On the Chasm in Hades

Lazarus in Abe's bosom_fol.16r sc 2BSt. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-395

I next turn my attention to the chasm [Lk 16.26] mentioned in the Gospel which the patriarch [Abraham] said was established between evil and good persons. More accurately, the Lord of the patriarch said that the damned could not pass over to the repose of the saints, nor could the saints pass over to them. I do not accept opinions with regard to this matter as true; only the Gospel should be trusted. …I do not believe that he who was included in [the patriarch’s] repose could traverse that chasm which the impious could not bridge whether they willed it or not. Thus the devil could not freely cross the chasm and deprive the saints of holiness; he was unable to do this and could not attribute evil to anyone who did not want it. For a person established in the good cannot cross over to evil; even though a person might wish to do this, the chasm does not permit it. (Letter Concerning the Sorceress [of Endor] to Bishop Theodoxios)

On Universalism and St. Maximus the Confessor

maximusconfessor1Brian E. Daley, S.J.

When [Maximus] speaks of the condition of the sinner after Christ’s Judgment, on the other hand, [he] stresses in a number of places that change, repentance and forgiveness will then no longer be possible. In contrast to this present life, the coming age is one “in which one may not expect any forgiveness of sins, but only the recompense of a fitting reward for the way one has lived, appropriate for each person”. (Amb. Io. 53: PG91, 1376B10-13. Cf. Ep.1: PG 91, 381 D11-384A7)

The reason is not merely that God has fixed an arbitrary time-limit to His mercy, but something much more profoundly anthropological: the end of this human history, its transformation at the moment of Resurrection and Judgment, will necessarily put an end both to human action and to human change by removing the conditions which made them possible:

The ages of the flesh, in which we now live are characterized by doing; but the ages which will belong to the Spirit, after this present life, will be transformed into ages of undergoing. (Quest. Thal. 22: PG 90: 320- C7-13.)

Being itself, the most elementary mode of existence for rational creatures, is essentially “a matter of potency”, which free actualization, by means of conscious choice of the good, seeks to change into the higher existential mode of well-being (Amb. Io. 65: PG 91, 1392A4-B4). Both of these modes of existence are limited by time and finitude, however, and the creature can only be raised to the third and highest mode, that of ever-being by God’s gift. The gift, then, involves self-transcendence on the part of the creature: a movement beyond the limits of both potency and conscious, determinate act into a timeless, changeless state of rest:

As, then, voluntary activity makes use of the potentiality of nature, either in accord with nature or against nature it reaches nature’s limit of well-being or ill-being; this is ever-being, in which the souls have their Sabbath, receiving rest from all motion. The eighth and first, or better the one and endless day is the unadulterated, wholly radiant presence of God, which comes after things in motion have come to rest. It abides totally, in the appropriate way, for the total being of those who have freely used the structure of their being in accord with nature, and bestows on them ever-well-being, by giving a share in itself, because it alone, properly speaking, is and is forever and is good; but for those who freely have used the structure of their being contrary to nature, it properly bestows not well-being but ever-ill-being, since well-being is no longer accessible to them who have taken up an opposing stand to it, who have no power at all to move after the revelation of what has been sought – the revelation to seekers of the goal of their seeking. (ibid., C9-D13)

Universal salvation or individual damnation; the totally transcendent self-gift of God, satisfying the natural longing of every creature, or the final self-destruction of the creature through his own free refusal of the fulfilling gift: these are the two poles that define the complex but ordered field of Maximus’s eschatology. Far from being an unresolved paradox, caused by the conflicting desires to preserve both the systematic optimism of Origen and the salutary fear instilled by traditional teaching, Maximus’ Christian vision of the future is, in my opinion, consistent both in itself and with the rest of his theology. Here, as in his Christology or his theology of creation, he is primarily concerned to keep the central paradox of Christianity intact: faith in a totally transcendent God who is both source and goal of a dynamically developing nature, who is Himself the only adequate fulfillment of nature’s needs and desires, and yet Who is wholly beyond nature’s right or ability to claim for itself; and at the same time, faith in a world of distinct, independent creatures whose metaphysical and existential integrity may never be compromised by pantheism or determinism, faith in a human world where freedom and moral goodness are indispensable steps, on the creature’s part, towards receiving the gift that saves. Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, too, had been passionately committed to preserving intact both the sovereign goodness of God and the freedom of the created spirit; but their solution of a universal apokatastasis or restoration of fallen spirits to grace, after whatever amount of medicinal suffering may be necessary to bring them to accept that grace, must have struck Maximus as not taking seriously enough either the gratuitousness of grace or the seriousness of created freedom. In any case, while he mounts no direct attack on the Origenist conception of apokatastasis, he offers – as we have already seen in detail – a rather different eschatological prospect, and uses the word apokatastasis – when he does use it – in a very different way.

