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1. As thought precedes speech, so the meditation of death and the remembrance of our sins go before weeping and mourning. Hence our treatment of these two virtues in the two following degrees of our holy ladder, each one in its proper rank and order.

2. The thought we entertain of death with reference to mankind generally, is that of a continuous work, death with his scythe, toiling daily at his harvest; but the special thought of our own death is an unfailing source of tears and compunction for our sins

3. The fear of death as a penalty for disobedience is an effect natural to man. But this fear, when it amounts to a horror of death, is a certain sign that we have not expiated our sins by penance. Jesus Christ feared death, but He did not tremble, that these two different effects might show us the qualities proper to His twofold nature.

4. As bread is the most necessary of all food, so is the meditation of death the most useful of all our acts of devotion. It prompts religious who live in community to embrace the labours and exercises of penance, and it makes humiliation and contempt their greatest delight. In solitaries, who are removed from the world, with all its turmoils and cares, it produces an entire disengagement from all earthly solicitude, and leads them to constant prayer and unceasing vigilance over their thoughts. All these virtues are first the daughters, then the parents, of this meditation on death, inasmuch as they mutually foster and excite each other.

5. As pewter, when seen by itself appears like silver, but when compared with this latter metal, displays a remarkable inferiority, so the fear of death, which is natural, appears manifestly different from that which is supernatural, when seen by those who are skillful in judging of things spiritual.

6. The best criterion by which we can know, if the thought of death is impressed deeply and effectively on our hearts, is a voluntary detachment from every earthly creature, accompanied by the renouncement of our own will.

7. He is truly virtuous who expects his death every day; but he is a saint who desires it every hour.

8. It is not every desire of death that is good. For some, through their constant frailty and commission of sin, arising from the inveteracy of their bad habits, desire death with sentiments of humility. Others, not wishing to go through the toil of penance, invoke death from the feelings of despair. Again, we occasionally meet with persons who have a vain and presumptuous opinion, that they have attained to sovereign peace of soul, and to the victory over their passions, and therefore, have no need to fear death. But there are few (if indeed any in these times.) who, by the fortitude and efficacy of the Holy Spirit, sigh for their departure from this probationary life to their future happiness.

9. Certain persons have a difficulty in conceiving how it is, that, the thought of death being so salutary, God should conceal from us the day and the hour of our death. They penetrate not the admirable wisdom of this concealment in the promotion of our salvation. For those who knew the hour of their death would be eager, neither to receive the sacrament of baptism, nor to enter into the religious state. No, they would defer these means of salvation to the very end of life. They would devote the best portion of their existence to earthly pleasure, and to the commission of iniquity, and then make an unwilling sacrifice of the very dregs of their days to God. Thus, sin, by long indulgence and confirmed habits, would eat into the very marrow of their bones, and sleep with them in the dust.

10. When you lament your sins be not caught in the ambuscade of the devil, who represents God to you as infinitely merciful. His purpose is to dry up your tears, and to banish from your heart the fear of God, who alone is able to deliver it from all fear. Hence never be too confident of the divine mercy and compassion, unless when about to fall into the gulf of despair.

11. He who wishes to preserve in his soul the fear of death, and of the last judgment, yet is equally anxious about secular and profane occupations, which distract and unnerve the mind, resembles the man who wishes to swim without the employment of his hands.

12. True and efficacious meditation on death, bridles within just bounds the intemperance of the tongue. and when this intemperance is duly reined in, and humility allowed to take precedency, the other passions will be easily brought into subjection.

13. As insensibility of heart blinds the soul, so a variety of meats dries up the stream of penitential tears. Thirst and watching mortify and afflict the heart, and from the mortified and afflicted heart tears will gush forth abundantly. What I have just said will appear to cowardly persons rude, exaggerated, and incredible. But the fervent and generous Christian will devote himself with ardour to the practice of these virtues. He who will make the trial will smile at the facility with which they may be performed. But he who is always contemplating and proposing some laudable undertaking, without ever putting it in execution, experiences from this want of resolution much vexation and sadness of spirit.

14. As the holy Fathers tell us that perfect love is exempt from sin, so I venture to declare that the meditation of death, made with due dispositions of mind, is exempt from all fear.

15. A fervent soul is occupied with many pious and salutary thoughts. She thinks of the love which she ought to cherish towards God; she reflects upon His Infinite Majesty, and upon His blessed kingdom, in which there reigns an eternal bliss. She considers the ardent zeal of the martyrs, and keeps ever present in the memory that Supreme and Invisible Witness, whose eye looks down upon every thought and every action of her life, according to the testimony of the Royal Prophet: “I set the Lord always in my sight; for he is at might right hand, that I be not moved.”1 She often dwells in thought upon the angels and celestial powers, and not unfrequently she meditates upon her departure from this world, upon the awful moment, when she will stand face to face with God, upon the final sentence which will seal her doom for eternity, and upon the fearful and everlasting torments of hell. All these are great thoughts, great truths, and very profitable; but those which I am about to mention have preserved many souls from the snares of sin.


