Priest: For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord.
People: Grant this, O Lord.
This petition from the divine liturgy, which is part of the petitions just after the Great Entrance, puts so succinctly what we ought all to hope for in death: “a Christian end … peaceful, without shame and suffering.” Indeed, most of us quite naturally hope for the second part, if not the first. There is actually much that could be said about this petition, but in light of the recent passing of a member of our parish, I’d like to focus exclusively on this part.
Ever know someone so kind that though you know that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) you wonder if perhaps this person might be an exception to the rule? Bessie was that sort of person to me.
“The Trisagion this morning is for our beloved Bessie,” Fr. Nick said Sunday morning, “who fell asleep in the Lord just after sunset last night.” “Our beloved Bessie”—I can’t even say that I knew her that well, but I can say that she was “beloved.” Bessie seemed overfull with kindness, always friendly but never pushy (in my experience). I never heard a word from her that did not possess the fullest, most genuine tone and sincerity. I remember fondly her showing me pictures of friends and family at our parish’s Tuesday lunch for seniors. And her smile—what a wonderful smile.
I do not yet even know how she died; I cannot say for certain that it was “peaceful, without shame and suffering,” but I can’t remember her other than in good health, even recently. Actually, I should modify that—she always walked with a cane, and one shoe, for whatever reason, had an extra few inches on the bottom. But whatever her state, she did not wear a face of suffering at church, at least. I do not mean to disparage those who do, but only to say that, though I can’t put my finger on it, I know that there was something special about Bessie.
With all the advice from the fathers to contemplate the “dread judgment seat of Christ,” to treat suffering as an ascetic opportunity, and to keep the thought of death always on one’s mind, this simple petition is such a helpful counterbalance. Remembering that these prayers are ancient helps give context to the fathers’ sayings. They prayed them too, in some form. There is nothing wrong with hoping for peace; indeed, if not for peace, what does one hope for?
I know that, sadly, this is all far too superficial. Many others could better write a worthy reflection; I’m sure many saw far more sides of Bessie than me, perhaps some less flattering. But is there nothing to be said for a person who can elicit such a warming of the heart in an instant to a person she barely knew, and who barely knew her? Alas, time flows like a river, and we cannot stop it, nor even catch it for more than a moment in our hands. But I hope someday to have more of it to give to people capable of making such an impression (as well as to those who don’t).
In the meantime, I know that there is at least one thing I can do: I can pray.
Memory eternal, dear sister, worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.