One passage in the Ambigua sums up with particular clarity the eschatological implications of this nicely-measured interplay between what later Western theologians would call the natural and the super-natural, freedom and grace; it shows, in addition, how closely linked with that tension, in Maximus’s thinking, a real alternative between divinization and damnation must be:

For all things which exist and will exist according to an essence or which become or will become, or appear or will appear, their concepts pre-exist immovably in God; in accord with those concepts, all things are and have come to be and remain, always drawing closer to their own predetermined ideas through natural motion, and ever more closely approximated to being by particular kinds and degrees of motion and momentum of the will. They receive well-being through goodness and through their direct progress towards the concept to which they correspond; or they receive ill-being through vice and their movement against the concept to which they correspond. To put it concisely, (they move) in accordance with their possession or their lack of the power they have naturally, to share in him who exists completely imparticipable in nature, and who simply offers himself in his totality, by grace, to all – worthy and unworthy – in his unlimited goodness, and who endows each with the permanence of eternal being, corresponding to the way that each disposes himself and is. And for those who share or do not share, proportionately, in him who in the truest sense is and is well and is forever, there is an intensification and in- crease of punishment for those who cannot share, and of enjoyment for those who can share (Amb. 10.42:PG 91, 1329 A1-B7).

One of Maximus’s replies in the Quaestiones ad Thalassium makes the same point, more briefly and more boldly:

For nature does not contain the characteristics of the super-natural, just as it does not contain the laws of what is against nature. By ‘supernatural’ I mean the divine and inconceivable joy, which God naturally creates when he is united by grace to those who are worthy. By ‘against nature’, I mean the unspeakable anguish which is involved in the deprivation of this (joy), which God naturally creates when He is united with the unworthy against grace. For God is united with all, according to the quality of the fundamental state of each person; in a way that He understands, he supplies sensation to each one, corresponding to the way each is made by Him to receive the One Who is completely united to all, at the end of the ages (Quest. Thal. 59 PG 90, 609B14-C12).


Just as the human creature, in his freedom, has been given the crucial power to realize or to destroy the plan God had in creating him, the ability to act either (~according to nature) or (~against nature), so God, Who loves all creatures equally — even the damned — and offers Himself equally and totally to each, will not (perhaps cannot) prevent His love and presence from becoming Hell itself for those who have refused them. It is a paradox – perhaps even a paradox one honors best by a reverential silence – but a paradox at the very heart of the Christian doctrine of creation. (Apokatastasis and Honorable Silence in the Eschatalogy of Maximus the Confessor)

On Self-Mercy and Self-Condemnation

last-judgment-1St. John Chrysostom ca. 347-407

He says, Depart from me, you cursed, (no longer of the Father; for not He laid the curse upon them, but their own works), into the everlasting fire, prepared, not for you, but for the devil and his angels. For concerning the Kingdom indeed, when He had said, Come, inherit the kingdom, He added, prepared for you before the foundation of the world; but concerning the fire, no longer so, but, prepared for the devil. I, says He, prepared the kingdom for you, but the fire no more for you, but for the devil and his angels; but since you cast yourselves therein, impute it to yourselves. And not in this way only, but by what follows also, like as though He were excusing Himself to them, He sets forth the causes. (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 79)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Again, we who have been baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat. 28:19) bear the name of Christ’s brethren (Heb. 2:11f.). We are more than this, for we are also His members (1 Cor. 6:15, 12:27). As His brother and His member you may honor all others, give them hospitality, and care for them. Yet if you ignore yourself and, instead of striving by every means to attain to the summit of that life and honor which are pleasing to God, leave your soul in the famine of laziness or the thirst of indifference or imprisoned in the dungeon of this filthy body through gluttony or love of pleasure, lying in filth, squalor, and deepest gloom as though it were dead, have you not treated Christ’s brother with contempt? Have you not abandoned Him to hunger and thirst? Have you not failed to visit Him when He was in prison (Mat. 25:42)? Surely, for this you will hear Him say, “You had no mercy on yourself, you will be shown no mercy.” (The Discourses: IX On Works of Mercy 5)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Let us be merciful to ourselves by being merciful to others, gain compassion by showing compassion, and do good that good may be done to us. For we receive the like in return: good works, benevolence, love, mercy, and compassion, but not merely to the same value and measure of excellence. You give out of what you possess as a man, and only as much as a man can bestow. But you receive in return a hundredfold from the inexhaustible divine treasures, together with eternal life, and benefit from as many great bounties as God can bestow, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man” (1 Cor. 2:9).

