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Παρασκευή, 3 Μαρτίου 2017


IVAN LLYN (1883-1954)

Dear People,

            I have been a Greek Orthodox priest for fifty-seven plus years.  As a priest of the Orthodox Church, I have experienced the reality of the miraculous presence of Jesus Christ in the sacraments of the Church and in the life of the faithful who sincerely look to Jesus for guidance and abiding love.   Having experienced every aspect of the miracle of life in all its dimensions of joy and sorrow in this world, I have come to realize that Jesus is everything that we can hope for in our lives.  This thought was driven home to me more profoundly on the morning of February 16, 2016 when I was called at 5:30 in the morning to inform me that my precious grandson, Costa was dead and that I should come to read the prayers for the dead. 

            Costas had been addicted to drugs by being introduced to the gateway drug marijuana in middle school.  By the time he had reached high school he was experimenting with many opiates that are favorites with young people in America today.  At some point after his senior year in high school, someone introduced him to heroin.  This became the drug of choice for him and it did not take long for him to be heavily addicted to it.  For three years after this, Costas was in and out of rehab facilities and detox houses.  Nothing seemed to be able to reverse the chemical imbalance that eventually took his life at the age of twenty one.  I, as an Orthodox Christian priest, have spent my whole life committed to the reality of life after death.  I am not a stranger to sickness and death but when death hits home at such a young age it is very difficult to deal with.  Thank God for Jesus Christ and His Holy Orthodox Church.  As Orthodox Christians, we do not simply grieve without hope at our great loss; we look to the Lord of Life and His promises of eternity for comfort and consolation.

            Since Costas’ repose, I have spent a lot of time navigating the teachings of Holy Orthodoxy about the reality of death and its being the doorway to eternal life.    Saint Porphyrios experienced the reality of life beyond the grave while still living in the flesh.  He said the following about life after death and the importance of the Orthodox Church in the life of faithful Orthodox Christians. “When I became a monk, I felt better.  My health even improved. Before, I was always sick. From then on I became healthier and had the stamina to withstand the struggles of life with spiritual courage.  I felt eternal.  The Church is a mystery. Whoever enters the Church doesn’t die, but is saved, is eternal.  So, I’ve always felt eternal and immortal.  From the moment I became a monk, I believed that death doesn’t exist.  This thought sustains me.”

            In delving into the revealed wisdom of the Orthodox Church about life after death, I recently discovered a book written by Ivan IIyin (1883-1954).   He is considered a prophet of faith and love.  He was born in central Moscow on March 28, 1883 into a noble, Orthodox, and well-educated family.  Ivan showed his brilliance in high school and in 1901, following the footsteps of his father, went on to study law at the University of Moscow.  In 1906 he completed his studies in law and also philosophy, having shown such an outstanding mind that he was preparing to become a professor.  In the same year, then aged 23, he married Natalia Vokach, a graduate student who was close to him in spirit.  His first writings were published in 1910, and he and his wife then spent two years in Germany, Italy, and France, where IIyin studied at well-known universities and met the Western philosophers of the age.

            Returning to Russia after this, he taught and in 1918 received a professorship at the age of only 35.  However, with the coup d’état of February 1917 and the overthrow of the Tsar, he turned from an academic into an active politician.  He prophetically saw the catastrophic nature of the situation and of Bolshevism.  When the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, he denounced them in article after lucid article.  This led to his repeated arrests and harassment by the regime.  Arrested six times in all, in 1922 he was exiled to Germany with a large group of 160 prominent intellectuals on the philosopher’s steamer.

            Now in exile, he continued to denounce the Bolsheviks in his speeches and his writings, having seen through the revolutionaries in ways few outside the Russian Orthodox Church could understand.  In all his works he remained a monarchist and was loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church, despite the anti-Russian regime temporarily in power there.

