Dear Friends in Christ,
Last Friday, there was a rare “Derecho” storm which pounded the East Coast, knocking out power in the DC area, parts of North Carolina, and places even further away. I had been working in the Northern Virginia area for my secular profession and left the Falls Church area around 8:00 pm in an effort to avoid traffic. Things were going pretty smooth, but past Richmond I noticed that things were getting windy.
Suddenly, there were people slamming on brakes and I came across a series of branches which had been broken up across the road. I can only surmise that trucks had driven over the branches and shattered them. I feared that my tires would be punctured, but thankfully they were not. Continuing on, twigs began flying on my windshield, the wind blew my car off course slightly a few times, and numerous times I had to slow down and swerve to avoid downed tree limbs. I saw some people pull over, but being that I-85 South is lined with trees, I also feared a tree falling on my car. I decided to outrun the storm, and 20 harrowing minutes later, I was safe, thanks to God.
While I was in this situation, I pulled out my komboschini (prayer rope) and began to pray the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It had been longer than I would have liked since my last confession, and this was a powerful reminder to me that we never know when the time is at hand. Needless to say, I confessed the next day.
Some of our non-Orthodox friends, especially those who hold the ahistorical and minority view of “once saved, always saved” chide us for being fearful of the time of death. Certainly they have a point insofar as we who have been saved by Christ and are being saved by Christ, will be saved by Christ at the hour of death, and thus we have a strong hope. However, we also know from the Scriptures and the entire corpus of the Church Fathers’ teachings that we can fall away from grace, unlike what our non-Orthodox friends believe, and so we should always be cautious and repent of our sins diligently.
The Lord allows such harrowing moments in order to warn us and prepare us. But because we are called to cooperate with God’s grace, we have to take the ball and run with it after He shows us the way or gives us a hint. The monastic fathers often write about the remembrance of death as a technique to aid our repentance. Such a concept sounds morbid to many of us, but this is only because our culture has made avoiding the reality of death an art (witness the modern funeral industry). By confronting the fact that any day may be our last, by thinking about the upcoming Judgment, we are given a chance to make the choices that day that will lead us toward Christ and not away from Him.
Rather than being a negative and fatalistic exercise, it is a humbling and empowering exercise. Imagine our relief if, when we stand before the Throne of Judgment, we have already confessed and repented of our sins, and have departed this life prepared. Having thought about the end, we never wasted a moment of our precious time on Earth. Rather than putting things off for another day, we confront what needs to be confronted, knowing it may be our only chance. We will go to bed each night with a clean conscience, and wake up each morning prepared for the mission we are on. Pride will melt away, because following the psalm, we will remember that “as for man, his days are as the grass, as the flowers of the field, so shall he blossom forth” knowing that our life is beautiful and a gift from God, and also that it is fleeting, temporary, and given to us for a season.
Brothers and sisters, each day let us confess our sins to God, and as often as possible let us confess to the priest, as Our Lord showed us (c.f. John 20). Let us take each scary moment of our life as a gift from God, given to warn us and prepare us. Let us take advantage of such moments by expanding on them and proactively remembering our mortality daily so that we are never caught unprepared. The path is set before us, the tools are given to us; let us take advantage of them!