May we make haste to obtain the riches of kindness and buy an eternal kingdom in exchange for a little money. We should be afraid even now of the sentence pronounced on the unmerciful, lest we receive the same condemnation. (Homily 4.24-25, On Christ’s Second Coming)

On the Dead in Christ in Comparison to the Living

whatwouldjesusdoSt. Nicholas Cabasilas ca. 1323-1391

As far as sanctification is concerned, those souls which are free of the body have an advantage over those still living in the flesh. It is true that they receive, through the prayers of the priest and the intercession of the holy offerings, purification and remission of their sin, and do not add new wrongdoing to the old, as most of the living do; they are either entirely absolved from all blame, or at least freed forever from the possibility of further sin. Because of this, they are better disposed for communion with the Savior, not only than the majority of the living, but also than they themselves would have been if they were still in the flesh. The very fact of being free from the bonds of the flesh makes them far more worthy to receive the holy Mysteries than they could possible have been if they were still housed in their bodies.

We know that in the next world there are many mansions, so that every degree of goodness may be glorified, and none may go unrewarded by the most just and loving Judge. Thus, those worthy of the greatest rewards, who are perfect, and who inherit perfect blessedness, such as St. Paul, enjoy this happiness more purely after death than they did while still in this life. So also those who are called to a lower position in this place of rest naturally gain more fruit from the Mysteries than they did while they were alive.

We have shown that all peace of soul and the entire reward of virtue, be it great or small, consists only in this Bread and this Chalice, which is partaken of by both the living and the dead. That is why our Lord Himself describes the future happiness of the Saints as a banquet; it is in order to show that in the next life there will be nothing save the Holy Table. Thus, the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist is for the dead as well as the living, and just as the latter, as we have said, receive a two-fold sanctification, so do the former. The dead are in no way inferior to the living; rather, they possess certain advantages over them. (A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 45: A Theological Parenthesis)

 

St. Nektarios on Purgatory

Saint_Nektarios_of_Aegina_at_RizarioSt. Nektarios of Aegina 1846-1920

The Orthodox Church strongly rejects the purgatorial fire, the idea of a fire that cleanses souls… According to the Orthodox Church, there exists no intermediary order after death between those who proceed to Heaven and those who descend to Hades. There is no special intermediary place where the souls are found of those who have repented before death and have not brought forth the fruits of repentance… All these souls proceed to Hades, whence they cannot depart except through the prayers of the Church. (Study Concerning the Immortality of the Soul [Athens, 1901], pp. 168-169)

On the Soul in the Balance

Weighing of a Soul from Icon of the Last Judgment

Weighing of a Soul from Icon of the Last Judgment. Source

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Imagine your soul in a balance, devils and angels pulling at it in different directions. Which side will your heart defend? Who will win you over? Will it be fleshly delights or the holy soul? Present pleasure or a longing for the world to come? Will angels welcome you or will what you are tightly grasping now continue to own you? Commanders on the battlefield provide their soldiers with a password or token to equip them to call for help readily and to recognize one another clearly in any combat. But no one will recognize you, as belonging to either us or the enemy, if you fail to display the proper secret signs. How can the angel confirm your identity if you are not marked with the light of the Lord’s countenance? (Ps. 4:6) How can he rescue you from the foe if he sees no sign of your allegiance? Don’t you recall that the Angel of Death spared homes that had the mark, but killed the firstborn in homes without it? (Ex. 12:23) Unidentified riches are most liable to theft. Sheep are easy to steal if they have not been branded. (On Fasting and Feasts [Popular Patristic Series Book 50] Kindle Locations 1049-1056. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition)

