It also allowed me to reflect on mortality, death and the resurrection.
Death is simplification. It renders most things null and void. The greatest of these is fear. As Orthodox Christians, only two things matter upon our death: #1. Our relationship with God and #2. the good works done in our love for Him (which is related to #1). A healthy remembrance of death is helpful. It brings to the forefront of our minds every church service we have missed out of laziness or apathy, every day we have spent unrepentant, every bit of anger we have clung to, and every missed opportunity we have had to show forth the grace of God and bring His light into the world.
St. Ambrose of Optina says, “You must not be greatly troubled about many things, but you should care for the main thing — preparing yourself for death.”1 How are we to prepare for death if we neither cast aside our earthly cares nor remember death? Death forces us to constantly strive towards strengthening our relationship with God. In that sense, to ignore death is to ignore our life in Christ. At this point in our fallen world, we cannot hope to be in glory with Christ if we refuse to acknowledge our own death in sin.
The same goes for the Church herself. Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann writes, “By her very nature, the Church belongs to the end: to the ultimate reality of the ‘world to come’, the Kingdom of God… It is precisely her knowledge and constant partaking of the ‘end’ that relates the world, creates that correlation between the now and the not yet which is the very essence of her message to the world…”2 Walking into any Orthodox church should remind us of what awaits us at the end of our days: unending communion with God. This is what we must remember to strive towards every single day.
It is often in darkness that the light is most helpful and, not that I encourage people to seek out terrible experiences, I benefitted spiritually from my time in the morgue. While working the morgue, I was: anxious, physically and emotionally exhausted, and even depressed at times. But I also: prayed more, openly wept for those who had passed, prayed for the comforting of their families, had more sympathy for everyone I encountered, and stopped taking for granted all the blessings the Lord had provided me with. I’ve been able to work through a multitude of anxieties and place them all on God, as skill that is incredibly necessary in this day and age.
More often than not, our suffering can drive a wedge between us and the rest of the world. But we must remember that the beauty of our suffering lies in its universality. In suffering, we learn to appreciate life more, and we draw ourselves closer to each other and to Christ, who suffered for us all.
Working in the morgue left a lasting impression on me. While some days it does feel that the experience was entirely negative, I am grateful for it. It caused a wonderful spiritual shift within me that I am still trying to recapture to this day.
1. St. Ambrose of Optina. Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina
2. Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann. Church, World and Mission. B#72B pp. 10, 14