Surprised by Death: The End Comes Like a Thief in the Night
Blessed Are Those Servants Whom The Lord Finds. Alert And Watching When He Comes
ust as the day of the general judgment of all men will come suddenly, so for each man will suddenly come the day of his particular judgment, the day of his death. It is unknown at what hour we shall be called. One has only just begun his life on earth, and he is caught away from it into eternity. Another is taken after going a very short way; another midway; another a considerable distance from the end. Few reach the completion of their days and leave their earthly hut—the body—when it becomes unfit for habitation. During our earthly pilgrimage, through our sense of immortality having become distorted by the fall, our body seems to us everlasting, filled with a most abundant, most fruitful activity. This feeling is shared alike by child, adolescent, adult and the aged. All are created immortal, with immortal souls. They ought to be immortal in body too. Their fall that has struck both soul and body with death, they either know nothing about, or do not want to know, or they know it quite inadequately. Hence their mental outlook and the feeling of their heart in regard to earthly life is false and full of self-deception. Hence people of all ages vainly imagine that man's heritage is eternal. After finishing our earthly pilgrimage, at the gates of death, the way that stretches endlessly into the future seems in the past extremely short, and the vast amount of activity performed not at all for eternity seems a most pernicious, irretrievable loss of time and of opportunity given for our salvation. Very truly do worldly people express their deception by usually calling death an unexpected calamity at whatever age it comes to their relatives and friends. And for the decrepit old man or woman, burdened with years and infirmities, who has long been declining to the grave, but who has not given a thought to death, and has in fact dismissed every reminder of it, it is indeed an unexpected calamity. In the fullest sense it is a calamity for all who are unprepared for it. On the other hand, blessed are those servants whom the Lord finds. alert and watching when He comes, soberly and rightly viewing earthly life, understanding death and preparing for it as something that can come at any age and in any state of health (Luke 12:37-39).
We must accomplish the course of our earthly pilgrimage with the greatest attention and watchfulness over ourselves, unceasingly calling upon God in prayer for help. Let the lamp for our journey be the Gospel, as David sang: Thy law is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths (Psalm 119:105). We go not only by a narrow way; we travel by night (2 Peter 1:19). Constant vigilance of mind is indispensable, so as not to be drawn away by our fallen nature, and by our fathers and brothers who are drawn away by it, and so as to escape all the snares and the furious malice and humanly incomprehensible cunning and wickedness of the fallen angels.
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St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), The Arena (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991) pp. 132-133.