Facing Death

Heartbreaking. Both of them …

Such a sad smile at 2:26  He must have known that it would be his last and that his time was short. I can’t watch this without crying. No one will ever perform this like he did. He owned this song. Memory Eternal +

 

 

A friend of mine told me how all this reminded him of of the elephants who visited their human friend and conservationist Lawrence Anthony for his funeral  and made their way back to his homestead in South Africa on the anniversary of his death. Intrigued I looked it up, and indeed  “Wild elephants gathered ‘inexplicably’, mourning death of ‘Elephant Whisperer’. Author and legendary conservationist Lawrence Anthony died March 7. His family told of a solemn procession on March 10 that defied human explanation here

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And here, esp. @4:38 to the end

Oh, this sting of Death!

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Seconds from death: Amazing picture of lion eyeballing hapless wildebeest among top wildlife images of year 2016

Oh! Death’s breath! 

Arise, O my soul, O my soul, why sleepest thou? The end draweth near, and thou shall be confounded.  Arise, therefore, from thy sleep, and Christ our God, who is in all places and filleth all things, shall spare thee.

 

Rage, Rage At the Dying of the Light

Or, The Hollow Gaze Of a  Beast

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I am beginning to think that I am secretly a bear. I definitely have the social skills of one. I am as voluble as a bear during hibernation, and as attached to my room as a bear to its cave. In all honesty, I am continuously amazed anyone still wants to talk to me given how bad I am at keeping in touch. The simple reality is that I function in a state of amazement. I have rewritten this paragraph so many times; I can find no better way to describe this. I function like a stunned being. I go through the motions I see in other people; I do what it takes to be functional in this world. But deep down, I am paralysed.

I once saw a huge bull being taken to the slaughterhouse. I was in my monastery in Moldavia at the time. The animals know. The know perfectly well that behind that big door there is death. Many of them go wild, and desperation takes over. Some times, their hearts fail and they collapse, so they have to be dragged inside. I remember this bull: a huge, beautiful animal. I remember its stare. Its muscles had completely frozen; there was no movement at all – not a blink, not a sound. At the centre of that heard of bellowing animals, fighting to escape death, I remember that hollow, frozen gaze as the bull was pushed by three men towards the gate, inside the slaughterhouse.

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I function very much like that stunned animal. When I look in the mirror (which I purposely try not to do) I recognise that gaze. There is something of that in everyone. Often times, I switch off as people talk to me about their holidays and homes and plans. I switch off and I try to recognise that frozen gaze in their eyes: beyond the noise, beyond the superficial glitter of life, that hollowness is always there. It is imprinted in us. It is part of what makes us who we are, part of what makes us human.

I suppose this is my apology for failing to always keep ‘on schedule’ with posting here, recording our podcasts and so on. I am sorry. I am aware I should be doing more, especially as many of you continue to support the monastery even through these periods of silence. Perhaps you feel something. Perhaps you yourselves recognise something in this silence.

I have prayed to make sense of this desperation. I live with a perfect hope that we shall all survive the slaughterhouse, but this hope comes with an equally perfect awareness of the hollowness of this life. I have prayed to make sense of this. I have also prayed that I loose neither the hope, nor the desperation; living with both creates an intense tension, and that tension feeds my heart. I have an intuition that this tension will lead me to Life.

If I have learned something so far, it is that I must protect and treasure this life, because the seed of Life is buried in it. The hollowness of this life, its senselessness, its pain have taught me that I myself can only get as far as the gate of the slaughterhouse. If there is any hope to make it beyond that gate, if there is any hope to survive it, it does not come from me. I cannot be my own saviour. I cannot be anyone’s saviour. This is a tough lesson to learn and impossible to fully accept without the grace of God. I am nothing without a Saviour. It is a tough lesson, but we cannot run away from it. Horrid as it feels, this is the foundation of all our hope.

Just think how different things could have been, had Adam stared into his own hollowness and accepted it, instead of collapsing at the feet of the devil. Had Adam accepted this truth, had he accepted that he cannot be his own saviour, has he reached out for a Saviour, this world would have known a different history. Perhaps this is the point of it all: to learn the lesson Adam has not; to stare into the hollowness of our being and not despair, to not collapse as he did, because we know that a Saviour has taken on the form of this hollowness and lifted it up to Life.

http://www.mullmonastery.com/monastery-blog/the-hollow-gaze-of-a-beast/

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The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz – he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when 
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour, 
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom 
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men 
The stuffed men. 

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IIEyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear: 
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column 
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are 
In the wind’s singing 
More distant and more solemn 
Than a fading star.Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom 
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer – 

Not that final meeting 
In the twilight kingdom

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III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom 
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone. 

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IV

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places 
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of this tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men. 

