Alexandrian Fathers on the Soul After Death

St. Alexander of Alexandria died ca. 326

…[W]hen man afterwards by his fall had inclined to death, it was necessary that that form should be recreated anew to salvation by the same Artificer. For the form indeed lay rotting in the ground; but that inspiration which had been as the breath of life, was detained separate from the body in a dark place, which is called Hades. There was, therefore, a division of the soul from the body; it was banished ad inferos, while the latter was resolved into dust; and there was a great interval of separation between them; for the body, by the dissolution of the flesh, becomes corrupt; the soul being loosened from it, its action ceases. For as when the king is thrown into chains, the city falls to ruin; or as when the general is taken captive, the army is scattered abroad; or as when the helmsman is shaken off, the vessel is submerged; so when the soul is bound in chains, its body goes to pieces; as the city without its king, so its members are dissolved; as is the case with an army when its general is lost, they are drowned in death, even as happens to a vessel when deprived of its helmsman. The soul, therefore, governed the man, as long as the body survived; even as the king governs the city, the general the army, the helmsman the ship. But it was powerless to rule it, from the time when it was immoveably tied to it, and became immersed in error; therefore it was that it declined from the straight path, and followed tempters, giving heed to fornication, idolatry, and shedding of blood; by which evil deeds it has destroyed the proper manhood. Nay, but itself also being carried at length to the lower regions, it was there detained by the wicked tempter. Else was it wont, as the king restores the ruined city, the general collects the dispersed army, the sailor repairs the broken ship, even so, I say, the soul used to minister supplies to the body before that the body was dissolved in the dust, being not as yet itself bound fast with fetters. But after that the soul became bound, not with material fetters but with sins, and thus was rendered impotent to act, then it left its body in the ground, and being cast down to the lower regions, it was made the footstool of death, and despicable to all. (On the Soul and Body and Passion of the Lord, 3)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

For once, when about to eat, having risen up to pray about the ninth hour, he perceived that he was caught up in the spirit, and, wonderful to tell, he stood and saw himself, as it were, from outside himself, and that he was led in the air by certain ones. Next certain bitter and terrible beings stood in the air and wished to hinder him from passing through. But when his conductors opposed them, they demanded whether he was not accountable to them. And when they wished to sum up the account from his birth, Antony’s conductors stopped them, saying, ‘The Lord has wiped out the sins from his birth, but from the time he became a monk, and devoted himself to God, it is permitted you to make a reckoning.’ Then when they accused him and could not convict him, his way was free and unhindered. And immediately he saw himself, as it were, coming and standing by himself, and again he was Antony as before. Then forgetful of eating, he remained the rest of the day and through the whole of the night groaning and praying. For he was astonished when he saw against what mighty opponents our wrestling is, and by what labours we have to pass through the air. And he remembered that this is what the Apostle said, ‘according to the prince of the power of the air Eph. 2:2.’ For in it the enemy has power to fight and to attempt to hinder those who pass through. Wherefore most earnestly he exhorted, ‘Take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day Ephesians 6:13,’ that the enemy, ‘having no evil thing to say against us, may be ashamed Titus 2:8.’ And we who have learned this, let us be mindful of the Apostle when he says, ‘whether in the body I know not, or whether out of the body I know not; God knows 2 Cor. 12:2.’ But Paul was caught up unto the third heaven, and having heard things unspeakable he came down; while Antony saw that he had come to the air, and contended until he was free.

And he had also this favour granted him. For as he was sitting alone on the mountain, if ever he was in perplexity in his meditations, this was revealed to him by Providence in prayer. And the happy man, as it is written, was taught of God. After this, when he once had a discussion with certain men who had come to him concerning the state of the soul and of what nature its place will be after this life, the following night one from above called him, saying, ‘Antony, rise, go out and look.’ Having gone out therefore (for he knew whom he ought to obey) looking up, he beheld one standing and reaching to the clouds, tall, hideous, and fearful, and others ascending as though they were winged. And the figure stretched forth his hands, and some of those who were ascending were stayed by him, while others flew above, and having escaped heaven-ward, were borne aloft free from care. At such, therefore, the giant gnashed his teeth, but rejoiced over those who fell back. And immediately a voice came to Antony, ‘Do you understand what you see?’ And his understanding was opened, and he understood that it was the passing of souls, and that the tall being who stood was the enemy who envies the faithful. And those whom he caught and stopped from passing through are accountable to him, while those whom he was unable to hold as they passed upwards had not been subservient to him. So having seen this, and as it were being reminded, he struggled the more daily to advance towards those things which were before. And these visions he was unwilling to tell, but as he spent much time in prayer, and was amazed, when those who were with him pressed him with questions and forced him, he was compelled to speak, as a father who cannot withhold ought from his children. And he thought that as his conscience was clear, the account would be beneficial for them, that they might learn that discipline bore good fruit, and that visions were oftentimes the solace of their labours. (Life of St. Anthony, Chaps. 65-66)

