“There are two deaths, the one temporal and the other eternal; so also are there two lives, one of short duration and the other without end.” The Holy Martyr Plato.
Vital to true Christianity is the remembrance of our, humanity’s, transient mortality. Temporal life is given for but one reason: to secure eternal life. Eternal life, or death, begins now. Eternal life is not simply some future state, it is a living reality that is initiated now. It will reach its full revelation in the Kingdom of Heaven. In this life, each person is either building heaven or hell in his heart. We will inherit that which we have built and desired.
The Didache, one of the oldest Christian documents outside of the New Testament, opens with these words, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two.” Christ the Lord says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn. 14:6). To truly live, one must be in Christ Jesus. Salvation is communion with Him; it is participation, by grace, in the divine life. God in His mercy has made clear this path. The only thing that inhibits a person from true life is his own will and desire. Humanity is free to choose death. Ultimately death does not mean non-existence. It means continued existence without Life. The Scriptures refer to this as the second death (cf. Rev. 20:14; 21:8).
Biological life will end. It ends in the grave. Everyone dies a biological death. No one is exempt from this inevitability. This biological life is given for one reason: that with it we may receive eternal life. Thus the true Christian is called a sojourner. This biological life is called an exile. “Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile … as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh” (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11). And the Psalmist cries, “I am a sojourner on earth; hide not Thy commandments from me” (Ps. 118/119: 19). St. Columbanus tells us, “Many lose their true home because they have greater love for the road that leads them there. Let us not love the road rather than our home, in case we should lose our eternal home … Let us keep to this principle, therefore, that we should live as travelers and pilgrims on the road … free of lusts and earthly desires, but let us fill our mind with heavenly and spiritual forms.”
Many desire to build their home on the road, but the road will pass away. Those who make their home in the corruption of this world will be incapable of receiving incorrupt Life. This present world is dying. We live with death all around us. Mankind tries desperately to escape from death but is unable to without Christ the Lord. The root problem is that humanity tries to build a world without true Life; a world based solely on that which is fading away and thereby perpetuating death. (Clearly we are called, as Christians to be good stewards of the earth and such things of creation, the point is that we do not use it as our foundation, nor as our end goal. Creation will be purified in the end; its current corrupt state will not last.) St. Paul reminds us, “The present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31); St. John proclaims, “The world is passing away with all its lusts, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). For those who have everything invested in this passing world, this message is offensive. This defiled world is all they have. All their treasure is here. Thus when it passes away, and pass away it will, they will be left with nothing.
This present life is indeed a journey, and the path we choose to walk in it has immensely decisive implications for all of eternity. Do we live just for this world? Or do we use this fleeting life to invest and trade; thereby purchasing eternal life (cf. Matt. 13:44-46; 25:14ff). St. Dimitry of Rostov teaches, “This world is not a place for rest and relaxation but diligence and action; so ready yourself, labor while you have time.” We are just poor wayfaring strangers, traveling through this world below.