My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
A BLESSING OFFERED AT THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN FUNERAL SERVICE
O God of all spirits and flesh, Who has trodden down death, destroying the power of the devil, bestowing life on Your world: to the soul of Your servant (Name) departed this life, do You Yourself, O Lord, give rest in a place of Light, in a place of green pasture, in a place of refreshment, from where pain and sorrow and mourning are fled away. Every sin by him (her) committed in thought, word, or deed, do You as our Good and Loving God forgive, seeing that there is no man that shall live and sin not, for You alone are without sin: Your righteousness, and Your law is Truth. For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Your servant (Name), O Christ our God; and to You do we send up Glory, as to Your Eternal Father and Your All-Holy, Good, and Life-creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
DEATH, THE THRESHOLD TO ETERNAL LIFE (Part II)
Death and the End of the World
All things that had to be done for the salvation of man who fell from grace and the honor in which God had placed him, all that had to be done for the salvation of us sinners, who are guilty before God, have been accomplished. Now our eternal salvation is assured, the road which leads to Paradise has been opened up to all of us and the Kingdom of Heaven has become our inheritance. What are we waiting for to happen so that all these things will be realized and we will thus be glorious citizens of Paradise and blessed heirs of the Kingdom of heaven, which is the Kingdom of God our Heavenly Father? We await two things: our own personal death and the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Of course, since, as the God-inspired Apostle states, "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Hebrews 9:27), this life shall pass and leave, like a dream and a fantasy, and before we can well realize it, we shall find ourselves facing death and standing before the grave. Death, this harsh and relentless visitor, shall come uninvited; with the reaper that he holds in his hands, he shall harvest us all, each one in turn. Thus, we shall depart from this life and shall find ourselves in the next life. We shall be transported from this life to the future and eternal life. We shall leave in order to appear before God. And this shall occur with all people up to the end of time and the end of the world. Then at the end of the ages, "We shall not all sleep" i.e., not all men shall have died, as Saint Paul says, "but we shall all be changed"; from corruptible we shall be changed into incorruptible (beings) (1 Corinthians 15:51). The trumpet of the Archangel shall sound and then all these things shall occur. But simultaneously the world shall also change, as the Psalmist says in the Book of Psalms: "They (the heavens) shall perish...and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them and they shall be changed" (Psalm 101:27). Just as the Evangelists announce so shall it occur at the end of the world, and the Lord's Second Coming (St. Matthew 24:29-35; St. Mark 13:24-27; St. Luke 21:25-27). All shall perish, all shall change. They shall change and receive a new, a higher form and structure. The Earth shall change and man shall no longer exist on Earth. Then we shall have the completion of all things, animate and inanimate, material and spiritual; then shall we have the completion of the work of man's redemption. Whatever occurred and occurs for man's salvation will occur until then, and only until then. From that moment on, all things end and are completed. Whosoever accepted salvation with faith and dedication to Christ, accepted it and was saved. And whosoever rejected and refused to recognize Christ as the Savior and his God has rejected salvation and has been condemned. The believer shall be in paradise. The unbelieving and unrepentant sinner shall be in hell. Change and repentance cannot take place in the next world. This is the end and completion of all things.
"It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Death is followed by Judgment. Just as it is the universal law that every man who is born into this world shall die--save those who shall be alive at the Second Coming--similarly the future judgment is the universal law for all people. This is the teaching of our holy Faith, since we say that our Lord shall come to judge both the living and the dead, and since Saint Paul emphasizes as we have said: "we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51). And then, in whatever state death shall find us, he shall take us, and thus shall each remain forever. If he finds one faithless, sinful and unrepentant, he shall remain in that state. After death there is no repentance or salvation, as we have already said and emphasized. And if death finds one in faith and repentance, in virtue and sanctity, he shall remain virtuous and holy. After death neither does the Saint become a sinner nor the sinner a Saint. And then a type of judgment takes place: that which we call here partial judgment. That is, the righteous separate in a definite manner from the sinners, and the living soul with all its senses and powers, presenses and foretastes, to a certain degree, that which it shall experience in the final degree after the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment. The soul of the righteous foretastes and experiences the beneficences of heaven and Paradise, as we have said. The soul of the sinner foretastes and experiences the fearful sufferings of Hell. Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews says the following which characterize the enjoyment of the blessing of Paradise by the righteous: "And these we all (i.e., the righteous), having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:39-40). And this is the Partial Judgment: the temporary--though it may last possibly for thousands of years--separation of the righteous from the unrighteous, and the foretaste of Paradise by the faithful or Hell by the unbelieving and unrepentant sinners. Did he do good? Then in goodness does he go towards God and enjoy and rejoice and exalt immediately after his death. Did he do evil? He is separated from God and punished, and experiences suffering and sadness even before the Second Coming and the Final and General Judgment takes place.
As concerns the righteous' foretasting of the benevolences of the Kingdom of God, Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "Every good and God-beloved soul...when it has been released by death from the body with which it was united...immediately experiences the joy and pleasures which it shall enjoy in full measure in the future...And though now immediately after death the enjoyment is small, after, when it shall again receive its body with the resurrection of the dead, it shall enjoy blessings in perfect measures".
And Saint John Chrysostom says: "There those present continuously and constantly enjoy God the King...as being both present and as adoring all those present with the splendor of His very own glory".
Most of all, it is Saint Paul who confirms the fact that the faithful and righteous man is with Christ immediately after his death, when he says: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain... For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ" (Philippians 1:21, 23).
