The death of a person in patristic tradition: metaphysical, spiritual and moral aspects

Профессор протоиерей Владимир Башкиров

The life-affirming Biblical concept of death permeates almost the entire theological heritage of the Church, from the early Christian writings up until the present time. Priest Vladimir Bashkirov, Doctor of Theology, Professor at the Minsk Theological Academy and head of the Theology Department of the Belorussian State University Institute of Theology, provides examples of this drawing on a wide range of biblical and patristic sources.

I. The metaphysical aspect of death

In one of the collections of the sayings of the desert monks published recently under the rather humorous title “The Desert Fathers Laugh” I read a wonderful saying about death, at once both simple and deep. Here it is:

“Abba Athanasius was close to death. He said to the doctor who was assuring him that he had nothing serious: ‘What good luck! I’m dying in good health.’”[1]

At the first glance I might seem that the elder is showing excessive bravery and is showing off his fearlessness, but in actual fact he is expressing, albeit in a rather paradoxical form, a purely Christian attitude to the phenomenon of death: “Death should not be feared, because it does not exist!”

This life-affirming Biblical concept of death permeates almost the whole of the theological heritage of the Church, from the early Christian writings up until present times.

1. Death in the Old Testament

1.1. In the Old Testament death (mawet – fading of life) is perceived in a very realistic manner. God grants his life-energy (ruach) only for a limited time (3 Kings 17:17; Job 34:14). Man’s body, created from dust, returns to the earth and his spirit returns to God, Who first granted it (Ps 145:4?; Eccl 12:1-7). Human life is short and ends quickly (Isa 40:6; Ps 38:5-7; 89:4-6; 102:15-16; Job 14:1-2; Eccl 3:2), because “the days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”(Ps 89:10). However, in actual fact life ends up being even shorter – around 30 years for men and even less for women in connection with childbearing and high infant mortality. It was considered a happy blessing to die in old age, having become “full of days” (Gen. 25:8; Job 42:17; compare with Deut. 34:7).

The Old Testament had not found an answer to how to treat premature death. After all, time is needed in order for life to reveal itself in full. Man himself could do very little, for example forbidding newlyweds to go to war (Deut 20:7, 2 Kings 18:33), but for the rest there only remained to sorrow and hope in God’s omnipotence, which sometimes manifested itself (3 Kings 17:17-24; 4 Kings 18-37, 4 Kings 20:9-11).

1.2. Israel did not perceive death, implacable and merciless, as an autonomous supernatural force. It is used by God to strike down (Hebrew nkh) people. Thus the Lord strikes down the cruel and wicked Nabal (1 Kings 25:3, 25:38), Uzzah, who dared to stretch his hands to the Ark of God (2 Kings 6:6-7), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24); the firstborn of the land of Egypt (Ex 12:29); Dathan, Abiram and Korah’s people (Num 16:19-25); and He sends a pestilence on the Israelites for conducting a census (2 Kings 24:15-25), among other examples. Those attempting to get close to God risk death (Ex 19:16-25; 33:5, 20-23; Lev 16:1; Isa 6:5). In general God Yahweh kills and makes alive, wounds and heals, and no one can escape His hand (compare Deut 32:39). He casts down to Hell and lifts up (1 Kings 2:6); His might is astounding: “Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.” (Ps 103:29). Any attempt to approach Him already conceals death in itself (Ex 19:16-25; 33:5, 20-23; Lev 16:1; Isa 6:5).

Death as the means of God’s retribution manifests itself through illnesses, pain, persecution, loneliness, need, fear and being forsaken by God, and threatens life both in case of individuals and of whole societies (compare Ps 6:5-9; Ps 21:12-22; Ps 29:2-4; Ps 37; 59:3-5; 78:1-5). The Prophets could daringly declare a whole city or a whole country to be cast down into dust, although at the time of the prophecy these places were flourishing and it appeared that nothing was threatening them. This kind of prophesy was uttered by Isaiah about Zion (Isa 1:21-23) and by the prophet Amos about the house of Israel (Am 5:1-2).[2]

1.3. In the Old Testament death is linked with the underworld, or Sheol, which is located in the bowels of the earth and is the common grave for the whole of humanity. To descend into Sheol or to be buried meant becoming a victim of the mighty power of death. And although the idea of life after death was linked to Sheol, existence in this kingdom of shadows was hopeless, because death is the result of and the punishment for sin (Gen 2, 3; Wisdom 1:13-16; 2:22-24).[3]

However at the time of the Maccabees[4] the attitude to death changes in connection with the struggle against foreign enslavement and, for the first time in the Old Testament, in the first book of Maccabees death is portrayed as heroic (1 Macc 13:25-30). From this time onward the idea of the anticipation of the resurrection of the dead gradually develops, an idea that had been expressed already in the book of the prophet Daniel (Dan 12, 13; compare 2 Macc 7, 9, 14). It is subsequently taken up in Jewish apocalyptic writings, in the writings of the wise men of Israel (Sir 15:6; Wisdom 2:23) and in the works of scribes close to the Pharisee faction (Acts 23:8).[5]

2. Death in the New Testament

2.1. In the New Testament Man’s death is viewed through the prism of the death on the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Immortality belongs only to God (1 Tim 6:16) and it is natural for people to be afraid of death (Matt 4:16; Heb 2:15). However, because God is the life-giving source of all life (Rom 4:17), death could have only appeared as the result of Man having abandoned God, which is what happened with Adam (Rom 5:15, 17-18; 1 Cor 15:22) and which is repeated in the life of every person (Rom 6:23; Heb 9:27). In this manner, death gains power over a person not only at the end of his earthly life, but reigns over him throughout his whole life. This is so-called carnal wisdom, moral or spiritual death (Rom 8:6; 1 John 3:14), because sin, which results in death and is its sting, exists in Man despite the law of God (Rom 7:9, 1 Cor 15:56; James 1:15). For this reason the Scriptures say that the Devil, from whom sin originates, was in possession of the dominion of death (Heb 2:14) and death itself is viewed as a demonic power (1 Cor 15:26-27; Rev 6:8; 20:13-14).

2.2. The New Testament shows that Christ, who did not have to die, because He was without sin, stepped into the sphere of death, humbled Himself, having been obedient even unto death, the death of the Cross (Phil 2:7; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 3:18) and died for us (1 Thess 5:10; compare with Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6; Heb 2:9). By His Resurrection He conquered the Devil and death and holds the keys of Hell and death (Heb 2, 14-15; Rev 1:17-18). Then Christ had destroyed the power of death over those that believed in Him, i.e. those who were baptised into Christ (Rom 6:3-4) and died with Him for the world and for sin (Rom 7:6; Gal 6:14; Col 2:20). A Christian goes through death in Christ and is separated not from God, but from the world and from sin. The world and sin die within him, because the life of Jesus is opened to those who believe (2 Cor 4:10; 5:1-15; Col 3:3). In other words Christ grants life or raises from the dead. Moreover, this does not happen in the Last Days, but in the same instant, immediately. Everyone who entrusts himself to Christ crosses over from death to life (John 5:24) and will never see death (John 8:51-52), although the whole world already exists in a state of death (Rev 3:2) and is moving towards a second death, to eternal separation from God (Rev 20:14).[6]

Christians remain mortal, they die in the physical sense, but they die in Christ (1 Thess 4:16) or fall asleep in Him (Acts 7:60; John 11:11-14; 1 Cor 7:39; 15:6, 18; 51; 1 Thess 4:13-15). Physical death is the last enemy destroyed by Christ (1 Cor 15:26), but He gave us this victory as a potential and death itself continues to afflict the bodily life of a particular individual (Rom 8:9-11). However, it has been deprived of its sting and it cannot separate a Christian from Christ; on the contrary, it brings him closer to Christ (Rom 8:38-39; 2 Cor 5:1-10; Phil 1:20-21). He, having risen from the dead, the firstborn of the dead, calls all the faithful to a new life, resurrecting and transfiguring their bodies, and then the spirit and body will exist in perfect harmony (compare with 1 Cor 15:20; Col 1:12).[7]

We should note that when the apostle Paul speaks about the final fate of Man, he clearly distinguishes three deaths: physical death (Rom 5:12; 6:21-23; 2 Cor 1:9-10), spiritual death, i.e. death from sin (Rom 7:10; 8:6), and eternal death, when a person experiences a final separation from God (2 Cor 2:15-16).

