Valuable lesson in Korea about overcoming death

The death of a fellow human being, and especially a sudden one, rarely can have as many missionary dimensions and impact as the death of a faithful Greek young man had in Korea.

The group of iconographers from Greece with their Greek, Korean and Taiwanese assistants, forty in number, were in the newly built church of the Dormition of the Virgin in the city of Jeonju. Being like a blessed beehive, some of them were up on the high scaffolding, drawing or painting, while others were on the first floor of the church working on various auxiliary tasks. Suddenly the sad news came over the phone: the twenty one year old student X., brother of one of the members of the volunteer iconographers, had died in a car accident! The parents of the deceased, devastated, did not have the courage to announce the tragic event to their other child who was so far away in Korea. They called the Bishop and entrusted him with this difficult task. With admirable composure, the mother tried at this difficult time to put her words in order while the father was content to say: “Our child is now an angel in Heaven!”

After the end of the conversation, the Bishop discreetly informed all the members of the mission, one by one, about the tragic event, and told them that shortly after a Memorial Service would be held for the repose of the soul of X. He asked them to pray so that he himself would find a suitable way to speak to the brother of the deceased. The moments were tough. Everyone was shocked. There was a quiet sadness.

The meeting with N. took place inside the chapel of the church, where the baptistery is located. When N., the brother of the deceased, heard the sad news, he spontaneously crossed himself and said: “Glory be to you, O Lord. The only thing that concerns me is that if my brother was ready for Heaven!”

Everyone was waiting outside the baptistery of the holy church for the Memorial. The Service began with restrained sobs. The brother of the deceased young man in Greece was in the psalter singing the funeral hymns with other members of the iconographers. During the prayer “May his memory be eternal”, everyone knelt down, following the Korean tradition of honoring the deceased. At the end, the hymn “Christ is Risen” was sung three times, thus spreading the hope of the Resurrection. In a few consoling words, which the Bishop uttered, he emphasised that faith in the resurrection of the dead is the only fact that can truly be comforting. Then everyone, one after the other, expressed their condolences to N. for the rest of his brother’s soul. Surprisingly, Koreans, who do not easily express their feelings with words and gestures, outdid themselves by hugging N. and expressing their support through tears.

After the end of the Memorial Service, we heard N. saying: “Now, after the Memorial Service I feel peace in my heart. That is what I needed!” The spiritual uplifting of everyone’s heart was completed when we learned from Greece that X., the day before his tragic death, had gone to Confession and had expressed to his grandmother his true joy for his participation in the Sacrament of Confession.

Among the forty-member group of iconographers there were several Korean Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians who participated in the project. To everyone, the late X.’s death as well as the way it was faced by his brother N., served as a great teacher of the Orthodox ethos. What the Orthodox Koreans had theoretically been taught during their Catechism lessons about overcoming death in the light of Christ’s Resurrection, they saw it applied in practice. And for the heterodox Koreans and Taiwanese it worked as a dynamic testimony of the Orthodox faith and life.

Τhe daily Service of the Small Paraklesis (Intercessory Prayer) to the Most Holy Theotokos sung as a preparation for the upcoming great feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, also had a magical effect on the souls of all of us and taught us the abolition of death and decay, through the death of Christ: “From death and corruption He has saved my nature, held by death and corruption; for unto death He Himself has surrendered; for which reason, O Virgin, please intercede with Him Who is your Lord and Son, from the enemies’ evils deliver me.”

May the memory of our late brother X. be eternal, and may the Leader of life and death bestow upon his loved ones the strength and consolation from above.

Athanasia Contogiannakopoulos