The following words belong to St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), a great Russian ascetic of the nineteenth century:
“Live each day as if you were about to die on that day. If we can die any time, we must be ready to die any time. Always be what you want to be at the moment of death.”
These are key words for Christians. For Christians believe and know that human life does not end after death—it continues in another, spiritual world, entering its main and everlasting phase. And this “great transition” may occur at any moment of our life on earth. That is why many believers try to live each day as if it were their final day.
What do I want to be like at the moment of my death? To be with the name of God on my lips and in my heart. In that case during the day I should miss no opportunity to sigh a prayer to God, repent to Him for the sins I have committed, ask for His help, give thanks to Him, and sing a song of praise to Him.
What do I want to be like at the moment of my death? To be peaceful—that is, to have a soul at peace, which is not perturbed by anyone or anything; a clear conscience, peace with everybody and a kind disposition towards all; to be calm, with a tranquil and inspired soul. In that case I should seek all these things every day—that is, make up with my offenders, make concessions, forgive, endure, not repay evil for evil, work conscientiously, not tell lies or act dishonestly, and strive for understanding and cordial relations with those close to me. In one word—cover everything with love. It is a hard labor; but it is pleasing to God, so He is sure to give His grace and help to him who labors—there can be no doubt about it!
What do I want to be like at the moment of my death? Loving God and my neighbors; this is attained by constant almsgiving and other good works for the glory of God. So every day I should seek any opportunity for charitable acts by looking for those to whom I can give some money, bread, a cup of hot coffee, or a bottle of water. Every day of mine should be that of mercy and compassion to those who need these. Every day we must have a desire and be ready to lend a helping hand to our neighbors whenever the need arises.
What do I want to be like at the moment of my death? To be hoping for salvation and eternal life. And therefore, every day and every hour we must ask the Lord to give us eternal life and deliver us from eternal death. We should be very conscious of the fact that eternal life already began on the day we were conceived. We live on earth, but our life in eternity goes on parallel to it. Death will take life from our bodies, but our souls’ eternal life will continue. And it is this eternal life that we must implore the Lord to grant us every day, every hour, and with every sigh.
What do I want to be like at the moment of my death? To be pure and free from sin as far as possible; for how can something that is unclean, dirty and dark enter the Kingdom of Light? In that case we must make repentance our second breath. We must during each day and each hour give remorseful sighs to God and regard ourselves as damned, as the Holy Fathers instructed us. What does “regarding ourselves as damned” mean? It means not seeing anything good in ourselves and discerning the uncleanness of our souls with vigilant eyes—the impurity that is revealed in our conversations, acts, deeds and thoughts.
Even if you seem not to be guilty of any “crimes”, dig deeper and at the very bottom of your soul you will find a “deep swamp” of pride, self-conceit, haughtiness, and vainglory, which through “thin pipes” poison your deeds, especially charitable acts. We should be aware of this and ask every hour for healing, forgiveness and salvation from the Lord. He alone can heal you; He came to this world to be crucified for our sins on Calvary so that we could be saved by His cross and have eternal life.
What do I want to be like at the moment of my death? To be a partaker of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This means we should go to church, confess our sins, and take Communion as often as possible. Take Communion at least once a month, or even more often if we have the strength. It would be fine to receive Communion just before death and be united with Christ in this great sacrament. But will we have this chance? We won’t if we meet with sudden death after we had unpardonably kept putting it (taking Communion) off. So let us try not to postpone our participation in this sacrament “for later”. Time may pass irreversibly, and we will depart to God without the necessary Christian preparation.
What do I want to be like at the moment of death? To be saved. That is why I will seek the Savior everywhere in my life, longing for Him with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my strength (cf. Mk. 12:30). Live and hope that despite all the filth of my soul He wants to save me. All I need to do is to want the same so that we can walk towards each other in a union of this mutual desire.
Death will come, whether today or tomorrow; but we will be prepared for it; for we have lived in permanent spiritual strain, sober-mindedness, and expectation of help from above. Let us believe that the Lord won’t abandon us, that death won’t take Him away from us, but will open the doors to the everlasting and infinite world of Divine love.