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V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning. 

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion 
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom 

Between the conception
And the creation 
Between the emotion 
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm 
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom 

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper. 

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Because I Could Not Stop For Death

 

People are so beautiful it hurts. We all have this beauty in us, this otherworldly potential to be so much more than what we settle for. At times, this awareness is the only thing that makes sense of this senseless existence, its very foundation, the star calling us forward, the purpose of this flesh. Most of the times, though, it makes life ever more painful, because it throws light upon the dark truths we have spent a lifetime learning to ignore.

Someone’s asked in an email from where I get the strength to keep going. The raw answer is: fear. Fear and desperation and the knife-like breath of death I see slowly and implacably eating me from the inside, consuming the beauty within myself, the beauty within you. I look in the mirror and I see a caged animal, waiting in line to be sacrificed. I live with the awareness that none of the breaths I’ve taken, none of the things I’ve felt and done have life within themselves.

The most painful thing I live with, the heaviest weight I carry is the total, perfect knowledge that there is no memory here to preserve even the slightest trace of our sparks of life.

I look in the mirror and I see nothing that will survive death. I stare at this nothingness and life becomes a desperate attempt to outrun death. At times, this turns into pure isolation, and no island can be far enough; no darkness thick enough to cover me. Other times, for very few and rare moments, this turns into white silence. A bright blanket of silence that covers my mind like rarefied air. Up there, in those rarefied clouds, floating high above death, there is Rest, there is Peacefulness.

 

 

Source: Father Seraphim –The Mull Monastery at http://www.mullmonastery.com/uncategorized/someones-asked-in-an-email-from-where-i-get-the-strength-to-keep-going/

The Sisyphus Myth

 

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An Orthodox Theology of Time – IV / V

Time as Woundedness and Time as Decay, Growth unto Death.  How do we primarily experience time as fallen beings? Do we experience it as change or, more precisely, mutability, that is, a growth unto death? 

 

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/ To the last syllable of recorded time,/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death. […] it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.” (Shakespeare, Macbeth, V.v. ll.)

 

First we experience fallen time as constant change or ceaseless movement in a cycle of death that can be seen cyclically in the seasons, which move in a circle like a snake swallowing its tail. Winter follows Autumn and Spring follows Winter just as death follows old age and old age is not the end, for out of our death comes the birth of our descendants. Thus all of time is a perpetual repetition of death since the moment that things come into existence, changing from non-existence into being, they straightway move back again from existence into non-being.

This experience of fallen time is what Pozzo, in Waiting For Godot, expresses when he cries furiously at Vladimir:

Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that enough for you? [Calmer] They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

 

Second, we experience fallen time as unending desire. Once we desire something it lacerates our whole being until we possess it and our desire for that thing is then satiated until the thing possessed tempts us into some new perversion and the vicious circle begins all over again. Man’s life, then, is like this vicious circle insofar as he is continually turning around while facing his own self like it was a household idol, as The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete puts it: “I am become my own idol, and have injured my soul with passions.” Luther expressed this fallen circularity of time well when he says that homo in se incurvatus or man is turned in on himself.

 

… St. Gregory of Nyssa  has a nice image to convey this hopeless cyclical perpetuum mobile. It is of a man fruitlessly attempting to climb uphill in sand and never making any progress. It is the spiritual life where one’s house is built not on the rock of Christ but on the sand of spiritual illusions:

“He [the passionate man] is like those who toil endlessly as they climb uphill in sand: Even though they take long steps, their footing in the sand always slips downhill, so that, although there is much motion, no progress results from it.” 

[Also, remember here The Myth of Sisyphus: The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.]

Third, we see time as decay in memory—Schmemann’s “evil time.” In evil time, we remember the past as perpetually lost like a ghost that must relive its own murder.  Thus we remember continually and cannot change the death of our spouse, our mother, our child, or worse, a moment of humiliation by our spouse, our mother, by us of our own child. We cannot choose our past, for deliberation is a mark of future action in the present, the choice between what we would like to have happened and what actually happened remains only an undying craving for another world, as T. S. Eliot acknowledged: “What might have been is an abstraction/ Remaining a perpetual possibility/ Only in a world of speculation.”(T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”, I, ll.6-8 in Four Quartets).

Each of these faces of fallen time points to our fundamental need, in time, for time’s renewal in Jesus Christ.

