In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
Death is not dying as such—it’s a door to another reality. Therefore, we gather in church on this Soul Saturday; therefore, we pray for our loved ones, because they are alive and in need of our prayers. Otherwise, if death is the end, why do we pray for the reposed? Death is inseparable from a living faith. If we believe that Christ is Risen, then there is no death.
As we remember our relatives who have departed to the other world, it’s good to think more often about our own death. After all, it awaits every one of us—it’s inevitable. And we must prepare for death as for any serious work.
To be able to greet death, we must already be rooted in eternity; we have to know and understand where we’re going, and not just theoretically, but we must also be assured by experience that there is eternal life.
We prepare for death, but in reality, it’s preparation for a passage, for crossing over. There, beyond the ridge of the mountains of this life, or beyond the sea, or the forest, field, steppe, desert (what have you), eternity awaits us. To make it across, we need special equipment, and sustenance, and a good guide.
We live, we might say, for the sake of this moment—the moment of death—and we prepare for it; or rather, for life beyond it.
Thus, the first thing we need is the remembrance of death. Although the wayfarer enjoys the view along the way; although he rests and socializes, he always keeps the route in mind and checks the map. In the evening prayers, in the short prayers of St. John Chrysostom, we entreat every day: “O Lord, grant me tears, and remembrance of death, and compunction,” so as not to forget where we’re going; so as not to lose the path.
The second thing we need is a clean conscience. Let us be attentive to ourselves, so as not to become stained with sin, not to pick up some passion—a “tick” that will poison the blood. Just as we check ourselves after going for a walk in the forest, so must we look after our heart and soul. And if something sinful sticks to us, then let us make haste to repentance and regular Confession.
And if there are places here on Earth we’re not allowed to go in dirty clothes, and we ourselves feel ashamed about it, then it definitely won’t work to get into the Kingdom of God in the dirty, ragged clothes of our soul. The Apostle says that nothing unclean will enter the Kingdom (Rev. 21:27).
We have to watch where we’re going so we don’t stumble into a puddle, or a swamp; so we don’t tear our clothes. To preserve our conscience, we have to be attentive to ourselves, to our thoughts and feelings at all times.
The third thing we need is temperance. Don’t overload yourself along the way with unnecessary things, with food. It all weighs us down, it slows us down, and distracts from our goal. The Lord reminds us in the Gospel: And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares (Lk. 21:34).
Temperance and fasting are also a rehearsal for dying. Can I live without sensible pleasures and delights? After all, they won’t exist there. If sweets, or my favorite food, or toys are taken away from me, will I live a full, happy life? Will I murmur against God?
The fourth thing we need is sustenance. The Lord gives it wherever His grace is given. This is prayer, and good deeds, Church services, relics, and especially the Communion of His Flesh and Blood. When we commune worthily, our nature is gradually transfigured and we become more and more like God, closer to God, and capable of living in His Kingdom.
The fifth thing, which we almost always forget, is that we need a good guide, who will help us make it through the passageway, meet the hour of death, disperse the demons, overcome the toll houses, and make it to God on the other side. We have a such a guide—our guardian angel. Our dearest friend and helper, he is always quite near, if we don’t sin. But if we sin, he stands aside in sorrow. It would be good to find a common language with him, listen to his advice, and thus traverse the road of life unscathed.
Death is a door that lets us into eternity. And our main task is to prepare for eternal life.
Therefore, the sixth thing we need is to build a personal relationship with God. This means trusting God, prayer, friendship, loving Him—the Fount of all good. One who has sincere love tries to know everything about the one he loves, to live his life, to constantly communicate with him.
The seventh thing we need is the ability to live with people. There will be an inconceivable number of people in the Kingdom of Heaven, and they’re all different—not like us. But they’re also all like us—part of the Divine mosaic, part of the Body of Christ, and they’re all our relatives. The Apostle Peter, St. John Chrysostom, St. Seraphim, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. Sava of Serbia, Hieromartyr Hilarion, perhaps those who stand next to us in church and our “evil” neighbors, those who grate on our nerves on public transportation, those who ask us for help, and those who offend us—the Lord draws them all to Himself, and every one of them can be in His Kingdom. Therefore, we need to learn to get along with everyone here, to love everyone, as God commanded us.
All this is the path of holiness, to which the Apostle Paul calls us in his Epistle: Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
As we prepare for this road and we’re checking if we’ve taken everything; let us check ourselves more often, at least on these points:
The remembrance of death—keep the route in mind
A clear conscience—the clean and well-kempt clothes of the soul
A good guide—our guardian angel
A personal relationship with God
The ability to live with people
If we at least follow these seven points, we’ll be able to face death calmly and be ready for eternal life.
May our departed relatives and loved ones inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, and may those of us still living here acquire the remembrance of death and holiness!