3. Death in Pre-Nicene theology

3.1. The reality and universality of death was already taught by St. Justin the Philosopher[8] (+ c. 165), who saw in it the action of Divine paedagogy.[9]

In his apologetic work “Address to the Greeks” Justin’s disciple Tatian (+ c. 175)[10] sees the cause of death exclusively in Man’s freedom. Man chose evil, the cause of death, and he is unable to renounce this evil by turning to God.[11]

In his treatise ‘On the Resurrection of the Body’ Athenagoras (2nd century)[12] emphasises the analogy between sleep and death and repeats after Homer “Sleep and Death are twin brothers.”[13]

He argues thus: “In death, as in sleep, the vital activity of soul and body is interrupted. With waking and resurrection this anomaly is destroyed, consciousness returns, and the unity of soul and body is restored.”[14]

3.2. St. Irenaeus of Lyons[15] (+ c. 202) was the first of the pre-Nicene Fathers to see in death a creative element looking towards eternity: “He (God) restricted sin, appointing death and putting a stop to sin, establishing a limit to it through the destruction of the flesh, which must remain in the earth, so that at one point Man would stop living for sin and, dying to it, start to live for God.”[16]

Subsequently this thought becomes part of the general patristic tradition: this was the opinion held by Clement of Alexandria (+ c. 215)[17] and this was also thought by Tertullian (+ c. 225)[18], who believed the sin of Adam and Eve to be the cause of mortality in mankind.[19]

St. Hippolytus of Rome (+ c. 236)[20] stated that human bodies were completely indestructible and only decomposed into their component parts, rather then being destroyed.[21]

3.3. The same idea was shared by Origen (+254)[22] another famous Church writer of the 3rd century.

Like other ancient Christian writers he believed sin to be the cause of mortality in the human race and understood the ‘coats of skins’ (Gen 3:21) to mean the present mortal human body: “Coats of skins constitute the mortality into which Adam and Eve were clothed after they were condemned to death for sin.”[23]

St. Methodius of Olympus (+ c. 311)[24] sees within death the action of Divine paedagogy. For Man death is preferable to separation from the Tree of Life, and to the cementing of this horrendous condition for eternity.[25]

4. St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian on death

4.1. Like earlier theologians, St. Basil the Great (+ 379)[26] thought that the cause of death is rooted in human will, which preferred matter to spirit and illusion to reality. “Adam… was protected in all these things by God and enjoyed the blessings belonging to Him, he quickly became full of everything. And as it were becoming insolent through satiety, he preferred what appeared delightful to the fleshly eyes to the spiritual beauty and considered the filling of the stomach more valuable than the spiritual enjoyments. And immediately he was outside paradise and outside that blessed way of life, becoming evil not from necessity but from thoughtlessness. Because of this he also sinned through wicked free choice and died through the sin. “For the wages of sin is death”[Rom 6:23]. For to the extent that he withdrew from life, he likewise drew near to death. For God is life, and the privation of life is death.”[27]

In this manner the first cause of death is lack of knowledge of God: “For the body,” he states, “cannot live without breath and the soul cannot exist without the Creator, because lack of knowledge of God is death for the soul.”[28]

Death has entered so deeply into Man’s nature that his whole life is gradual dying, because with his body he lives in a mortal world, according to the laws of the material world.[29]

4.2. For St. Gregory the Theologian (+ c. 389)[30] death is the action of God’s judgement. It puts a stop to sin, so that “evil did not become immortal. Thus the punishment itself becomes a sign of love towards humanity, because I am sure that this is the manner of God’s punishment.”[31]

St. Gregory believes that on his deathbed every person “is an honest judge of himself on account of the judgement that awaits him beyond.”[32] And thus it could be said that life and death penetrate each other and are different forms of the same existence.[33]

5. St Gregory of Nyssa on death

The theme of death was also of special interest to St. Gregory of Nyssa (+ 395).[34] He returned to it many times in his works, and developed, on the basis of the thought of his distinguished predecessors and contemporaries, the Christian teaching on death and its place in the life of each human being, as well as for the human race as a whole. Moreover, he did it with his characteristic talent, unsurpassable intensity and depth. Virtually all the scholars of his legacy[35] make note of these qualities, which is why we should look at his concept of death in greater detail.
Death of the body

5.1. Like all the other Fathers and Teachers of the Church, St. Gregory of Nyssa views human life itself as the result of very close interaction between two substances from which he has been created: soul and body. “The human being,” he states in the Great Catechism, “is a twofold creature, compounded of soul and body.”[36]

The human soul is that vivifying source that communicates life to the body with which it is in contact.[37] It “penetrates equally every member that composes the body and transmits life to all and each of such parts.”[38]

Consequently death is the parting of body and soul, that is, in the opinion of St. Gregory, in death a person’s bodily nature is deprived of life, the inner link between soul and body is severed and sensory organs become extinguished and various elements that made up the body decompose into groups of like elements.[39] This happens because the body is complex in its composition, i.e. comprised of different elements, pieces of matter, each of which returns to its place.

He has another extremely important definition of death. It appears to him as the assembly of qualities and functions that appeared in the human organism after the Fall of our ancestors.[40]

5.2. St. Gregory decisively defends the idea of the indestructibility of the human body.[41] Such a view fully corresponds to his teaching on the nature of matter:

“… Not one of those things which we attribute to body is itself body; neither figure, nor colour, nor weight, nor extension, nor quantity, nor any other qualifying notion whatever; but every one of them is a category; it is the combination of them all into a single whole that constitutes body.”[42]

“This dynamic theory of matter,” notes V.N. Lossky (1958), “makes it possible to conceive of different degrees of materiality, bodies which are material to a greater or lesser extent; it also makes it easier to comprehend the change which took place in the original nature after the coming of sin, as also the resurrection of the body. The material elements pass from one body to another, so that the universe is in fact but a single body.”[43]

Moreover, St. Gregory states that the elements of the human body are completely preserved in their original state; that they never stop existing.

“The body does not disappear completely, but decomposes into components of which it is formed; these elements exist in water and air, in earth and fire. Because the changed elements do not cease to exist, and what was borrowed from them returns to them after decomposition, within these elements the parts of the body are wholly preserved.”[44] But there is more!

It turns out that the components of our body, becoming joined with these original elements, in no way become dissolved in them, losing their individuality, but retain in themselves particular features that distinguish them from the components of other bodies.[45]

6. The death of the immortal soul and its condition beyond the grave

6.1. Sin as a source of death[46] had an effect on the soul as well as the body, and thus death encompassed the whole of the human being, i.e. both body and soul. It would be better to say that the soul was the first to die, because disobedience is a sin of the will and not the body, while the will, from which evil spread to the whole of nature, belongs to the soul.[47]

This is why together with the Apostle Paul St. Gregory speaks of two deaths:

“Since… the communication of sinful passions can occur in soul and body … there is a certain resemblance between the death of the body and the death of the soul, because as the departure of the sensory life is called the death of the body, the departure from true life is also called the death of the soul.”[48]

6.2. But what happens with the soul, which is an immortal entity, after death and the decay of the body? St. Gregory is completely confident in maintaining that the soul simply leaves the body and passes to a different world.[49]

The commentary on the Song of Songs contains a thought that “death gained power over half of our nature, because only the soul remains immortal”,[50] which, like the angels, extends into eternity.[51]

“Does not the flesh decompose into the earth and the mind remain with the soul, retaining existence even after the loss of the flesh? This is proved by the fact that the rich man remembers those still on earth and begs Abraham for those connected with him by ties of kinship… Having experienced for himself the inevitability of the judgement he concerns himself with those close to him.”[52]

St. Gregory tries to penetrate the mystery of the soul’s existence beyond the grave, and comes to the very deeply thought-through conclusion that after a person’s death the soul remains close to the constituent parts of the body that have decomposed into their initial elements; this happens not according to its nature, but its special “cognitive power”.[53] He compares it to a guard, watching over his property.[54]

To support his opinion he puts forward two vivid figurative examples of the work of an artist and a potter.[55]

The holy Father concludes his reflections on the metaphysical interrelation of the body and soul with a very interesting remark, on which, however, he does not comment further:

“Whoever … sees that the words of Scripture contain the meaning that after the decomposition of its corporeal form the soul possesses earth, eyes, tongue and so on, would not be transgressing against probability.”[56]

7. Death as punishment with a good aim

7.1. Man was created perfect, or, according to St. John of Damascus (+749), “undergoing deification”, i.e. drawn towards God,[57] and this means, notes St. Gregory of Nyssa, he is capable of enjoying the divine blessings, eternity and immortality.[58]

He sees the cause of the dismal condition of Adam and his descendants in the incorrect use of freedom, which chooses sin and evil.[59]

Following Philo of Alexandria (+ c. 50 AD)[60] he allegorically interprets the “coats of skins” (Gen 3:21) as the mortality of the body, our crude biological condition.[61]

Death becomes universal, because children are born to their mortal parents: “The fruit of a mortal birth is also necessarily mortal”.[62]

7.2. However, the saint does not see death only as God’s punishment, but sees in it the action of Divine paedagogy, which has a good and salvatory purpose; it is simply a means and contains a process[63], because it puts a limit to the development of evil in human nature.[64]

There are three sides to this process[65] and it includes a self-purification, a removal from the future psychophysical composition of Man:

a) corrupt passions of our body;

b) needs of our body, which are necessary for us in the current life, but completely unnecessary in the life to come,

c) parts of our nature intended only for serving the needs of our bodies.