Source: http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2668945.html

To Be Continued

For Part V go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/12/18/memory-made-clear-and-serene/

Between Son and Mother

A virtual, photographic pilgrimage to shrines in Greece and Cyprus dedicated to the Feast of the Mother of God Presentation or Entry, Entrance, Eisodos in the Temple (November 21)

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Iconography of the Entrance of the Theotokos at Hilandari Monastery–MOUNT ATHOS

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The Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa in AmorgosENTRY96entry7

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Panagia Malteza of Santorini

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Panagia Odigitria of Kimolos

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The 11th Century Church of Panagia Kapnikarea in Athens

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The Monastery of Panagia of Machairas in Cyprus

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No one stands between Son and Mother

Give us salvation


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“Today, the most pure temple of the Savior, the precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of God, enters the house of the Lord, bringing the grace of the Divine Spirit. The Angels of God praise her. She is the heavenly tabernacle.”

 

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Footfalls Echo In The Rose-Garden

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This heartbreaking commentary belongs to a “broken” father and priest, Fr Aidan (Alvin) Kimel, whose second son Aaron died by suicide. Fr Aidan preached his funeral homily and prayed the committal over his casket. In Father Aidan’s words, Aaron’s “death has shattered his life and the lives of his wife and children; has changed and traumatized him at the core of his being, in ways that he has not yet begun to fathom”. This post’s heartfelt and poignant ruminations had us all in tears and haunted us ever since reading them. Never before has T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” become so transparent and pellucid. Dearest Father, I am asking your blessing, and offering my poor prayers. I find your blog very inspiring and your words resonate deeply within me. I am so sorry about Aaron’s death, especially that it was suicide. That must have been a very difficult homily to give. I pray that you and the rest of your family will be put back together from the shattering. Memory eternal, Aaron!

Eclectic Orthodoxy

First Movement

Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past.

I live in time, bracketed by a past I can neither change nor retrieve and a future that beckons, disappoints, and terrifies. I am never satisfied with the present, never content. I am torn apart in time by time, fragmented.

Years ago I read Jean Pierre de Caussade’s The Sacrament of the Present Moment. The secret to holiness and contentment, he writes, is abandonment to the divine will given in the present moment: “To find contentment in the present moment is to relish and adore the divine will in the succession of all the things to be done and suffered which make up the duty to the present moment.” I can see the logic, but only rarely have I been able to practice such deep surrender…

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O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

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Let us contemplate our own mortality and ‘refute’ the nihilism of ‘mercy’ killing with artworks of Beauty. Classic Christian art such as ‪Purcell’s Elegy for the Funeral of Queen Mary can be so uplifting! Let us also draw upon all Art that has something of God in it, or that through it something of God can be refracted, such as Kurosawa’s Dreams and Rumi’s poetry.

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Purcell’s Elegy

Man that is born of a woman

hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.

He cometh up, and is cut down like a flow’r.

He flee’th as it were a shadow,

and ne’er continueth in one stay.

In the midst of life we are in death:

of whom may we seek for succour,

but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty,

O holy and most merciful Saviour,

deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

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For sublime Purcell please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYELAu9hqdU

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Kurosawa’s Dreams ends with a funeral procession for an old woman in a village that plays like a wedding. Instead of mourning, the people celebrate joyfully as the proper end to a good life. The whole village turns out for her funeral. Kurosawa stages the funeral procession as a celebration of a life. Music is played, a song is sung, people dance in the procession as if it is a parade, and it’s a joyous scene. At the end, the traveler picks and places his own flower on the rock like the children before him.

For Kurosawa’s last Dream, watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEEOfJdGzcQ

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As for Rumi, the mystic poet and Spiritual Sufi Master, let the ecstatic vision of his hauntingly beautiful ‘Death’ poem speak of itself!

When I die …

When my coffin

Is being taken out

You must never think

I am missing this world.

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Don’t shed any tears,

Don’t lament or feel sorry

I’m not falling

into a monster’s abyss.

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When you see

My corpse is being carried

Don’t cry for my leaving,

I’m not leaving,

I’m arriving at eternal love.

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When you leave me

In the grave

Don’t say goodbye.

Remember a grave is

Only a curtain

For the paradise behind.

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You’ll only see me

Descending into a grave.

Now watch me rise.

How can there be an end?

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When the sun sets or

The moon goes down

It looks like the end,

It seems like a sunset,

But in reality it is a dawn.

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When the grave locks you up,

That is when your soul is freed.

Have you ever seen

A seed fallen to earth

Not rise with a new life?

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Why should you doubt the rise

Of a seed named human?

Have you ever seen

A bucket lowered into a well

Coming back empty?

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Why lament for a soul

When it can come back

Like Joseph from the well?

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When for the last time

You close your mouth,

Your words and soul

Will belong to the world of

No place, no time.

For Rumi’s “When I Die”, please watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEwJm-RPhNE

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  • Icon on top: Harrowing of Hades, fresco in the parecclesion of the Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315;  raising Adam and Eve is depicted as part of the Resurrection icon, as it always is in the East.