“Death, the sad inheritance of every son of Adam, which no one will escape, is not the end of everything, but rather the beginning of that blessed life which is the only one worthy of being gained. All will pass in this world, from the most humble things to the most grandiose, but eternal life will remain without end, in which there will be no mourning.
MERE WORDS SEEM TO BE OUT OF PLACE IN THIS AGONY
The letter by St Basil the Great: ‘I hesitated to address you due to your dignity, from the idea that, just as to the eye when inflamed even the mildest of remedies causes pain, so to a soul distressed by heavy sorrow, words offered in the moment of agony, even though they do bring much comfort, seem to be somewhat out of place.
But I bethought me that I should be speaking to a Christian woman, who has long ago learned godly lessons, and is not inexperienced in the vicissitudes of human life, and I judged it right not to neglect the duty laid upon me. I know what a mother’s heart is and when I remember how good and gentle you are to all, I can reckon the probable extent of your misery at this present time. You have lost a son whom, while he was alive, all mothers called happy, with prayers that their own might be like him, and on his death bewailed, as though each had hidden her own in the grave.
But our lives are not without Providence, so we have learnt in the Gospel, for not a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of our Father (cfr. Mt 10:29). Whatever has come to pass has come to pass by the will of our Creator. And who can resist God’s will? Let us accept what has befallen us; for if we take it ill we do not mend the past and we work our own ruin. Do not let us arraign the righteous judgment of God. We are all too untaught to assail His ineffable sentences. The Lord is now making trial of your love for Him. Now there is an opportunity for you, through your patience, to take the martyr’s lot. The mother of the Maccabees (cfr. 2 Mac 7) saw the death of seven sons without a sigh, without even shedding one unworthy tear. She gave thanks to God for seeing them freed from the fetters of the flesh by fire and steel and cruel blows, and she won praise from God, and fame among men. The loss is great, as I can say myself; but great too are the rewards laid up by the Lord for the patient.
DO NOT MEASURE YOUR LOSS BY ITSELF, IF YOU DO IT WILL SEEM INTOLERABLE
When first you were made a mother, and saw your boy, and thanked God, you knew all the while that, a mortal yourself, you had given birth to a mortal. What is there astonishing in the death of a mortal? But we are grieved at his dying before his time. Are we sure that this was not his time?
We do not know how to pick and choose what is good for our souls, or how to fix the limits of the life of man. Look around at all the world in which you live; remember that everything you see is mortal, and all subject to corruption.
Look up to Heaven; even it shall be dissolved; look at the sun, not even the sun will last forever. All the stars together, all living things of land and sea, all that is fair on earth, aye, earth itself, all are subject to decay; yet a little while and all shall be no more. Let these considerations be some comfort to you in your trouble. Do not measure your loss by itself; if you do it will seem intolerable; but if you take all human affairs into account you will find that some comfort is to be derived from them.
MERE WORDS I KNOW CANNOT GIVE COMFORT
Mere words I know cannot give comfort. Just now what is wanted is prayer, and I do pray the Lord Himself to touch your heart by His unspeakable power, and through good thoughts to cause light to shine upon your soul, that you may have a source of consolation in yourself.'”
– This letter by St Basil the Great to the wife of Nectarius was published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries), issue Number 11, Year VII.