I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord.

Psalm 130:5-6

One of the hymns from the funeral service reads “Alas! What a struggle it is for the soul to separate from the body” (Servants and Sacraments, Book Three, by Reverend Spencer T. Kezios, Northridge, CA: Narthex Press, 1995, p. 17).  I would imagine that the final struggle that the soul has is a conflict between a longing for God and a love of family. Imagine the two eyes of our bodies—one looks at God and sees His majesty, as He beckons us to return to Him. The other sees the family, the friends, the life we’ve known, the joys we’ve had. And now there is a conflict. The conflict eventually ends because a person’s body shuts down. However, this conflict, I believe, can be resolved more quickly if the family gives the person dying the permission to put both eyes on God and go to Him. In a sense you might say that the family breaks the tie. In the previous reflection, we talked about the gift of freedom, and the ultimate gift of freedom one gives to a loved one is the freedom to go to God.

And it happens just by saying it. Many times, families are begging and pleading for someone to hold on and there literally is a struggle for life to end, almost like an internal conflict going on inside the person who is dying, who doesn’t want to disappoint loved ones by “giving up.” There are other times that family members go one by one and express that it’s okay for their loved one to go to God, and then this happens quickly and peacefully. There are other examples where almost everyone in the family is ready to let go except one person who is holding out, pleading for their loved one to keep fighting and then there are fights within families for this person to let go. I’ve seen all of these things in ministry and they can leave a lot of residual pain and guilt after the eventual death occurs.

I remember when I was a kid that many of my peers enjoyed jumping rope. I wasn’t one of them, I was never really very coordinated with that. When two people were swinging one rope, the person jumping could just begin jumping when the swinging of the one rope began. When there were two ropes involved, double-jumping, the two people who were swinging two ropes each began swinging the ropes in opposite directions. The person who was about to jump stood outside the area where the ropes were swinging, and using their arms, began to time the ropes and when the timing was down for everyone, jumped in the middle and began jumping rope. It is important that a family helps someone who is dying “get their timing down” so to speak, so that they are in the proper spiritual and emotional rhythm to pass away from this life painless, blameless and peaceful, as we have been discussing throughout this unit. Part of that timing is spiritual—receiving Holy Communion, confession, and prayer from a priest. Part of that timing is physical—and this is the pain management and medical care offered by the medical professionals. And part of the timing is emotional—and this falls on the family, to help loved ones prepare to pass away, and at the appropriate time, to actually encourage them by telling them it is okay to go.

The purpose of life is to attain salvation, to enter into everlasting life. This is our final “home.” The purpose of marriage, for those who are married, is mutual salvation, for each spouse to help the other to attain salvation. The ultimate gift of a family to a loved one, whether it is a grandparent, parent, spouse, friend, or sadly, even a child, is to help them get safely “home” to the Kingdom of God, which at some point will be the gentle nudge that it is okay to go to God. It is often at this point that the struggle ends and peaceful passing occurs.

The words of Psalm 130:5-6 are the words that ideally enter into the mind of someone who is at the end of life: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord.  These are words we should each pray during times of illness, as we struggle to maintain patience and focus amidst pain and discomfort. The words of a loving family could be a response to this Psalm, by saying to a loved one “Go to the Lord, for Whom you have been waiting so patiently.”

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, let those who hate Him flee before Him! As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God! But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song to Him who rides upon the clouds; His name is the Lord, exult before Him. Psalm 68:1-4
Blessed be the Lord who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation; and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death. Psalm 68:19-20

There is a struggle, at times, for the soul to separate from the body. Because one eye looks to God and the other looks back to family. Among the greatest gifts we can give to our loved ones is the permission to go to God, to “break the tie” and end the struggle in a way that is painless, blameless and peaceful.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here: https://amzn.to/3nVPY5M


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