In the end a true transfiguration of Man takes place, with the restoration of the original state of human morality.[66]

It is interesting to note that in the ascetic tradition the transformation of the senses is one of the aims of the practical labour of the ascetic already here on earth.[67]

In this manner St. Gregory supposes that the body would have a different composition in the life to come, which would not include the organs important for earthly life. Naturally he did not say anything about the appearance of such a transfigured body, because he did not like to speculate.

II. The spiritual and moral aspect of death

8. Why did the Lord leave us physical death?
8.1. The question of why people die if Christ has conquered death was already put to the apostles, and is mentioned by apostle Peter in his second general epistle: “And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (2 Peter 3:4).

But Christians themselves thought different. For them the death on the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ were always an unshakable truth and basis of their faith. This general thought was expressed well by the 14th century theologian Nicholas Cabasilas (+1371): “The last central point is that the dominion of death was completely banished from nature by the Saviour through the Resurrection.”[68] And if physical death remains, it must have some kind of a higher meaning. And when we find it then immediately all doubts will fall away.

8.2. St. Dmitry of Rostov (+1709) has the following to say regarding this.

There are three types of death: of the body, of the soul and in eternity – hell.
The bodily death is the parting of soul and body. Of it the Psalms speak: “Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.” (Ps 103)

The death of the soul is the departure of God’s grace from the soul. This death is caused by sin, which drives away God’s grace from the soul, like night drives away light. “Oh Man,” says St. John the Chrysostom (+407) “you weep for the body from which the soul separates, but do not weep for the soul, which has been separated from God” and, finally, eternal death, as the continuation of the state of separation from God in eternity.[69]

8.3. Of these three types of death Christ destroyed only the first two, while God’s paedagogy left the death of the body in this world until the last times. This happened for several reasons!

Firstly, it was in order for people to renounce sin and abhor it, because death is the daughter of sin (James 1:15).

Secondly Christ left the death of the body in order to prevent people getting attached to worldly pleasures and physical beauty.

Thirdly, death helps us to correct our moral disposition. With the bridle of death God sets a limit upon the endless proliferation of evil in the human race.

Fourthly, death humbles Man’s pride. If it did not exist, people would become arrogantly established in their self-sufficiency and think themselves to be divine.

There are further reasons why the Lord did not destroy death. He left it as a comfort for the poor, the infirm, the unhappy, the sick, who wish to find rest for themselves in death and also for the chosen of God, who set all their hope in heavenly life (Phil 3:20)[70]. “Death is a kind of poison,” says St. Innocent of Kherson (+1857), “which, having been changed on the Cross by Christ’s blood, became a medicine against itself.”[71]

9. The death of infants and children

9.1. There is probably no greater grief for a parent than the death of their child, especially in infancy. In such cases the Fathers of the Church do not so much comfort the parents, as invite them to think of the future fate of children who have died an untimely death.

Man is a mortal being and thus can die at any time in his life, either in his mother’s womb, or as an infant, a youth, a mature or a very old person.[72]

From the very beginning the conceived foetus faces many deadly dangers. The first danger is death in the womb. St. Ephrem the Syrian (+373) distinguishes two types of such a death: 1) the death of the mother when she is pregnant, when the eternal fate of both the mother and the baby is blessed and 2) the death of the baby when the mother consciously killed the conceived foetus. He sees her eternal fate as terrible, where the killed infant would be her judge and she would repeat his earthly fate.[73] But there are a number of mitigating circumstances for the death of the baby in the womb, so the blame cannot always be placed on the pregnant mother.

The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church formulates its attitude towards women who decided to have an abortion as follows: “Without rejecting the women who had an abortion, the Church calls upon them to repent and to overcome the destructive consequences of the sin through prayer and penance followed by participation in the salvific Sacraments. In case of a direct threat to the life of a mother if her pregnancy continues, especially if she has other children, lenience is recommended in pastoral practice. The woman who interrupts pregnancy in this situation shall not be excluded from the Eucharistic communion with the Church provided that she has fulfilled the canon of Penance assigned by the priest who takes her confession.”[74]

9.2. Several opinions are expressed in Church writings about the fate of unbaptized infants after death, and these are all fairly optimistic. Thus, St. Gregory the Theologian teaches: “The last (i.e. those who have died unbaptised due to young age – V.B.) will be neither glorified nor punished by the just Judge.”[75]

St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his treatise on infants who suffered premature death, sees the action of death in these infants as a good, irrespective of whether these were baptised or not, because they avoid the consequences of the action of the original sin in human nature. The original sin is active in Adam’s descendants as a force of evil and, consequently, an infant who had no conscious part in it participated directly in the Divine light[76], because he had not yet acquired sinful habits, which, like sickly infection,[77] act as a hindrance to participating in the true light.

“A similar problem,” notes the famous Russian theologian, priest Sergei Bulgakov (+1944), “also exists for the teaching on the requital beyond the grave in respect of the feebleminded, the deformed, natural imbeciles, everyone whose life is shaped by hereditary illness and a semi-conscious state. They can become humanised, enter into the fullness of human existence, only after being freed from the bonds and shackles of earthly existence. These mentally ill people should, at the least to some extent, be put into this category. After death in a particular individual fashion there will be a compensation and fulfilment of the true substance of life for those deprived of it here.”[78]

9.3. In general theologians summed up the causes of early death in infants as follows: “Sometimes good children are taken away from us because they have made enough progress in meekness and piety, in the purity of body and soul and thus, so to speak, reached old age (Wisdom 4:9).

Sometimes the lives of good children are cut short because the Lord, on account of His special love and favour towards them, removes them early on from this realm of adversity and affliction (Wisdom 4:11).

Sometimes good children die before their parents because the Almighty wishes to test the faith of the father or mother and to perfect the parents in the virtue of patience.

Sometimes good children go early to the grave because neither their parents nor other relatives are worthy of such children.

At times wicked children die because the Creator, seeing their malice and their subsequent wickedness and not wishing them to be a wound and an agitation of those near them, speedily removes them form the face of the earth.

But always children live for the Lord if they live and die for the Lord if they die. And so whether they live or die they are always the Lord’s (compare Rom 14:8)”.[79]

10. Sudden or violent death

10.1. Could death ever really be sudden? People live in a society that wishes to create the most comfortable conditions for itself here on earth, and stubbornly strives for this.[80]

However, such a civilisation conceals within itself the danger of a sudden and violent death and a person, agreeing to life in relative convenience and comfort, agrees, perhaps reluctantly, to the risks of such a way of life, which means that he should be prepared to die at any moment. But then one cannot speak of a sudden death: a person should at any moment expect its intrusion.

It is in this sense that Christian thinkers have always made a special emphasis on the importance of the moral aspect of death. It turns out that the meaning lies not in death as a fact, but with what moral potential a person faces it, because depending on this either life can be full of death or death could be full of life: “For even death is a thing indifferent,” states St. John Chrysostom (+407) “since death itself is no ill, but to be punished after death is an ill. Nor is death a good, but it is good after our departure “to be with Christ.” What follows death is either good or ill. Let us then not simply grieve for the dead, nor simply rejoice for the living. But how? Let us grieve for sinners, not only when dying, but also while living. Let us rejoice for the just, not only while living, but also when dead. For those though living are dead, while these although dead, yet live: those even while here are to be pitied of all, because they are at enmity with God; the other even when they have departed Thither, are blessed, because they are gone to Christ.”[81]

10.2. But what should be done with unjust death? Here is the explanation provided by Nemesius of Emesa (4th century)[82]: “One is killed either justly or for his benefit – sometimes justly for shameful deeds unknown to us and sometimes for his benefit when Providence anticipates his future misfortunes and his life ends before this happens, as it was with Socrates and other holy men. But a killer kills unjustly because he does this… of his own will out of greed or robbery. After all, it is in our power to act. No death is evil save perhaps that which is sent on account of sin. This can be seen in the death of holy men.”[83]

10.3. Ascetic literature has many examples that confirm that no murder remains unpunished for the murderer. Here are just a few methods of the action of Divine paedagogy for murderers and their punishment:

· the murderer suffers the unbearable torment of his conscience for the murders he committed;

· the murderer himself dies a sudden death, either from an accident or attack by a wild animal;

· the murderer is often punished by God’s Providence with the same death that he inflicted on his victim;

· the killer is discovered through the prayers of the saints, moreover in this case the actions of the saints bear a clear mystical character.

