My beloved younger sister Becky died last week after a three-year-long battle with cancer, leaving behind a devastated family: a husband, three young children, parents, brother, sister, and myriad friends. A brother could not wish for a better sister. To know her was to know that she was among the most tenacious and courageous people around, and to know these virtues of hers was to think that she was capable of defying formidable odds. I said to her more than once that she would live to be 85 and see her great-grandchildren playing on her front porch. It was not to be--though it is clear that cancer has not had the last word: the Lord has chosen to heal her of that dread disease, but not in our time, not in this world, not as we so deeply wished.
As I commented last Christmas, Christianity, alone, makes death comprehensible and so makes life bearable. Without knowledge of the resurrection, life would be absurd. In such moments, when, as the Psalmist says, "You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; darkness is my one companion left" (87: 18 [LXX]), one seeks the light where one instinctively knows to find it. One of the people who always brightly shines the paschal light is Alexander Schmemann in his O Death, Where Is Thy Sting? (SVS Press, 2003), 115pp.
I always return to Schmemann during that yearly period of "dying" that is Great Lent: Journey to Pascha and I find his reflections greatly edifying. Though he is not counted ''officially'' as a poetic theologian (theological poet?) in the way that, e.g., St. Ephraim the Syrian, Dante, or St. Gregory Nazianzus are, nonetheless Schmemann, I have long found, writes theological poetry disguised as prose. What a shame that cancer took him, too, from us too early. What a delight it will be to watch that disease ground under the heal of the Theotokos proleptic to the parousia and the final conquest of her Son over all disease and death. Let us all hasten on to that eternal banquet where our song will forever be Christos anesti!