Tomb of St Justin Popovich in the monastery of Chelije Valjevo, Serbia
The Grace of Mindfulness of Death
In the book, “Christ Our Way and Our Life”, Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou writes about many of the stages of the spiritual life, including, remembrance of death. He is an Archimandrite in the monastery of St John the Baptist, in Tolleshunt Knights near Maldon, Essex in England. Archimandrite Zacharias spent decades under the spiritual direction of Elder Sophrony of blessed memory, whom, we know, was himself the disciple of St Silouan the Athonite. Here are some passages from his book;
"Considered within the whole mystery of Christ, death is transformed into a challenge on a sublime and metaphysical level, which inspires ‘repentance unto life’, and mindfulness of death proves to be a gift of the Holy Spirit…The purpose of his (man’s) pre-eternal destiny is the acquisition of eternity as an inalienable possession. ..If life comes to a definitive end with death, it has absolutely no meaning. Awareness of our mortality poses the problem of eternity without accepting concession to anything except God. The grace of God, which seeks out the lost sheep wherever he may be, is able to provoke man'seizing him by the throat’, and intensifying his quandary by bestowing a mindfulness of death, which – according to the experience of Fr. Sophrony – proves, as scalding as a ‘mass of molten metal’. The remembrance of death, when it takes the form of awareness of eternity in a negative form, is a remarkable ‘calling’ of man to his pre-eternal destiny to become á ‘partaker of the divine nature’ (2 Pet.1:4). This remembrance, which is activated by the grace of God, is a spiritual phenomenon entirely set apart from the natural or psychological knowledge that man is mortal. Charismatic mindfulness of death is a reality of another order, ‘non-earthy, incomprehensible’. It visits man with sovereign might and prepares him to accept the revelation of the Living God. In his heart a new interior sensitivity is born, which changes his spiritual outlook. It is a spiritual state, which assist man, who is as yet unable to contemplate God, in his quest for eternal truth.
Awareness of death is accompanied by ‘a vision, difficult to explain, of the outside world’. This vision reveals the futility of this world and its transitory ephemeral form which lies in the power of the evil one….remembrance of death brings and interior apprehension of the great chasm separating man from the Holy God. When man realizes that he is condemned to die, he becomes terrified, he suffers unbearably. With his spirit he beholds the bottomless pit and remains in this mysterious, indescribable sphere, whilst his mind and affections live normal everyday life
The charismatic gift of mindfulness of death is essential for the spiritual development of the Christian. It is the starting point of his rebirth in God. When his awareness of death intensifies, man despises all the visible world and all the events of life- even intellectual assets, for they are unable to afford an answer to his search. Whatever does not remain for all eternity has no value and ceases to attract the attention of man. This grace given awareness brings with it a revelation which, although in negative form, is effective and reveals the depth of Being. In an eschatological perspective, the material world loses its consistency , and time loses its duration, the revelatory experience of this captivates the spirit of man, and casts it into a newly revealed and somber realm where time does not exist. In this unstable and painful state, man will find rest and support only in the evangelical revelation of the Word of God…The Lord, however hides Himself, with wisdom and love teaching man until such time as he deepens his experience of the mystery of death, and contemplates it ‘not only in the body, in death terrestrial forms, but in eternity’. He understands the fearful dimensions of death and suffers dreadfully inside the gloomy abyss of the Eternal absence. He looks for a way out. In essence, however, everything, even while it is proclaiming vanity, corruption, and death, is directing him towards knowledge of another Being and its depths. To someone in this sacred state of mind, God is announcing His very Self. Although initially man can see no way out, in fact it all depends on how he directs his spirit at this point. …two apparent solutions may suggest themselves. The first is to treat death as an inevitable fact of nature, of no account, utterly insignificant – one less man on earth. The second way of thinking rejects the first out of deep feeling, desire and yearning that man has in himself for life….This is where he finds the true solution, as long as he avoids the temptation to blame God for his spiritual suffering, for this would engulf him utterly in the abyss of darkness. If he instead resorts to prayer, he will be born anew….mindfulness of death ..brings about a divestiture of the mind from everything created, concentrating its attention within. This is the most precious condition for ‘re-clothing’ and further development in godliness.
The horror of mindfulness of death gives a foretaste of Gehenna: man is humbled, broken. (It) inspires prayer that vanquishes even the most persistent passions. Remembrance of death teaches man to live without earthly cares, eschatologically, and to find his wealth in all the charisms bestowed by God. …man learns…to feel ontologically united with all the human race. Later, in the ultimate perfection in Christ, this negative experience is transformed into a positive knowledge of the resurrection of the soul and prayer ‘for all Adam’.” Christ Our Way and Our Life, selections from p.71 to p.82 by Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou, St Tikhon Seminary Press, 2003
After reading the above passage is clear that the spiritual state described by Elder Sophrony and Fr Zacharias is beyond the comprehension of anyone that has not gone through it. In the pages following this passage, Fr Zacharias explains that the state of mindfulness of death in its deepest form immediately precedes the vision of the uncreated light, by the soul thus initiated in eternity!
This book is available from Light & Life Publishing at