In general it is possible to make the bold conclusion that not one criminal shedding of blood remains unnoticed and unpunished in the eyes of God.[84]

A special attitude arose towards the sudden death of soldiers. The death of these people when carrying out their military duties is seen as blessed, and the fate of these people in the next life would be favourable.[85]

11. On suicides

11.1. As early as in antiquity the attitude towards suicides was generally negative.

In Greece the bodies of people who committed suicides had the hand with which they deprived themselves of life cut off and placed separately. In Sparta and in Cyprus their bodies were not buried at all. Tarquinius Priscus (6th century BC), the legendary king of Rome, who beat the Latins in battle and built in Rome the magnificent temple to Jupiter and the Circus Maximus, ordered for the bodies of suicides to be crucified and then given as food to wild beasts and birds.[86]

In contrast to such harsh laws of antiquity the Old Testament still has not been found to contain a clear condemnation of suicide (Judg 9:53-54; Judg 16:30; 2 Macc 14:41-46).[87]

11.2. Hagiographies have preserved the names of several Christian women who ended their lives when faced with the danger of being dishonoured and St. John the Chrysostom, as well as the father of Church history St Eusebius the bishop of Caesarea (+340) glorified them as martyrs. These included the holy martyr Pelagia, virgin of Antioch, who suffered at the beginning of the 4th century.[88]

St. John Chrysostom at once sees in Pelagia’s actions God’s grace and her own courage[89]: “O maiden, a woman by gender and birth, but a man in spirit!” he exclaims. “Oh virgin, who should be praised with two titles, as one glorified in the company of virgins and in the congregation of martyrs.”[90]

Mention should also be made of the holy martyr Euphrasia, who was martyred in 303, and the holy martyrs Domnina and her daughters Berenice and Prosdoce, who were martyred around 305[91]. St. John Chrysostom sees a higher meaning even in their unusual form of death: “So the mother entered in the middle, holding her daughters either side of her, a married woman between unmarried, so there was marriage between virginity and Christ in the midst of them… She resisted the force of nature itself, stood strong against the flame of motherly suffering, against the unbearable turmoil of the heart and the perturbation of her womb…”[92]

11.3. Hagiographies also contain instances of intentional self-harm, again with the aim of preservation of chastity and preventing the temptation of others. Such is the story of the holy virgin Mastridia of Alexandria.[93]

Unlike St. John the Chrysostom and St. Eusebius, Blessed Augustine (+430) did not approve even of this type of voluntary death. He believed that nothing could break human will in respect of preserving moral purity and chastity.[94]

Blessed Augustine’s conviction finds confirmation in the lives of saints. The life of the holy martyr Lucia (+304) has preserved her response to the threat of Paschasius, the magistrate of Syracuse in Sicily: “Without the agreement of the soul,” daringly states St. Lucia, “the body could never be defiled… and God allows forceful taking of virginity just as he allows trials, violence and idolatry. Therefore even if you order me to be raped, by this you would only increase the reward for my purity.”[95]

11.4. Canon Law has a rule that determines the attitude to the person committing suicide as well as to the act of suicide itself. This is Rule 14 of Timothy, Bishop of Alexandria (+ around 385)[96]. It runs as follows: “Question: If anyone, being out of his mind, lifts his hand against himself or throws himself from a height, should an offering be made for such a person or not?” Answer: Of such a person the priest must determine, whether he really did this when out of his mind, because often those close to the person who did this to himself, wishing to make sure that prayer and offering be made for him, tell lies and say that he was out of his mind. It is possible that he did it because he was offended by someone, or for some other reason on account of cowardice. No offering should be made for such a person. Thus the priest must for certain and most thoroughly find this out so as not to fall into condemnation.”[97]

According to the current rules a funeral service for the person who committed suicide in a fit of madness could not be performed by a priest without special permission by the bishop, who should be provided with proof that there are grounds to believe that this suicide was committed while suffering from insanity (i.e. medical certificate or evidence by trustworthy people)[98].

11.5. Currently there is much talk of the right of a terminally ill person to speed up his death – so-called euthanasia. But such a request is often caused by a state of depression, when the person cannot correctly judge his situation.

“The right to death,” it is emphasised in The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, “can easily turn into a threat to lives of patients when there are insufficient funds for their treatment. Thus euthanasia is a type of murder or suicide, depending on whether the patient is taking part in it or not.”[99]

Unfortunately all these people do not wish to seek the relief and medicine offered by religious feeling and faith in God and the Church.[100]

11.6. Often people ask whether it is permissible to pray for those who committed suicide. Theologians and ascetics have answered this question with much care. As an example I will cite the opinion of St. Theophan the Recluse:

“Should we pray for people who have committed suicide? The Church says that we should not, so how can its sons and daughters say such prayers? There is a thought that it is possible to pray for those who have been given a church funeral, supposing that those who allowed a church burial found that the person did not commit suicide in a conscious manner. I sometimes think that it is possible to pray at home, in your own private prayers. But this could be seen as an attempt to show that we are more merciful than the Church and even God Himself… It is enough to limit yourself to feeling sympathy for them, resigning their fate to God’s measureless mercy.”[101]

Sometimes there is talk of the courage and bravery of people who decided to take such a desperate step as suicide.[102] St. John of Kronstadt (+1908) had the following to say of such temptations: “In your soul’s sorrow you sometimes wish to die. Dying is easy and quick, but are you ready for death? After all, death is followed by the judgement of your life. You are not ready for death and if it did come to you, you would start to shudder with your whole body. So don’t say empty words, don’t say ‘It is better that I die’, but say more often ‘How can I prepare for death like a Christian and meet death without fear, in peace and unashamed, not as a terrifying law of nature, but like a fatherly call from our Heavenly Father, holy and blessed, to the eternal Kingdom?’ Remember how an elder once became worn out by his burden, thought that it was better to die than to live and started to call death to himself, but when it appeared, he did not wish to go with it, preferring to carry his heavy burden.”[103]

12. Not knowing the time of death and memory of death

12.1. Why does God not reveal to us the time of our death? After all, in this event we would be able to prepare for it better.

This does not happen for three main reasons:

1) on account of our irresponsibility and carelessness;[104]

2) having found out the exact date of our death people could fall into despair and develop an enmity between themselves that would spiral into madness;[105]

3) in order to dispose us towards watchfulness and sobriety (1 Peter 5:8)[106].

Such a state is called the memory of death and is recommended from the very ancient times as a very effective spiritual exercise: “Whatsoever thou takest in hand,” it says in the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, “remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss.” (Sirach 7:36).

“The memory of our departure or death,” teaches St. Theophan the Recluse, “is not an empty memory. It contains within itself the transportation in one’s heart from this life into the next… The holy ascetics often repeat the precept “If you want to succeed in following the way of the Lord, die in advance.”[107]

Thus it turns out that if you train yourself in such a manner, the mind will be sobered and kept away from the action of bad habits, and the memory of death will carry out two useful functions: a) it will restrain the person from sinning and b) it will strengthen him in the struggle against trials and temptations and also train him for eternity.[108]

12.2. But how can the memory of death restrain one from sinning? There is a simple method – to constantly think about it. For St. Anthony the Great, the founder of monasticism (+356) the thought of death is a certain reminder to a person of his eternal fate, and the fear of the judgement and eternal fire can help him control himself. In his opinion this is the meaning behind St. Paul’s words “I die daily” (1 Cor 15:31)[109].

