Friday, February 18, 2022

Death and Afterlife 7 - Why do we fear death?

Why is it even though we are sincere believers that we still fear death? Most likely it is because our faith is not as strong as we may think it is. We all have doubts like the Apostle Thomas. We may be enjoying a good life that is only loosely connected to the Gospel teachings and we can’t imagine anything better. Bottom line, death is not a present reality for us. Commonly, we tend to give little though to the need for us to prepare properly for our death and the life to come. Our soul is wounded and is in love with all the pleasures of this life. We think this is it, better enjoy it. Because of this we do not want to consider that we may some day lose all we currently enjoy.

Saint Isaac the Syrian says: 

As long as man is careless and indolent in his life, he will fear the hour of death. As long as he depends on worldly knowledge and lives a carnal life, he will be terrified by death.

We do not think of the reality of a judgement to come and the possibility that we may have a life eternal in torment, separated from God having no recourse to our condition.

Saint John Chrysostom writes:

We are not afraid of the eternal punishment in Gehenna and for this reason, instead of being afraid of sin, we are afraid of death. We do not know how unbearable that hell is.

We are act as if we are unaware that none of our worldly passions that currently give us joy can be satisfied in the life beyond death. In fact, we may even phantasize a life after death that is like the one we have now. Being naturally lazy, we do not keep in mind all the things Jesus taught us. We fail to struggle with our shortcomings, all the ways we fall short of following His commandments. We lack the courage to face death.

With our priorities set on gaining earthly things and relationships, we are unaware that we don’t really love God with our whole heart and that we don’t have any desire for a life in Heaven.

Saint Paul says:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

We seem to be only able to think of the external, the surfaces of things, and don’t take time to ponder their deeper reality. 

So how can we over come this fear?

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Death and Afterlife 6 - How does Jesus Cure Death?

 How is it that Christ cures death? Is it really possible that we can be freed from death? 

We only have to understand the truth of the Gospels. In them we witness the Incarnation of Jesus as both Man and God. After a short period where He healed miraculously and taught, He was unjustly Crucified. Why would He allow this?  Only to show us what we can hope for, our resurrection through His Resurrection. We know God is all knowing. We know that He foreknew what would happen by permitting disobedience, knowing that when the time was right that He would act. God sent His only begotten Son so we through Him could claim victory over death.

When Jesus took flesh from the Theotokos in His mystical virginal birth, God becomes fully Man while remaining fully God. In this process and our baptism He transformed human nature. Christ came to dwell in each of us so Man could now be united with Him eternally in His kingdom. He showed us the path through death to defeat death.

Saint Paul speaks thus: 

He “shared in their humanity so that by his death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—
 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

After His Resurrection the disciples witnessed His Ascension to Heaven. By this He showed us that the doors to Paradise were now open to those who follow His teaching with love. After His Ascension, Christ sends down the Holy Spirit empowering His disciples to spread the Good News and to establish communities of believers. This is His Church where He is the head, and all the faithful who follow become His body here on Earth. All this was God's plan to heal mankind from their fallen condition of separation from God because of the sinful tendencies due to our fear of death.

As a result Jesus Christ is seen as a new Adam, providing a new start for humanity. Saint Athanasios the Great puts it this way:

The bodiless and incorruptible and immaterial Logos of the Father, seeing how men had become slaves of death, was compassionate to our race. Because He could not bear to see death reining over men, His creation lost in vanity and the work of God the Father remaining imperfect in us men, Christ took on a body for Himself that was not different than our own, Being God omnipotent, He could, of course, have appeared on earth in another manner more divine. And yet, He chose to receive our own body and to be born of the Virgin Mother of God a body similar to ours, and since all men are subject to death and corruption, He delivered this body, in the place of all, unto death and offered it as a sacrifice to God the Father.

Paul writes:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Jesus pioneers a new way of life we call the Orthodox way of life. He fulfills Adam's potential to become like God and makes it possible for us to do the same.

Through our faith we participate in His life, Him in us and we in Him. By linking our will with His, we become united with Him, and are gradually cured from the fear of death through the synergy of our effort and the work of the Holy Spirit, His grace.

So why do we still fear death? Next.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Death and Afterlife 5 - Benefits of Death?

How can we say there are benefits of death? Because we have a fear of it, we are motivated to learn what happens after death. Being believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God we are motivated to be obedient to God’s will, unlike Adam. As we said earlier death eliminates eternal sin. We are given the opportunity to be perfected in His likeness so we can become reunited with God. The ever presence of the possibility can cure our pride. We are humbled when we think about this reality that the world as we know it will end for us due to powers beyond our control.

Pride was the sin of Adam and Eve. Scripture reads:

The serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."   Genesis 3:4-5

In awareness of our death we see how small we are and realize our mortality. All this restrains our arrogance and egotism. Preparing us for the Kingdom to come.

Even more importantly death is only a transition. Through its separation from the soul and its decay, it can then be renewed in the resurrection. We who believe and follow Jesus Christ know that we, like Him, will at some point be resurrected after death if not before.

Consider the following written by Saint Paul to the Corinthians:

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.
1 Corinthians 15:36-38, 42-44

"It is the common view of the Church Fathers that death is permitted by God for the benefit of all mankind. Even though it seems evil, bringing sadness and sorrow, it is changed by God's loving grace into a great benefaction…so that the sickness of man may not remain eternal" (p107 Vassiliadis).

This leads us to the question, How does Christ cure death?

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Death and Afterlife 4 - Why does God allow death?

Why does the soul ever separate from the body? Let’s reflect back on the story of creation. Mankind was the apex of God’s creation. He was the object of His love. In Scripture the body is identified as a home, a tent, the glorious and beautiful clothes of the soul. When first created man lived in peace. He was given all of creation for his benefit and enjoyment. All his needs were met. He had no need for clothing and he experienced no sorrow or suffering. What went wrong?

