IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.
When we consider our death, do we approach it with a dreadful fear of God, or do we approach it with a sober and conscientious love toward God?
In today’s epistle reading, the Apostle Paul is writing to his spiritual son Timothy, and this will be the last epistle that the Apostle will ever write, because, as he says, “the time of my departure is at hand,” (2 Tim. 4.6ff) because he is soon to go on to Rome where he will be executed and die a martyr’s death under Nero.
The tone of this epistle is one of support, encouragement, and consolation towards the son whom he loves who will soon be without his spiritual father.
With the following words, the Apostle introduces the epistle, saying, “To Timothy, my dearly beloved son,” and also, “without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day.” He concludes this epistle with a farewell by writing, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
St. John Chrysostom paints the picture of this scene for his audience, saying:
As a father whose son was sitting by him, bewailing his orphan state, might console him, saying, “Weep not, my son; we have lived a good life, we have arrived at old age, and now we leave thee. Our life has been irreproachable, we depart with glory, and thou mayest be held in admiration for our actions. Our king is much indebted to us.” As if he had said, “We have raised trophies, we have conquered enemies,” and this not boastfully. God forbid; but to raise up his dejected son, and to encourage him by praises to bear firmly what had happened, to entertain good hopes, and not to think it a matter grievous to be born.
Once we understand this aspect of this epistle to Timothy, that fatherly heart of the Apostle becomes so much more evident and is strewn throughout each of the sentences of this small work. However, how are we to be so encouraged whether it be daily, or at the end of our life? Can any of us say, either daily, or looking over our life, “I have fought the good fight”?
Perhaps, we would only wish we had the Apostle Paul to console us, to lift up our head, to strengthen our heart, to fortify our mind. But friends, we do. As we all know that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, so we can communicate with the Apostle Paul, asking him to open our eyes, enlighten our hearts, impart to us wisdom. And, what is more, he leaves us a written work, and answers these questions by saying, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4.8). Therefore, we ask ourselves: “In light of how I not only conduct myself on a daily basis with my brothers and others, but even within my heart and mind, can I stand naked before God, and love and desire to have him present before me, to have him visit me? Or are we instead ashamed, not in the sense that we should be self-conscious because we cannot speak good in front of others or cannot present ourselves so as to be accepted more by others, but in the sense of keeping the commandments of God, struggling to overcome the passions and striving to acquire the virtues, toiling to think about God, to contemplate Him and pray to Him?
That the Apostle Paul is not being “bold”
One must not think that the Apostle is being bold, audacious, or lacking respect before the Lord as though he is being presumptuous. No, instead, he has been the faithful servant of the master, obeying his commands, being diligent to receive the reward from the hand of God, as the Lord has said: “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works (Matt. 16.27). And the Apostle Paul, knowing this, reiterates the same, saying: “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (1 Cor. 3.8); and “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3.24). The Apostle Peter echoes the same when he writes: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, [then] pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1.17).
Commenting on the words of the Apostle Paul, St. Theophan the Recluse points out,
This is nothing else than the assimilation of the heart [to] the good promises of the Lord, with the exact fulfillment of the conditions under which the promises are placed by the Promiser. A believer who has entered by faith into the realm of God and in everything remains faithful to [the] faith and Divine [commandments], cannot speak and feel otherwise.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
Waiting expectantly in love, not fear
On what basis then is such confidence established? St. Theophan, further explains that it is grounded in one’s conscience, for who else can instill this hope into us. But as the Apostle wrote, “there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” It is a conscience before a righteous judge, for we learn to know the Lord, to trust the Lord; we learn His commandments, we know what is pleasing to Him and we learn to live under that awareness in order that we may become that good steward, that profitable servant, that wise virgin.
However, this confidence is not something that quickly takes root. It only comes after much effort in laboring for the Lord, a labor which most often begins in a fear of the Lord, but strives towards and ends in a love for the Lord as the Apostle John says,
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment… There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear… He that feareth is not made perfect in love (cf. 1 John 4.16-18).
Visitations of the Lord
What is more, it is not at the end of our life that we await the visitation and judgment of God, as Jesus Himself said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14.23); and “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3.20). You are not left alone without any assistance, with only some cold texts and a barren universe. No, God himself comes and gives life to the soul and teaches each of us, guiding each of us, and we need to learn what He is saying.
Awaiting one’s departure
St. Symeon the New Theologian offers an example, which affirms the same point, when he speaks of a monk he knew at the Studion Monastery in Constantinople by the name of Anthony. He sat at Monk Anthony’s bedside as he was dying and he wept, and Fr. Anthony looked up at him and asked,
Why do you weep, brother? I have not denied my faith in God, but I have kept it even as I have kept Him in whom I hope. From the time I came to this holy monastery – I say this without boasting, but trusting in God and in our holy father’s prayer – I have committed no fleshly sin. Yet as I ate and drank I have spent my days in negligence. But I commend myself to God’s lovingkindness, for He knows all things, and knows what He will do with my lowliness.
A daily accounting in preparation for that final account
Perhaps, looking forward to those final days, we would say: “How can I have confidence? How could I possibly remember the many ways and many times I have broken the commandments, given in to my passions and grieved the Lord?” However, if we begin now to nurture a repentant state of mind, nurture that awareness that seeks to please the Lord and repent of even the smallest transgression that would grieve Him, then, and especially with the grace of God, will we develop that confidence, that conscience, and that “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2.16), becoming a “spiritual man” (1 Cor. 2.10-16).
On a daily basis, we should check our conscience seeing where we have pleased the Lord or have grieved Him. We find this advice frequently. In the Horologion, we are instructed to examine our conscience every night finding out when we have done evil or when we have done good.
Elder Moses of Optina, as a young man, writes to his younger brother regarding the same questions, answering him:
Check yourself daily on the basis of this truth – what have you sown for the future life, wheat or thorns? And having examined yourself, resolve to do better the next day, and live your whole life in this manner. If you have spent the day poorly, without praying to God as you should, without even once feeling contrition of heart, without humbling yourself mentally, without showing kindness or giving alms to anyone, without forgiving someone at fault, without patiently enduring offense – if instead you have given way to anger and showed no restraint in your speech or in eating and drinking, or if you have immersed your mind in impure thoughts – when you have reviewed all this in your mind, condemn yourself according to your conscience and resolve on the following day to be more attentive to that which is good and to guard against that which is evil.
In conclusion, let us recall the words or St. Isaac, wherein he affirms a close scrutinizing of the conscience, an unashamed hope, and the awareness of rewards laid up for the faithful which will be distributed by the righteous judge.
Prepare your heart for your departure. If you are wise, you will expect it every hour. Each day say to yourself, “See, the messenger who comes to fetch me is already at the door. Why am I sitting idle? I must depart forever. I cannot come back again.” Go to sleep with these thoughts every night, and reflect on them throughout the day. And when the time of departure comes, go joyfully to meet it, saying, “Come in peace. I knew you would come, and I have not neglected anything that could help me on the journey.”
THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN.
 As we are told by Origen of Alexandria in the third century and Eusebius in the fourth.
 Homilies on Timothy, 511f.
 Cf. St. John Cassian, The Institutes, trans. Boniface Ramsey. (Mahwah: The Newman Press, 2000), 127-128.
 St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses, “On the Remembrance of Death,” trans. C. J. de Cantanzaro. (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1980), 238-239.
 (Holy Trinity Monastery: Jordanville, 1997), 257.
 The Elder Moses of Optina, trans. Holy Trinity Convent. (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1996), 307.
 Homilies, 65.