But the memory of death also has the power to strengthen a person in the struggle against temptations and sin. St. John Climacus (+ c. 649) is convinced that “the memory of death, like all other blessings, is a gift of God, because often even when we stand right next to graves we remain without hearts, our hearts being hardened, while at other times we come to compunction even without such a sad sight in front of us.”[110]

The paedogogical significance of death lies in the fact that when remembering it, a person prepares himself for eternity and thus develops a clear sense of life and death an a single process[111]: “If you are standing near the coffin of your neighbour,” says St. Theophan the Recluse, “look and learn. Yesterday these eyes could see, these ears could hear, this mouth could speak and this body could move, but the life spirit departed and what is it that lies before you? … Therefore everyone should remember this moment and act as you are inspired by this remembrance. Now it is our neighbour, tomorrow it would be us: there is only one way. Do not look for comforts of the eye and hearing – tomorrow the eye will close and the ear will cease to hear. Do not give free reign to your hands and feet – tomorrow they shall be bound by the hand of death, which will chain you to the bed from which you would not rise. Do not wish for lavish and airy housing, because tomorrow these are the robes in which you will dress and the home that is prepared for you. Do not wish for distinctions, they would exist only for a time next to your grave, as if laughing at your vanity. Do not get attached to the earth and everything earthly, for tomorrow death’s scythe will cut off all these ties and against your will and desire that you will go to a different land, where everything is different from how it is here on earth. Transport yourself there in good time in thought and heart, so that when you are led into those regions you will not find yourself in a foreign land, unfamiliar with its customs.”[112]

St. Theophan the Recluse draws another very good parallel. He says that the person who remembers death is like a student who is to sit an exam. Whatever he may be doing, he has the exam on his mind. For him every minute is precious and he spends all his time for preparing for the exam.

“And so we should also have such a disposition,” he sighs[113]. And it is true – we could benefit greatly from this!

[1] The Church Fathers Laugh, Moscow, 1996, p. 28.

? Translator’s note – This article uses the Greek or Septuagint numbering of the Psalms.

[2] Dietrich Walter / Vollenweider Samuel, Tod. II. Altes und Neues Nestament. Theologische Realenzyklopaedie. Band 33, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York, 2002, p. 582-583.

[3] Finkenzeller Josef, Tod. Lexikon der katholischen Dogmatik, Herder Freiburg im Breisgau, 1991, p. 509.

[4] See the historical note on the family of the Maccabees: Archimandrite Nikifor, Maccabees: The Complete Illustrated Popular Biblical Encyclopaedia, Moscow, 1891, p. 446-447).

[5] Sand A, Tod, Sterben. Вiblisch. Lexikon des Mittelalters. Band 8, Verlag J. B. Metzler. Stuttgart; Weimar, 1999. p. 823.

[6] The concept of ‘second death’ occurs in Holy Scripture only in the Revelation of St. John the Theologian, appearing four times (Rev 2:11; 20:6; 6:14; 21:8). It is linked with the lake of fire, where according to God’s judgement all those who could not be found in the Book of Life, together with death and hell themselves, would be thrown. Those who remained faithful to God will escape the second death. This expression supposes that the first death is the natural death of a person at the end of his earthly life. The equating of the second death with the lake of fire fits well into the apocalyptic tradition of equating the last judgment with fire (compare Ezek 38:22; Mt 25:41; Rev 14:10). It can be supposed that the concept of ‘second death’ was a fairly widespread term in certain circles within ancient Judaism. Although this term occurs in Targums and in the works of the scholar Rabbi Eliezer (D. M. Scholer, Death, TheSecond. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker Book House, 1992, p. 300-301).

[7] Davids P. H., Death. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker Book House, Michigan, 1992. Op. cit. p. 300.

[8] Further reading on Justin: Altaner Berthold – Stuiber Alfred. Justinus// Patrologie. Verlag Herder. Freiburg im Breisgau 1966, p. 65-71.

[9] Justin the Philosopher, First Apology (17). Early Christian Fathers of the Church, Brussels: Published by Life with God, 1978, p. 288-289.

[10] Further reading on Tatian the Syrian: Cramer Winfrid//Peter Bruns. Tatian der Syrer. Diatessaron. Lexikon fuer Theologie und Kirche. 9. Band. Verlag Herder Freiburg im Breisgau, 2006, p. 1274 -1275).

[11] Tatian, Address to the Greeks (11). Early Christian Fathers of the Church, Brussels: Published by Life with God, 1978; p. 288-289.

[12] Further reading on Athenagoras: The Oxford Dictionary of the Church. Edited by F. L. Cross, Oxford, 1985, p. 102-103.

[13] Archimandrite Kiprian (Kern), Athenagorus. Anthropology of St. Gregory Palamas. Moscow, Palomnik, 1996; p. 94. Homer speaks of death and sleep as twin brothers in connection with the heroic death of the Lycian king Sarpedon, who was killed in combat with Patroclus, the closest friend of Achilles, the main hero of the Trojan war. // Homer, The Iliad (Ode XVI, 672), Translation into Russian by N. Gnedich, Iliad – Odyssey, Moscow; Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1967; p. 283).

[14] Professor N.I. Sagarda and professor A.I. Sagarda. Full collection of lectures on Patristics. St. Petersburg: Voskresenie, 2004; p. 417.

[15] Further reading on Irenaeus of Lyons: Orthodox Theological Encyclopaedia edited by A.P. Lopukhin. Volume 5, Petrograd 1904; p. 1017-1021. // S. A. Fedchenkov St. Irenaeus of Lyons: His Life and Literary Works, St. Petersburg: published by Oleg Obyshko, 2008; p. 522-563.

[16] St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Works: Five books of denunciation and refutation of false knowledge. Book 3 (XXIII, 6). Moscow, Palomnik, 1996; p. 310.

[17] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata , Book 2, 19 (98), St. Petersburg, Published by Oleg Abyshko, 2003; p. 312. // Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks [ Protrepticus ]. Chapter 10 (CI). St. Petersburg: Published by Oleg Abyshko, 2009; p. 126. // Further reading on Clement of Alexandria: Dr?czkowski Franciszek, Klemens Aleksandryjski. Encyklopedia Katolicka , Lublin, 2002. p. 98-102.

[18] Further reading on Tertullian: Tertullian. Apologeticum, herausgegeben von Carl Becker, Koesel-Verlag, Muenchen, 1961, p. 14-18.

[19] Tertullian, On the Soul, Chapter LII (2), St. Petersburg, Published by Oleg Abyshko, 2008; p. 127.

[20] Further reading on St. Hippolytus: : Roy N., Hippolytus of Rome, St., New Catholic Encyclopedia, v. 6. Thomson, 2003. P. 859.

[21] See Metropolitan Macarius (Oksiyuk), Eschatology of St. Hippolytus of Rome. // Eschatology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, Moscow, Palomnik, 1999; p. 100-101.

[22] Origen, On Principles. Against Celsus, St. Petersburg. Vivliopolis, 2008. Book 3 (5); p. 327-328. //Further reading on Origen: Ritter Adolf Martin, Dogma und Lehre in der Alten Kirche, Christentum und Wissenschaft bei Origenes. Handbuch der Dogma und Theologiegeschichte. Band 1. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht in Goettingen, 1999, p. 116-125.

[23] Archimandrite Kiprian (Kern), Origen, Anthropology of St. Gregory Palamas, Moscow, Palomnik, 1996; p. 125.

[24] Priest-martyr Methodius, ‘The feast of the ten virgins’ or ‘On virginity’. Discourse 9, Chapter 2. See Collected Works: Writings of St. Gregory the Wonderworker and St. Methodius, bishop and martyr, Moscow: Palomnik, 1996; p. 115. // Further reading on St. Methodius of Olympus: Archbishop Mikhail (Chub), Holy priest-martyr Methodius and his theology. Theological works, No 10. Moscow, 1973; p. 8-24.

[25] See V.N. Lossky, Original Sin, A Study of Mystical Theology in the Eastern Church. Dogmatic Theology. Theological Works, No. 8, Moscow, 1972. p. 163.

[26] Further reading on St. Basil the Great: Archbishop Filaret (Gumilevsky), Historical Teaching on the Church Fathers. Volume 2. Holy Trinity — St. Sergius Lavra, 1996; p. 127-158. // St. Basil the Great. His Life and Work. Works of Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Volume 1. St. Petersburg. Soikin Publishing House, 1911; p. I-XXIII.

[27] St. Basil the Great, Homily 9: On God not being the cause of evil; Works, Volume 2, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, 1911; p. 156.

[28] St. Basil the Great, Homily 13: To Holy Baptism; Works, Volume 2, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, 1911; p 193

[29] St. Basil the Great, Homily on Psalm 115, Works, Volume 1, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, 1911; p. 218-219.

