Death, The Threshold to Eternal Life (Part III)

7 Holy Youths “Seven Sleepers” of Ephesus

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



Priest: Let us pray to the Lord. Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy). O Lord our God, Who by Your unutterable Wisdom have fashioned man out of the dust and transformed him into comeliness and beauty; and have adorned him, as a precious and heavenly creature, for doxology and magnificence of Your Glory and Kingdom, in that You brought him into existence as a being fashioned according to Your image and likeness; and Who, when he had transgressed the Commandment of Your ordinance, and kept it not, although he participated in Your image, gave command for this reason, as God of our fathers, to prevent evil from becoming immortal, decreeing that his composite and mixture, this bond which you made for joining body and soul unbreakably, should be sundered by your divine will, and be dissolved; so that the soul would withdraw where it had required existence, and there abide until the general resurrection; whereas the body would break up into the elements out of which it had first been compounded; for this reason we pray to you, the beginningless Father, and Your Only-Begotten Son, and Your All-Holy, Consubstantial and Life-creating Spirit, that endured not to see the work of Your fashioning swallowed up by destruction, but rather let the body indeed be dissolved into the elements, and let the soul be appointed a place in the choir of the just: Yes, O Lord our God, let Your immeasurable mercy prevail, and Your manbefriending love which is beyond compare; and if this servant has incurred the curse of father or mother, or a ban invoked upon himself (herself); or if he (she) has provoked any priest to bitter severity, and from him has incurred a ban unbreakable; or if he (she) has incurred a Bishop's very grievous interdict, but through thoughtlessness and needlessness has failed to obtain forgiveness; do You forgive him (her) through me, Your sinful and unworthy servant; and let his (her) body indeed dissolve into its elements, but his (her) soul do You appoint to dwell in the tentings of the Saints.  Yes, O Lord our God, Who to Your holy Disciples and Apostles gave this authority for granting remission of sins, and did say that whatsoever things they would bind and loose, those things would be bound and would be loosed; and Who through them in Your manbefriending love has caused to be transmitted to us also, unworthy though we be, the same gifts in equal measure; loose this Your servant (Name), now fallen asleep from sin of soul and body, and make him (her) to be now forgiven in this present world and in the world to come; through the intercessions of Your All-Pure and Ever-Virgin Mother, and of all the Saints. Amen.



The Resurrection of the Dead and the Life to Come

"I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the age to come. Amen." [The Nicene Creed]

"I look for the resurrection of the dead." In the Creed we confess that we expect the resurrection of the dead. Of course, when we say the resurrection of the dead, we mean the resurrection of bodies. Bodies, which are separated from the soul at death, will be resurrected, i.e., the souls will return to their bodies and will give them life. The entire man should live eternally.

All bodies will be resurrected, those of the righteous and the unrighteous, Saints and sinners alike. Thus, we can talk of the "restoration of nature", not, however, of the restoration of will. The gift of resurrection will be given to all men, the righteous and unrighteous alike. Hence, everyone will be resurrected, but it is only the righteous who will be caught up "in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Christ's Resurrection is a prelude to our own resurrection. The Saints already enjoy the resurrection of the body, the abolition of death and the fact that the departure of the soul from the body is really a sleep. We can also enjoy this great truth. The holy relics of Saints are proof that the Saints are sleeping and that death has been abolished. Their incorruptible bodies, which give off sweet smelling fragrances and work miracles, are a foretaste of the coming resurrection. Thus, Church's task is to make man's body a "relic."

The resurrection of the dead will certainly happen. We have Christ's absolute confirmation of this. However, we do not know when it will happen. Only God the Father knows.

The resurrected bodies will be spiritual. Saint Paul writes concerning the subject "So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

This will take place for those who have fallen asleep. However, regarding those people who will still be alive at the moment of the Second Coming of Christ, Saint Paul says that they will immediately change. "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

"And the life of the age to come." At the end of the Creed we confess that we believe in Eternal Life. Truly, man's life is not used up in this earthly life, nor does the soul disappear after it leaves the body. Man's soul is immortal by grace. This means that every created thing, by nature, has a beginning and an end. However, God willed that man's soul; would be immortal. Certainly, this is said while bearing in mind that the body and the soul do not make up the whole man on their own, but both of them do so together. Thus, the whole man will live eternally.

There are two ways of experiencing eternity. The first is to be "forever well" and the other is "adversity forever." The first is associated with man's communion with God, the participation in God as light. The second is associated with estrangement from God, or the experience of God as darkness. Everybody will see God, but for the righteous He will be vision and participation, whereas for sinners, there will be no participation, but it will be hell.

