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.
ON THE DEPARTURE OF THE SOUL ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Concerning the Worth of Salvation
By Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain
1. My salvation is a matter entirely my own. If I do not have concern for it, who else will?
2. My salvation is a matter concerning my whole soul and body. If I do not make sure of my salvation, who else will make sure of it for me?
3. My salvation is a matter concerning all eternity. If I do not work for it, who else will work for it for me? And what do I do? Why don't I care at all for the salvation of my soul? I do not have anything better than this soul. I do not have anything worth more than this immortal soul. So, if I lose it just one time, I will have lost the greatest good for all eternity.
Death is indeed a mystery, but it is also dreadful as an event because it fills the soul with deep pain and bewilderment, numerous unanswered questions, distress and uncontrollable fear. Death defeats common sense, breaks down our sentimental world, and exceeds human measures. One cannot comprehend it, bear it, or even deal with it. Only one thing can defeat death: faith, or even more so, faith in the Resurrected Lord. When we chant the Paschal hymn, we say: "Christ is risen from the dead, by death hath He trampled down death, and upon those in the graves hath He bestowed life." The Resurrection of Christ marks the defeat of death and transforms it from a definite end and merciless threat into a passage to the true life."O Death, where is thy sting?" exclaims Saint John Chrysostom. Man is made for life, not for death. That is why we so greatly honor the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord.
Death, apart from being a terrible mystery, is also beyond reach. Therefore, the only way to approach it is by the revelation and grace of God, not through intellectual theological contemplation. What happens to the body during the moment of death is of medical concern; yet, what happens to the soul, its state and course, is purely a matter of the Church, namely, of its theology and life, of its divine teaching and the experience of its Saints. "How is the soul forcibly parted from the body, from its frame? And how is that most natural bond of union cut off by the will of God?" No science can speak of this mystery, not even formal scholastic theology. As with the Incarnation of the Logos/Word of God by the Virgin Mary, "we cannot fathom this mystery," but we can only confess it with faith, so also with the mystery of death: "Every tongue is at a loss, even a spirit from the world above is filled with dizziness" in trying to conceive it, or, all the more, to express it. They mystery cannot be conceived, nor can it be interpreted. We can only describe it through the experience of faith and the illumination of divine revelation.
Some say that death could mean the final return of man to the state of non-existence after his fleeting life in this world. Others say it could also mean an endless journey to the unknown. However, the Orthodox Christians know it very well as standing before the righteous judgment seat of God: being translated either to eternal life in His Kingdom or to separation from God in Hades. Within the Church we experience death as the translation to eternity, the passage from this ephemeral world to the truth of the real life, to the eternal of God. That is why in the funeral service we chant to the departed: "Blessed is the way in which thou shalt walk today, O soul; for a place of rest is prepared for thee."
According to Orthodox Christian theology, our life is the greatest gift from God; its beginning and end are entirely in His hands. In this life the grace of God encounters the free will of man, and in this way his salvation is effected. Time constitutes the guarantee of the bond between soul and body.
The moment of death is the par excellence moment during which the value of a human being is defined, and for this reason we ought to deal with it with humility, awe, respect, and an awareness of our limits. In no way should we degrade the mystery to a mere event occurring in time. It is terrible to remove from the body the magnificent vestment of its dignity, when at the same time it is being denuded of the protection of the soul. According to Orthodox Christian theology, death can be described in general terms, but it cannot be accurately defined in its details, because it is more of an unknown mystery than any biological event. And when it comes, we welcome death, as it introduces us to a higher state of life.
In this sense, we are entitled neither to break the sacred bond between soul and body, nor to shorten the lifespan of the psychosomatic (soul and body) union. Although life is a great gift, yet death may become a greater blessing. Therefore, we do not examine the event of death with boldness or excessive curiosity, based on our knowledge, but we stand before this unknown mystery with reservation, respect, and holy fear.
This is the reason why those who attempt to interpret death based on their own intellectual comprehension often fail, and instead of expressing the Truth of God, they preach false assertions and erroneous teachings. Thus, it is of imminent importance to clarify the Orthodox Christian Truth from the various fallacies--something which is not easy to do. The initiative taken by Saint Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona is a wise one, and the load of the undertaken task quite heavy. The entire work is indeed praiseworthy.
"Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (St. Luke 13:24).
Heaven, the Kingdom of God, the eternal life is open. From the moment our Christ died upon the Cross, with His expiration Paradise became wide open. Our Christ, spreading His immaculate arms and opening His embrace on the Cross, embraced the entire human race to give them eternal life.
The ultimate goal of our Orthodox Christian life is for us to be found worthy of entering into the glory of this Kingdom which now lies open to us. Just the mere thought of seeing what "eye hath not seen" and becoming an inheritor of "the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9) brings joy to the hearts of the faithful. And with such great hope, we patiently endure every affliction and temptation in this world in order to become permanent inhabitants of the Upper Jerusalem. "For our citizenship is in Heaven" (Phil. 3:20).
But we are also ever mindful of the terrifying desolation of Hell awaiting those who neglect to love God and keep His word. The greatest commandment is this: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (St. Matthew 22:37). Failure to struggle to keep God's Commandment results in the torments of being shut out of the Kingdom and gives rise to the pain of eternal separation from Christ: "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (St. Matthew 25:41).
To save us from this dreadful, endless estrangement from Him, our Lord Jesus Christ came not only to open the entrance to Heaven by His Sacrifice on the Cross, but as He Himself is the Way (cf. St. John 14:6). Christ also revealed the path to eternal life: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Saint Matthew 19:17) [Source: The Departure of the Soul According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church, St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God