Life only known in Death

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

In His providence, the Lord has brought to pass that I take part in officiating in my first funeral this week. For some reason, this was not covered in any of my Bible College or Seminary courses. But to be fair, I never majored in Pastoral Studies. Nevertheless…

In trying to prepare myself I read through funeral liturgies in the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Orthodox traditions. Towards the conclusion of the Orthodox service for the dead, these words are sung:

Now is all life’s solemn triumph of vanities destroyed. For the spirit has vanished from its tabernacle; its clay groweth black. The vessel is shattered, voiceless, bereft of feeling, motionless, dead: committing which unto the grave, let us beseech the Lord that he will give him rest.

What is our life like unto? Unto a flower, a vapor, and the dew of the morning, in very truth. Come ye, therefore,let us gaze keenly at the grave. Where is the beauty of the body, and where is its youth? Where are the eyes and the fleshly form? Like the grass all have perished, all have been destroyed. Come ye, therefore, let us prostrate ourselves at the feet of Christ with tears.

A great weeping and wailing, a great sighing and agony, and hell and destruction is the departure of the soul. This transitory life is a shadow unreal and an illusive dream; the trouble of the life of earth is a phantasm importunate. Let us, then, flee afar from every earthly sin, that we may inherit heavenly things.

These are hard words. Yet are there words that could be any more pastoral at a funeral? If at death we do not ponder the brevity and futility of life, when will we? If at death we cannot estimate the value of a life well spent or the anguish of a life squandered, when can we? Seemingly everything around us is meant to distract us from ultimate realities. What else but death can wake us from this shadow unreal and illusive dream?

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Why the best, most complete, book on church history cannot be written

The apostle Paul, comparing the life of the Church of Christ with a marriage, or with the relationship between a man and wife, concludes his thoughts with these words: This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). The life of the Church in its essence is mystical; the course of its life cannot be entirely included in any “history.” The Church is completely distinct from any kind whatever of organized society on earth.

Fr. Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 224

Over the past several years the Lord has increasingly deepened my love for church history- especially the patristic period. This caveat from from Pomazansky is well taken though. In its essence the church is spiritual. But its reality is manifested through physical entities- individual churches and “collections” of churches, i.e. denominations. The best church history can only describe the physical manifestation of the church and with that description hope to capture some of the spiritual reality.

This is a great mystery.

The Indescribable Work of Christ

Neither descriptions nor enumerations can take in the majesty, breadth, power, and significance of the earthly ministry of Christ; there is no measuring-stick for the all-surpassing wealth of God’s love, manifest in His mercy for the fallen and for sinners in miracles, in healings, and finally in His innocent sacrificial death, with prayer for His crucifiers. Christ took upon Himself the sins of the entire world; He received in Himself the guilt of all men. He is the Lamb slaughtered for the world. Are we capable of embracing in our thoughts and expressing in our usual, everyday conceptions and words all the economy of our salvation? We have no words for heavenly mysteries. (Fr. Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 196.)

I thought this a good continuation of the recent posts dealing with the incomprehensibility and inexpressibleness of God. This is not only true of his person, but of his work. Who can plumb the depths of what Christ has accomplished for us and our salvation?

Worthy is Lamb that was slain…

Hope for the Future: Man’s rebellion and God’s providence

No matter how much humanity violates its purpose in the world, no matter how much it falls, no matter how much the masses of mankind, led by their evil rulers, are inclined to renounce the commandments of God and God Himself, as we see at the present time– the history of the world will still culminate in the attainment of the goal established for it by God’s Providence: the triumph of God’s righteousness, following which there will be the Kingdom of Glory, when God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).

Fr. Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology

This comes from the author’s introduction to his treatment of God’s providence, specifically, “God’s General Providence Over the World.” As a bit of background, Pomazansky published the Russian edition of his work in 1963– so “the present time” he speaks of knew something of evil rulers denying God’s commands and God himself.

Times do not change much. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. But what encouragement to know that the only thing more certain than man’s obstinacy is God’s determination to conquer it.