Saturday, July 17, 2021

Letters to my children - Letter 12: Death and Afterlife

In today’s world we try to avoid talking about death. To often, when someone dies there isn’t even a funeral. The body is quickly disposed by burning and grinding up the bones in a process called cremation. Then sometime later the family and friends come together in what is called a celebration of life. This gathering usually involves speeches like in a retirement party, and may not have a paster present.

Death is treated much differently in the Orthodox Church, as you have already experienced with the death of my mother and father. Death for Orthodox Christians is a most important event. It is a transition from a worldly life to an eternal one. It is when the soul separates from the body. The soul immediately goes to a place awaiting the Second Coming of Christ to be reunited to a new spiritualized body, and then face the Final Judgement. The body is treated as something sacred, because it was the temple of God. It is buried, and there is a beautiful funeral service in the church with an open casket. 

When the soul separates there is what is called a Particular Judgment. Everything that was done in our earthly life is exposed for all to see. Nothing is hidden. The souls of those who lived a God-seeking life will find great joy, anticipating the future life in heaven. Those who have not been seeking God will be separated from God, and will be tormented, living in anticipation of their life to come separated from God. After death there is no possibility of repentance. The character we die with is the character of the soul after death. When Christ comes again the process of transition is completed and we are given a renewed immortal body. Then, we face the Final Judgment by Christ. This is not an arbitrary judgment, but is based on how we lived our earthly life. Because all has already been exposed to you and others, there will be no surprises at this judgment.

The important thing to remember is that death and this coming transition is what determines the purpose of our earthly life. Our current life is intended to be a process of perfection, to develop a love of God, and to learn to become like Him. Christ came, God incarnate, to show us the way to full union with Him with eternal life in His kingdom. How we live our life will determine what takes place in this transition after death.

While the Church always places the emphasis on God’s mercy and supports the faithful to live a life of repentance, we must not forget that in our death there are consequences based on how we have lived, and the nature of the relationship we have developed with God. Because of this, there should be an element of fear of God. This is why in the Liturgy, when the communion cup is presented, the priest or the deacon exclaims, “With the fear of God, faith and love draw near.”

My advice to you is to never forget that your aim is your death and resurrection. Your true purpose is to live to become united with Him, and to do His will. Being close to God will enable you overcome the fear of death, knowing there is a future life in Paradise. Once you have mastered the fear of death your life will be filled with love and joy of God’s presence.

With Love,

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