"Amen." The term "Amen" has two meanings. The first is a prayer and the second is a confirmation. In reciting the Creed, we both confirm what is confessed, and pray that all this is realized within our own personal life.

May this confession of faith become a living experience for us, may it enter into our personal life and become our blood and our nourishment. (Source: Entering the Orthodox Church: The Catechism and Baptism of Adults, by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos).


Burial Service

Ritual Service of the Eastern Orthodox Church does not exclude private prayers and readings from the Holy Scriptures, particularly those parts which refer to the hope and the Everlasting Life we have in Jesus Christ. The holy service itself consists of hymns, prayers, and readings from the Holy Scriptures.

Most of the material that the Church uses for the Service of the burial of the dead refers not only to the dead but to the living as well. It is therefore, profitable for the faithful Orthodox Christians to study the thoughts and prayers our Holy Church has provided for him. By studying them we can orient ourselves now in the direction of our natural destiny. The intelligent traveler studies the map and knows what road to follow, he reads the signs and is careful not to lose the way. Let us then, study the map of our destiny carefully and learn the language and ideals of the future city which is on the other bank of the river we shall cross, "For here we have no, lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).

Memory and Remembrance

Remembrance of the dead is human. It is very human for a sincere relative to have a strong remembrance of a beloved person who has died. It is not easy, or natural, for a son to forget his father if he really had a filial love and gratitude for him, and the remembrance of his mother is undoubtedly even more tender and reverent. But is the remembrance of a believer sincere without invoking the grace of God? Without exercising his faith in Jesus Christ and His Ever-Living Church? Without praying to Him for the soul of his beloved one, who is now a member of the Triumphant Church in heaven, as he prayed for him when he was a member of the Church Militant (the Church on Earth)? In the eyes of the Orthodox Christian and his belief in Jesus Christ, Who is the Head of both, there is no difference between the Church on earth and that in Heaven. To cease praying for him, if he really prayed for him when his beloved one was on earth, is an unnatural way of thinking and a perversion of reason. Only by erroneous presupposition, or cynicism, will a person force himself to apathy. It is then in keeping with the nature of the faithful and his belief, as well as in keeping with the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Divine Church, to pray to the Almighty God for the souls of our beloved relatives and friends.

The Church has developed this human reaction and this divine teaching and has established first, the teaching of the Truth of the Ever-living soul and its judgment and second, prayers and holy services pertaining to the burial of the dead of his life hereafter. It is an expression of gratitude for a Christian believer to remember the holy Apostle Paul, by whose efforts and martyrdom he receives his faith which is so dear and precious to him. To remember him, however, without referring to Almighty God in his prayers, the Orthodox Christian believer misunderstands both the person and message of the Holy Apostle Paul. For a Christian, the memory of a beloved person has a value only when he refers to God Almighty in a humble and faithful prayer; otherwise it is the ordinary expression of an unilluminated heart. In such cases, there is no difference between a "Christian" and an atheist. The Christian is called on to pray constantly and to give alms in the Name of the Lord at all times, but especially when he remembers his beloved departed persons; by doing so, he will hear the Angel's voice as the centurion Cornellius heard that, "Thy prayers and thy alms are come up for a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4). (Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

Commemoration Service

At the end of the Divine Liturgy a special commemoration service (Memorial service) is held after the death of a beloved person as an expression of gratitude to Almighty God for His Merciful Will to accept in His "mansions" and save the soul of the departed person. The same ritual prayers are read as in the burial service. Commemorations are held on the third day, ninth day, fortieth day, six months, the second year and the third year. Also, the four Saturday of Souls.

The Four Saturday of Souls. These Saturdays are set aside by the Church for all Orthodox Christians, three during the Holy and Great Lent and one for the Saturday before the Holy Feast of Pentecost.

The Three-Day Memorial. The Apostolic Constitution recommends that memorial for the dead be served with psalms and readings and prayer on the Third Day following death of our beloved one, on account of the Lord Jesus who rose after three days in the tomb. Another reason for the three day memorial is the notion that the deceased has kept the three virtues (the foundations of our faith): faith, hope and love as well as the fact that man acts and expresses himself with actions, words and thoughts.

Nine-Day Memorial. The Apostolic Constitutions also prescribe Memorial on the Ninth Day as a reminder of the living and of the dead, as well as on the fortieth day after death according to ancient practice. St. Symeon of Thessaloniki attributes the Nine-Day Memorial to the Nine Orders of the Holy Angels.

