Meditations at a Graveyard

Photo: Richard Bell

During Great Lent, a dear friend of mine passed away. Ever since I was a child, she would always sit with us in the car as my mother drove to liturgy. At Christmas, we would look at each other excitedly and say, “Almost Pascha!” For it was almost pre-Lent, then Lent and then… Pascha! After which she would heartily laugh. 

Just one year before she died, on Holy Friday, I asked her if she was afraid of death. It was a cold, windy day, and we were eating fries – though she was hardly hungry. “No,” she said, “not at all.” She couldn’t explain it, but she had complete trust in God’s mercy and all-encompassing love. The only thing she regretted was that she couldn’t enjoy the time of her retirement, as she had only one year to go.

Ever since her leaving this world for the “great retirement” of her soul, the Paschal canon has taken on a different meaning for me. I find myself walking through the graveyard near my house, thinking about all the people who lie under the ground. Most graves are gray or black. Some have an angel standing on top of them. There are very few crosses. Every once in a while you see a grave covered with flowers. I imagine the wife or husband going to the grave every week, or perhaps every day, to be close to their beloved. Water the flowers.

Looking at all those graves, I can’t help but think of all those men and women dying on the battlefields in Ukraine and Syria. I think about their mothers wailing over their children. I think about the daughters wondering if their fathers will ever come back. I think about those who didn’t get a funeral and those who did.

Ever since my friend died, who was truly righteous in small and hidden ways, I have come to deeply love the hymns of the Orthodox funeral service: 

Thou hast created me from nothing
and honored me with Thine divine image.
But when I disobeyed Thy commandment,
Thou didst return me to the earth whence I was taken.
Lead me back again to Thy likeness,
refashioning my ancient beauty.

And it dawns on me that this gravity is perhaps the only or the deepest way to peace When I look at the graves, I don’t see enemies: I don’t see left-wing or right, I don’t see black or white, I don’t see Christian or Jewish. I see people, names, graves. I see myself in each one of them, who am likewise created out of nothing and will return to this same nothingness from which they are formed.

May Christ, who rose from the dead, granting life to all those in the tombs, give rest to those who died on the battlefield and those who died in the world. 

Memory eternal. 

Thirza Buijkx is Co-editor of In Communion and Secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.