Orthodox America

  There Is No Death

by Archpriest Victor Potapov

“…We proclaim Thy mercy, we conceal not Thy beneficence."
(from the prayer of the Great Sanctification of Water)

On the 26th of May [1993], in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, my mother, Parasceva Ivanovna Potapov, née Golikov, reposed.  Her physicians had predicted that she would live between two weeks and two months from the date on which her cancer was discovered.  She lived for exactly two weeks from the date of that oncological evaluation.

Mother accepted her sentence like a true Christian.  I had the honor of administering to her the Mystery of Holy Unction; throughout the following twelve days she received Holy Communion.  Every day she listened to the Paschal Canon and to many other prayers.  Filled with a spirit of love and reconciliation, she asked forgiveness of, and said goodbye to, friends and acquaintances, and expressed her readiness to joyously go to her eternal home.  When death finally came to her on Thursday, May 26, both members of my family and the parishioners of the Saint Sergius Cathedral, of which Mother had been an active member for forty years, felt a sense of joyous relief.  All of her requiem services were marked by a sense of Paschal triumph.  Mother was vested in the pure white baptismal robe which she had worn when, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land several years ago, she was immersed in the waters of Jordan.

During the days I was honored to spend at her death-bed, I learned more about death, and about the passage from transient life to eternal life, than I had in all of my past reading and in all of my theological courses. On Sunday, May 29, on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, Mother was committed to the earth at the cemetery of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York.  It is on this Sunday that the Church commemorates Christ's discussion with the Samaritan Woman, a discussion during which Our Lord revealed His Divine identity to a simple woman.  During the Church service, as I listened  to the Gospel  narrative,  I  realized  that through  my mother, another simple woman, the Lord had revealed to us, to her relatives and acquaintances, the mystery of death and life, and the profound meaning of faith in His Resurrection and in life eternal. Her experience of death revealed to us that, for the faithful, there truly was no death, but that rather, there was life in the bosom of Abraham. This was especially apparent in a conversation with my mother which I recorded on tape on May 21, five days before her blessed repose.

VP:  Mother, what spiritual testament would you like to leave us?

PP:  That you love one another…that you remember me, that you pray for me, and that you have not fear.  Here is earthly life.  But over there, beyond the grave…is the good life.  I want you to love and cherish one another, and not to fear death.  There is no death…I am not sure whether I am speaking so that you can understand…

VP:  Your every word is precious to us…

PP:  I go there joyously.  With love.  You will pray for me.  That is what is most important to me.  I have heard so much about how people go there, about what joy is there.

VP:  To what do you attribute your calm?  You show absolutely no fear; you are so full of joy.  From what does this stem?  From the Lord?

PP:  From the Lord.  It is important to me that if I am to be over there, you feel all right.  What is there to fear?  Nothing that you told me about my cancer saddens meŠI only rejoice…It is my wish that you, my children, feel as I do.  You do not comprehend how I feel, this feeling of great love…

VP:  Do you consider it to be God's mercy, that He sent you a difficult trial?

PP:  It is my wish that this mercy might come to you as it has come to me. I awaken feeling such joy!  I look at you weeping, and I become so sad.  I sense that you fear for me.  However, it is quite the opposite…

VP:  No, mother, I am weeping because I am selfish, because I simply want to be with you for as long as possible…

PP:   But I am still sorry that you weep.  You should not weep; you are a Priest…I cannot explain it to you…I feel that warmth of prayers surrounding me. Besides, Vladika Ioann [Archbishop John Maximovich] is next to me.  I do not believe myself to be worthy of this…

People telephone me to say that perhaps I should go see another doctor. Why should I see another doctor?  It is too late to go.  Apparently, I have had this condition [cancer] for a long time.  People tell me that perhaps they should perform a surgical procedure on me.  What kind of procedure? They would fill me with chemicals…But now I feel all right…and if it's all right, why be downcast?  There is no reason to be discouraged, since it is good over there…According to God's will, I prepared myself as best I could…I feel very good; I always wake up joyous.  I sense, especially in the mornings, some kind of sweet aroma.  See, you came to give me Communion.  Father Peter [Burlakov] has visited and prayed.  My children are with me day and night.  What more do I need.  It is very good.  I anticipate only joy.

VP:  Why does this joy come to you in the mornings?

PP:  I arise, and see the light of God…

VP:  Theophanes the Recluse says that the light which we see in our earthly lifeŠthe light of the sun, is but a candle in comparison to the light of God which you will later seeŠ

PP:  This one thing I know, that it is an extraordinary light, God's radianceŠThere is much I do not understand; I understand only that I feel very joyful.

VP:  Mother, here on earth, we are members of the Church on earth; you will be a member of the Church in Heaven.  Do you understand?  We remain members of the one Church of Christ.  While we will no longer be able to kiss you or to hold your hand, we will, through our prayers, be able to kiss you and to be kissed in return.

PP:  If I accomplish that, I will of course pray for you.  That is, of course, if God finds me worthy. And you will pray for me.  Since you are a priest, you will never leave me out of your prayers at the Divine Liturgy. I count on that.  I love people, and have now drawn especially closer to many.

VP:  You will meet Archbishop John.  On July 2nd, as we participate in his glorification on earth, you will participate in his glorification in heaven, the same glorification, Pascha in mid-summer.

PP:  What a wonderful coincidence!…After you administered Holy Unction to me, I began to free myself of everything earthly, and joy entered in…Later, when you gave me Holy Communion, I became even more liberatedŠ

VP:  Surely this is because your soul is beginning to free itself from the body, and is, as it were, between heaven and earth.  You soul senses heavenly joy, and so you experience such peace and joy.

PP:  Certainly.  My passage has begun…It is happening, and I am content…Do not weep; it is all right, even very good.  In my soul [I sense] some kind of feeling of paradise.  There is no need to cry or to be discouraged.  I await the moment.  It will come.  I am ever closer to joy.  Evidently, I have become free, and I easily endure everything.

VP:  Christ is Risen!

PP:  Truly...

I wish to thank all of the many people who have expressed to my family their words and letters of sympathy and concern.  In your prayers, remember the soul of the newly-departed handmaiden of God Parasceva, who in her 66th year went over into a better world…