Forty-Day Memorial. This memorial is for the Ascension of the Savior that took place forty days after His third day Resurrection. 

The Intermediate State of Souls

The life of the soul, from the moment of separation from the body until the Second Coming of Christ, when it will be united with the risen body, is called the intermediate state. This state is of special interest and is not the same as the Roman Catholic principle of purgatory.

We know that the soul is a creature. It was created by God, which means it has definite beginning, but God wished it not to have an end. The soul constitutes the noetic element in man's being and the body the tangible element. The soul is imperceptible to the bodily senses, but is not entirely immaterial. (For further discussion on this see St. John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith, Book 2-3.

Therefore, souls are noetic, yet they are not spirits as God is, but they are created and ethereal. So, after the separation from the body they are received by either the angels or the demons, since they are not purely noetic and of the same essence as God. This leads into the conclusion that souls exist after death.

The fact that the soul lives after death is substantiated in Holy Scripture. For example: Prophet Elijah prays for the son of Zarphath by saying: "O Lord my God, I pray, let this child's soul come back to him" (1 Kgs 17:21-23). We see the same thing in the stories of Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow of Nain. The fact that all these individuals came back to life indicates without a doubt that the soul existed after death. In fact, when Holy Scripture refers to the deaths of the great men of the Old Testament, it usually says that their spirits were gathered "to their fathers" (Gen. 25:8).

Saint Nicetas Stethatos in his Mystika Syggrammata captures the Holy Fathers attitude as well as their belief when he says: "All who live a godly life will live, as is said, even if they depart from here. He goes on to say that the same applies to the souls of the ungodly and unrighteous. Not only do the godly live after death, but also the ungodly ones, having each received the appropriate reward for his deeds. The comment of Saint Gregory Palamas when asked, where are the spirits of the everlasting Saints, he replied: "Are they not in the supracelestial Light with its Angels enjoying illumination?" This of course, is in tandem with Saint Nicetas Stethatos idea, when he speaks of the souls of the righteous. He says: "the souls are carried by friendly Angels towards the first Light (The Trinitarian God), and the second light is the Angels and the righteous, who partake of the first Light.

On the other hand, Saint Andrew of Crete (Homily 12, On the Dormition of the Virgin) teaches that the souls of all people, even the Saints, pass through "that obscure place, but they do not dwell in it. There are passers of Hell, so that they may investigate and be initiated into the strange mystery of the divine economy (the death and the Resurrection of Christ). This, for Saint Andrew is indeed the greatest spiritual knowledge.

From this cursory summary, one may deduct that the intermediate state of the soul is a waiting period, during which the soul enjoys beforehand those things that they are waiting for and which are related to what they experienced when they were united with their bodies. Certainly, they cannot help themselves. We, however, can provide prayers and alms in their name. (Source: A Catechetical Handbook of the Eastern Orthodox Church by D.H. Stamatis, Ph.D.)

The Final Judgment

The Church teaches us that Christ will come into this world again and this will be His Second Coming. The whole creation will be renewed, the dead will rise again, all who are alive then will be changed, and the Final Judgment will follow.

Hope, the Conqueror Over Death

Hope is the cardinal virtue and attitude of an enlightened Christian which gives a divine scope and purpose to his/her life. In the Divine Message of Jesus Christ, our Lord, hope possesses the golden link which connects the human aspiration with the Divine Truths. It is a hope for salvation; a hope that Almighty God is looking upon us with unconditional Fatherly Love; a hope which strengthens the human will to accept anything and everything in life as God's Will.

The source of deep comfort is the hope of God's Will in our everyday life and especially in times of death. The divine comfort is a gift, it is the only way to pacify our mind and heart. The Christian should be prepared spiritually to face the events of life which includes that of the death of our beloved person. The source of comfort is the Christian hope. The hope which is founded upon the divine words of Saint Paul who writes: "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep..." and the holy Apostle reminds us: "We would not have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope..." (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

The Holy Apostle Paul placed hope, along with love and faith; love, as a faithful service to our fellowman, and faith, as a loving devotion to God. The unshakable ground on which the hope of a Christian depends is the faith in a Living God which is expressed on constant prayers, a Christian life and philanthropic attitudes towards the world. With such a hope the Christian should withstand sadness as well as happiness, because "the hope we have (is) as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19).



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

+Father George