"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Mystery of Death

November is traditionally accounted the time of the dead in the West, but in the Byzantine tradition the Saturday just before the Great Fast, and several during the Fast, are accounted "Soul Saturdays" for remembering in prayer and liturgy those whom we have "loved long since but lost a while" (Newman).

Prayer for the dead is a salutary practice, as I noted before, and one which is all the more important today in a world deeply confused about death. Some of the most moving prayers in the Byzantine funeral tradition are ascribed of course to St. John of Damascus, including this idiomela in tone 8:

I weep and lament when I consider death, and when I think of those who are laid in the grave. Where is now that moving beauty created in the likeness of God? Where is the glorious form? Oh, wonder: what happened that we are now delivered up to corruption? And how did death come into our life? God alone by his will and command has power to grant peace and rest to our souls.

Two books, in addition to Juliet du Boulay's lovely book on which I have commented previously, help us think through death theologically.
The first of these is one of the books that I inherited from the vast library of the late Fr. Bob Anderson. I had never before come across Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, The Mystery of Death (Athens: the Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians, 1993).

In the front of this book, Fr. Bob noted that "This is a very well written book. It should be read by all seminarians. It spells out quite clearly and thoroughly some basic and fundamental teachings of Christianity and makes reference to scriptural and patristic sources." 

More recently, Taylor Carr drew to my attention a book published last year treating an Orthodox view of death and burial customs in modern North America: Mark and Elizabeth Barna, A Christian Ending (Divine Ascent Press, 2011), 169pp.

This book is described in part as "a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition. While aimed at Orthodox Christians, this book would be a very helpful guide to anyone who is interested in preparing for a funeral within the context of community, without the use of corporate funeral homes, and using green and sustainable methods."

Further details, including the table of contents, and background of the authors, can be found at their website here.

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