Entries with tag death .

Death, David Bowie, and False Immortality

A few days ago I opened my Facebook to find it flooded with some disappointing news: David Bowie had passed away.  

 

I saw post after post mourning the loss of a spectacular artist.  People across the world were sharing how he impacted their lives, memories of the first time they ever heard a David Bowie song, and what they loved about his art.  They were sharing in the collective mourning that seems to only happen at the loss of a celebrity.  

 

It was tragic.  It was beautiful.

 

And it reminded me how much of our society is built on celebrities.  How much we rely on the production of art and culture to impact our lives.  How devastating it is when those whom we idolize leave us.  

 

Celebrities affect the way that we see and interact with the world.  They influence the way we understand ourselves and how we experience the world.  This influence makes us feel as though we have an intimate relationship with people we have never met, and as a result it often makes their deaths more difficult to process than we might have expected.  

 

It’s disappointing when those we idolize pass away because we wish they could continue contributing to the world.  We are heartbroken that the only way we will be able to interact with them is through what they left behind.  It’s almost unfathomable to imagine what life will look like without their influence, without a new song or movie to shape our understanding and impact our lives.  

 

We know that their creations will continue to live on forever, so it’s difficult to imagine that they will not.  

 

And while David Bowie wasn’t a particularly large influence in my life (though I have seen Labyrinth a few hundred times) seeing all of my friends share his work reminded me that in some way he will remain with us indefinitely.  The impact that celebrities have will live on, and their time here on earth is not limited to their earthly life spans.  

 

Celebrities become, in a sense, immortalized through their work.  

 

The collective consciousness that is created by openly mourning a loss together is incredibly comforting.  But it also leaves us with the temptation to suspend that person in time. With celebrities, rather than mourn their loss on earth and expect salvation, they live in perpetuity through their art.  

 

They live eternally on earth, and we will not.

 

And we should be comfortable with that, because that isn’t our ultimate objective as Orthodox Christians.  But the fixation we have with celebrities, and the fake immortality that we credit to their earthly presence, distracts us from the fact that we all live eternally through Christ.  And only through Christ.

 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”  (John 11:25-26)

 

When society glorifies celebrities we make their limited time on earth more important than their inevitably eternal life.  We prioritize a false immortality, which preserves shadows of people in music and movies rather than true, complete persons; a false immortality that is only available to the elite, to those clever or beautiful enough to be worth remembering. We construct a false paradise made in the image of our broken world, and forget that what we do on this earth, while important, is all in the service of something more important.   

 

I love media, I love art, and I find the loss of artists who inspire me just as heartbreaking as everyone else.  I’m appreciative for what they’ve offered me.  And I struggle to remember that I’m not going to be able to exist beyond my lifetime here on earth, at least not in the memory of pop culture.  But I do my best to remember that I’m not chasing that type of immortality.  

 

When we are mourning the loss of anyone, celebrity or otherwise, it is comforting to know there are others that share in the loss.  It is also comforting to remember that their existence will not only live on in our memories, but that they will be protected and saved by Christ in perpetuity.  

 

We pray that the memories of those who have passed on will be eternal, because that means that we too will have our memories preserved eternally.


I’m hoping to spend eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. And I hope to see everyone there.  

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.   

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For more on eternal life, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

Life, Not the Death Penalty

Last spring, I had the privilege of hearing oral arguments for a lethal injection case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Working as a television reporter in Washington, D.C. at the time, I had the station’s legal beat and occasionally found myself at the nation’s highest court.

 

In this case, inmates sentenced to death in Oklahoma were suing the state over its use of a drug called midazolam, the first administered as part of the state’s lethal injection protocol.

 

There was growing evidence that midazolam—which is meant to render a person unconscious before the painful drugs that actually stop the heart are injected—wasn’t doing its job. A man in Oklahoma and another in Arizona were seen gasping and writhing in pain during their respective executions.

 

The legal question was whether executions involving midazolam constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” violating the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court wasn’t convinced, narrowly deciding (5-4) to uphold Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol.

 

The five justices who ruled in favor of the this iteration of the death penalty formed their opinions on legal grounds. I would argue that, perhaps, they were not formed on a moral or ethical ones.

 

However, the Orthodox Church—through several local Churches worldwide—has taken action to oppose it.

 

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken about the perversion of violence and hatred against other people in any form, including corporal punishment.

 

“How can [Jesus] support the death penalty for people’s wrongdoings, especially when He came to save the lost, and desires ‘that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth?’” Patriarch Bartholomew said during a 2013 speech at an ecumencal gathering in Espoo, Finland. “How can life possibly embrace death?”

 

The Moscow Patriarchate has also encouraged mercy over lethal punishment, noting that the abolition of the death penalty provides more opportunities both for the Church to engage in pastoral work and for those who have committed crimes to repent.