This is made clear by the Holy Fathers Saints Chrysostom and Blessed Augustine who say: "After death no unrepentant person can escape the consequences of his sins, but just as prisoners are led out of their cells bound in chains and brought before the court, so are all souls when they depart hence, they bring with themselves their chains of sins before the Dread Judgment seat." (Source: Our Orthodox Christian Faith by Athanasios S. Frangopoulos, Theologian and Preacher)
The Role of Repentance
The Theme of the preaching of Jesus Christ is the interrelation of the Kingdom of God and the repentance of man. The proclamation of the emancipation from the bondage of sin, fear and superstition is uttered by Jesus Christ calling everyone throughout the centuries to, "Repent; for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (St. Matthew 5:17). In his earthly life, man is able to use his moral abilities to choose between good and evil, and to effect a change from bad practices to Christian ones. The Kingdom of God, or of Heaven, is the realm of Everlasting Life in the presence of the countenance of God-the realm to which Jesus Christ is leading the lost sheep. Repentance is not merely penance and regret for bad actions. Repentance is, rather, the human reaction to the appeal of Jesus Christ, and its result is joy over a new birth. It is a unique transformation from a vague belief to a firm faith in the True God and His Kingdom. By such a repentance the adherent attains a communion with God on earth which is destined to endure forever. His repentance is a constant working for the establishment of the Will of God among his fellow men. Love of God and love of neighbor in everyday life, without discrimination and distortion, are the nourishment of repentance in relation to the Kingdom of God. By fulfilling the Will of God, and with His inspiration and His help, the penitent learns the language of the future land and studies the map of that Kingdom.
Faith can change the appearance of death. With this understanding of repentance in relation to the Kingdom of God and in the name of Jesus Christ, the faithful can change the power and fear of death. It is true that death was the cause of fear in the past, because people did not believe in the hope of salvation. But faith can change the dreadful appearance of death, and to do this the individual believer must prepare himself for the glorious departure from this earth. To neglect such a preparation is either atheism or a giving up of all genuine, active faith in God. In both cases, the Orthodox Christian is not worthy of his claims, and it would be better for him to deny his Christian heritage entirely. Lukewarm faith is not much better than no faith at all, "So then because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16).
Judgment of the soul according to its faith and deeds (works) on earth is an unquestioned teaching of the Holy Gospel. It is also a self-evident demand of human nature and reasoning. The Christian Church places this judgment at the very moment of the death of the individual believer for two reasons:
1. Any moral progress of the soul is excluded after its separation from the body; and
2. There is no hope of repentance or betterment after death.
The moral progress of the soul, either for better or for worse, ends at the very moment of the separation of the body and the soul; at that very moment the definite destiny of the soul in the everlasting life is decided. (see Androutsos Dogmatics p. 409). It will be judged not according to its deeds one by one, but according to the entire total results of its deeds and thoughts. The Orthodox Church believes that at this moment the soul of the dead person begins to enjoy the consequences of its deeds and thoughts on earth-that is, to enjoy the life in Paradise or to undergo the life in Hell. There is no way of repentance, no way of escape, no reincarnation and no help from the outside world. Its place is decided forever by its Creator and Judge.
"Alas! What an agony the soul endures when from the body it is parting; how many are her tears for weeping, but there is none that will show compassion: unto the Angels she turns with downcast eyes; useless are her supplications; and unto men she extends her imploring hands, but finds none to bring her rescue. Thus, my beloved brethren, let us all ponder well how brief is the span of our life..." (Funeral Service: St. John of Damascus)
The Orthodox Church does not believe in Purgatory (a place of purging) as is in the Latin or Roman Catholic church, that is the intermediate state after death in which the souls of the saved (those who have not received temporal punishment for their sins) are purified of all taint preparatory to entering into Heaven, where every soul is perfect and fit to see God. Also, the Orthodox Church does not believe in indulgences (Roman Catholic practice) as remissions from purgatorial punishment. Both Purgatory and Indulgences are intercorrelated theories, unwitnessed in the Holy Scripture or in the Ancient Christian Church, and when they were enforced and applied, they brought about evil practices at the expense of the prevailing Truths of the Church. If Almighty God in His merciful loving-kindness changes the dreadful situation of the sinner, it is unknown to the Church of Christ. The Church lived for fifteen hundred years without such a theory.
The Final (Last) Judgment is not an act of overthrowing, the judgment of the soul at the time of its separation from the body, but rather to effect a union with the transformed, risen body with which the soul will continue to live forever. After the separation, the soul is conscious and consequently, feels, understands, and in general exercises all the energies of the soul (Revelation 6:9-10, 7:15; 1 Peter 3:19; Hebrews 12:23; St. Luke 16:27-28). The word "sleep", by which death is characterized, does not refer to the soul, but to the body. In St. Matthew 27:52, we read that many Saints who had fallen asleep, were raised. The Last Judgment will take place on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, a strong belief of the Church recorded in The Creed (Symbol of Faith) that "He (Jesus Christ shall come again with glory to judge the quick (living) and the dead." The time of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is not known and, according to Revelation, cannot be conjectured by any means.
Christ the Author of Salvation, Judgment and Ever-lasting Life. In short, in regards to death we are confronted with salvation, judgment, and everlasting life in the name of Jesus Christ. The Christian is assured of two things: that he/she will find the means of salvation in Christ and His True Church and that his/her future destiny depends upon his/her present life. (Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God