A HOMILY FOR THE AFTERFEAST
OF DORMITION

(On What Awaits Us after Death)

 

          Brothers and sisters!

          Today our Holy Church is celebrating the afterfeast of the Dormition of the immaculate Theotokos.  This post-festal period allows us to prolong our celebration of the joyous repose, funeral, and translation to heaven of the Queen of heaven, and at the same time reminds us that our own repose and funeral will likewise be prolonged, as it were, by a post-funeral period.  According to the ancient tradition of the Orthodox Church, this period lasts for forty days.  During this time, memorial services are held for us on the third, ninth, and fortieth days; we are specially commemorated at the Divine Liturgy; and the “Eternal Memory” is chanted for us.  If we are fortunate enough to leave behind relatives or friends who care for our souls, they will give alms on our behalf during the forty-day period.

          When, how soon will this be for us?  No one knows.  Perhaps it will be very soon.  But in any case, it will not be longer than a few dozen years from now for the youngest, and just a few years for the eldest.

          And so, a short time will pass, and we will no longer be found on this earth.  A short while, and this world with all its joys and pleasures, and all its cares and trials, will cease to exist, as far as we are concerned.

          Where will we be then?  We will be where our parents, grandparents, and other ancestors are, and where our children, grandchildren, and other descendents are going.  We are headed where none of us go alive and from whence none of us return dead.  In the place where we are bound, there will be for some “neither sorrow, nor sighing,” 1 but for others, neither happiness, nor rest.  Here, everything comes to an end; there, nothing has an end.  In this very different realm, this very different mode of existence, we shall all find ourselves, in a few short years, or months, or days…

          Do we think much about this, brothers and sisters?  Do we trouble ourselves much with preparations for life unending beyond the grave?  I fear we do not.  This subject of the future life is one that does not occupy our thoughts very much at all; much less is the matter one that often governs our everyday choices and behaviors.  Is this not something quite strange?  What incredible carelessness!  When we are about to take a trip to a foreign country, especially one where we have never been, how much planning, how much preparation!  We read about the place, its inhabitants, its dangers, its customs.  We prepare everything necessary for the trip, and if we have acquaintances who live there, we contact them beforehand.

          Yet, how many prepare as they should for the greatest journey of all, to the farthest country, to the land most fraught with danger and least like that in which we presently live?  Who among us is carefully packing his suitcase for this journey?  Who is actively contacting the friends he will need there, not for a brief visit, but for all eternity?

          Truly, we have neither thought for any of this, nor much care about it.

          What can this mean, brothers and sisters?  What else, besides that we really do not believe much in life beyond the grave.  In truth, we hardly believe even in the reality of our own death.  Yet how can we not believe in life everlasting, when the present existence is clearly a mere beginning, which demands a fitting continuation?  How can we not believe in eternal life, when in the best moments of this life, we not only feel that within us there is something of the world beyond, but we actually experience a foretaste of what hopefully awaits us in eternity?

          Some people believe that there is no point in preparing for eternity since, in their opinion, how we live here has nothing to do with how we shall live there.  But this is to think like a senseless, heedless child.  For it is clear that the future life must be closely tied to the present, like fruit to the flower, and flower to the bud.  What we sow here, we reap there.  This is why Saint Paul writes, Be not deceived; God is not mocked:  for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.2  To imagine that it could be otherwise would mean to turn upside-down in one’s mind the whole order of the wisdom and justice of God, the whole order of creation.  Moreover, let us imagine that God and the future life are mere possibilities rather than certainties.  Would it not still be infinitely more prudent to prepare diligently to meet them, rather than to meet them unprepared, given the enormous potential consequences?

          The real reason that we are heedless of eternity is that we are like little children.  Like little children who forget about everything when they are playing with their toys, we are so obsessed with the things of this world, that we forget about everything except satisfying our passions and desires, and achieving our immediate earthly goals.  Like children, we become so absorbed by the needless or the insignificant, that we forget what is needful and significant beyond all measure.  We are so single-minded in our pursuit of things temporal, that we have no concern about what awaits us in eternity.

          Shall we always persist in this state of strange and dangerous neglect?  Our soul is immortal and created for union with God.  Shall it ever remain dead and unfeeling?  “My soul, my soul arise!  Wherefore dost thou slumber?” 3  You, O my soul, sleep and dream, while death is already preparing to snatch you away from among the living.  “The end is drawing nigh!  Arouse thyself, therefore,” while there is still time.  Rise, consider the danger you are in.  Like a pilgrim resting by the wayside, take up the staff of faith and piety and virtue, and set out once more on the path to the land “where there is neither sorrow nor sighing, but life everlasting.”  Amen.

 

1. Kontakion of the Funeral Service

2. Gal. 6:7-8

3. Kontakion of the Great Canon