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.
FROM THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN FUNERAL SERVICE
Epistle Lesson: First Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:3-18)
Priest: Wisdom. Let us attend.
Reader: "Brethren, we would not have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the Archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
Priest: Peace be to you who read. And with your spirit.
Cantor: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Priest: Wisdom! Attend! Let us hear the Holy Gospel. Peace be to all.
Cantor: And with your spirit.
Priest: The reading from the Holy Gospel of Saint John.(St. John 5:24-30) Let us attend.
Cantor: Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.
Priest: "The Lord said to those Jews which had come to Him: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, and has given Him the authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of Him Who sent me."
Cantor: Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.
DEATH, THE THRESHOLD TO ETERNAL LIFE
"The Orthodox Church has a full and very precise teaching on the question of the constitution of man, the nature of the soul, the relationship between the body and the soul, the nature of death, Paradise and Hell, and the general destiny of man. This teaching is contained in the writings of the God-bearing Fathers and Teachers of the Church--most notably in the writings of the ascetics and mystics--in the lives of the Saints, and in the Church's Hymnography and Iconography" (The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching).
"Death is without doubt the most perplexing subject known to man. The wisest of the secular sages throughout the centuries of human existence have not been able to unravel, or fully reveal the cause and ultimate meaning of, this dilemma. Even less have they been able to help man to deal with properly. "Only the Christian Faith, which holds fast to the word of the resurrection, offers a certain, a secure and a sure hope for victory over death. And this hope is a gift of God" (The Mystery of Death, p. 114).
We live in a society that worships the body and material possessions (vanity, hedonism, and materialism) and cares next to nothing for the soul. Suicide is near an all time high--especially among the young--because of the tremendous despair that is generated when a soul made in the image of God is confronted with the meaninglessness and fragmentation of life without God in the modern world. Orthodox Christianity has an answer to all of these contemporary issues, and offers sure hope for those who are at the end of their rope. As our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (St. Matthew 16:26).
For the Orthodox Christian a proper understanding of eternal life is essential to living in a God-pleasing, joyous, virtues and fulfilled manner on earth. Orthodox Christians understand that Hell is a choice; that a person's view of the future determines how he or she lives in the present life; and that, as Saint Isaac of Syria wrote: "This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits." Meditation upon one's own death and the Judgment that awaits him is not something that promotes morbid introspection, but rather the true repentance that leads to the fullness of life and joy in Christ.
"Death is not the end; it is the beginning of the true life that awaits us beyond the grave, if indeed we have begun to live it here. Christ, "the resurrection and the life" (St. John 11:25), came, was crucified, resurrected, ascended to heaven and waits for us there, as He assured us: "I go (to heaven) to prepare a place for you" (St. John 14:2). Therefore, death does not reveal our finiteness; our infiniteness, our eternity. This is why the Christian meditates and ponders upon the mystery of death in a way that is productive, positive and dynamic. For this present life is an arena in which the great battle is waged for the sake of immortality and eternity."
Death constitutes the last chapter of the history of our human life. In many cases the understanding of death penetrates the whole life and is the red thread throughout the activities and volition of human beings. Death is a unique episode at the end of the life of man, and as such it is the object of important studies by the philosopher, the scientist, and the ordinary man. No other episode of human life as death equalizes the aspirations, demands, and ranks of men-as the prophet cries: "I meditate among the tombs...and I say, who is a king, or rich, or poor, or just, or a sinner?"
Death is a mystery, and only in the light of everlasting life, in the name of Jesus Christ, has its dreadful threat been transformed into a happy and victorious event for the believer. The Holy Apostle Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, beginning with Chapter 15:50, gives an account of the Christian understanding of death, saying:
"When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory." (1 Cor. 15:54)
The Christian should not neglect his earthly life. The Christian belief in everlasting life does not mean that our earthly life has no meaning and should be neglected. On the contrary, the truth is that the everlasting life of an Orthodox Christian begins with his earthly life. This earthly life of ours has the merits, gifts, and purposes which our Creator has bestowed on it. Especially after the enlightenment brought about by the teaching of Jesus Christ and His divine Gospel, the earthly life of an Orthodox Christian is the workshop of his future life. The main question is: is the Christian working in the realm of his salvation? Is his moral stature growing? His task on earth is to progress from God's image to God's likeness.