First, let’s establish that death, this separation, is not created by God. 

God created man for immortality - God did not make death. Immortality requires union with god. (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13, 16; 2:23-24)

Man was created for eternal live, not death. He was made in the image and likeness of God. So why do we now face death? The answer is found in the story of Adam and Eve where they disobeyed God and separated from Him. The consequence or their action was the separation of the soul from the body, death. 

You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall die. (Genesis 2:16-17)

God tested them on their love of Him, and the proper use of their free will.

Remember what happened? After being tempted by the snake, the devil, they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree feeling safe to disregard God’s command, because the devil promised they would become like gods. Because they disobeyed God, they separated themselves from Him. They thought they were like God and put their will over His. Because of this they were expelled from Paradise, and were given mortal bodies subject to the fears and anxieties of death. You can see that death did not come from God, but is the result of the disobedience of Man. They were not able to follow His commandment, and when they approached God after disobeying Him they showed no remorse. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blames the snake.

All this happened because man being created in God's image was given a free will which was necessary so Man could love God.

Why did God allow this to happen to Man? In this way man could become perfect like God. He would not. live eternally in sin, separated from God. Death assured that this sin of disobedience would not become an eternal condition of Man.

Therefore, death and decay are seen as a blessing. Saint Theophilos of Antioch uses the image of a vessel for the body. When we have a vessel that is damaged after it’s made, it is recast and refashioned to become new, complete and whole again.

The common view of Church Fathers is that bodily death is permitted by God to carry out its work of decomposition for the benefit of man. In this way, even though death appears to be evil, it is changed by our loving God into a great that the sickness of man may not remain eternal (p107 Vassiliadis). Being purified by the trials and tribulations of life, those who learn to love God and follow Christ can be transfigured in death and allowed back into His kingdom having perfected the virtue of obedience.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Death and Afterlife 3 - What is death?

What is death? When we die there is a separation of the soul from the body. When the soul separates there is no life in the body, and it becomes immovable and begins to decay.

To understand death we must know our soul. What is it? Do you know yours?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa describes the soul as an essence that is created. It is a living and noetic essence that gives the body the power of life and it’s ability to receive sense-impressions. It is created by the Creator simultaneously with the body at the time of inception. Because the body has a soul it is able to move and respond to the environment.

In Genesis it says,

‘Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; man became a living being.’

Today we know that life of a new person begins when a sperm cell is joined with an egg creating a unique new person. This act is accompanied with the work of the a Holy Spirit to create a new human person with both a body which will grow physically and a spirit that is integral part of the whole person. 

Saint Gregory Palamas put it this way,

“When it is said to have made man according to His image, the word “man” means neither the soul by itself nor the body by itself, but the two together.”

Here are some characteristics of the soul:

Has a will.

Is invisible.

Not made up,of physical elements, it’s noticed.

Is intelligent and controls the body.

Without it the body has no life.

 So why does the soul ever separate from the body?  Next.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Death and Afterlife 2 - How do you think about death?

How do most of us think about death? We either think of it as the end of existence or a mystical transition to an unknown spiritual realm. We try to ignore this subject, hiding from reality. We are occasionally forced to deal with it when a relative or loved one dies. Many Christians in the West don’t even have a formal funeral, but erroneously dispose of the body in a crematorium, and then later hold a party like celebration of life. This is a way many separate themselves from this harsh reality, putting full focus on life. We act as if our success in this life is the only thing important. We try accumulate things and wealth. But, when the time comes for death, what was the use of all our activities, awards and collections? 

Let’s reflect on the parable that Jesus taught about the rich man and his barns. Jesus some saying,

"The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke12:16-21)

So why was this man a fool? He is like most of us who see death as something to be ignored. After all it only happens to others. We live unaware of the true purpose of life. Is our aim not death that is in realty life, and the transition to an eternal life with Christ? Why do we act like the rich man and live ignorant of this truth? Why do we fear death?

Note: Orthodox Christians do not Cremate or offer celebrations of life, but offer a beautiful sacramental service in the Church with age old prayers for the journey of the soul.

New Online Orthodox Catechism Class

This online class is a comprehensive overview of the Orthodox faith, its doctrines and way of life. It consists of a series of 17 lessons, each with a video lecture and questions for review. You view the video presentation then send the responses to the review questions Fr. Deacon Charles who will add his comments, and address any questions you may have.

Anyone can participate.

Start Here - www.Catechism-Orthodox.Church

This is sponsored by the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Greenville, South Carolina where Fr. Charles serves as a Deacon. It is a course developed over the last 15 years from our in person classes. All teachings are based on the writings of recognized Canonical Orthodox Theologians and Church Fathers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Death and Afterlife 1 - Introduction

 Death is an ever present mystery that haunts us all.  John Chrysostom writes, “why is he dressed and adorned like a flower and then in the end withers and disappears like grass.” was Most people try to hide from his reality and take all measurements to avoid it, but what is the benefit of all our fears, all our anxiety? Let’s see if we can begin to understand it. 

Death raises many questions. What is it like to die? What happens after we die? Is there really life after death? What is it like? Why does God allow this?

 Death also comes without a warning. One day the body seems healthy and suddenly it loses its color and lies still and cold. What is this all about, an end or beginning? We live in the fear of this reality which subconsciously we know is our fate. We believe that God is the creator of life, so why has He left us with his mystery? 

Our mind seems unable to penetrate this mystery. It seems so horrible and fearful. We have no experience of it. Our death is something will have to face without any experience at all. We are left with what seems like a list of unanswerable questions.

In this series of posts we will be exploring these questions.