 

“Today, many states have either abolished the death penalty by law or stopped practicing it,” the Russian Church’s document on the basis of the social concept states. “Keeping in mind that mercy toward a fallen man is always more preferable than revenge, the Church welcomes these steps by state authorities.”

 

Fortunately, 82 percent of countries have either introduced moratoria on the death penalty by law or in practice or have abolished it entirely.

 

Here in the U.S., where the practice is still legal in most states and in the federal government, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos has worked extensively to put an end to the death penalty, having served twice as president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty before it was finally banned there in 2011.

 

Like virtually all contemporary social issues, this one is vastly complicated and riddled with nuance. But the data and research overwhelmingly paint a picture of a death penalty that doesn’t really work.

 

Death penalty convictions are often based on the race of the accused and of the victims, inmates are frequently removed from death row after evidence is found of their innocence, claims that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder are flawed, and enforcing the death penalty costs taxpayers millions of dollars more than it would to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison.

 

When basing a decision in the supreme value of human life and the virtue of mercy, it becomes even more obvious that the death penalty should be discarded.

 

If your justification for opposing abortion is a personal commitment to champion life, why let the death penalty slide? Surely, “pro-life” has to actually mean “pro-life.”

 

Remember that Christ Himself prevented the legal execution of a woman (John 8:3-11), saying “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

 

World Day Against the Death Penalty is marked every year on Oct. 10.

 

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

 

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

Why Orthodox Christians Should Do Their Genealogy

Growing up, I barely knew my extended family. My immediate family was pretty small: just my parents, my sister and me. It wasn’t until after my parents divorced and remarried that my understanding of family dramatically shifted and expanded. As my family grew with these new marriages, so did my desire to know more about where I came from, to know whose sacrifices made me possible and whose features I saw in the mirror.

 

What began as a small hobby has become a huge part of my life today. My family tree – filled with extended cousins and distant ancestors – now has over 4,000 individuals. And as I’ve worked on six other family trees for friends, I have the same excitement each time I learn more about a new member of a family. What was their story? What happened to them?

 

For me, it seems natural that Orthodox Christians would want to learn more about their families. After all, historically Orthodox cultures tend to put a beautiful emphasis on family and extended family relationships.

 

What’s more, Orthodox teaching itself also suggests that it would be wise to study our personal genealogy.

 

1. The God of our fathers

 

In the Great Doxology, we sing “Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is Your name forever, amen!” Each time I sing this prayer (from the Prayer of Azariah in the Book of Daniel) I’m reminded that our worship as Orthodox Christians is connected to something larger than me. Our God is the God of our fathers, not only of our ancestors but of the Church Fathers and Mothers, those whose sacrifices were the witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Our identity as Orthodox Christians rests in our being a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We are rooted in the work and teachings of the Apostles (Apostolic) and when we are gathered in the local church we are united to the whole Body of Christ (Catholic). We surround ourselves by icons of the saints, reminding ourselves that those who came before us are intimately connected to us today through our union with Christ. And before writing or preaching to our world of today, we study the lives and writings of the saints to see what the Fathers had to say on the topic.

 

As Orthodox Christians, we move forward confidently only by knowing that we are firmly rooted on the tried and true foundation of our past. We know where we are going only because we know where we’ve been.

 

And since the Orthodox Church teaches the dignity of both soul and body, the story of who we are includes both our Orthodox story and our biological family’s story. If it is a natural aspect of our spiritual lives as Orthodox Christians to learn about our spiritual family, we ought to also learn about our biological family.

 

2. Attitude of gratitude

 

Father Alexander Schmemann taught that man was intended to be not just Homo sapiens, but ultimately Homo adorans: to offer worship and give praise to God. If individually we offer praise to God, then collectively we give that praise as the Church most clearly in the Liturgy – at the Eucharist. The most Orthodox thing we do is to give thanks (eucharistia) every Sunday. But how does this thanksgiving carry out into all aspects of our lives?

 

We thank God in the Liturgy for all that He has given us. We give thanks during Thanksgiving, and after Christmas, we make sure to thank those who have given us gifts. But have we forgotten our ancestors whose sacrifices and survival made our lives possible? Their gift to us was their survival, their gift to us is that they paved the way for the lives we live today. As the author of The Art of Manliness writes, gratitude has no expiration date. Just learning who these people were, discovering something about them, is our way of saying “thank you” for their gifts to us even if we never noticed them before.

 

Discovering our genealogy helps us to grateful for all of our gifts, for who we are today is because of the prayers, sacrifices, and talents of those who have come before us.

