A sermon delivered during the Funeral of Irina Gozick
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
If there is one thing Orthodox Christians are good at celebrating, it is celebrating death. The central event in the history of our salvation was death. Death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As significant as the death of Christ was, it was yet only part of the story. If He had just died and nothing else happened, if they had put Him in the tomb and He remained there, then we wouldn’t be here. Then nothing would matter.
And we wouldn’t be celebrating the death of Irina, as we do today. We would grieve as those who have no hope.
The story of our salvation does include the death of the Lord. The fact of which we are reminded so profoundly and so powerfully every Holy Week. But this story also includes the Resurrection, which we celebrate and in which we participate every Pascha. The whole Easter season and every Sunday is the celebration and our participation in the Lord’s Resurrection.
After all, Jesus died not because the Pharisees and the Romans got to Him and killed Him. He died because that was the plan all along. The Son of God became a human being to die on the cross as a human being. And since He is God, death was not able to hold Him captive. So He resurrected as a human being as well.
Through His resurrection Jesus conquered Death. Since He did this in a human body, Death no longer has dominion over the followers of Christ, over those who share in the same human body as His.
After the death and resurrection of Christ, death is now infused with the power of resurrection. Death will never be the same. Like a scorpion without its tail, death has lost its sting.
So yes, we celebrate death. But not because we are some sort of a weird death cult. Orthodox Christians may seem weird to the world, but our emphasis on death is only possible because death is not the end. It’s not the beginning either. Death is part of the journey.
The moment we are conceived, our eternal life begins. And this eternal life, in fact, includes several deaths: we die in order to become Christians. The Orthodox Baptism service is very clear that we die when we are baptized.
We put off the old self, the self that was attached to sin and death, and we are resurrected in Christ. Not just for eternal life, but for the eternal life in His Kingdom, in His presence.
And then throughout our life, we die every time we put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. We die every time we repent from our sins and turn to God. Doing both of these things kills our pride; part of us dies, the part that tends towards darkness.
Another death we go through is the physical death – the end of our earthly journey. But the journey in general continues because eternity has no end. As we heard the Lord tell us today, “Anyone who hears My word and believes in Him Who sent Me has eternal life.”
So as we are praying today for Irina’s soul, as we are celebrating her death, and as we are sending her on her last earthly journey, we should not grieve like those who have no hope.
We definitely should grieve, we definitely should feel the pain of the loss because Irina was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a mother-in-law, a friend, a follower of Christ. She left a mark in our lives, no matter how long or how well we knew her.
As a life-long Christian, she also heard the word of Christ and believed in the One Who sent Him; therefore, our grief cannot be hopeless. If we know anything about God, it’s that He is true to His word, He keeps His promises.
And we heard today from the Epistle and Gospel readings. Jesus said, “Anyone who hears My word and believes in Him Who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment.” And Saint Paul wrote, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
We believe and we hope that these words describe Irina. We believe and we hope that these words will also describe us. So that in the resurrection of life, all of us, Irina and those who love her and those whom she loved, will enjoy the eternal blessedness in the presence of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To God the Father Who always keeps His promises and Who grants us life through death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, and guides our lives by the Holy Spirit, we give glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.