            IIyin was never downhearted and never despaired. His writings are full of a bright, deep faith.  Though arguing that humanity has been morally blinded and is in the grip of materialism, irrationalism, and nihilism, IIyin put forward that we can overcome this global moral crisis by returning to eternal moral values: faith, love, freedom, conscience, motherland, and nation.  Most importantly as IIlyin himself proved in his life, through thought, and work, we can return to faith and love.    

This introduction about Ivan IIyin was written by Archpriest Andrew Phillips in England on Lazarus Saturday, April 4, 1915.

            This section of his book “The Singing Heart” by Ivan IIyin is the author who talks about how he perceives death.  It is a very insightful study and although a little long, it is certainly worth the read.  +Fr. Costas Simones, Waterford, CT. February 27th, 2017,

             He writes: “You wanted to know what I think about death and immortality, and I am ready to lay out for you my understanding of it.  I did not invent these ideas, but have suffered and born them over the course of many long years.  And now, that such a time has come when death hangs over us all, and each of us must prepare himself/herself to depart this earthly life, I have reexamined my experiences and views and will tell you what conclusions I have reached.  In such times as these, all of us sense and anticipate our approaching end, and for this reason we unconsciously return in our thoughts and imagination to the problem of death. At this a person may feel dismayed and depressed, because he does not know what death really is, and also because none of us can come to terms with our own death or include its reality in our lives.   Times like our current ones are usually called difficult and terrible, but in reality they are times of spiritual trial and renewal—severe yet beneficial times when God visits us.  You see, I have always had the sense that there is something serene, forgiving, and healing about death.  And here is why:

            “I only have to think about this, my earthly person—in every way imperfect, burdened through inheritance, eternally diseased, in essence unsuccessful in the eyes of both nature and parents—and ask, what if it were made immortal?  Am I filled with genuine horror at the thought?  What a pitiful image: a complacent inadequacy that is determined not to die, but to fill all of time with itself—an  imperfection that will suffer neither correction nor extinction—an endless flaw, an eternal blunder.   It would be like a false chord that plays forever, or a stubborn stain on the earth and sky. I see—in the shape of my own person—this physical and spiritual mistake of nature, destined never to die and think how in the meantime the laws of nature would continue with inflexibility, while I will become all the more old and probably infirm, all the more hopeless, frightening, dimwitted—and so on and so forth forever.  What pretension, what unhappiness!  After these visions, I wake up, as if I were fast asleep, to blessed reality—to a death that certainly awaits me.  How good that it will come and establish its boundary!  How wonderful that it will put an end to my earthly disharmony!  This means that the world’s mistake which bears my earthly name can be extinguished and corrected.   And death will come like a redeemer, or a healer.  It will mercifully cover me with its shelter.  It will give me forgiveness and release.  It will open to me new and better possibilities.  And I will accept the freedom it gives me; emboldened by it, I will begin my ascent to the most exalted harmonies.   

            “The time will come and ‘separate the ox from the plough at the last furrow.’ (Pushkin).   The endless continuity falls away and my life receives a measured term: a measure of obligation, a measure in exertion, a measure of captivity, and a measure of suffering.  How lovely this is! My life acquires form—the forms of materializing end.  I know, I firmly know, that this release will come, that my liberating exodus will be revealed, and that I must prepare for it.  Most importantly, I must try to make my earthly ending not a sudden break, but a conclusion to my whole life; all my goals, labors, and creative efforts must lead to this conclusion. It is true that I don’t know how and when my death will come.  But even this is a blessing, for it requires me to be ready always and for anything, to respond and to depart.  One thing is certain: by taking human measures, I recognize that the end of my term is not far off, and that I cannot lose any time.  I cannot put off what must be done.  At the same time there is much that needs to be eliminated completely, and removed from my path.  My time is limited, and no one knows to what extent.  And when I look around me, I see that the immeasurable, wonderful abundance of the world, of nature, human society, and culture—all these possibilities for contemplation and joy, these occasions for spiritual perception and spiritual output, these creative callings and tasks—is inexhaustible, demanding, most difficult, and binding. 

