2007, An-Nahar, Articles

Death and Resurrection / 07.07.2007

It is sufficient to look at the explosions and the assassinations in order that you realize that death is part of life, for those who had departed, and for those whom the Lord has preserved. To start with, such a departure is not a disaster. It is an accident. Even when the one whom God has received was great, we all inherit his/[her] greatness, while he/[she] enjoys the beauties of God in God’s kingdom. The question left is, why do we fear death, or why do we deter from death through cure and patience, or [otherwise] we draw death near, by fearing it? My mother used to say, “the lord of death has feared death” and in her Christian faith she referred to Christ. According to my understanding, the Nazarene had feared since He had participated with us in all our humanity, and in order to denote that He was not [kind of] a mythical superhuman.

They used to tell us, in the Christian school, where I grew up, that we fear demise since God has created us for eternity, while sin has occurred and has shattered eternity. Paul’s words support this teaching: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6: 23). As if the apostle suggests that death is accidental. I do not think that scientists contradict Paul whenever they say that whatever we know about life till now indicates that life has an end. However, none of them can perceive a relationship between the cause and the effect. They observe death and speak of a direct cause (the heart, the cancer or so), however, no one dares to specify the time of the end. Maybe what tortures us is that we have no knowledge of the time of our dissolution, or the submitting of the soul.

Thus, we stay in the presence of a mystery; and neither the penetration through it nor the confrontation of it with full knowledge, or with some preparedness, is given to the human being. The believer is comforted if he/[she] is truly co-existing with God, which might be viewed as a virtue or a repentance , however, without arrogance, since one does not know whether one abides by deep repentance. The word of the Master in this concern, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” [Matt. 25: 13], is a vocation, and it is not a testimony that we are in the complete pure presence, since only the Lord declares to you, at the time of judgment, your real state in the presence of God.

No one can confront the question ‘why?’ before one’s departure. Why today and not tomorrow? One might, to a limited extent, tackle the question of how: Blockage of the arteries, without cautiousness or treatment, for example; the spread of cancer to different organs. This, in case we consider the two most devastating sicknesses according to European statistics. However, how does a woman, who was cut from the oxygen pipes five months because of poverty, live? How does a person, within whom the cancerous cells move, live for thirty years? Thus, we do not know the ‘how’ in itself. Medicine is a science of possibilities, and those who are sincere in it tell you that there is in it a large space for art, that is to say that the range for testing in it is big. And they add that to practice it requires certain level of morals. Hence, concerning the cause and the manner, we are in a world of the complete unknown. Maybe it is this which makes up the main element of fear.

Whenever we look at the questions in a natural way, and we set aside all faith considerations, it seems to me that the greatest sin is Freud’s saying that we have the instinct of death. There is nothing other than the instinct of life within us. Therefore, the approach of death notifies us about the end of everything, and we feel, on the level of nature, that it is the nothingness. The psychological aspect in us, which is the desire to persist forever, contradicts the biological side, which is the destruction of this chemical laboratory, which is called the body. As if confrontation is inescapable between these two aspects of our human existence.

There is a recent talk about extending life. Is that a psychological extension, based on the notion that awareness accompanies the physical identification? The studies are not advanced enough. And the economical studies are frightening, since you will have to serve for the living of people, who are not productive, unless the givens develop in a way that is unperceivable for us, so that an old man continues to produce as the middle-aged or the young person. Naturally, whenever frailty grows and sicknesses increase, the old person would prefer to depart existence. However, some new elements of cure might intervene and the person’s understanding may not weaken, and thus, the instinct of life might get stronger.

In all researches and observations of behaviors, it is clear that “developed” humanity does not at all address the spiritual issues. It has no interest in the question: why the person desires to prolong one’s life. Positivism controls all current researches in the world. Sometimes prayer is addressed for biological purposes, and thus, prayer is viewed as an instrument for worldly purposes. Nevertheless, and despite of positivism, no one gets reconciled with death. It remains for all a feeling or a path towards annihilation of existence.

How does the feeling of new life come to a person, who is by instinct conscious of the lack of invincibility in that concern? If nothing, beyond instinct, descends upon you it is impossible for you to overcome death by surpassing it. You would not surmount death unless with something that is not of death, and it is not of your nature, since your whole existence is injured by the fear of death and heroism here do not help. All of us are the victims of this enemy, the last enemy as Paul calls it. Thus, Christianity does not ask for reconciliation with death. It rather seeks to extinguish death, and then, something new would emerge within you, which does not come from you. Thus, you become, though in the grave, a new existence. Hence, it is not possible to be reconciled neither with your dead body, nor the body of a cousin or a friend, since this would mean that you have reconciled with nothing.

If the fear of death is like a sword that is hanged over your head, whence it is for you not to fear the fear of death? Whence it is for you to draw away from this fear? In Christian terms, you draw away from death with what we call “the hope of resurrection and eternal life”. Hope is the hope toward the One, who alone overcomes death, namely God. God pledges you from death, and carries you through it with the hope and the expectation of resurrection, which makes you a new person, with a luminous body, free from corruption and alive forever.

We do not thoroughly address the destiny of the spirit. We know that it is in God’s care, and in God’s compassion, and God is merciful to the one asking for compassion, liberating him/[her] from the burden of sins; as Paul had said, “For he who has died is freed from sin.” [Rom. 6: 7] He/[she] unites with God, who takes away from him/[her] the yoke of death and transgression, carrying him/[her] from a rank to the rank of mercy, since the human being does not enter the Kingdom without it. In the Orthodox Church there is no definition for the state of the soul other than that it is in the hands of God, awaiting the resurrection. That is why we pray for those who passed away, and in reality, they are within divine compassion.

Thus, our theology moves to speak about resurrection, which Paul the apostle explains through these words about himself: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.” [1Cor. 15: 42-44]

Paul builds all this on the resurrection of Christ. Hence, as the body of Christ had put on light, we put also on ourselves light. All matter, including the matter of the universe, becomes complete light; free from the corporeality, according to which food, drink and sex were our characteristics, since these are of the earth.

You are free from death through light, through divine illumination which fills you and forms you forever, so that you might walk in God and be renewed forever. The earthliness and its characteristics depart you, but you remain human in a new construction, of which we do not know a characteristic other than that it resembles divine luminosity.

In this sense your personality remains as it is, including your spirit. This is why, in the third century, we had charged with infidelity those who claimed that human souls mold with each other to become one soul. God’s spirit always revives your spirit, as God keeps your luminous body in its unity, without confusing the bodies with each other. What matters for us is that your whole personality is rewarded and it does not dissolve in God. Otherwise, this would be pantheism; and as we had rejected it in the first creation we do reject it in the second creation.

Our view of freedom from the fear of death is different from this approach. [As it was said earlier,] you overcome the fear by hope and the actualization of hope at the resurrection. Then, you receive your death not with a denial, but with faith. You live instantly through compassion and, at last, whenever God emerges you from the grave. Other than this would be referring to nothingness. While God has not created anyone in order to extinguish him/[her] from existence, rather God grants him/[her] existence of a different kind. Thus, God brings you from God’s first creation to God’s new creation, and makes you ever existent, since you always receive God’s grace in heaven, and in you God’s image becomes realized constantly. And this is joy.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الموت والقيامة” –An Nahar- 07.07.2007

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