16. A solitary from Egypt one day related to me what had happened to himself. “I had,” he said, “conceived in my heart so profound and lively a sense of death, that, having once wished to grant some ease and comfort to this miserable body, and which this house of clay seemed to require, the thought of death, like an inflexible judge, stepped forward, and with stern authority, forbade the indulgence contemplated. And what was still more wonderful, when I desired to shake off this thought, I found it impossible.”

17. Another solitary, who dwelt in this neighbourhood, in a place called Thola, was often vehemently affected by his meditation on death. He appeared like a person swooning, and falling into a fit of epilepsy. The brothers, when they found him in this state, would carry him home, half dead, and almost breathless.

18. I will likewise relate to you the history of Hesychius, a solitary of Mount Horeb. Having spent all the time he had been in religion negligently, and without any care for his salvation, at length fell sick of a disease, which brought him to the gate of death, and his soul remained during the space of an hour separated from his body. When he came again to his senses, he desired us all to retire immediately, and having bolted the door of his cell, he dwelt in it, thus shut up during twelve years, without speaking to a single person, and without taking any other food but bread and water. He sat wrapt in spirit, and so firmly rivetted to the vision which he had beheld in his disembodied state, that he never changed his position. And, like a person no longer master of his reason, he observed a strict silence, whilst hot tears gushed in streams down his pale and furrowed cheeks. When he was near his death, we forced open his cell, and besought him to answer the questions we were desirous of putting to him. But he promptly replied: “Pardon me, my brethren, if the following be the only answer I can return to you,--He who has the thought of death profoundly engraven on his mind, will never dare to sin.” We were all astonished to behold a solitary who had been so lukewarm during many years, changed into a totally new man, and we admired the transformation. We buried him solemnly in the cemetery near the town, and when, a few days afterwards, we went to look for his body, we found it not. God wished, by this miracle, as well as by the wonderful change which had been wrought in his soul, to give to those who, after a life of tepidity, return to their first fervour, a satisfactory proof how perfect was the repentance of this solitary, and how exceedingly acceptable to His Divine Will. He likewise desired by this instance of His providential interposition to inspire them with confidence in His Infinite Mercy.

19. We are told that an abyss is a body of water, without any fathomable bottom. This expression we employ in a figurative sense to every kind of place or thing that cannot be sounded. In like manner the thought of death produces purity of heart and devout feelings, which, continually increasing and expanding in the glory of their fervour, may in such sense be termed boundless and immeasurable. This truth is confirmed by the example of the holy solitary we have just mentioned. For penitents, who, like him have the image of death always painted on the eye of the mind, feel every moment an increase of that dread which has seized their souls at the contemplation of God’s terrible judgments, until the whole energy of their beings, and even the marrow of their bones, is dried up and consumed.

20. Let us, however, be fully persuaded, from our own experience, that this blessing, like every other we receive from God, is the gift of His boundless liberality, since we often find, when we visit the tombs in the churchyard, that our eyes remain as dry, and our hearts as hard as they were before; whilst at other times, without the prompting of these sad and mournful reminiscences, we are melted into tenderness, and overflow with sentiments of repentance.

21. He who is dead to all things earthly, has, beyond a doubt, his thoughts fixed on death. But he whose affections are still attached to the earth, thinks neither of himself nor of death. Hence he may be deemed his own traitorous enemy.

22. Do not employ words to assure those who are dear to you of your friendships, but rather beseech God to make known to them your charity, through the medium of His own secret communications. Otherwise life would be too short to convey by language the testimony of your affection, and to weep over your own misery by heartfelt compunction and repentance.

23. Do not deceive yourself, O solitary, by the foolish persuasion that you can repair some future day the losses which you are now incurring by your remissness. For each day is not sufficient to discharge towards God the debts which, in our several duties, we are each day contracting.

24. We are not able, said one of the Fathers, we are not able to spend one day of our lives holily, if we do not spent it as if it were to be the last of our mortal existence. Indeed, some of the pagans entertained a similar sentiment. Plato declared that the love of wisdom is the mediation of death.

He who has mounted this step of the Holy Ladder, will not again stumble or fall, according to the testimony of the Wise man: “In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou wilt never sin.” Eccles. vii. 40.

  1. Psalm xv. 8.


Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
Contact: Archbishop Gregory
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