 

3. Relationships matter

 

As people, we all crave relationships. God is love, and created us in His image. In part, this means that we are created to offer love and to live in relationship with others. In the Church, we are given a community, a place where we can grow closer to God together. Even in a secular context, those who study addiction are finding that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.” So there’s something powerful about the relationships we choose to have in our lives.

 

In the Orthodox Church, we have a lot of relationships that connect individuals and families in a web of connection. In the Orthodox wedding service, we pray, "Remember also, Lord our God, the parents who have brought them up, for the prayers of parents make firm the foundations of households." So even in what we tend to think of as a service about two people, we are reminded that a wedding is also about two families coming together.

 

The Church gives us Godparents, and connects us as koumbaroi to those who aren’t biologically related to us. Many in the Church actually see koumbaroi to be like biological family since there is a tradition that their children shouldn’t marry each other. In the past, the Church also offered the service of “brother-making” where a priest formally blessed the bond between two friends.

 

So if the Church sees relationships as being powerful, restorative aspects of our lives, what might we benefit by learning about the relationships that came before us? In learning about our ancestors, we will also learn about the relationships they held most dear. Just as we give importance to the web of relationships we have today, so did our ancestors.

 

We honor our relationship to our ancestors by learning about the relationships that they had, too.

 

4. Memory Eternal

 

In the Orthodox Church, we pray that the memories of our departed loved ones will be eternal. Having faith in the resurrection and hoping that God will keep our loved ones forever in His Kingdom, we pray for the dead knowing that they are alive in Christ.

 

Our prayer for those who have passed on is one way that we can work through our sadness and grief. Another way that we can work through this grief is to learn more about those who came before us. If we pray for our grandparents, do we pray for their grandparents too? As our tradition as Orthodox is to pray for persons by name, it would help to know our ancestors names to best pray for them. Genealogy helps us not only to discover their names, but to even learn what struggles they might have encountered in their lives.

 

Just as learning the lives of the saints helps us to identify with their lives, so too can learning the lives of our ancestors help us to better empathize with their struggles and to lift them up in prayer.

 

*****

 

The Orthodox Church teaches us to live lives of gratitude, firmly rooted in the faith of our fathers so that we can offer the world an authentic faith today. In the Church, we discover the importance of relationships and see that our relationships in this life cannot be destroyed by death. And just as we pray for our loved ones, genealogy offers Orthodox Christians the opportunity to encounter those who have departed from this life.

 

Do you know the names of your great-grandparents? How might learning the stories of your ancestors help you to better live in gratitude today?

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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That Time I Thought My Daughter Was Dying

I’ve lately been writing a lot about the need for courage in the face of death. A couple weeks ago, my own courage in the face of death was put to the test when, after hitting her head on a concrete floor, my beautiful 13-month-old baby girl passed out for roughly a minute.

Nothing could have prepared me for this, and I’m honestly still trying to make sense of it. It is every father’s nightmare.

It happened while my family and a bunch of our friends were out to lunch following the Divine Liturgy. Having just participated in the Lord’s Table, we extended our Eucharistic community through the lifting up of our lunch table.

My baby had just started walking a couple weeks prior, so she was still very new to the whole biped way of life (aren’t we all?). I was walking right behind her, half-distracted by the goings-on of the restaurant as well as the Cubs game on television. She leaned up against a slick, vinyl bench, and down she went, smacking the back of her head square on the ground.

At this point, other than being scared and in pain, she seemed fine. Just a normal, albeit hard fall, I thought. She started crying, as one would expect, but as I picked her up and walked her to her mommy, she must have been unable to get a breath in the midst of her deep pain, which is when her eyes rolled back, and she passed out in my arms.

Even writing this now, I struggle to put the words down, horrified and fighting back tears as images of my infant daughter, limp and unconscious, run through my head.

I have never been more afraid than I was then.

I have never felt more vulnerable than I did at that moment.

I realized just how swiftly my “happiness” could be taken away from me and how fragile everything that I’m working to build for my family and myself really is.

Obviously, no parent wants to see their kid pass out, no parent wants to see their child die, and unfortunately, far too many parents have to go through such tragedy. I have several friends who have lost babies to miscarriage, SIDS, or some other fatal disease.

And after the fainting incident, I can honestly say that how these people found ways through the pain that I only momentarily was afraid of…well, it’s beyond me.

And I think that’s just the point. It is beyond any of us.

The only explanation I have is that somehow these parents who have lost their children believe, deep in their souls, that life is stronger than death. They bravely believe that Christ is stronger than death.

They must have a firm conviction that Christ truly has defeated death, or they are at least actively practicing this conviction, leaning into the discomfort, the pain, the tragedy of losing a child.

These courageous parents choose love and hope, trusting in Christ even when faced with the inescapable reality of death. These are people whom I wish to emulate.

Because the reality of our world is bleak.

