On the Remembrance of Death
by St. Ignaty (Brianchaninov)
A monk should remember every day, and several times a day, that he is faced with
inevitable death, and eventually he should even attain to the unceasing remembrance of
Our mind is so darkened by the fall that unless we force ourselves to remember death we
can completely forget about it. When we forget about death, then we begin to live on earth
as if we were immortal, and we sacrifice all our activity to the world without concerning
ourselves in the least either about the fearful transition to eternity or about our fate
in eternity. Then we boldly and peremptorily override the commandments of Christ; then we
commit all the vilest sins; then we abandon not only unceasing prayer but even the prayers
appointed for definite timeswe begin to scorn this essential and indispensable
occupation as if it were an activity of little importance and little needed. Forgetful of
physical death, we die a spiritual death.
On the other hand, he who often remembers the death of the body rises from the dead in
soul.  He lives on earth like a stranger in an inn or like a prisoner in gaol,
constantly expecting to be called out for trial or execution. Before his eyes the gates
into eternity are always open. He continually looks in that direction with spiritual
anxiety, with deep sorrow and reflection. He is constantly occupied with wondering what
justify him at Christ's terrible Judgment and what his sentence will be. This sentence
decides a person's fate for the whole of eternity. No earthly beauty, no earthly pleasure
draws his attention or his love. He condemns no one, for he remembers that at the judgment
of God such judgment will be passed on as he passed here on his neighbours. He forgives
everyone everything, that he may himself obtain forgiveness and inherit salvation. He is
indulgent with all, he is merciful in that indulgence and mercy may be shown to him. He
welcomes and embraces with joy every trouble or trial that comes to him as a toll for his
sins in time which frees him from toll in eternity. If the thought comes to him to be
proud of virtue, at once the remembrance of death rushes against this thought, puts it to
shame, exposes the nonsense and drives it away.
What significance can our virtue have in the judgment of God? What value can our virtue
have in the eyes of God to Whom even Heaven is impure?  Remind and remind yourself:
"I shall die, I shall die for certain! My fathers and forefathers died; no human
being has remained forever on earth. And the fate that has overtaken everyone awaits me
too!" Do not fritter away the time given you for repentance. Do not rivet your eyes
to the earth on which you are a momentary actor, on which you are an exile, on which by
the mercy of God you are given a chance to change your mind and offer repentance for the
avoidance of hell's eternal prisons and the eternal torment in them. Use the short spell
of your pilgrimage on earth to acquire a haven of peace, a blessed refuge in eternity.
Plead for the eternal possession by renouncing every temporal possession, by renouncing
everything carnal and natural in the realm of our fallen nature. Plead by the fulfillment
of Christ's commandments. Plead by sincere repentance for the sins you have committed.
Plead by thanking and praising God for all the trials and troubles sent you. Plead by an
abundance of prayer and psalmody. Plead by means of the Jesus Prayer and combine with it
the remembrance of death.
These two activitiesthe Jesus Prayer and the remembrance of deatheasily
merge into one activity. From the prayer comes a vivid remembrance of death, as if it were
a foretaste of it: and from this foretaste of death the prayer itself flares up more
It is essential for the ascetic to remember death. This remembrance is essential for
his spiritual life. It protects the spiritual life of the monk from harm and corruption by
self-confidence,  to which the ascetic and attentive life can lead unless it is guarded
by the remembrance of death and God's Judgment. It is a great disaster for the soul to set
any value on one's own effort or struggle, and to regard it as a merit in the sight of
God. Admit that you deserve all earthly punishment as well as the eternal torments. Such
an appraisal of yourself will be the truest, the most salutary for your soul, and the most
pleasing to God.
Frequently enumerate the eternal woes that await sinners. By frequently docketing these
miseries make them stand vividly before your eyes. Acquire a foretaste of the torments of
hell so that at the graphic remembrance of them your soul may shudder, may tear itself
away from sin, and may have recourse to God with humble prayer for mercy, putting all your
hope in His infinite goodness and despairing of yourself. Recall and represent to yourself
the terrible measureless subterranean gulf and prison which constitute hell. The gulf or
pit is called bottomless.  Precisely! That is just what it is in relation to men. The
vast prison of hell has many sections and many different kinds of torment and torture by
which every man is repaid according to the deeds he has done in the course of his earthly
life. In all sections imprisonment is eternal, the torments eternal. There insufferable,
impenetrable darkness reigns, and at the same time the unquenchable fire burns there, with
an ever equal strength. There is no day there. There it is always eternal night. The
stench there is insupportable, and it cannot be compared with the foulest earthly fetor.
The terrible worm of hell never slumbers or sleeps. It gnaws and gnaws, and devours the
prisoners of hell without impairing their wholeness or destroying their existence, and
without ever being glutted itself. Such is the nature of all the torments of hell; they
are worse than any death, but they do not produce death. Death is desired in hell much as
life is desired on earth. Death would be a comfort all the prisoners of hell. It is not
for them. Their fate is unending life for unending suffering. Lost souls in hell are
tormented by the insufferable executions with which the eternal on of those rejected by
God abounds; they are tormented by the unendurable grief; they are tormented there by most
ghastly disease of the soul: despair.
Acknowledge that you are sentenced to hell for eternal torment, from that
acknowledgment there will be born in your heart irresistible and mighty cries of prayer
that they will incline God to have mercy on you, and He will lead into Paradise instead of
You who consider yourselves deserving of earthly and heavenly rewards! For you hell is
more dangerous than for flagrant sinners because the gravest sin among all the sins is
self-opinion, self-confidencea sin of the spirit invisible mortal eyes and which is
often covered with a mask of humility.
The remembrance and consideration of death was practised the greatest of the holy
Fathers. Of Pachomius the Great the author of his life says that he 'maintained himself
constantly in fear of God with the remembrance of the eternal torments pains which have no
endthat is, with the remembrance of unquenchable fire and the undying worm. By this
means Pachomius kept himself from evil and roused to the better.' 
1. Ephes. 2:1-6; Col. 3: 1; Rom. 8:11, 36; Heb: 11: 13-16; 2 Cor. 4: 10.
2. Job. 15:15.
3. Lit. self-opinion: it includes conceit and confidence in one's own efforts.
4. Rev. 20: 1-3.
5. Vita sancti Pachomii, abbatis Tabennensis. Patrologia, Tom. XXIII.
From The Arena: An
Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, by Bishop Ignaty (Brianchaninov), translated
from the Russian by Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery,
1991), pp. 66-78. This is one of the most important books for our times on the
spiritual life. Do not let the title fool you. Though written primarily as an
"offering to contemporary [late 19th century] monasticism," it contains much
wisdom for laypeople as well. The Arena represents a portion of the works
written late in his life, reflecting his extensive experience, balance, and
patristic wisdom. This book cannot be too highly recommended for all serious