            “In this matter the reality of death becomes for me a finalizing and illuminating beginning of life, almost a summons or counsel.  It is as if my oldest friend, loving and caring, would say to me: ‘Do you know, life is short, but there is no end to its wonderful possibilities—in love, in service, in contemplation, in creation; would it not be better to lay aside all things vulgar, pitiful, and significant, and choose for yourself only the best, truly the best things, which are genuinely beautiful, so as not to squander God’s beauty in the world and life.’ 

            “Everything truly valuable, significant, and sacred becomes confirmed in the face of death and triumphantly emerges from its fiery trial, appearing in its true radiance and glory.  The former is disrobed and exposed, while the later is justified and truly sanctified.  At the same time, we are never the ones responsible for bringing this about; no, this trial by fire comes from death and is caused by its approaching breath.

            “This is how I reflect upon death, my friend.  Death is not merely gracious; not only does it deliver us from this earthly vale and relieve us of the world’s excessive burden, not only does it shape our lives and require of us an artistic conclusion, but it is also a certain mysterious, God-given measurer of all things and of all human deeds.  We need it not only as a breaker of chains and a great door to our final departure; we need it first of all in life itself and for life itself.  Its cloudy shadow is not given to us to deprive us of light or to extinguish in our soul the readiness and taste for life.  On the contrary, death nurtures in us this very taste for life, fine-tuning and refining it; it teaches us not to waste time, to want the best, to choose the single wonderful thing out of man, and to live by the divine on earth for the duration of our brief life.  The shadow of death teaches us to live in light.  Its breath seems to whisper to us, ‘Come to your senses, take control, and live as an immortal in mortality.’     Its approach makes our weak, near-sighted eyes clear and far-sighted.  And its final arrival sets us free from the burden of being and from bodily individualism.  Why should any of this cause us to curse it or deem it to be the beginning of evil and darkness?

            “I understand how death’s finality and irrevocability, its mystery and inscrutability, can inspire trepidation.   But the flow of life in which we ever find ourselves is equally irrevocable at every moment, equally mysterious and unfathomably complex.  Every instant of our earthly journey is gone without return and, dying out, is carried away into some abyss.  And this abyss of the past, as well as the approaching abyss of the future, is no less frightening than the instant of our impending death.  Life is no less mysterious than death; we simply close our eyes to this truth and become accustomed to not seeing it. Yet     death, yet seen and understood properly, is nothing more than a unique and noble act of each person’s life.  And if a person sees and understands death for what it is, will become for him like a new friend, careful, faithful, and wise.


            “It is frightening for us, born of earth, to think of death.  It is frightening to imagine that our physical person will disintegrate and surrender to decay. It is frightening that our earthly consciousness and self-awareness—fastened to our body, tied to it, limited by it, but still enriched by it—will be extinguished.  All of my here and now will cease.  My entire earthly spiritual physical order will be disordered.  What will remain of me then?  Will anything remain at all?  What will become of me?  Where will I go?  What is this traceless, mysterious disappearance into eternal silence?  The question arises, seeks a resolution, and remains unanswered; darkness, abyss, and nevermore. 

            “There is, however, a key to this agonizing riddle, a way to approach this terrifying mystery.  More specifically, no one can give me an answer to this question except me; only I myself can do this, and what’s more, only through my own internal experience.  In this experience, I must undergo and see my own spiritual essence and acquire for myself a clear sense of my spiritual immortality.  Until I do this, anyone else’s clear response, however, cleverly it may be formulated, will seem unclear, unconvincing, and inconclusive to me. No earthly language contains the appropriate words or distinct expressions for these circumstances.  And because of this I am forced to learn independently—to master or more precisely artfully recreate within myself—the required transcendental language to the point of understanding and wielding it.  If, for example, I do not understand Chinese, I will remain at a loss, learn nothing, understand nothing, no matter how many living witnesses speak to me in Chinese about Chinese events.  In order to behold the transcendental, I must realize and formulate in myself a transcendental way of life, out of which later stems transcendental language.  And all this must be done within the boundaries of earthly life.