It seems like almost every day that we see some news story about someone (or even a bunch of someones) dying far too soon and far too violently. Why do I think that I am impervious to the threat of having my own heart broken?

Death is coming for me and for my children. The only hope is Jesus Christ.

And I felt the need to have that hope, a need to trust the Christ is mightier than anything that could take my baby away from me. I felt the need for that hope when death came knocking at the door of my faith and the only answer that came was the hollow echo of nothingness.

I realized how truly, deeply afraid I am, how much I continually trust in myself to keep my family safe, to keep myself safe. But no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I convince myself that I can protect my children, the reality is that I can’t.

And that terrifies me.

So more than having a lesson or some kind of thesis with this blog post, I write it more as a confession. I write it to confess that I struggle, that my faith gets battered up against the cold, hard reality of death. Or rather, my lack of faith is exposed by the moments that terrify me, that truly deeply shake me to my core.

And I write it as a request because I know I’m not alone. That we can pray for one another that we can learn to hold each other close as we lift each other up to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One in whom we must choose to hope daily, for He alone is the Resurrection and the Life.

Photo Credits:

Dark Path: Desositphotos

Jesus: Despositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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The Flash: Heroism, Villainy, and Death - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

After far too long of having nothing worthwhile to watch, my wife and I have finally gotten into a new (to us) series: The Flash.

We are only a handful of episodes in at this point, but we are loving it. It’s not some super mind-blowingly awesome show with crazy good special effects. Nor is it (at this point) a terribly compelling story with tons of twists and turns. But it’s fun.

We are watching the show because it is fun.

It’s fun to see what “the fastest man on earth” does in the span of 45 minutes. It’s cool to see what all the other “meta-humans” can do as well – so far I really like the girl who can turn any object into an explosive. That would be awesome; I would have loved that as a teenager.

Who am I kidding? I’d love it now! After all, I’ve got a used car that I can’t seem to sell…

In fact, I think this question of what one would do with superpowers is one of the reasons that stories about superheroes are so much fun. After all, we see superheroes, those who have chosen to be responsible with their powers, but we also see villains, those who have chosen to use their powers for gain.

Recently, Steve and I recorded an episode of Pop Culture Coffee Hour about the Netflix original series, Daredevil, and we discussed what life with superpowers would be like. In particular, we discussed whether we’d be heroes or villains.

Of course, I’d like to think that I would choose to do good, but perhaps I’m just kidding myself? Maybe the only reason I don’t do awful things like robbing banks is simply because I know I can’t get away with it. But if I were bulletproof? I don’t know…

Initially, this makes me think that I’m grateful that people don’t have superpowers, as if that makes questions of superheroes and supervillains irrelevant.

But it doesn’t.

With or without superpowers, each of us is capable of doing supreme good, and each of us is capable of supreme destruction.

It feels like almost every other day when I turn my iPhone, swipe over to the news feed and see that more ordinary people were killed by other ordinary people. The amount of damage that just one person can do is terrifying.

And they do it all without superpowers. They do it with something far more powerful: their very own lives.

There is something terrifyingly powerful about the idea of a person who is willing to die for the sake of death. When one’s own death is suddenly a tool in a quest for achieving a “greater good” or making a statement or serving an ideal, then one can become capable of all kinds of evil, destroying as many other lives as possible before eventually destroying one’s own.

I suppose one can imagine how someone could make the jump from the biological reality of death and turn it into a quest for meaning. Perhaps this is why we see people making names for themselves through violent acts that serve some “higher” purpose, forfeiting their lives while taking out others (even the Villain is the hero in his own story).The Villain, in order to be a good villain, must be willing to die for his cause. Total domination of the world is not for the faint of heart.

But what of the path of the Hero?

The path of the Hero is also marked by a willingness to die, but it is a willingness to die on behalf of others, to lay down one’s own life out of love for another rather than dying to serve an idolatrous obsession with a cause or an ideal.

This is the legacy of people like Mother Teresa and St. Panteleimon, people who regularly laid down their lives for the good of others long before they met death. People who profoundly impacted the world for the sake of God’s Kingdom by being willing to sacrifice their own success, their own comfort for the sake of their neighbors.

After all, we’re all going to die anyway. But what will we choose? A life-giving death or a death that only brings forth more death?

Will we be heroes? Or will we be villains?

We don’t need superpowers to be either.

Will we spend our lives ruthlessly seeking our own fulfillment? Will we dominate others through fear?

Or will we recognize that we have already died with Christ in the waters of baptism, that we can now use our lives as Christ used His, heroically laying them down for the sake of our neighbor?

Each of us stands on the brink of the great cliff of death and there are two paths off of it: one of villainy, the other of heroism. Which will you choose?

Photo Credits:

Hero: Depositphotos

Villain: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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