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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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The fate of man after death.

Death is the common lot of men. But for man it is not an annihilation, but only the separation

of the soul from the body. The truth of the immortality of the human soul is one of the fundamental

truths of Christianity. “God is not a God of the dead but of the living; for all live unto

Him” (Matt. 22:32; Luke 20:38). In the New Testament Sacred Scripture death is called “the decrease

(departure) of the soul” (“I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decrease to have

these things always in remembrance,2 Peter 1: 15). It is called the deliverance of the soul from

prison (2 Cor. 5:1-4); the putting off of the body, (“knowing that short1y I must put off this my

tabernacle,” 2 Peter 1: 14); a dissolving (“having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which

is far better,” Phil. 1:2-3); a departure (“the time of my departure is at hand,” 2 Tim. 4:6); a

sleep, (David fell asleep,” Acts 13:36).

The state of the soul after death, according to the clear testimony of the word of God, is not

unconscious but conscious (for example, according to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,

Luke 16:19-31). After death man is subjected to a judgment which is calledparticular” to distinguish

it from the general last judgment. It is easy in the sight of the Lord to reward a manon

the day of death according to his conduct,” says the most wise son of Sirach (11: 26). The same

thought is expressed by the Apostle Paul: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the

judgment(Heb. 9:27). The Apostle presents the judgment as something which follows immediately

after the death of a man, and evidently he understands this not as the general judgment, but

as the particular judgment, as the Holy Fathers of the Church have interpreted this passage. “Today

shall thou be with me in paradise(Luke 23:43), the Lord uttered to the repentant thief.

In Sacred Scripture it is not given us to know how the particular judgment occurs after a

man’s death. We can judge of this only in part from separate expressions which are found in the

word of God. Thus, it is natural to think that in the particular judgment also a large part in the

fate of a man after death is taken both by good and by evil angels: the former are implements of

God’s mercy, and the latter — by God’s allowance — are implements of God’s justice. In the

parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it is said that “Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham's

bosom(Luke 16:22). In the parable of the foolish rich man he is told: “Thou fool, thisnight thy soul shall be required of thee” (lit: “they shall take,” Luke 12:20); evidently it is evil

powers who will “take it” (St. John Chrysostom.). For, on the one hand, the angels of these “little

ones,” in the Lord's own words, always behold the face of the Heavenly Father (Matt. 18: 10),

and likewise at the end of the world the Lord will send His angels, who will “sever the wicked

from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire(Matt. 13:49); and on the other

hand, “our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour

(1 Peter 5:8), and the air, as it were, is filled with the spirits of evil under the heavens, and their

prince is called the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 6:12, 2:2).

Based on these indications of Sacred Scripture, from antiquity the Holy Fathers of the

Church have depicted the path of the soul after its separation from the body as a path through

such spiritual expanses, where the dark powers seek to devour those who are weak spiritually,

and where therefore one is in special need of being defended by the heavenly angels and supported

by prayer on the part of the living members of the Church. Among the ancient Fathers the

following speak of this — Sts. Ephraim the Syrian, Athanasius the Great, Macarius the Great,

Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and others.

The most detailed development of these ideas is made by St Cyril of Alexandria in his

Homily on the Departure of the Soul,” which is usually printed in the Sequential Psalter (the

Psalter with additions from the Divine services). A pictorial depiction of this path is presented in

the life of St Basil the New (March 26), where the departed blessed Theodora, in a vision during

sleep communicated to the disciple of Basil, tells what she has seen and experienced after the

separation of her soul from the body and during the ascent of the soul into the heavenly mansions.

The path of the soul after its departure from the body is customarily called the “toll houses.”

With regard to the images in the accounts of the toll houses, Metropolitan Macarius in his Orthodox

Dogmatic Theology remarks: “One must firmly remember the instruction which the angel

made to St Macarius of Alexandria when he had just begun telling him of the toll-houses: 'Accept

earthly things here as the weakest kind of depiction of heavenly things.' One must picture the

toll-houses as far as possible in a spiritual sense, which is hidden under the more or less sensuous

and anthropomorphic features.” (For a more detailed account of the Orthodox understanding of the tollhouses,

see The Soul After Death, St. Herman Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1980, pp. 73-96.)

Concerning the state of the soul after the Particular Judgment, the Orthodox Church teaches

thus: “We believe that the souls of the dead are in a state of blessedness or torment according to

their deeds. After being separated from the body, they immediately pass over either to joy or into

sorrow and grief, however, they do not feel either complete blessedness or complete torment. For

complete blessedness or complete torment each one receives after the General Resurrection,

when the soul is reunited with the body in which it lived in virtue or in vice (The Epistle of the

Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith, paragraph 18). Thus the Orthodox Church distinguishes

two different conditions after the Particular Judgment: one for the righteous, another for

sinners; in other words, paradise and hell. The Church does not recognize the Roman Catholic

teaching of three conditions: 1) blessedness, 2) purgatory, and 3) gehenna (hell). The very name

gehenna” the Fathers of the Church usually refer to the condition after the Last judgment, when

both death and hell will be cast into the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). The Fathers of the Church,

basing themselves on the word of God, suppose that the torments of sinners before the Last

Judgment have a preparatory character. These torments can be eased and even taken away by the

prayers of the Church (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, para. 18). Likewise, the fallen spirits are“reserved in everlasting chains under darkness(in hell) “until the judgment of the great day(2

Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).

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