The world can only see death as the ultimate calamity. When the prospect of eternal life is shielded from our view, when our gaze is directed only towards this fleeting life, then the fear of death is inescapable. Death takes us from the only life we have ever known. If we have no hope for a life beyond it, there is nothing more disconsolate than the specter of death. Indeed, we will do all we can to avoid the thought of our own mortality. If this life is all we have, after all, we might as well enjoy it while we can, uncumbered by anxiety over its imminent end.
But God, in His wise and benevolent providence, sees to it that we are never able fully to escape the reality of this world’s precariousness. We now enter the third year of a pandemic that has refused to go away, to cease reminding us that, for all of our vaunted technology and ingenuity, human life remains as fragile as ever. Despite the best efforts of our scientists, doctors, and politicians, there has been no silver bullet solution forthcoming, able to put an end once and for all to the pandemic. No, in the last year alone, we have endured two more waves of the coronavirus, as new variants developed and spread. Perhaps the worst of it is now over, and soon we will have the relief of not worrying about the virus anymore; perhaps soon, we will be spared the grief and anxiety of seeing our loved ones fall ill and perish to this plague.
It is only natural for us to want this, to desire a return to normalcy, to life as it was before this trial began. But we should ask ourselves honestly: “Have I genuinely brought forth the fruit of repentance that God is seeking from me through this ordeal, or do I simply want my life to be easier and more care-free, so that I can more readily enjoy myself and fulfill my own desires?” Our answer to this question reveals our stance towards death; and our stance towards death in turn reveals the quality of our faith. And it is manifest that our faith is the very foundation of our spiritual life.
The season of Lent now beckons, and demands that we shore up that foundation of faith. It calls us again, with renewed urgency, to take up our Cross and walk the narrow way to Golgotha, there to be crucified with our Savior, to die with Him that we might live with Him. So we see that our Christian attitude towards death is the exact opposite of the world’s. The world shuns death and flees from it, no matter what the cost. But we Christians embrace it, keep our gaze ever fixed on it, and willingly, eagerly, go towards it. For our faith assures us that death for Christ’s sake is the guarantee of eternal life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we recklessly endanger our lives or those of others, that we neglect our health or our God-given responsibilities, seeking a cheap death as a foolhardy daredevil. It means that we actively fight against the passions and lusts that bind us to this life, confident in our hope and zealously holding to God’s commandments, unafraid of shame or stigma, undaunted by those who can kill the body but not the soul.
To aid us in this struggle of faith, we have the witness of the countless millions of Christians who have gone on before us, the Saints known and unknown, simple pious folk who led faithful lives and died with hope, and of course our own dearly departed ones—some of whom have even been taken by the pandemic. The services of Great Lent unite us with this cloud of witnesses into one Mystical Body. The Saints pray for us, and we pray with increased fervor for the departed during this time, offering a number of special services in their behalf. We invite you to join us in this labor of the Fast by submitting the names of your reposed loved ones, and making an optional offering on their behalf. These names will be commemorated at every Liturgy, Pannykhida, Litia, and Matins for the Departed during the Lenten season.
And so, our hearts knit together in the unity of faith through prayer, may we all reach the blessed Paschal night and experience the unspeakable joy of the Resurrection, no matter what sorrows or trials we may face at this time. Be of good cheer, our Lord says, for I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33). Christ is risen!