Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos
Life after death
This book contains theological analysis and commentary on the subject of the mystery of death and the life which follows after death.
Death is not a simple event, nor is it easy to face. It is the greatest problem that has occupied people down through the ages. The holy Fathers teach that death is not something which God created, but the cause and consequence of sin.
The interpretive analysis of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which the author places at the beginning of the book, is seen as a suitable aid to help us approach the mystery of death and to understand the whole subject under consideration.
The points covered in the chapter “The Separation of the Soul from the Body” are really fundamental and important. The reader can study what the soul is, how it is created, how it is separated from the body by death, and how the personality is maintained after the soul’s departure from the body. We learn what the customs houses are, and what the holy Fathers teach when they refer to the intermediate state of souls. The death of infants is also considered in detail.
The Orthodox teaching on “The Immortality of the Soul” is set out, because the soul never dies ontologically. There is an explanation of the heresy of ‘thnetopsychism’ (the death of the soul with the body), which the Orthodox Church condemned.
The chapter “The Purifying Fire” refers in particular to the teaching of St Mark Eugenicus. The Latins’ teaching about the purifying fire is refuted, and we are shown the differences between the Orthodox and the Latins on the purifying fire, God’s essence, and Paradise and Hell. It is pointed out that in the tradition of the Orthodox Church we speak about eternal, uncreated fire, which is an experience of the uncreated grace of God, and which illuminates the righteous but burns sinners. The difference between the essence and energy of God is elucidated, as is the fact that man participates in the uncreated energy of God but not in His essence. Paradise and Hell exist, and indeed the foretaste of them begins at the departure of the soul from the body. Reference is made to the Orthodox teaching on the remission of sins and the value of memorial services.
The theological truth about the resurrection of bodies, what bodies will be like in the life after Christ’s Second Coming, as well as all the events of the judgement, are presented in the chapter “The Second Coming of Christ”. The Orthodox Church honours and respects the human body, and for that reason does not adopt the practice of burning or cremation of bodies, but their burial. We read about the coming judgement, which will manifest and reveal people’s spiritual state, and it is emphasised that the basic prerequisite for someone to enter the Kingdom of God is participation in the Holy Spirit.
The chapter “Paradise and Hell” sets out the interpretations given by Holy Scripture and the Fathers with regard to Paradise and Hell. Those who have been cured and purified will experience the illuminating energy of divine grace, which is the Kingdom of God, Paradise, while the uncured and ill will experience the caustic energy of God, which is Hell.
The teaching of St Gregory of Nyssa on “The Restoration of All Things” is analysed, and Origen’s erroneous views are condemned. There is a discussion of the restoration of human nature which will encompass all mankind, but it is underlined that there will be no restoration of the will, since each person will perceive Christ according to his choice and his state.
The chapter “Eternal Life” expounds the meaning of the eternal Kingdom of God. The renewal of the whole creation is mentioned, as well as the constant development that will take place in the age to come. The holy Fathers maintain that there will be no standing still for the righteous in the future life, but a continually increasing participation in the glory of God. They also emphasise in their writings that the experience of the Kingdom of Heaven starts from this life.
The ‘last things’ are not connected exclusively with time, but also with our way of life, because they are not just future events. The chapter “Diachronic Eschatology” looks in detail at the subject of time according to the Orthodox conception. It explains that through life in Christ a person can live the Kingdom of God in this present life.
The Christian ought not to be overwhelmed by despair and grief in the face of death, because Christ has abolished death through His Resurrection. Living within the Church we have the potential to overcome death. The remembrance of death, and the therapeutic method which the Orthodox Church has at its disposal, lead to repentance, so that beginning in this life, but especially at the Second Coming of Christ, the grace of God may have an illuminating and saving effect, not a punishing one.