O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

Anastasis_at_Chora

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.
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Just Remember That Death Is Not The End

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In the last two days the subjects of death and euthanasia have come up frequently on Christian websites. For example, yesterday I read an article in Pravoslavie.ru from the National Review concerning a Dutch doctor who was sued for “Saying No to euthanasia”. Christian Headlines.com say that in Quebec doctors are being forced to comply with the assisted suicide (ie. euthanasia) programme even if they are morally opposed to it.  For anyone who may still have doubts as to where all this “end-the-suffering-by-ending-the-sufferer” cult may lead to, I would recommend Fr. Philip LeMasters’s recent post http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/easternchristianinsights /2015/09/27/an-orthodox-christian-argument-against-physician-assisted-suicide/.

I would like to add my own protest along with other Christian voices to the gross distortion of God’s commandments that I believe “mercy”killing to be. What a gross, appalling violation against the essential sanctity of all Life! How profoundly evil, ugly and merciless such a vision of ‘mercy’ death is!

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Today, rather than any debate, let the haunting beauty and profound spirituality of two Tavener classic works’ refute their arguments. Tavener’s Song for Athene and Funeral Ikos are deeply moving musical works which convey God’s grandeur and sovereignty over life and His overcoming of death. Tavener converted to Orthodox Christianity in 1977, and his compositions after that date are in his own words “icons in sound”, heavily influenced by Byzantine ecclesiastical music. He said he wanted to produce music which is “the sound of God”. In his recent book, The music of silence, Tavener said “If you listen to the music of the East, somehow the divine is already there. It is – which is a parallel with the eternal ‘I am’.” Ivan Moody, the noted Orthodox musicologist and priest, argues that Tavener’s music has “dynamic stasis” in its attempt to convey the theology and spirituality of the Orthodox Church.

Tavener’s Song for Athene is one of his best-known works, since it was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, consisting of the Hebrew Alleluia (“let us praise the LORD”) sung six times as a ‘refrain’ to excerpts from the Eastern Orthodox funeral service and from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the Byzantine tradition a continuous ison, or drone, underlies the work, adding a profound solemnity in the face of death. Mother Thekla, an Orthodox nun and Tavener’s ‘spiritual mother’ wrote the lyrics. “Let flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” from Hamlet overcomes the ugliness of death; “the Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life and door of paradise”. “Come enjoy crowns and rewards I have prepared for you” emphasizes the final triumph of life over death. The opening of the song in Tavener’s words should be very tender, “with great inner stillness and serenity”. This corresponds to the Orthodox hesychastic tradition of stillness in prayer, whereas the climactic crescendo, conveying “the resplendent joy in the Resurrection”, the heart of the Orthodox faith, seals appropriately the end of the piece.

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Tavener’s Funeral Ikos is a musical setting of words for the Orthodox Service for the Burial. The words offer great consolation, but they soberly admonish us to prepare for the gateway to Paradise as well.

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Why these bitter words of the dying,

O brethren, which they utter as they go hence?

I am parted from my brethren.

All my friends do I abandon, and go hence.

But whither I go, that understand I not, neither

what shall become of me yonder; only God,

who hath summoned me knoweth.

But make commemoration of me with the song: Alleluia.

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But whither now go the souls?

How dwell they now together there?

This mystery have I desired to learn,

but none can impart aright.

Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?

Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them

and make the song Alleluia.

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We go forth on the path eternal and as condemned,

with downcast faces,

present ourselves before the only God eternal.

Where then is comeliness?

Where then is wealth?

Where then is the glory of this world?

There shall

none of these things aid us,

but only to say oft the psalm: Alleluia.

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If thou hast shown mercy unto man,

O man, that same mercy shall be shown thee there;

and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,

the same sball there deliver thee from want.

If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,

the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:

Alleluia.

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Youth and the beauty of the body fade

at the hour of death,

and the tongue then burneth fiercely,

and the parched throat is inflamed.

The beauty of the eyes is quenched then,

the comeliness of the face all altered,

the shapeliness of the neck destroyed;

and the other parts have become numb,

nor often say: Alleluia.

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With ecstasy we are inflamed

if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;

that there is Paradise,

wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.

Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that all we may cry

aloud thus unto God: Alleluia.

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For TAVENER’S SONG FOR ATHENE, please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ma_Ouv74_8

For TAVENER’S FUNERAL IKOS, please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZRrbixpVV0

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Sources for Tavener’s music:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2013/feb/19/contemporary-music-guide-john-tavener

http://www.gimell.com/recording-john-tavener—ikon-of-light—funeral-ikos—the-lamb—tallis-scholars.aspx

http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/contemplating-tavener/

http://www.naxos.com/mainsite/blurbs_reviews.asp?item_code=8.555256&catNum=555256&filetype=About this Recording&language=English.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/arts/music/john-tavener-dies-at-69-composer-with-eye-on-god.html?_r=2&

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