the physical health of their relatives and friends without regard
for their eternal course. This is why we should take care that a
person who is about to die confesses, receives holy Communion,
receives the grace of God through the sacrament of Unction and does
everything that our Church has available. In particular, we should
live the last moments of the life of our beloved one in prayer. We
should consider not simply that we are losing our relative, our
friend, but that he is moving from one way of existence (with body
and senses) to a different way of existence, without body. So,
intense prayer is what is needed at that time.
the last moments of my Gerondas, I was beside his bed and could not
offer anything else, I just prayed to God for his soul to be
received by angels. An aunt of mine who was present thought that I
was sad, as I concentrated and prayed. But I was just praying,
because that moment is holy and crucial.
must experience daily, as St. John Chrysostom says, that the present
life is an “inn”. We entered this inn, we live, but we must take
care to depart in good hope, without leaving anything here in order
not to lose what is there. Furthermore, all of us Christians should
realise that death has been defeated by the Cross and the
Resurrection of Christ, that communion with Christ is a continuous
transcendence of death and of the fear of death, that the exit of
the soul from the body is a course towards the heavenly Church and
the encounter with Christ, the All holy Virgin and the saints, that
the soul will return to the body, and the body will be resurrected
and live eternally, according to the way it lived on this earth. St.
Maximus the Confessor writes that from the moment of death, and
especially after the last Judgment, there are two possibilities:
those who are in communion with Christ will live in “eternal well-being”
and the rest in “eternal woeful being”. So, everyone will enjoy "eternal
being". The difference is between “well” and “woeful”.
our advice to the relatives and friends of those about to die is to
have faith in Christ and confidence that we are not just citizens of
this world, but we are travellers guided to our true country, which
is heaven. Our citizenship is above in heaven. The desire for the
heavenly land should overwhelm us.–