My wife and I went to the Russian Orthodox funeral of a friend of ours. There is nothing simpler and more beautiful than the Orthodox funeral liturgy. The Orthodox services invade all ones senses with sight sound vision and smell of incense. They are wonderful.
As one of nature’s doubters I wish that I could be easily and permanently convinced that ones soul lives on. There is no doubt that our body does not; “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. (Gen. 3:19) But I suppose that the impossibility of knowing will always engender at least the smallest of doubts, even for those of immaculate faith.
However in this beautiful Orthodox setting, coupled with scripture; “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”, (Eccl. 12:7) it seemed impossible that our soul cannot. Perhaps by sheer belief we can steer our souls into Heaven.
Though, if this is the case where does this leave the agnostic or atheist? Will they get an almighty shock when their time comes, or simply first encounter annihilation?
This week there have been a couple of blows, though it seems one should scarcely expect anything else from a week in Parliament nowadays.
That aside, the most reassuring thing I heard all week was from the priest in a Mass for the Remembrance of the Departed. He asked the congregation to remember all our dead friends and relatives in our prayers, and specifically list them by name.
This process was curiously comforting. After doing it I had the distant feeling that I was not only praying for them, but that they were praying for me.
St John de Brébeuf and his fellow missionary Father Gabriel Lalemont, both Jesuit priests, were martyred in North America in the seventeenth century. Their mission was to convert the indigenous American Indians and they underwent terrible hardship and eventual death for their beliefs. Perhaps if we were to meet them now we would think them unbelievably stubborn but they were men of undeniable spirituality and no little courage.
There is a reading from the Second letter of St Paul to the Corinthians Chapter 4, which relates well to these two men.
Brothers and sisters:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.
When I think of our little problems compared to the steely courage of these two martyrs I really do feel that the things that trouble us in today’s society are often much ado about nothing.
After meeting King Nebuchadnezzar Daniel is asked to interpret his vision.
You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great statue, whose splendour was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. (Daniel 2 31)
For evermore this vision of the weakened structure summed up the transience of earthly kingdoms because like statues earthly kingdoms can come crashing down. This image is not dissimilar to the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” found in the desert proclaiming “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair”. This great poem by Shelley like the Book of Daniel reminds us that man alone can only fall and become decrepit. Only God is infinite and omnipotent.