August 15, 2023

Immortality in Christ: 2023 Pastoral Encyclical for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 Immortality in Christ
 Pastoral Encyclical for the Dormition of the Theotokos (2023)

And again in the middle of Summer, with the heat and the heatwave, we celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, that is, the biological death of our Panagia, but also her translocation (metastasis) to the heavens, as well as her constant presence among us. We chant in the Kontakion with a celebratory and brilliant voice: "Neither the grave nor death could keep her, as the mother of life who was translocated to life." She is the Mother of true life which is Christ and she translocated to life, for the grave and death could not keep her.

In another troparion, in the Eirmos of the Ninth Hour, we confess that the Most Holy Theotokos exists alive, that the terms of nature have been defeated in her and she is "alive after death", and for this reason, as we chant in another Kontakion, she is the unashamed "protection of the Christians".

All our ecclesiastical tradition recognizes the living presence of the Most Holy Theotokos in our lives, because she hears our prayers, responds to our requests, gives us rest from our constant pains, and sometimes, especially to holy people, she appears and strengthens them. A strong example is her appearances, in many ways, to Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and in this way she showed him that she was protecting him. The pious Christians know this and that is why they invoke her and in difficult situations of their life they call upon her with "My Panagia, save me"!

As we know, man has many difficulties, many fears and at the depth of all these fears is the arrival of death which is considered our departure from this life, but also from the life of our loved ones. We fear all separation, especially separation by death.

This keeps people busy. If we search and investigate all our phobias, we will find that at the bottom of them is the fear of death, which is considered as a complete separation. And, of course, in addition to biological death, there is also the so-called "psychogenic death" which is not connected to the damage of the physical organism, but to the complete lack of hope for life, and this is expressed by sadness, despair, apathy, dismay.

It is known that man stands out from other organisms because, while he knows the inevitability of death, he tries in various ways to overcome it or to forget it or to pass by it with social creativity. The animals, while they too are under the state of death, do not have the sense of it, and most importantly, they do not have the consciousness to overcome it.

The problem, however, is that the person who is aware of death and most importantly who can decide how he wants to die, tries to find ways to forget it, to push it away. Thus, while death is a "given of our existence", since life is intertwined with death, we consider it "as a problem that we need to solve" and indeed to solve it not with God, but with science. This is expressed by lengthening or prolonging life and by living hedonistically and blissfully. This was and is being expressed by various philosophical systems.

Within this context, many representatives of modern technology dream of a "digital immortality" and their motto is "to kill death". And they attempt this with the so-called "artificial intelligence or artificial brilliance". Thus, they talk about "digital immortality", and what they mean is that one can live forever having transferred his thoughts to the computer, so that the person can continue to communicate with loved ones after death.

However, this effort carries many risks from the ethical, psychological, legal and human side, but mainly theological, because it is trying to build the "superman man" who will live without God.

However, in the Church we live immortality in Christ, because Christ is alive and communicates with the people who love Him; the Church is "a synod of heaven and earth", of the living and the reposed; the saints live "in the land of the living" and we have constant communication with the Church in heaven, according to the words of the Apostle Paul: "Celebrating with the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:23). In the Church we live in a big family, whose first-born and older siblings are in the heavenly Divine Liturgy and we have spiritual communication with them.

In addition to this, in the Church, with the struggle we do, we fight with every death, mental, spiritual and biological, we reject the fear of death, and thus we consider death as a spiritual rebirth, an experience of true life, and this precisely constitutes our healing.

Beloved brethren,

In the Church, with the feasts of Christ, the Panagia and the Saints, we live immortality in Christ and for that we do not need any "digital immortality". We know, as we chant in today's feast, that death is a repose, a sleep, and it is not a tragic, but a glorious dormition.

I wish you many years, full of resurrection life.

With paternal blessings,

The Metropolitan

+ Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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