Eternal Paschal Joy and the Tragic Loss of Youth: A Reflection on Faith and Hope

Eternal Paschal Joy and the Tragic Loss of Youth: A Reflection on Faith and Hope

We are still in the days of Paschal joy, through which we renew the most important event in the Gospel – the event of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Church nourishes the faithful people with the words of the hymn that Christ “trampling down death by death and upon those in tombs bestowing life.” We embraced Pascha in our churches, together with families and relatives. 

On the way to church, we were accompanied by our parents, children and of course friends. I believe that each of us met in churches some familiar and unknown faces as well. We were all washed in the unrepeatable Paschal experience. We celebrated out Paschal traditions as previous years. With all those we love, we shared meals from the delicious table of love, painstakingly prepared by the hands of our family members.

While he was sitting in a bright vestment on the stone of the empty tomb of Christ, the Angel of the Lord comforted the myrrh-bearing women (the women disciples of Christ), and with them all of mankind, telling them to rejoice because Christ has risen from the dead. Comfort is a mild expression in relation to the essential importance of the very event of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, as well as for the consequences of this event for the life of every person who wants to lead his/her life according to Christ’s commandments.

Our Serbian community of the city of Chicago, as well as all people of good will, was shaken by the recent loss of a young and innocent life, just in the days of Paschal joy. A young man, Marko Niketic, unfortunately lost his life in a traffic accident. The family joy and preparations for his graduation were displaced by the news of his sudden death. The feeling of Easter joy was extinguished, while a large number of people waited in disbelief for details of the accident.

In addition, another young man, Alexander Cheyney, also from our diocese, from the parish of St. George the Great Martyr Serbian Orthodox Church in Kansas, tragically lost his life on the very feast of St. George the Great Martyr, which this year was commemorated right after Pascha (May 6). Both events are equally tragic and bitter.

Regardless of the fact that I did not have opportunity to meet either Alexander or Marko in person, their death deeply touched me. Especially since they passed away in the days of joy of Christ’s victory over death! Moreover, together with the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago as well as priests from other Serbian parishes and other Orthodox jurisdictions, I myself participated in a silent prayer for Marko, as well as for his bereaved family. I know the same was done with dignity at St. George’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Kansas.

Many gathered at the memorial service for the newly departed Marko. The faces of the youth, which is characterized by living a certain carefree and peaceful life, were outlined with sadness. Standing silently and observing the place of death, we heard the comforting words of the clergy. Who in their prayer reminded us that life is the most beautiful gift and that regardless of the fact how tragic death is and how much severe wounds leaves on our souls. That the event of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead is the only consolation and purpose for all those who are grieving and whose souls are dramatically broken in this very moment.

The pastoral care of the Church is to prayerfully watch over her flock, her spiritual children. The Church, in fact, exists not only to provide answers to the various doubts that each person has within himself/herself, but to testify lively by her mission in the world. That every human being exists because he is a being who has an ingrained need to give love and be loved, i.e. to have the innate need to live forever! 

However, opposing this existential need for life is death, as an insurmountable problem, as the enemy of every human being and creation in general. The Church’s consciousness, thus, is the only one that can provide us with a solution to this sorrowful reality, and it stands of particular importance to those who are in state of pain and hopelessness, and most often to those who constantly question why such a tragic event is happening to them and to the person they love so deeply. 

The whole story about life in the Church, as the Body of Christ and a path, of each person’s personal, living and above all authentic relationship with God, always and only depends on us, on our faith, and our willingness to enter into that authentic relationship with God. Someone who believes in Christ and accepts Christ and His invitation to the community of love, trying to live his life according to the commandments of God within the limits of his/her abilities, will perceive everything through the lense of the Resurrection. Isn’t all this already described in the encounters of suffering people with the Lord while he was preaching the Kingdom of Heaven and in their desperation to be healed by His word, while they professed faith in Christ as the Son of God?

Taught by these biblical examples, the Church provides prayerful consolation. The Church comforts us as it stands together with parents and relatives. She especially strengthening her prayers when it comes to the loss of a young life. The Church always encounters frightened youth and often silently sympathizes with their pain while recognizing in their eyes the justified fear of death. In fact, such events, when everyone asks the question about the purpose of life, are of inestimable importance in the dialogue between the Church and the youth. 

The primordial problem is the way of realizing of our freedom. There are two ways of our personal determination and it depends on us only which one we will adopt: the way that leads to God and the way that is against God. The most important moment is when a person recognizes (and admits to himself/herself) that his/her life essentially depends on God. On God Who will give them strength to fight for that freedom in Christ – and that is freedom released from death, pain, and every weakness. 

That is why we believe that each of us is obliged to carry our cross calmly, believing that God has not given anyone a cross that he cannot bear patiently in his short earthly life. It is elementary to design our life according to the truth of Christ and to try to make our life according to God. To build in us that relationship with God as described in Gospel. The God in Whom we desire not only to believe but also to entrust our whole life to His care. 

That is why every Christian should live his life as if every day were his last, making sure that the quality of his life is good. In one of his epistles, the Holy Apostle Peter talks about the fact that we should redeem time, thinking of the days that God has given us on earth, which we should fill with virtue and by multiplying our talents. Seen through that Christian perspective, our existence on earth, however long it lasts, will be justified. The Church believes in and preaches Christ Who is the God-man and Who conquered death. It is precisely from this fact that our hope and faith in eternal life springs, which is nothing but life with God and in God and after death. 

It is necessary to build a relationship of trust that will be a guidance for young people that the Church is the best refuge and the correct address for them and for  all those who are burdened with problems and for all those who simply want to entrust their lives to God. This is why we are convinced in many life situations that man has no control over his life because life itself is a great mystery and the ways of God’s providence are unsearchable and often unclear to humans. 

I recall one priest who lost a child. In a conversation with a man, he gave a useful answer to the question of how he deals with pain and sadness. His clear words, that the only comfort he finds is the event of Christ’s resurrection and that the story of Christ’s rising from the dead gives him comfort in moments of grief for his beloved child, remain engraved in his heart. He firmly believed that he would meet her again in the Kingdom of Heaven. This experience can only be understood through faith, and his words are worthy of every appreciation. I see these words as a guide for all of us, especially those who are going through such a painful experience.

May Mark’s and Alexander’s memory be eternal. They will live in many different ways in the memories of those who love and respect them immensely, and in whose hearts they were engraved with their wonderful and authentic attitude towards life in general. The Church will prayerfully commemorate them at services, praying that the Lord will establish their souls where the just repose.

On behalf of the Youth Department of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of New Gracanica Midwestern America, I express my deepest condolences to the families of the newly departed servants of God Marko and Alexander. 

Memory eternal. May the Risen Lord receive them in His arms.

Protodeacon Jovan Anicic, Director

The Youth Department 
The Diocese of New Gracanica Midwestern America

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