[30] Further reading on St. Gregory the Theologian: Gregor von Nazianz, Die fuenf theologischen Reden, herausgegeben von Joseph Barbel, Patmos – Verlag, Duesseldorf, 1963. p. 5-36. // F.V. Farrar, St. Gregory the Nazianzus, Life and Works of Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church, Volume 1, Published by Stretensky Monastery, 2001; p. 470-560. // Archbishop Sergiy (Spassky), Complete Eastern Menologion, Volume 3, Holy East, Moscow, 1997. p. 37-38.

[31] St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 38: ‘On Theophany’ or ‘On the Birth of our Saviour’, Works, Volume 1, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House; without date; p. 528. // St. Gregory the Theologian, On the vanity and inconstancy of life, and on our common end, Works, Volume 2, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, without date, p. 77-78.

[32] St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 21, On the Great Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, Works, Volume 1, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, without date; p. 320. // St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 10: ‘On the nature of Man’, Works, Volume 2; St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, without date, p. 42.

[33] See St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 7: Panegyric on his brother Caesarius, Works, Volume 1, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, without date, p. 174.

[34] Further reading on St. Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Our Holy Father Gregory of Nyssa, Lives of Saints, Book Five, January, Moscow, 1994, p. 292-298.

[35] F.V. Farrar, The Life and Works of the Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church, Moscow, 2001; Volume 2, p. 87-88. // Compare also: Orthodox Theological Encyclopaedia, St. Petersburg, 1903, Volume 4; p. 638. // The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Faith, edited by F. L. Cross, D. D., Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 599-600.

[36] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism (Chapter 37), Writings, Part 4, Moscow, 1862. p. 96.

[37] Metropolitan Macarius (Oksiyuk), The Eschatology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, Moscow, Palomnik, 1999, p. 258. // V. Nesmelov, The Teaching of St. Gregory of Nyssa on Man, The Dogmatic System of St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Petersburg, 2000, p. 374.

[38] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Works, Part 4, Moscow, 1862, p. 226.

[39] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book Two, Works, Part 5, Moscow, 1863, p. 351.

[40] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Works,op. cit. p. 315. // On the composition of human nature before and after the Fall see St. Theophan the Recluse, ‘Commentary on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians’ in Collected Works ‘Commentary on the Epistles of Apostle Paul to the Philippians and Thessalonians’, Moscow, 1895, p. 418-419. // St. Theophan the Recluse, ‘Commentary on the first eight chapters of the Epistle to the Romans’, Moscow, 1890, p. 421-422.

[41] Compare with Metropolitan Macarius (Oksiyuk), The Eschatology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, p. 262.

[42] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, op. cit., p. 296. [translation taken from]

[43] V.N. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, op. cit. p.103.

[44] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Paschal Homily on the Resurrection, Works, Part 8, Moscow, 1866, p. 79. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, Works, Part 4, Moscow, 1862, p. 29-30.

[45] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, Chapter 27, Part One, Moscow, 1861, p. 187-188.

[46] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p.28-29.

[47] Further reading: Metropolitan Macarius (Oksiyuk), op. cit., p. 263-281. // V.N. Lossky, op. cit., p.70.

[48] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p. 31, ibid, p. 29. // Also compare: St. Symeon the New Theologian, Homily One, Homilies, Moscow, 1892, Volume 1, p. 22-23, 46.

[49] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p. 29.

[50] St. Gregory of Nyssa, An Exact Commentary on Solomon’s Song of Songs, Works, Part 3, Moscow, 1892, p. 371.

[51] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book Seven, Works, Part 6, Moscow, 1864, p. 133.

[52] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Refutations of the views of Apollinaris (antirrhinum), Works, Part 7, Moscow, 1865, p. 124.

[53] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, op. cit., p. 254. // Metropolitan Macarius (Oksiyuk), op. cit., p. 299-300.

[54] Ibid. p. 255.

[55] Ibid. p. 252-254, 256-257.

[56] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, op. cit., p. 262-263.

[57] Further reading: V.N. Lossky, op. cit., p. 168.

[58] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p.16.

[59] Ibid. p. 19.

[60] Further reading on Philo of Alexandria: Die Bibel und ihre Welt , Eine Enzyklopaedie zur Heiligen Schrift in zwei Baenden , herausgegeben von G. Cornfeld und G. J. Botterweck. Manfred Pawlak Verlagsgesellschaft. Herrsching, 1991, p. 628.

[61] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p.29. // Compare with: St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Homily on Death, Ascetic Experiences,Volume 3, Jordanville, 1983, p. 74 // On St. Ignatius see: Ascetic experiences, Volume 1, Writings of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Jordanville, 1983, p. 7-80. // Collection of Letters by St. Ignatius, bishop of Caucasus, Moscow, St. Petersburg, 1985; p. 27-38.

[62] St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p. 85.

[63] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Funeral Oration for Pulcheria, Works, part 8, Moscow, 1866, p. 405. // Further reading on Pulcheria and Flacilla: A. Velichko, St. Theodosius I the Great. // A History of the Byzantine Emperors, Volume 1, Moscow: Fiv, 2009, p. 250-251. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, Funeral Oration for Empress Flacilla, Works, Part 8, Moscow, 1866, p. 392, 411.

[64] Ibid. p. 405. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily: For those sorrowing for those departed from this life into the next, Works, Part 7, Moscow, 1865; p. 502. // See also: V. Nesmelov, op. cit., p. 387-388, 389. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, op. cit., p. 267. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p. 91-92. // Archimandrite Kiprian (Kern), The Teaching of the Holy Fathers on Man: St. Gregory of Nyssa, Anthropology of St. Gregory Palamas, Moscow, Palomnik, 1996; p. 165.

[65] Further reading: Metropolitan Macarius (Oksiyuk), op. cit., p. 286-290. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily: For those sorrowing for those departed from this life into the next, op. cit. p. 522, 523, 525. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, op. cit., p. 49. // Compare: M. Barsov, A Collection of Essays on the Interpretive and Edifying Reading of the Four Gospels. St. Petersburg, 1893, Volume 2, p. 445-446.

[66] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily for those in sorrow, op. cit., p. 525. // St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, op. cit., p. 312-313. // Compare: St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Homily on Death, Op. cit., p. 74-75, 336.

[67] Concerning the internal transfiguration as the aim of the ascetic life while still here on earth, see S. M. Zarin, Asceticism according to Orthodox Christian Teaching, Moscow, 1996, p. 278, 286. // St. Theophan the Recluse, Commentary on the Epistle of Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, Moscow, 1893, p. 366.

[68] Quote from V.N. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Theological Works, No. 8. Moscow, 1978, p. 73.

[69] On the death of the soul see also: G. Dyachenko, Why the Lord did not destroy death on earth, Examples of Christian Faith, Publishing House Palomnik, 1998. p. 349. // Biblical Commentary, Published by the successors of A.P. Lopukhin, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, St. Petersburg, 1909, p. 326, 327. // St. Basil the Great, On God not being the cause of evil, Homily 9, Volume 2, Works, St. Petersburg, 1911, p. 156. // St. Symeon the New Theologian, First Oration (2), Orations, First Edition, Moscow, 1892, p. 22. // St. Symeon the New Theologian, Fourth Oration (1), op. cit., p. 44. // Compare also his: Oration 73, Orations, Second Edition, Moscow, 1890, p. 233 // St. John Chrysostom, Discourses on the Gospel of the Apostle John the Theologian, Discourse 5 (4), Works, Volume 8, Book One, St. Petersburg, 1902, p. 49-50. // St. John Chrysostom, Discourses on the devil, Discourse 2 (5), Works, Volume 2, Book One, St. Petersburg, 1896. p. 291-292.

[70] On other reasons for physical death see: Priest G. Dyachenko, Consolation and Comforting of the Dying, Helper and Protector, Volume 1, Moscow, Publishing House of Holy Pskov-Pechersky Monastery, 1993. p. 356-358. // Innocent, Archbishop of Kherson and Tavrich. Homily on the Thursday of Bright Week, Writings, Volume 4. St. Petersburg, 1870. p. 395, 397. // Further reading on St. Innocent: Innocent (Borisov), Orthodox Theological Encyclopaedia, Published under the editorship of Professor A.P. Lopukhin, Volume 5, Petrograd, 1904; p. 954-962. // N.I. Barsov. Innocent (1800–1857), Christianity, Encyclopaedic Dictionary, Volume 1, Moscow, “Great Russian Encyclopaedia” [Bolshaya Rossiyskaya Entsiklopedia], 1993; p. 613-614.

