In the past few months, we have been shocked by the news of disasters and tragedies, which resulted in sudden death of many people. We lived through the disastrous news of the crash of the Egypt Air plane off the shores of the Northeastern United States. This resulted in the death of 217 persons, of whom many of us may have had social, friendly, or family ties. In less than a minute they changed from living individuals to scattered bodies in the bottom of the ocean, difficult to retrieve and find. Prior to this incident, we lived through the tragedy of the accident of the bus, which carried youth from the churches of St. George in Helipolis and St. Mary in Arde-El-Golf. They were on a spiritual trip to serve at the villages in Samalout. On the way back to Cairo, a trailer, which got detached from a truck crashed into their bus and demolished it. In a few minutes, the 29 young men and women became scattered bodies. There were many other similar disasters, which resulted in sudden death.
When facing such events, one asks oneself many questions. What is the meaning of life? Why does death happen in such a painful way? What is after death? Do these events happen with God’s permission? The perplexities increase as the details unfold of what such painful events did to the relatives and loved ones. An example is the mother, who lost her daughter, who was engaged to be married and preparing for her wedding. How about the small children, who lost their father as he was traveling on a short trip, or many others?[b]What is the meaning of Life?[/b]
Let us imagine ourselves standing in front of that bus, which was destroyed by the trailer, and the blood from the bodies covering the ground. Let us imagine ourselves standing in front of the ocean and that monstrous plane which was almost like a flying city, destroyed in a few seconds. Those who were on board were eating, drinking, talking, and moving. Suddenly, and in a few seconds, their lives ended. Let us then ask ourselves: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of this life in which people compete with one another? What is the meaning of this life in which every person seeks to enjoy happiness every moment?
Indeed, the human mind is incapable of providing an answer. Death continued to be a mystery and people feared, until our Lord Jesus Christ was incarnate, died on the Cross, resurrected from the dead, and conquered death. He gave us the true meaning of life when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25-26)
These words were said by our Lord Jesus Christ to Martha as she was crying and wondering about the reason why her only brother, Lazarus, died. Our Lord Jesus asked her the aforementioned question and asked her if she believed. (John 11: 26) Our Lord Jesus Christ is asking each one of us the same question: Do you believe in this? It is a question directed to each of us. What is our understanding of what life is?
Our life does not consist of just our earthly existence. This life on earth, no matter how long it is, will cease one day. Our hope is not limited to our earthly existence. St. Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Cor. 15: 19) Our true life is in Christ and our true hope is in Christ our Lord.
Christianity offers to us the comforting answer to the question: what is the meaning of life? Our answer is to say along with St. Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ.” (Phil. 1:21) At the end of the Litany of the Gospel, the priest addresses our Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of all the people and says, “For you are the life of us all, the salvation of us all, our hope, our healing, and the resurrection of us all.”
Christ is our life. Therefore, leaving this life and taking off the tent of the flesh, by any means, is gain, for in it is the fulfillment of life in Christ. St. Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ”, but he also added, “and to die is gain.” Then he also added, “having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Phil. 1: 23)
The believer, who knows Christ and has a strong relationship with Him, finds death to be gain for it offers him the opportunity to be with his Beloved Christ all the time. The weakness of the flesh will no longer hinder him nor the temptations of the evil one. As for the person, who doesn’t know Christ or who knows Him in name only, he can not gain by death. Instead, he feels that by dying he is losing the pleasures and lusts of this world. Therefore, he fears death, trembles from it, and considers it a great loss.
Thus, we can see that death is not gain to all people, only to those whose lives are in Christ. Once more, let us ask ourselves what is the meaning of life for us? According to our answer, we will know whether we consider death to be gain or loss.
Whether death is gain or loss, it will inevitably come one day to each of us. It may come in a different way to each of us. Blessed is the person who strives to make death gain for him. Blessed is the person who can say from the bottom of his heart with St. Paul the Apostle, “having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Phil 1: 23) Blessed is the person who can say with faith and confidence, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” (Num. 23: 10)[b]What happiness do those to whom the following comforting verses apply possess![/b]
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes’ says the Spirit, thay they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” (Rev. 14: 13)
“Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matt. 25: 21)
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, now sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21: 4)
“They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 22: 4)
“And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4: 17-18)[b]Sudden Death:[/b]
Even though death for the true believer is gain, yet for his relatives and loved ones his departure is painful. This pain increases when the departure is sudden and the relatives and loved ones are unprepared for it. What words can be said to comfort them? For example, what words can be said to comfort the relatives of the youth, who died as a result of the bus accident? Those were religious youth, who went to the villages of Upper Egypt for spiritual service. After they honestly served the Lord, partook of the Divine Eucharist, and were praising God on their journey back, their lives ended in seconds. For them, death is gain. But how can we explain their sudden death to their relatives?
Out of his fatherly love, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III went to the families of those youth and met with them at St. George Church. He talked to them about sudden death using deep and comforting spiritual words. Let us listen to his comforting words:
“Although sudden death is a shock to the relatives and friends, yet it is easier for the departed person himself. In a specific moment he finds himself transferred from earth to heaven without pain, illness, or suffering. Unlike others who may remain sick and suffer from pain for a long time without hope of cure, they are spared from all of that. Even some family members of the hopelessly ill may reach the point of asking God to take the souls of their sick one so he can be relieved from his pain.
I recall a monk in the monastery, who used to pray saying, ‘Lord, take may soul while I am walking on the road.’ On the day previous to their departure, they received Holy Communion, as well as on the morning of the day in which the accident occurred. On their way home on the bus, they were praying and praising God, as it is customary with our youth on their trips. While they were in this spiritual state, the Lord took them to Himself. On this occasion, let us recall the Biblical verse, which says, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!’ (Num. 23: 10)
From the spiritual aspect, how deep it is that some die while praying and joyfully praising the Lord! As for our children, let us be concerned about their eternal life and not be concerned only with the few days they spend on earth. Actually, what is important is a person’s eternity and his destiny after death.
This accident also gives us an important concept about preparing for death. Among those who passed away in that accident, which one of them thought he was going to die on that day? While they thought they were going to be home in 1 ½- 2 hours, death came suddenly to them.”
We ask the Lord to repose their souls in the Paradise of Delight, that place where grief, sorrow, and groaning have fled away. We ask our Lord to fill the hearts of all their relatives and loved ones with His heavenly peace. May He grant all of to be prepared at the moment of death, and to always be ready to say with St. Paul the Apostle, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1: 21)