The Orthodox Christian should nourish his body, too. To attain this goal and fulfill this mission, the Orthodox Christian must nourish his spirit as well as his body. It is an error and the outcome of heresy when the Christian does not maintain the belief of the co-existence of his body and soul. The human body is a direct creation of God according to the Holy Scripture, and is in such close cooperation with the human soul that their separation means the earthly departure of human beings. Without the body, the soul of the human being cannot fulfill the mission that God the Almighty has planned for it. The importance of the body is evident, moreover, by the fact that Jesus Christ's body rose after His death. The Holy Apostle Paul stresses the point that without the Resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the bodies of the Christians, the Gospel and Faith are in vain, saying:
"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:13-14).
The human body was honored at the time of its creation and, after the Ancestral Sin, was restored again at the time of the incarnation of the Everlasting Son of God Who became the God-Man (Theanthropos), "for us men and for our salvation." The Divine Message was brought to mankind through chosen personalities, that is, through men and women who devoted their body and soul, together and in one entity, for the mission of God's Will among men. In short, the Divine Message is Truth through personalities. God has greatly honored the human body and we as His creatures should respect His Will by protecting our own body and leading our steps to the fulfillment of our duty towards a better Christian Society.
"Do you not know that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
...It is most profitable for all Orthodox Christians to know, on the one hand, the teaching of the Orthodox Church on the existence and the substance of the hereafter, and, on the other hand, the contents of the prayers for the departed one and the teaching for the comfort of those left behind.
It is important to examine the question of everlasting life in the light of the unfailing sources from which we derive our information and establish our belief in this truth. The belief in God is a belief in the Living God forever. A Living God is the substance and the cause of Everlasting Life. Eternal life has no value without a Living God. The human conscience so consistently and unfailingly believes in this truth, without further aid from the physical and spiritual worlds, that it can be stated that the belief in God, in the internal and external life of men, is an innate impulse of our nature, and only by distortions can it be diverted or uprooted. The fact that atheism is rather an exception under the pressure of stubborn presuppositions and the temptations of independent knowledge is proof in itself that the belief in the existence of God and eternal life cannot be destroyed or substituted by any other product of knowledge, art, or science.
The strongest affirmation of an Everlasting Life is drawn from the Holy Scripture and especially from the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. His preaching throughout His life was penetrated by the strong presupposition of the Living God and an Everlasting Life as well as the way whereby men can share them forever. There are many references in the Holy Bible to emphasize this, not only the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but also the strong belief of the Holy Apostles and the early Christian Church. The Holy Apostle Paul is especially-the herald of an Everlasting Life as a hope and reward of our faith in the Living God. The question of the young man, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (St. Luke 10:25), indicates not only a strong belief in it, but especially a stronger desire to inherit it. The answer is to be found in St. John 10:28, when Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, said, "I give unto them eternal life". For a Christian, the beginning of Eternal-Life is the beginning of his belief in Jesus Christ. For him a promise has been given, a reward for eternity because, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die" (St. John 11:26). In St. John 17:3 it is stated that, "This is Life-Eternal, that they might know Thee the Only True God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent." This kind of "knowledge" was not the cause of the ousting of Adam from Paradise but it is the cause for the evaluation of the Divine Gift, the faith in the True God. The Holy Apostle Paul was bound to say to the Corinthians that, "this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:53).
The faith and belief in an Everlasting Life is so strong in the mind of the faithful that, on one hand, it makes no difference whether he is living on earth or is departed, and, on the other, there is an unfailing connection between this life and the hereafter. Saint Paul assures on this point by declaring: "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). There is one Church, consisting of the people on earth and the souls of the ones who have departed from the earth. The Church is one because its Head is One. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. A Living God is not a God of the dead, but the God of the living, whether on earth or in heaven. The human soul never dies. Once it becomes a member of the Church by believing in Jesus Christ, it will remain as such forever. By virtues of Jesus Christ, it is enlisted in the ranks of His Kingdom forever. The nature of the soul as pure spirit is to live forever and not disappear. The only question here is whether it will live eternally with Christ or eternally without Christ, that is "unto the resurrection of life" or "unto the resurrection of Damnation" (St. John 5:29). This will be decided on earth and will be determined by God's Judgment at the very important time of the separation of soul and body-called death.
(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