[71] Innocent, Archbishop of Kherson and Tavrich, Homily on the Thursday of Bright Week. op. cit., p. 402.

[72] For the classical opinions of the Church Fathers on the death of children see: St. Basil the Great, To the wife of Nectarios, Letter 6, Works, Volume 3, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, 1911, p. 13-14. // St. Basil the Great, Homily 5, In Honour of the Martyr Julitta, Works, Volume 2, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, 1911, p. 112. // St. Basil the Great, To Nectarius, Letter 5, Works, Volume 3, St. Petersburg, Soikin Publishing House, 1911, p. 12. // St. John Chrysostom, On patience and on not weeping bitterly over the dead. Works, Volume 9, Book 2, St. Petersburg, 1903, p. 931.

[73] St. Ephrem the Syrian, On the Fear of God and the Last Judgement, Discourse 137, Works, Part 4, Holy Trinity — St. Sergius Lavra, 1900, p. 105.

[74] The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow, 2001, p. 91. // On mitigating circumstances see also: Monk Ippolitus, On the fate of infants who died without being baptised for some reason or who were stillborn and also on what kind of prayers should be said for them, Kiev, 1911, p. 6-7. // On the fact that we always have the chance to repent of even the most terrible of sins see: The Life of St. Mary of Egypt, Lives of Saints, Book Eight, April, Moscow, 1906, p. 1-16.

[75] St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 40: On Holy Baptism, Works, Volume 2, P.P. Soikin Publishing House, without date; p. 558.

[76] Divine light (phos) or illumination (ellampsis) could be identified as the visible aspect of the Godhead, divine energies and grace, in which God is known. These are His “rays”, creative energies that penetrate the world in which God reveals Himself (Further reading: V.N. Lossky, Divine Light, A Study of Mystical Theology in the Eastern Church, Theological Works, Moscow, 1972, p. 114-116).

[77] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On infants who have been prematurely taken by death, Works, Part 4, Moscow, 1862; p. 343, 345, 349-350, 351, 359, 360.

[78] Priest Sergey Bulgakov, Life beyond the Grave, Paris: YMCA Press, 1897, p. 14.

[79] Further reading: Priest G. Dyachenko, Reasons for the early death of infants, Helper and Protector, Examples of Christian consolation for the unhappy and sorrowful, Part 2, Moscow, 1898, p. 53-55. // Compare with St. Theophan (the Recluse), Advice for an Orthodox Christian, Moscow, 1994, p. 169.

[80] On the unsuccessful attempts to create paradise on earth see: St. Theophan the Recluse. Commentary on the first Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, Moscow, 1893, p. 152-154. // Compare with: V.N. Lossky, The meaning of the Old Testament, Dogmatic Theology, op. cit., p. 165.

[81] St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Epistle to the Philippians, Discourse 3 (3), Works, Volume 11, St. Petersburg, 1905, p. 247. Translation (slightly altered) taken from]

[82] Further reading on Nemesius of Emesa: Szczur Piotr, Nemezjusz z Emesy, Encyklopedia Katolicka , t. 13. Lublin 2009, S. 899-900.

[83] Bishop Nemesius of Emesa, On That Pertaining to Providence, Ch. 44: ‘On the Nature of Man’, Moscow, Publishing House “Kanon + O I Reabilitatsiya”, 1998, p. 150-151. // For an example of the innocent death of ascetics see: The second massacre of the holy fathers on Sinai and Raithu, Lives of saints, Book Five, January, Moscow, 1904, p. 446). // See also: “On needless death, on the judgement and on the questioning of Alexander”, Prologue, Month of March, Day 23, March Quarter, Moscow, 1875, Page RKG (123).

[84] Blessed John Moschus. Life of a robber who became a monk and who then voluntarily gave himself up to be executed, Chapter 166, Pratum spirituale, Holy Trinity — St. Sergius Lavra, 1896, p. 195-196. // Ibid. Chapter 21, ‘Death of a hermit and his killer’, p. 27. // Priest G. Dyachenko, Examples of God’s Justice, which revealed secret murders, Helper and Protector, Examples of Christian consolation for those unhappy and sorrowing, Part 2, Moscow, 1898, p. 300-308.

[85] St. Theophan the Recluse, Collection of Letters, Letter 202, First Edition, p. 256-257, Published by the Holy Dormition Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery and the “Palomnik” publishing house, 1994. // Compare: A.P. Lebedev, The Reign of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephoros II Phocas in relation to Church History (963-969), A Study of the internal history of the Byzantine Eastern Church in IX–XI centuries, Moscow, 1902, p. 278-279. // Nikodemus, Bishop of Dalmatinsko-Istriyskiy, Rules of St. Basil the Great, Rule 13, Rules of the Orthodox Church with Commentary, Volume 2, St. Petersburg, 1912, p. 394; Rules of the Holy Apostles and Fathers with Commentaries, Palomnik, 2000, p. 211.

[86] See: On those who commit suicide, There is no death, Brussels, “Life with God”, 1954, p. 42.

[87] Holderegger Adrian, Selbsttoetung (Suizid), Neues Lexikon der christlichen Moral, herausgegeben von Hans Rotter und Guenter Wirt, Wien: Tyrolia-Verlag, 1990. p. 675.

[88] The commemoration of St. Pelagia the Virgin, Lives of Saints, Book Two, October, Moscow, 1904, p. 164-165.

[89] St. John Chrysostom, A Discourse in praise of the Holy Martyr Pelagia of Antioch, Works, Volume 2, Book Two, St. Petersburg, 1896, p. 625.

[90] St. John Chrysostom, The Second Discourse on the Holy Martyr Pelagia, op. cit., p.632.

[91] Month of October, day 4, Holy Martyrs Domnina and her daughters Berenice and Prosdoce, Prologue (months of September, October and November), Moscow, Published by the ‘Brothers in Faith’ [Yedinovertsy] printing press, 1875, page 145 (R M E). // See also: Archbishop Sergius (Spasskiy), Martyrs Domnina, Berenice and Prosdoce, Full Eastern Menologion, Volume 3, Holy East, parts two and three, Moscow, 1997, p. 413.

[92] St. John Chrysostom, Discourse in praise of Holy Martyrs Berenice and Prosdoce and their mother Domnina, Works, Volume 2, St. Petersburg, 1896, p. 684-685. // St. John Chrysostom. Homily on Lazarus, who was four days in the grave, op. cit., p. 690.

[93] In memory of holy ascetic Mastridia, Lives of Saints, Book Three, November, Moscow, 1902, p. 698-699. A similar story occurs in other sources. See: Blessed John Moschus. The astonishing deed of one pious woman, Chapter 60, Pratum Spirituale, Holy Trinity — St. Sergius Lavra, 1896, p. 76-77.

[94] Blessed Augustine, The City of God, Book One. Chapters 18, 19, Works, Part 3, Kiev, 1906, p. 32, 33, 37.

[95] The martyrdom of the Holy Martyr Lucia, Lives of Saints, Book Four, December, Moscow, 1906, p. 388. A similar episode is also contained in the lives of martyrs Theodora and Didymus: The Martyrdom of Holy Martyrs Theodora and Didymus, Lives of Saints, Book Nine, May, Moscow, 1908, p. 725. // There are quite a few such stories in the lives of the saints. For example, such is the vita of martyrs Tarachus, Probus and Andronicus (12 October, old calendar); martyrs Zenobius and Zenobia (30 October, old calendar); Anysia the virgin (30 December, old calendar) and others.

[96] On Timothy: Priest L. Petrov, Theological Reference Dictionary specialising in Church Theology, St. Petersburg, 1889, p. 254.

[97] See: Nicodemus, Bishop of Dalmatia and Istria, Rules of Timothy, Bishop of Alexandria, Rules of the Orthodox Church with Commentaries, Volume 2, St. Petersburg, 1912, p. 486-487. // In his commentary Bishop Nicodemus refers to the interpretation of this rule of Bishop Timothy, provided by Theodore Balsamon (+ c. 1195). See: Canonical answers of venerable Timothy, Rules of the Apostles and Holy Fathers with Commentaries, Publishing house “Palomnik”, 2000, p. 531.

