Daily Reflection May 25th, 2020

Daily Reflection May 25th, 2020

MAY 25 Third Finding of the Honorable Head of St. John the Baptist


Some misguided men think more about the end of the world than the end of their lives even though it is obvious that for him to whom the end of his life comes the end of the world has come. A brother standing before St. Seraphim of Sarov continually kept in his mind how he was going to ask the saint about the end of the world. St. Seraphim discerned his thought and said to him: “My joy! You think highly of the wretched Seraphim. How could I know when the end of the world will be and that great day when the Lord will judge the living and the dead and render to each one according to his deeds will be? No, no, this is impossible for me to know!” And when the saints did not know how will the sinners know? Why should we know, that which the Savior Himself did not find beneficial to reveal to us? It is much better to think that our death will come sooner than the end of the world rather than the end of the world before our death. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr John’s Reflection

Do not be zealous for death by the deceit of your life, nor bring destruction upon yourself by the works of your hands. For God did not make death, neither does He have pleasure over the destruction of the living. For He created all things that they might exist, and the generations of the world so they might be preserved. For there was no poison of death in them, nor was the reign of Hades on the earth. For righteousness does not die. But the ungodly summoned death by their words and works; although they thought death would be a friend, they were dissolved. For they made a covenant with death, since they were deserving to share it in common. (Wisdom of Solomon 1:12-16)

Today we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States. It is on this day, the last Monday of May, that we remember and honor all those who fought in defense of this country, liberty, and freedom, and paid the ultimate price. Our current culture is schizophrenic about death. On the one hand, it is common of us to be told that “death is natural,” simply the “last phase of life.” On the other hand, we do a good job of denying death by prettying it up or keeping it completely out of sight. Funeral homes are filled with make-up artists who spend time making a corpse “look lifelike.” It is becoming more and more common that funerals are a thing of the past, with cremation of the departed happening immediately after death and a “celebration of life” scheduled at a convenient date to not inconvenience anyone, even those mourning the departed. Both tendencies are completely off base.

In the Wisdom of Solomon, profound truths about death are given in just a few short verses. The first truth is that God did not create death. To be told that death is “natural” is simply a lie. The nature of man created in the image and likeness of God is to reflect Him, and there is no death in Him. We are created for immortality — there is “no poison of death” in the creation that God made. The first sin injected the poison. St. Paul reminds us that the “wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Death is the consequence of sin and the rejection of God. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, confronting the reality of the corruption and death of His creation — a corruption and death that mankind chose. So, to “pretty up” death is to make it something that it is not: palatable and acceptable. The Orthodox funeral service precisely makes us confront the horror of death, even while we “grieve with hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) holding onto the Resurrection. Death is so unnatural that we all make every effort to avoid it. Death is the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26) to be defeated, and Christ has won that victory.

But the other truth worthy of reflection on this Memorial Day is that “righteousness does not die.” All goodness, all holiness, all righteousness lives forever. And we remember and honor the sacrifice, the blood, sweat and tears, and the lives of all those gone before us who fought righteously to defend our nation, to defend liberty and justice, and to defend freedom. All of those virtues are worth dying for, because they reflect the Creator. The valor and the bravery of those who died in those efforts does not die with them, and is not buried in their graves. It lives forever, and all who die righteously will live forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. God did not create death and does not delight in the destruction of the living. But He sees all righteousness, has sent the ultimate Sacrifice for us, and has overcome death. May the sacrifices of all those whom we remember today not be in vain. The victory cry over the horror and “unnaturalness” of death remains the same: Christ is Risen!