The blessed repose of the Most Pure Mother of God is known as the Dormition. But what kind of death in general can be called blessed, “good?” We asked several pastors this question and also asked what kind of death they would like for themselves.
A good death is a death in repentance
What can be said here?… All the Holy Fathers unambiguously say that repentance with the bearing of its fruit is the main condition of the Christian life. Thus, a good death is death in repentance, as far as we can speak of death in a positive tone. Death, after all, is not inherent in man—it is a manifestation and consequence of his fall.
Thus, death in a state of reconciliation with God and man, death in a state of repentant contrition and humility of heart—this is probably the kind of death that can be called good. In the words of the Lord: “In whatsoever state I shall find you, in that I will judge you.” The Litany of Supplication has these words, splendid in their fullness and depth of meaning: “A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful; and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask.”
There is nothing to add or subtract here…
I know people who would like a martyric death for themselves. I am in awe of their determination, but I confess that I don’t’ have such resolve myself. Of course, I think of my own death often enough, and I can say that I would like to depart quietly and peacefully, in repentance and reconciliation with God and man.
But the Lord alone fully knows what precisely is useful for man for his salvation in eternity. Therefore, whatever my personal ideas and wishes regarding death, I give the “last” word to the Lord with reverence, trust, and freedom of will. May the will of God, all-good and perfect, be upon me. What else there is to say—I don’t know.
Lord, forgive us our sins. Vouchsafe us to properly prepare for the transition to eternity.
A good man is one who does not allow evil into his soul
Archpriest Vladimir Sedov:
Beautiful is the death of the martyr and the hero: They give their lives for God and their friends, and their name remains in the memory of men; the Lord distinctly makes their memory eternal, which we entreat for everyone.
Can or should we desire such an end for ourselves? The Church teaches us to ask God for a Christian, painless, blameless, and peaceful end. In this series, only the second word is more or less clear. “Painless” is seemingly clear, although, what pain is being spoken of: bodily or spiritual? And “peaceful?” Of course, it’s not to die in a peaceful time in bed instead of on the battlefield, but it’s about the peace that the Lord has given and commanded us to preserve in our souls, to enter into eternity. It, this peace, gives man strength for the podvig of love for God and man. Then our entire life will pass before the Lord as in the palm of His hand; it will be shameless. After all, shame is when we hide something, when we have something to hide.
With peace in his soul, man becomes humble, he feels his infirmity, and he does not dream of podvigs. Even when he commits them, he does not dream of them for himself and does not ascribe them to himself. He knows that he is ashes and decay and that all the good within him is created by Christ. In a terrible struggle, he chooses earthly sufferings, so as not to violate the will of the Heavenly Father. The holy martyrs were in such a state of spirit when they boldly chose their instrument of torture from among those offered by their tormentors instead of earthly goods; they chose for themselves eternal blessedness with Christ and were not masochists. They simply could not, did not want to live without Christ.
Generally, a good person is not the one who does many good works. Evil people can do good deeds, and even with pleasure, like Herod who listened to St. John. A good person is he who doesn’t do evil, who doesn’t allow it into his soul. His entire life is Christian, and the Lord sends him a Christian ending. According to Church Tradition, as the Heavenly Queen drew near to the day of her blessed Dormition, she did not want to see the demons of the tollhouses, for they, according to St. Seraphim, are abominable, and her Divine Son, having taken her most pure soul into His hands, carried her to the Heavenly abode. It is different for us sinners, and in this consists our main trouble: No matter how many good works we do, there remains a corner in our souls where we are interested in demonic intrigue, and their vileness and stench attract us. Help us, O Lord, O Mother of God, my holy guardian angel, and all the saints, and deliver us from this assault.
Death is an indicator of faithfulness to the spiritual life
The most important thing about a good death is said in the Litany of Supplication: “A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful; and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask.”
Such an end is desirable for every Christian.
Death is an indicator of faithfulness to the spiritual life. If the spiritual life moves correctly, in the right direction, then death becomes desirable. The faithful Christian life destroys the fear of death. This is the kind of death I desire for myself and I strive for it.
The Mother of God obtained such a death, in the highest sense. Her death was a dormition. It was an easy, completely painless transition from an earthly, temporal state of existence to eternal, blissful joy. Therefore, all of us Christians should remember this and prepare for this most important day of our earthly life. When it will come, we do not know, but the Gospel teaches us to die every day to earthly passions and affections. The Gospel also teaches us to live every day as our last and to take no care for the morrow, for tomorrow will take care for itself. We should remember the parable about the foolish wise man who acquired a huge estate and rejoiced that he would eat, drink, and make merry, but suddenly heard: Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Lk. 12:20-21).
The correct attitude towards death is the deliverance from passionate attachments to anything or anyone earthly, complete freedom, the joy of meeting with God in an easy and painless transition into eternity.
“To die is not evil. Evil is to die badly.”
As St. John Chrysostom says: “To die is not evil; evil is to die badly.” But what does “badly” mean? Badly is when you are bad in your own soul: evil, egotistical, steeped in passions. And if you die this way, then you will end up with the evil, egotistical, and corrupt—that is, in hell.
A good death is a death with a pure conscience. A good death is with a purified soul, with the joy of a liberated heart. Such happens sometimes; the Lord grants it, for example, after a sincere Confession, so that the soul is so light, though parting with the body, as though you are on the threshold of Paradise.
I think that a good death is only when you prepared for it in a Christian way, not when it finds you, like a thief at the scene of a crime. And if you haven’t lost your earthly life for the sake of eternity, then earthly death is but a step towards this eternity.
What kind of death would I want for myself? Honestly, I would like to live longer in order to serve God, the Church, and man. Life was given us not for our own sakes, but to bring some benefit. Therefore, I would like to meet death after the labors of service to God, not like fruit that has been cut off after ripening too early.
But still, God knows best whom to call when. May the Lord arrange for all of us such an earthly end, which is to his benefit. Our task is to free the soul from the burden of sin, from everything that draws the soul into hell, and to try to do that to which everyone is called in his life. The rest the Lord Himself will manage.
Translated by Jesse Dominick
8/30/2019 St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 47