st. Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid
Is it good to have a sudden death?
The letter is addressed to a certain clerk who had asked: "Is sudden death a good thing?"
You write that you have heard others say that they would like to die suddenly: If death is come either way, let it come unexpectedly, and immediately put an end to this life. It is better than suffering with sickness, and making others suffer. An expected death is horrible, but an unexpected one, not in the least. In your village a car ran over a woman and killed her instantly. This gave rise to varying opinions. Some said that such a death is the best. Another said concerning death: "Let it come, but let it not knaw at me." And so you write to me to ask for an explanation.
One must not wish for a sudden death, but one must be ready to die at any moment. This is what the Church teaches us. There are composed prayers to God, asking the Lord to guard us from various misfortunes including sudden death. He, in Whose power are life and death, acts according to His Holy Providence to the benefit of the souls of men, gathering them to Himself or leaving them for a time here on this earth. Most often He gives sudden death to sinners, but sometimes (although rarely) to the righteous. Do we not read in the Old Testament about how the lord punished the sons of Aaron for their self-willed censing with sudden death? And Bananas and Sapphire fell lifeless suddenly, when they lied to the Apostle. Many persecutors of Christians were struck down with sudden death, and one can read about these in the lives of the martyrs for Christ. True, it happens sometimes that a righteous one dies suddenly. Such was the case with St Athanasius of Athos. While he was building something, a wall fell and buried him and several monastics.
In sending sudden death to sinners, the Lord is pursuing two goals: to punish those sinners and to frighten the ones left behind, so they might not sin. When Ananias and his wife Sapphira died suddenly, a great fear fell upon the whole Church and upon all that heard of this. When people rely too much on some righteous one and begin to exalt and deify him, as was the case with St Athanasias, the Lord takes the soul of the righteous one suddenly, to show people that only He is God, that there is no other God beside Him. Nevertheless, occurrences of sudden death teach a distinct lesson to those remaining in the body, namely: all must contemplate their own death and unceasingly prepare their souls, through repentance, prayer and, almsgiving, for an imminent translation to the other world. It has been said that the famous Elder Nikita of Valaam Monastery (+1907) was very fearful of sudden death and constantly prayed to God that before his death, He send him some sickness - the harsher and longer the better - so that, as he himself would say. "…at least through the endurance of sickness to propitiate the Righteous Judge, Who, if He wants, can consider this my virtuous deed, for I have no others." Another Righteous one, lying on his deathbed, comforted his friends with the words: "I suffered for nine months to appear in this world; is it then a long time for me to suffer nine months to leave it?" In actuality, [to endure] sickness before dying is very important. It has brought eternal salvation to many sinners. Thousands of people have discovered God and their souls in sickness suffered before death, and having acknowledged two very important things, about which they had not thought throughout their whole lives, have repented bitterly, have mourned over their foolish life, have taken Communion. Cleansed by their tears and purified by the Blood of Christ, they were found worthy to enter into the Heavenly gates. Therefore, sickness prior to death comes by God's Mercy. Do not be concerned that poor relatives and friends will suffer while being close to us at the hour of our death. This will only be to their benefit - the Lord and Creator will reward them a hundred-fold. Peace be unto you and the Lord's blessing!