And once more, if the devil, the enemy of our race, having fallen from heaven, wanders about our lower atmosphere, and there bearing rule over his fellow-spirits, as his peers in disobedience, not only works illusions by their means in them that are deceived, but tries to hinder them that are going up (and about this the Apostle says: According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience); while the Lord came to cast down the devil, and clear the air and prepare the way for us up into heaven, as said the Apostle: Through the veil, that is to say, His flesh Heb. 10:20— and this must needs be by death— well, by what other kind of death could this have come to pass, than by one which took place in the air, I mean the cross? For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air. Whence it was quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds, as He says: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven; and made a new opening of the way up into heaven as He says once more: Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors. (On the Incarnation, Chap. 25)

Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria died ca. 412

The same Abba Theophilus said, “What fear, what trembling, what uneasiness will there be for us when our soul is separated from the body. Then indeed the force and strength of the adverse powers come against us, the rulers of darkness, those who command the world of evil, the principalities, the powers, the spirits of evil. They accuse our souls as in a lawsuit, bringing before it all the sins it has committed, whether deliberately or through ignorance, from its youth until the time when it has been taken away. So they stand accusing it of all it has done. Furthermore, what anxiety do you suppose the soul will have at that hour, until sentence is pronounced and it gains its liberty. That is its hour of affliction, until it sees what will happen to it. On the other hand, the divine powers stand on the opposite side, and they present the good deeds of the soul. Consider the fear and trembling of the soul standing between them until in judgment it receives the sentence of the righteous judge. If it is judged worthy, the demons will receive their punishment, and it will be carried away by the angels. Then thereafter you will be without disquiet, or rather you will live according to that which is written: “Even as the habitation of those who rejoice is in you.” (Ps. 87.7) Then will the Scripture be fulfilled: “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35.10).

Then your liberated soul will go on to that joy and ineffable glory in which it will be established. But if it is found to have lived carelessly, it will hear that terrible voice: “Take away the ungodly, that he may not see the glory of the Lord.” (cf. Isaiah 26.10) Then the day of anger, the day of affliction, the day of darkness and shadow seizes upon it. Abandoned to outer darkness and condemned to everlasting fire it will be punished through the ages without end. Where then is the vanity of the world? Where is the vain-glory? Where is carnal life? Where is enjoyment? Where is imagination? Where is ease? Where is boasting? Riches? Nobility? Father, mother, brother? Who could take the soul out of its pains when it is burning in the fire, and remove it from bitter torments? Since this is so, in what manner ought we not give ourselves to holy and devout works? What love ought we to acquire? What manner of life? What virtues? What speed? What diligence? What prayer? What prudence? Scripture says: “In this waiting, let us make every effort to be found blameless and without reproach in peace.” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:7-8) (Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection pp. 81-82)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Lk. 12: 58-59 For whilst you are going with him who has a suit against you in the way to the magistrate, give diligence that you may be delivered, from him; lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the exactor, and the exactor cast you into prison. I tell you, you shall not come out thence, until you have made compensation unto the last mite.

Now perhaps it may be imagined that the sense of this passage is difficult to comprehend: but it will become very easy if we examine the metaphor by what takes place among ourselves. For let there be supposed, He says, some one who has brought a charge against you before one of those in authority, and has pointed you out to those whose office it is to carry the accused into court, and is causing you to be taken thither. “While therefore, He says, you are still with him on the way,” that is, before you have come to the judge, “give diligence,” that is, weary not, in using all your earnestness that you may be delivered from him. For otherwise he will give you up to the judge; and then, when you have been proved to be indebted to him, you will be delivered to the exactors, to those, that is, whose office it is to exact the money; and they will cast you into prison, and make you pay the last mite.

Now all of us, without exception, upon earth are guilty of offences: he who has a suit against us and accuses us is the wicked Satan: for he is “the enemy and the exactor.” While therefore we are in the way: that is, ere yet we have arrived at the termination of our life here, let us deliver ourselves from him: let us do away with the offences of which we have been guilty: let us close his mouth: let us seize upon the grace that is by Christ, which frees us from all debt and penalty, and delivers us from fear and torment: lest if our impurity be not cleansed away, we be carried before the judge, and given over to the exactors, that is, the tormentors, from whose cruelty no man can escape: yea, rather, who will exact vengeance for every fault, whether it be great or small. (Commentary on Luke, Sermon XCV)

St. John the Almsgiver died ca. 616

The blessed man always used to talk much about the thought of death and the departure of the soul so that on several occasions those who went in to him with a haughty bearing and laughing face and bold eyes came out from his presence with humble demeanor and a contrite face and eyes filled with tears. He used to say: ‘My humble opinion is that it suffices for our salvation to meditate continually and seriously about death and to think earnestly upon the fact that nobody will pity us in that hour nor will anyone travel with us out of this life except our good deeds. And when the angels come hastening down, in what a tumult will a soul then be if it is found unready! How it will beg that it may be allowed a further short span of life, only to hear the words: “What about the time you have lived, have you spent it well?” ‘

And again he used to say as though speaking of himself, ‘Humble John, how will you have the strength to “pass the wild beasts of the brake”, [Ps/ 68:30 = LXX 67:31, which read epitimeson tois theriois tou kalamou] when they meet you like tax collectors? Woe is me, what fears and tremors will encompass the soul when it is called to account by so many keen and pitiless accountants?’ (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 41)

 

Speak Your Mind