Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Memory of Death

30 November 1980
Theme: Spiritual life, Death   Place: London Parish   Period: 1976-1980   Genre: Sermon

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The end of today’s Gospel reading is a warning about something that we could all be aware of all the time, that is that death is at our elbow, that much, very much, of what we do will perish with us as unnecessary, mortal.

Does this mean that Christ’s warning about the closeness of death should frighten us and deprive us of creative strength? No, on the contrary; the Fathers used to say, “keep a constant memory of death,” not in the sense that we should be afraid of death and live under its constant shadow, but rather because nothing but the aware­ness of the fact that life is short, that it may end at any moment, can give to every moment its final meaning, and to the whole of life the feeling that we must hurry to do good, that we must hurry to live in such a way that at whatever moment death overtakes us, it will be a moment of triumphant life. We would live with such depth, so intensely, if only this awareness were with us constantly. If we were to know that the words that I am now speaking to you were the last, how differently would I say them, and how differently would you listen!

If we were to feel that the person we were talking to might be dead within a few minutes, how careful we should be that our words and actions in relation to him should be the culmination of all the love and care of which we are capable, that they should be the triumph of everything that is best and highest in our relationship.

The reason that we live so badly, utter so many empty words, rotten words, dead words, commit so many actions that afterwards burn in our soul like wounds, is that we live as though this life was merely a rough draft of the life we will one day be living, when we have had time to shape the draft into the final story. But that is not how things work; death comes and the draft remains rough, his life has not been lived, just blotted, and there remains regret for the person who could have been great, but turned out shallow and insignificant.

That is what today’s Gospel is about, not that we should be afraid of death, but that, knowing that it can come at any moment, every moment must be perfect, every word must be a word of life, filled with the Spirit, fit to enter eternity. And every action of ours in relation to each one of us should be such as to give life and express the fullness and depth and strength of the love and reverence which we should feel for each other and for all. Let us consider this, and then if we can act upon it, every word and every action will acquire the dimension of eternity and shine with its light. Amen.

Published: Newsletter N. 126, December 1980

Listen to audio: no Watch video: no