            “It is frightening to us, born of earth, to think of death, because we do not know how to tear ourselves away from the earthly, sensory-physical method of living and thinking.  Being incapable of this, we hold fast to our bodies as our salvation.  We recognize it as our most important thing, our true essence, when it is only a God-given door leading to the external material world with all of its burdensome weight and ethereal beauty.  And when we realize that this door refuses to serve us and crumbles into dust, when we consider that our body will become voiceless, breathless flesh, and then we anxiously begin to concede that this really must be our complete and utter end.

            “We cannot and should not despise, or even more, reject our body; after all, it admits us into this material world, full of intelligence and beauty; it reveals to us every miracle of God’s creation, all the significance, purity, and majesty of material nature.  The body is the necessary and natural instrument of our communion with God’s world, our participation in it; and while we are alive, it must remain at our willing and healthy disposal.  The body is not given to us in vain, for the world of nature into which it admits us is the mysterious and hidden incarnation of the thought of God, the living and artistic symbol of His wisdom, but so that we might also become participants of this incarnation and this symbol, its living members, its organic expression.   How marvelous and how wondrous that this admission was revealed to us!  But it is better that it is revealed to us for a time and then will be taken away and hidden, for we are intended for something higher, more perfect, and more exquisite.

            “It is therefore evident that our body enters into the earthly structure of our individual personality.  But it is also evident that it does not enter into the order of our spiritual being.  This we must recognize while still living.  We must learn not to overestimate our body, but to assign to it the fitting place and proper rank in our existence.

            “Man is capable of more than sensory-physical experience.   Another experience, not sensory but still objective, is also available to him.  We must nurture this experience, purifying it and surrendering ourselves to it.  We have been given the ability to extract ourselves from bodily sensations and sensory impressions, to withdraw our focus and contemplation inward, into the depth of the spirit and the soul’s dimensions, and to liberate the integral core of our persona from the oppression and delusion of matter.  Surrendering ourselves to this ability and nurturing it within us, we gradually uncover our metaphysical being and confirm it as the most important significant one.  We acquire a supersensory experience, full of supersensory content, which assures us of the existence of spiritual laws and objects.  And the first thing that is revealed to us at that point is our own spiritual identity.

            “My spirituality is revealed to me when I become convinced that I am a creative force, a force not material in itself but designed to govern my body as its symbol, its instrument, its raiment.  This spiritual force has the power not only to serve its earthly body but to rule over it; it is able to abstract itself from it and control it; it does not consider the body the moderator of all things.  This creative force lives for the sake of other values and serves other goals. It has different standards and criteria.  It has completely different forms, laws of life, paths, and a different condition than other bodies, and in general all matter.  These forms are spiritual independence and freedom; these laws are of spiritual dignity and responsibility; these paths lead to spiritual purification and self-perfection.  And this condition is one of immortality and son-ship of God.  This force, as such, is primarily and essentially the Spark of God, and man is designed to accept and confirm in himself this godly Spark as his own genuine essence; man must give himself to this spiritual Spark, lose himself in it and, in so doing, find himself again.  Then he himself will become God’s Spark and will be able to ignite it into a true flame, becoming in the process a burning bush of the spirit.

            “Yet in reality it is not the case that a man remains dual and divided, so that God’s  Spark burns in many by itself and he lives by its strength, its forms, and its content while his physical body smolders on its own, with all its weaknesses and needs, in all of its brute nature and mortality. No. Man is predestined for unity; he is designed to be a living and creative entirety.  My spirit—that creative Spark of God—was created to pierce through my soul and burn through my body, transforming both body and soul into its instrument and symbol, cleansing them from the burden of mortality and artfully transfiguring them.  We are each given our own Spark, and this Spark wants to burst into a flame within us, to become a burning bush whose flames must take hold of our entire person and turn us into God’s fire, a certain earthly beacon of Almighty God. And so, in the course of our life’s development, the Spark of God becomes humanized and individualized, and the person confirms his existence and is sanctified in his work.  The person becomes an artistic product of God, a person bearing His Light, an individual hieroglyph of the Spirit of God.  Even one who comes into passing contact with this mystery of union, this divine art in the human soul, will immediately understand and accept these words of St. Seraphim of Sarov: ‘God cares for each of us as if we were His only child.

