Remembrance of Death
Friday, November 13, 2015
Frederica in Orthodoxy

[November 13, 2015]

The remembrance of death is a spiritual discipline found in both Eastern and Western Christian spirituality. The idea is that it is a good idea to bear in mind that you are going to die. It’s a humbling thought. It’s a thought that instantly realigns your priorities. It’s a thought that makes you take more seriously the need to resist sin.

This icon is “The Astonishment of St Sisoes,” who saw the remains of Alexander the Great, after rioting in Alexandria opened his tomb.

The text reads, “Sisoes, the great among ascetics, stood before the tomb of Alexander, Emperor of Greeks, who at one time had shone with glory. Astonished, he weeps for the inexorable passing of time and the transience of glory. He cries out with tears, ‘Beholding you, O Tomb, I shed tears from my heart, and weep for the common debt of all mankind! How shall I bear this? O Death, who can escape you?’”

Here’s something I use, to keep the certainty of death in mind.

Feel the bones in your wrist. Those are your bones, part of your skeleton. If an archaeologist found your remains a thousand years from now, that’s what they would find. Not some other theoretical bones, but your own bones, the ones inside your wrist right now.

In fact your whole body has a skeleton inside. You are made out of a skeleton with meat stuck on the outside, all over. After you die the meat gets eaten by tiny creatures until it’s all gone and turned into compost. The skeleton is what’s left.

So you carry a skeleton around with you, everywhere you go. The thoughts you are thinking are generated inside a skull, like the one in a skull-and-crossbones image, except that it is your own skull, that you are using as a container at the present time. Think of your skeleton and its parts, and keep in mind the inevitability of death.

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