I’m pleased to share some more of my translation from Russian into English of St. Dimitry of Rostov’s works. The following is his teaching on the remembrance of death and the fleeting nature of this earthly existence. Well worth remembering in current situations.
Begin translation –
Always remember your death, O man, and the ephemeral nature of the things of this world; do not become unreasonably attached to them. “In everything you do, remember your end, and then you shall never sin” (Sir. 7:36), says Jesus, son of Sirach. Always bear in mind that there is another life after death, another existence, and therefore be ready to hurry to the next life which is prepared for the righteous. Remember the coming fearful Judgment seat of Christ, where kings and rulers, warriors and civilians, rich and poor, shall equally be scourged; all will be found in fear and trembling. Every person will give an answer for his every idle word, even down to hidden thoughts, “For the thought of men shall turn to Thee” (Ps. 75:11). There nothing will be left without testing and reckoning. “There (the Kingdom of Heaven) shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie” (Rev. 21:27), says the Lord.
Strive to die to sin before death comes. Die to the lusts of the flesh, so that your spirit may live for the Lord. Free your heart from earthly passions, so as to make of it a receptacle of the Holy Spirit. Hence, being made firm in your salvation, you may say with boldness in the hour of your death, “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready; I will chant and sing in my glory” (Ps. 56:8). Man is born in sin and is unable, by his own power, to free himself from the fleshly and earthly. Thus, before the general resurrection, always strive to be alive for the Lord. Out of the death to sin and the passions, resurrect your soul sinless and passionless; having been resurrected in your spirit you will no longer fear temporal bodily death, but will desire it so as to be with the Lord.1 In the time of the general resurrection of all mankind you will shine with the rays of bright light, which are within because of grace, and outwardly you will receive an incorruptible body.
Do not be captivated by carnal lusts and passing beauty; remember that all these things are but dust and ashes; remember that every carnal lust produces affliction and every fleshly captivation brings bitterness. Keep in mind that everyone will die and everyone, like a flower or a shadow, is fading away. We are leaving and going to where there shall be no consideration of kings or rulers, rich or poor, warriors or civilians, for everyone will be harvested equally by the sickle of death.
Do not think death is far off and that it will not come soon, or that you will not die yet. It is better to consider that death is already close at hand and that its ax is already at the roots of your life; regard judgment as if at your door and keep the grave constantly before your eyes – the earth to which you will return is ready to receive you. Do not imagine that death only touches others and it will not harm you, as the prophet says,“What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death” (Ps. 88:49)? The prophets died, as have patriarchs, apostles, enlighteners, martyrs, and venerable ones – all the saints have died; great rulers have died, the mighty, and kings from every age have all died – surely you will not be the only one to escape? Do not be foolish and blind. That which you see happening to others will most certainly befall you.
Be ready for death every day and every hour, keep it always in your memory. Do not be found headless, as the Lord warns, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mat. 24:44). Death is like a thief and robber; it comes sneaking in quickly when least expected. Remember what was told to the man desiring to build bigger barns, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:20-21).
Death is altogether not evil for the righteous one, but relief from the passions together with spiritual unity and life with the Lord. It is a heavy burden for the soul to live a carnal life and to be subjugated to the force of the passions. Do not fear bodily death, only prepare to meet it without sin. If you love the Lord with all your heart, you will even desire bodily death, but fear sin and guard against being cut off from God. I cannot conceive of a greater torment than being subjugated to sinful passions and being cut off from God. But the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing less than being freed from the passions and being united with the Lord. The one who is not scared of death speaks thus, “Bring my soul out of prison – of the flesh and the passions – that I may give thanks to Thy Name” (Ps. 141:8). The flesh and the movement of the passions are thick darkness and gloom. What then is ultimate death? It is being completely cut off from God. What then is ultimate life? It is being completely united to God.
Where now are the famous? Where are the rich? Where are those who love fine food and drink? Where are those exalted in beauty with delightful faces? Where are those who fulfill their every whim and desire? Have they not all ended in death? Have they not all been covered with earth, and their memory has vanished like a shout. There is no lasting love in this world except the love of God. Do you love fame? It will disappear. Do you love riches? They will perish. Do you love bodily beauty? It will turn to stench and decay. None of these things will help in the face of death. Only according to your deeds will you either be glorified or condemned.
Behold, everywhere is vanity, everywhere is loss; true rest and delight are nowhere in this world; they are only in the Lord God Himself. The world is deceptive and full of change, its joy is mixed with sorrow, its mirth with weeping, its glory is deceptive; riches pass away, beauty becomes ashes, the delights of the flesh turn to stench and decay, and everything is cut short and ends in sudden death. Nothing is trustworthy, and nothing is eternal save the One Lord God and His Most-Holy Grace.
1Cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-10, Phil 1:21-24.