The Councils of the Western Church in the towns of Arles and Braga 452 and 563 declared suicide a crime and a demonic possession (furue diabolicus). Thomas Aquinas (+ 1274) and after him all the subsequent tradition of moral theology argued in support of this view by saying that God is the Lord of life and death, and this is why Man has no right to take his life by his own hand. Life is a gift and Man must responsibly live it from birth to death. The only exceptions to this rule are cases of self-sacrifice in order to save someone else’s life and freedom, connected with a risk of losing one’s life (Holderegger Adrian, Selbsttoetung (Suizid), Neues Lexikon der christlichen Moral, herausgegeben von Hans Rotter und Guenter Wirt, Wien: Tyrolia-Verlag, 1990, p. 676).

[98] Compare with: Book of Rules of the Holy Apostles, Holy Ecumenical and Local Councils and Holy Fathers With Explanatory Notes Compiled by Priest Georgy Grabbe, Parts 2 and 3; Question 14 and the response to it by Timothy, Bishop of Alexandria. Montreal: Publishing House of the Fellowship of St. Job of Pochaev, 1974, p. 255. // For the attitude of the saints to mentally ill people who committed suicide see: The Life of our Holy Father Parthenius, bishop of Lampsacus, Lives of Saints, Book Six, February, Moscow, 1905, p. 128.

On the courageous endurance of any life circumstances: The Life of our Holy Father among the Saints Macarius of Egypt, Lives of Saints, Book Five, January, Moscow, 1904, 598-601. // The Life of our Holy Father Ephrem the Syrian; Lives of St. Gury, Archbishop of Kazan and St. Barsanuphius, Bishop of Tver, Lives of Saints, Book Two, October, Moscow, 1904, p. 75-76.

On how people committing suicide justify their actions see: Priest. G. Dyachenko, How suicides justify making attempts on their life and how other people justify suicide once it has been committed, Helper and Protector, Examples of Christian consolation for those unhappy and sorrowing, Part One, Moscow, Published by the Holy Dormition Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, 1993, p. 322-325.

[99] The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow, 2001, p. 100. // On the fault of surrounding people in the act of suicide see: the life of Holy Father Pachomius the Great, Lives of Saints, Book Nine, May, Moscow, 1908, p. 497.

[100] On religious feeling and belief in God as means of preventing suicide see: Professor A. Smirnov, ‘Suicide and the Christian View on Life’, The military and naval clergy Herald, No. 9, St. Petersburg, 1914, p. 348. // George Sand, Contes d’une grand-m?re, St. Petersburg, Publishing House of I.V. Gubinsky, without date, p. 5-6.

[101] St. Theophan the Recluse, Letter 583, Collected Letters, Fourth Edition, Moscow, 1899, p. 58-59. See collected volumes: The Works of our Father among the Saints Theophan the Recluse, Collected Letters, Edition III and IV, Published by the Holy Dormition Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery and “Palomnik” publishing house, 1994. // Compare also: St. Theophan the Recluse, Letter 301, Collected Letters, Second Edition, Moscow, 1898, p. 160-161. See collected volumes: The Works of our Father among the Saints Theophan the Recluse, Collected Letters, Edition I and II, Published by the Holy Dormition Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery and the “Palomnik” publishing house, 1994.

The custom of commemoration of the dead is once of the ancient traditions of the Church. Further reading: Meyer Hans Bernard, Gottesdienst der Kirche, Handbuch der Liturgiewissenschaft, Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1994, p. 82- 83. // Deacon I. Smolin, On prayer for the departed, The Missionary Shield of Faith, St. Petersburg, 1913, p. 77. // St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Instruction Five (10), Sermon, Moscow, 1900, p. 336. // St. Gregory the Great Dialogos, ‘On what is beneficial for the souls of the dead; On the Centumcellian presbyter and on the soul of monk Justus’, Dialogues, Book Four, Chapter 55, Selected Works, Moscow, Palomnik, 1999, p. 699-700. // Symeon, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Dialogue on the Holy Services and Sacraments of the Church (Chapter 337), Writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church related to the interpretation of Orthodox services, St. Petersburg, 1856, p. 540-541. // Archbishop Veniamin (Rumovsky-Krasnopevkov), Thirds, ninths, and forty days’ prayers for the dead, and anniversaries: The new tablets or explanations concerning the Church, on the Liturgy and all the services, Jordanville, 1975, p. 461-464. // St. Filaret (Drozdov), Sermon (97) Following the blessing of the church of the Holy Spirit at the Danlovskoye Cemetery in Moscow, Sermons and speeches, Volume 3, (1826-1836). Moscow. 1877. // Priest I. Sergiev, My Life in Christ, Complete Collection of Works, Volume 5, St. Petersburg, 1892. p. 213, 247-248. // Bishop Germogen (Dobronravin), ‘Consolation in the death of those close to one’s heart’, Orthodox Life No. 6. (330). Jordanville, 1977, p. 51, p. 212. // Priest. G. Debolsky, Days of the commemoration of the dead. Days of services of the Orthodox Catholic Eastern Church, Publishing House “Kharvist”, without location, 2002, p. 830-832. // Monk Mitrofan. ‘How our deceased and we will live after death’, Orthodox Life No. 10 (298), Jordanville, 1974, p. 13-14 and others.

[102] Death and immortality in us, On suicides, There is no death, op. cit., p. 42.

[103] Priest I. Sergiev, My Life in Christ, Complete Collection of Works, Volume 4, St. Petersburg, 1893, p. 26-27.

[104] Further reading: Priest G. Dyacheko, Lessons and examples of Christian Faith, St. Petersburg, 1902, p. 349-351. // Compare: St. John Climacus, On the Memory of Death, Homily 6 (9), Ladder of Divine Ascent, Sergiev Posad, 1908, p. 72-73.

[105] Blessed Theophilactus of Bulgaria, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Ch. 14), Blagovestnik, Commentary on the Holy Gospels, St. Petersburg, without date, p. 250.

[106] St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Book of Genesis, Homily 50 (451), Works, Volume 4, Book One, St. Petersburg. 1898. p. 548.

[107] St. Theophan the Recluse, Commentary on the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, Moscow, 1893, p. 474-475.

[108] On separating the memory of death into two spiritual strengths see: N. Vasiliadis, Sacrament of Death, Holy Trinity — St. Sergius Lavra, 1998. p. 268-275.

[109] The Life of St. Anthony the Great, Lives of Saints, Book Five, January, Moscow, 1904, p. 536. // Compare also with: St. Ephrem the Syrian, Prayer 38, On the memory of death. Works, Part 4. Holy Trinity — St. Sergius Lavra, 1900, p. 454. // St. Ephrem the Syrian, Moral and Spiritual Works, 88 – On the memory of death, on virtue and on riches, Works, Part Three, Holy Trinity — St. Sergius Lavra, 1897, p. 116-117. // Ancient Paterikon, set out in chapters, Chapter 5 (33), Various stories regarding curtailing the spiritual warfare arising against us, Moscow, 1899, p. 81.

[110] St. John Climacus, op. cit., p. 75. // Ancient Patericon, set out in chapters. Chapter 11 (19): ‘On the need to be constantly vigilant’, Moscow, 1899, p. 209.

[111] St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, On True Christianity, Discourse LXXXVIII, Works, Volume 2, Book One, Moscow, 1889, p. 48. // St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Discourse LXXXXIX, Op. cit., p. 48-49.

[112] St. Theophan the Recluse, ‘Lesson by the grave of one’s neighbour’, Thought and contemplation, Moscow, 1998, p. 206-207. Examples of the memory of death from the lives of saints: The Life of John the Merciful, Lives of Saints, Book Three, November, Moscow, 1902, p. 291. On John the Merciful see: S. Destunis, Lives of Saints: Compiled on the basis of the Great Menaion Reader and other books, November, St. Petersburg, 1892, p. 63-70). // Life of Holy Martyr Zelenetsky (Velikolutsky), Lives of Saints, Book Eight, April, Appendix, Moscow, 1906, p. 362. // Historical dictionary of saints, glorified by the Russian Church and certain pious people of faith venerated at the local level, St. Petersburg, 1862, p. 159-160. // V.N. Ilyin, St. Seraphim of Sarov, New York, 1971, p. 57-58.

On the danger of playing with death see: Life of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, Lives of Saints, Book Three, November, Moscow, 1902, p. 458-459. // Life of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, Lives of Saints, Book Nine, May, Moscow, 1908. p. 417-418. // Life of St. Julius and St. Julian, Lives of Saints, Book Ten, June, Moscow, 1908, p. 482-483. // The Life of St. Jacob of Nisbis, Lives of Saints, Book Five, January, Moscow, 1904, p. 395-396.

[113] Quote from: The Edifying Sermons of St. Theophan the Recluse, Published by Optina Pustyn Monastery, 2003, p. 339.


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