            “The Spirit is a truly free and intensive energy, designed to contemplate the invisible, perceive the transcendent, and concern itself with immortal elements, so as to come to an understanding of its own calling and immortality through these very concerns.  It is pitiful that anyone would want to define the weakest notion of the earthly world—the notion of death—as an immortal and abiding state of the Spirit.

            “There is a great Artist who created the external world, with all of its magnificent laws and strict needs, and who has hitherto continued to create the world of human souls with its marvelous freedom and immortality.  We are His Sparks, his artistic creations, and His children.  We are immortal for this very reason.  And our earthly death is nothing other than our metaphysical birth.  It is true that a person only rarely succeeds in acquiring his freedom in its entirety, in the form of God’s flame; only rarely does a person, in all of his freedom, become a perfect artistic creation of the Spirit.  But every person has a certain level of that perfection within his reach.  He matures his entire life as he approaches this upward step; during his entire life he matures toward death.  And his earthly death comes upon him when he is not allowed to step up any farther, when he has nothing more to achieve, when he has matured enough for his departure in death.

            “My friend, it has been a great joy for me that I have been allowed to glimpse God’s world, to hear its voice, perceive its living breath, however cursorily, sparingly, and helplessly.  I always remembered that in addition to this grandeur (however brief and shallow my perception of it was) there is more; an endless wealth of beauty, majesty, and mysterious significance that I cannot perceive, which is lost to me.   And yet—how wonderful that I was able even to visit this divine garden!  How benevolent was the permission granted to me, how much did my spirit gain from this stay—from the delight of the flowers, from those joyfully radiant butterflies, from the silently prayerful mountains, from those streaming good tidings, from the quiet of the cloud, from that rejoicing of the birds, from every being born of earth, from the sea and the stars, from kind and wicked men, and especially from the great contemplatives who praised the Creator in word and thought, in song and painting through depiction and study—and finally, directly through prayers.  What underserved wealth!  What inexhaustible depth!  It is truly a great gift that cannot be repaid.

            “And it was also a great joy to me that not only could I see this world, but also participate in its life with my life.  I myself breathed, loved, and suffered: committed deeds and made mistakes; walked along the path of purification; believed and prayed; had the possibility of testing on myself the laws of worldwide existence and implementing my spiritual freedom through active decision and deeds.  I was offered the chance to live and mature toward death.  Then I will be called away, since I have matured for this call, as if I have proven worthy to enter into  communion with a new and previously unimaginable metaphysical wealth—in order to perceive it in a certain new, internal, and directly intimate manner.  Everything I wasted and squandered, everything that I, as an earthly creature limited in my sensory perception, could not perceive and in which I dimly felt or blissfully sensed but could not describe in words the breath of my Creator—all of this and many other varied and wonderful things are awaiting me there, calling me there.  All of this will be revealed to me anew in unearthly images and visions.  Then I will perceive reality not as an object outside of me but rather as a free and blessed joining to its real essence; this will be an artistic assimilation by which my spirit will be continually enriched, not so much losing its own shape as perfecting it.  I still  need the ability to see and understand everything, while remaining my own self; to perceive everything my earthly limitations kept from me; to experience in exultation all the miracles of God’s wealth that already have been revealed to me (or have yet been revealed to me) in anticipation, dreams, and contemplations of my life on earth. 

            “What awaits me is a long and blessed ascension to my Creator—to my Father, Savior, and Comforter—in awe and prayer, in purification and gratitude, in growth and confirmation.  And therein lays the true meaning of my immortality, for any imperfection is unseemly to God and out of place in His creation.  That is how I understand the immortality of the human spirit.


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