On Good Friday, and Dying Before We Die

“If you die before you die, then when you die you will not die.”

Last Saturday Meg and I went to the Mount of the Holy Cross Monastery in Cyprus, and ended up in a surprisingly long conversation. As in many places in the world—think Palestine and Israel –the words, “Tradition says…” go a long way. When we begin thinking about who said what thousands of years ago, it is harder. So apart from an authoritative text, a word from Heaven, we are left hoping for a truthful tradition.

The monastery was begun in 327 A.D., funded by Helena, mother of Constantine. On a pilgrimage to Palestine, she unearthed the cross of Christ, and brought part of it home with her, stopping along the way in Cyprus– tradition says.

So for a long time now, monks have spent the years of their lives high on this mountain, looking out on Cyprus, a 360 degree view of mountains, plains, and ocean. Expecting to simply see ourselves, we were drawn into a conversation with the monk whose work it is to explain the history. A question, then another question, and an hour later we were sitting with him having a wonderful cup of something hot, made from cream and honey.

We spent most of the conversation talking about the heart of true belief. Who is God? Who are we? What is the universe? Honest questions for all human beings.

The words above are long-associated with the monastery. Pondering life atop a mountain, living within walls and yet seeing far and wide, it is not hard to imagine the moments one might have to think and think and think, and think again.

And I have thought about them too, especially as Good Friday comes to us another year. It is a day of death, remembering the dearth of deaths. But if in our remembering we fail to remember the truth of the Greek Orthodox monks on the Mount of the Holy Cross, we will miss its meaning. As Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once said:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The truer truth is that we all must die today—if we are not to die when we die.

Dr. Steven Garber is Founder and Principal of the Washington Institute and author of The Fabric of Faithfulness.

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