If you die before you die, you will not die when you die

I saw this in a Greek Orthodox monastery: “If you die before you die, you will not die when you die”

What can they mean by it?

One possibility: If you accept the fact that there is no personal “you”, that we are all essentially part of the “Oneness” of the universe, that is, if before you die you accept that your earthly identity is an illusion (“if you die before you die”), then, when you die, it will not be a big deal, you are not really dying (“you will not die when you die”)

But, that is strange, coming from Greek Orthodox monks, since Christianity (at least the version told to the masses) says that you have a unique soul that continues after you die, so in some sense you still have a unique identity after death, which goes against the “Oneness” interpretation. (Unless the Greek Orthodox monks have a different theory about the world and the afterlife than what they tell the masses.)

Anyway, what do you guys think they could mean by the above phrase?

Or, more broadly, that by not really living your life, you life loses much of its meaning, so that your death also loses much of its meaning (and its sting). Such as the ascetic, emasculated lives lived by religious monks.

The cult horror movie Carnival of Souls illustrates this idea. CoS is about an attractive, young church organist who lives her life in a tentative, alienated way – in other words, she’s not fully living her life. When she gets killed in a car accident, her soul fails to realize her fate (her life, and thus her death, has come to mean that little). Only after soldering on with her unsatisfactory life for some time afterwards, and being repeatedly approached by a scary ghostly apparition beckoning her to follow him, does she connect the dots.

Could it be a reminder to be prepared and ready for death at all times, much like “live each day like it’s your last?”

My WAG is that Baptism is occasionally referred to as “dying to sin” (as the flip side of being “born again”). Romans 6: 1 - 12

But why would monks have this posted in their living quarters?

To me, it seems like a daily reminder of something important, so why do they need a daily reminder about the impertance of baptism?

Let me offer a Lenten hymn which may help clarify the usage:

I think the idea is that your old sinful self has to die to in order for you to be born again in Christ and live forever.

So the phrase reads like this:

“If you (ie - your old sinful self) die (ie -stops) before you die [your physical death,] you will not die (ie - be cast into the lake of fire) when you die [your physical death.]”

It strikes me as a very Pauline sort of expression.

perhaps something went a wry in the translation??

i’m thinking it is a monk thing. when one becomes a monastic in the orthodox church part of the service is a funeral for the monastic’s former identity. demetrious sophoklees “dies” and monk dionysious is born. tradition is that the monastic only uses the name given during the service from then on; no last names, some are strict enough that there can be no more contact with family, some will give exception for parents. some have stuck a toe into western tradition and will have old last name in para. (nee sophoklees).

therefore one would be considered virtually dead. hopefully, being a good monastic, will help you into life everlasting after your corporal death. thereby you would not die when you die.

If this is true, then that would help explain why the monks have this saying.

Interestingly, I just did a Google search for “if you die before you die”, and got lots of results, most of which state that this is a Buddhist saying.

Why do Greek Orthodox monks have a Buddhist saying in their monastery?

Actually this idea is quite common in the mystic tradition. The idea that one must go through ones death in order to live forever. It’s the point of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Some people smoke Di-Methyl Tryptamine in order to feel the experience. In the Christian context this is the point of being born again. We waste so much of our lives worrying about death we wasted as was pointed out with the “Carnival of Souls” example.

We cling to our identities so strenuously that we will follow them into our own death rather than let go of who we think we are. To remove this false identity, we must ‘die’. One the false identity has died, one is free to live their life with the truer version of self.

To illustrate lets think of Billy the Star Quarterback. In High School he was top dog. He never is able to top his glory days in HS. He clings to this idea of star quarterback even though it is hurting him and he’s wasting his life. He’s unable to assume a new identity beyond that star quarterback, and he follows it into his physical death. If he died before he died, he could free himself of that star quarterback self-image and create a new one that he can be proud of. This is a mundane example because it goes much deeper into one’s habits, like whether or not you have a nervous tick, you like to argue, pick your nose, or are a workaholic.

All habits are bad for you. There is no such thing as a good habit, because a habit is the idea that things MUST BE a certain way in a situation rather than taking every situation by itself and tailoring the solution particularly for that situation. A habit is a rote response to something, and it may very well solve the problem, but it wasn’t done with awareness.


it is an eastern religion… monastics are monastics… trying to be at one with all, seeing that which is unseen, etc. as far as i know orthodox monastics don’t have nifty fighting styles.

It reminds me of the following:

which relates to the ideas of “dying to sin” or “dying to self” that have already been mentioned.

I wanna see an alt-history in which Orthodox ninjas beat back Mohammed’s forces in the 600-700s, and later the Bolsheviks in 1917!

Btw, Polycarp’s cite of the Lenten poem is right on.
Revelant JC quote from Matthew 10:
39. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

I can’t find the collection or the story at the moment, but there’s a remarkable short story by Harry Turtledove on St. Mahmoud of Damascus, the famous mystic monk who was born in Mekkah and converted to Christianity, where he became renowned for his piety, humility, and mystic insights. Yeah, he’s just who you figured he is. :slight_smile:


I don’t know about a short story by him with that theme, but it is a plot point in his novel AGENT OF BYZANTIUM, about a soldier working for the undivided Catholic Orthodox Empire who falls for a female agent of the arising Manichean Persian Empire.

Yep. That was the first thing I thought of.

It means that if you kill the part of yourself that is killing you…you will not be killed when you should have been killed.

repent now…

I don’t get it.

The conceit of the story is that Muhammed converted to Christianity at a young age and became a celebrated Christian saint rather than founding Islam.

I think this is kind of the closest one.

Nevertheless, I think a little clarification is needed to give it a more “Orthodox” style. The death of the sinful self could be translated more like the death of pride (which is also the opposite of love). So, if you die to pride and live in love and humility (which is also called Life in orthodox tradition, you can also find it as the “uncreated light of God”), then you have already defeated Death (as opposite to Life) and, therefore, your physical death will not matter. To quote Dostoyevski: “How could God let me die, if he is thus preventing me from loving Him?” (Not exact quote, Demons, last words of Stepan Trofimovich).

“If you (ie - your pride) die (ie- you start loving) before you die [your physical death] you will not die (ie- be abandoned by God) when you die [your physical death].”

Finally, I would not so surely label Orthodoxy as “Eastern” religion. One could be surprised by the amount of “Westernness” found there. But this is a topic for another discussion.