Dear brothers and sisters!
Today, in this church, we have gathered to reverently and sincerely ask for forgiveness from and pay our respects to one dear to us.
Standing at the coffin of a deceased loved one, we accost the mystery of death, and looking upon the orphaned body lacking a soul, we should bear in mind that it was orphaned only for a while, and at the universal resurrection it will be reunited with its soul.
The mystery of death is deep and majestic, seeing how it is tied with the completion of one’s life on earth and future attendance before God’s Judgment. For the soul of one departed from earthly life, the moment of death is the beginning of a new, eternal life, for which it was preparing itself during this temporary, vain, brief earthly life. That is why the burial service is so touching and reverent, inasmuch as it is filled with sorrow, trepidation and hope for the salvation of the soul in the afterlife. Every word in the burial service is a word of faith that the soul will be worthy of a place where eternal rest is prepared for it, a place of refreshment and peace.
The Church of Christ is an indivisible community of living and dead Christians. She cares for us during our lives with warmth and love. And when one’s body and soul separate from each other, the Church escorts their soulless body reverently and affectionately on its final journey, insomuch as it was unified with the Divine Mysteries of Holy Baptism and Communion with the Holy Gifts, the Body and Blood of the Lord, through Which Christ leads us into eternal life.
Our body, which on earth was inseparably merged with our soul, will arise in the image of the Resurrection of Christ, Who conquered death and elevated our human flesh to Heaven to the glory of the Holy Trinity.
Standing at the coffin, we Christians, in faith and hope await for God to open the door to the Kingdom of Heaven for the immortal soul. For this reason, the Church calls on us not to accompany those who have departed from us with weeping, as do they who have no hope, according to the words of the Apostle (1 Thess. 4:13), and instead addresses us, as Christ once addressed the widow of Nain, deadened with grief, telling her: Do not weep (Lk. 7:13), for dormition is not eternal separation, but a temporary slumber of the body, beyond which is revealed the radiance of the resurrection and eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven with Christ our Lord Who trampled decay and death.
And although we continue to grieve over our separation from a loved one, we know that dormition is joyous for a pious soul released from the body. The human body is a place where the eternally living soul dwells, which languished on earth as if it were incarcerated within flesh.
Our life is a time of travel in a foreign land. We are people, descendants of Adam, expelled from sweet paradise, and have no continuing city (Heb. 13:14). We will all sooner or later leave this life and return to our Heavenly Homeland only by the inevitable means of death. Upon death, the soul is no longer constrained by bodily infirmity, painful weakness and fatigue, but after being released from this captivity, it is free to meet its Creator, Who is our Hope and Love. That is why, while accompanying the departed on their blessed path to the place where our pious ancestors rest, we also sing about our own fate: “My soul shall live and shall praise Thee and Thy judgments will help me…” Yes, God lives and the soul lives, for which is prepared eternal peace and freedom.
In death, the greatest mystery is performed, which every soul, either knowingly or unknowingly to itself, longs for throughout its entire earthly journey: the encounter with the living God. We are preparing for this on earth, and this is only entirely possible after the termination of our earthly life.
We approach with trepidation the mysteries of life, death, and the destinies of God. From cradle to coffin, our life is exposed to many fatal incidents: diseases, natural disasters, violent acts and other dangerous circumstances. But throughout all of this, we believe that the lidless Eye of the Lord keeps our lives in the face of all encounters, for, as it is said in the Holy Scripture: The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torture will ever touch them (Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, ch.3). And with this omnipotent hand, the Heavenly Father leads us to salvation in His abode. “The Lord does not want to destroy the creation of His hands, but wants for all to be saved and to come into true reason” (Prayer for Holy Communion).
The Creator, by His authority, changes times and seasons (Dan. 2:21), and has determined for each of us the limit of our life: As for the days of our years, in their span they be seventy years. And if we be in strength, mayhap eighty years; and what is more than these is toil and travail (Ps. 89:10). And not only are the years and days of our lives determined by the Lord, but the very hairs of your head are numbered (Matt. 10:30), that is, the Lord constantly takes care of us.
The Omniscient and All-Wise Father calls each of us into another life at that time, which He determines at His own discretion is best for our salvation.
For a righteous man, for whom death “is peace” and the return to the Heavenly Homeland, the Lord, by His mercy, at times shortens the time of earthly existence. Whereas for a sinner, who clung to the earth in passion and vanity, forgetting about the Heavenly Homeland, the merciful Lord sometimes extends their life for repentance, to the last measure of His longanimity. He does not desire the death of the sinner, for it is evil (Ps. 33:22), but leaves them here for repentance, rectification and purification.
Is it possible to label someone’s death as premature? What does the death of a child or a very young person mean? Death approaches each of us precisely when we are closest to salvation. And therefore, no matter how short our lives may seem, we must believe that, according to the providence of God, we are alive for as long as it is necessary to live on the earth for the salvation of our soul.
Our life is a time of preparation for eternal life. A spotless life is the maturity of old age (the book of the Wisdom of Solomon, ch.4), as the Holy Scripture teaches us, and he who may have attained spiritual perfection at a young age, sometimes surpasses the elderly who reside “in the measure of the stature of infancy about Christ”. And, as happens on occasion, toward the end of a long life, with many years lived in sin, is bitter repentance not fruitful? And perhaps some of the long-lived ones would wish that, standing before the face of God’s Judgment, the many years of their life be blotted out forever, and would gladly return to that state of youth when they had not yet tasted the bitterness of sin, when their soul was “pleasing to the Lord… lest evil change their reason, or deceit deceive their soul” (book of the Wisdom of Solomon, ch.4). That is why the Spirit of God testifies: blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord (Rev. 14:13), that is, those living by the laws of Christ and dying for the Lord. The Lord says: “In whatsoever things I shall take you, in these I shall judge you” (St. Justin the Philosopher, “Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew”, ch. 47). Without knowing the day or hour when the Creator will summon us out of this life, let us be permanently prepared for His meeting.
It will be frightening to await from the Lord, the righteous and terrible Judge, His verdict at the Terrible Judgment, to be told where to go, where to abide forever – to His right or to His left, in the light or in the dark, in honour or dishonour, in joy and glory or in torments and wailing. For, according to the word of God, those who have done good will come forth to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (Jn. 5:29), and according to the word of the prophet: many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting reproach and shame (Dan. 12:2).
May God grant that our soul at the Terrible Judgment not hear from the righteous Judge the dreadful command: Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), but instead, the blessed decree: come, you blessed My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34).
To our God be glory, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages! Amen.