On Fear of Punishment as a Remedy for Evil

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

You might indeed find many remedies for evil in Scripture, many medicines to save from destruction and lead to health; the mysteries of death and resurrection, the sentences of terrible judgment and everlasting punishment; the doctrines of repentance and of remission of sins; all the countless illustrations of conversion, the piece of money, the sheep, the son who wasted his substance with harlots, who was lost and was found, who was dead and alive again. Let us not use these remedies for ill; by these means let us heal our soul. Bethink you of your last day, for you will surely not…live for ever. The distress, the gasping for breath, the hour of death, the imminent sentence of God, the Angels hastening on their way, the soul fearfully dismayed, and lashed to agony by the consciousness of sin, turning itself piteously to things of this life and to the inevitable necessity of that long life to be lived elsewhere. Picture to me, as it rises in your imagination, the conclusion of all human life, when the Son of God shall come in His glory with His Angels, For He shall come and shall not keep silence; when He shall come to judge the quick and dead, to render to every one according to his work; when that terrible trumpet with its mighty voice shall wake those that have slept through the ages, and they that have done good shall come forth unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. Remember the vision of Daniel, and how he brings the judgment before us: I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days did sit, Whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool;…and His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth before Him; thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened, (Daniel 7:9-10) clearly disclosing in the hearing of all, Angels and Men, things good and evil, things done openly and in secret, deeds, words, and thoughts all at once. What then must those men be who have lived wicked lives? Where then shall that soul hide which in the sight of all these spectators shall suddenly be revealed in its fullness of shame? With what kind of body shall it sustain those endless and unbearable pangs in the place of fire unquenched, and of the worm that perishes and never dies, and of depth of Hades, dark and horrible; bitter wailings, loud lamenting, weeping and gnashing of teeth and anguish without end? From all these woes there is no release after death; no device, no means of coming forth from the chastisement of pain.

We can escape now. While we can, let us lift ourselves from the fall: let us never despair of ourselves, if only we depart from evil. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners… If you give yourself to Him He will not hold back. He, in His love, will not disdain even to carry you on His own shoulders, rejoicing that He has found His sheep which was lost. The Father stands and awaits your return from your wandering. Only come back, and while you are yet afar off, He will run and fall upon your neck, and, now that you are cleansed by repentance, willenwrap you in embraces of love. He will clothe with the chief robe the soul that has put off the old man with all his works; He will put a ring on hands that have washed off the blood of death, and will put shoes on feet that have turned from the evil way to the path of the Gospel of peace. He will announce the day of joy and gladness to them that are His own, both angels and men, and will celebrate your salvation far and wide. (Letter 46: 5-6, To a Fallen Virgin)

 

 

Fr. Florovsky on Universalism

Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky 1893-1979

According to the contemporary view, shared by Berdyaev, the acceptance of an eternal hell smacks of obscurantism. But in my view the denial of the possibility of an eternal hell cancels human freedom and deprives it of seriousness. ‘Theomachy’ is already ‘hell,’ although many may presently enjoy it. (Gavrilyuk, Paul L. 2013-12-19. Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance [Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology], p. 143. Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition)

The Eastern Patriarchs on Purgatory

The Eastern Patriarchs to the English Non-Jurors 1721

As for the purgatorial fire, invented by the Papists to command the purse of the ignorant, we will by no means hear of it. For, it is a fiction and a doting fable, invented for lucre and to deceive the simple; and in a word, has no existence but in the imagination. There is no appearance nor mention of it in the Sacred Scriptures or Holy Fathers, whatsoever the authors or abettors of it may clamor to the contrary. But we say, that the benefactions and holy sacrifices, the alms and prayers of the Church and her priests for the dead, are the things that greatly profit them; and not the purgatorial fire, which does not by any means anywhere exist. For, these relieve the pains which the souls endure in Hades, as is plain from the Centurion, whose son our Lord healed at the Centurion’s petition, and from the Paralytic, whom He recovered by a double cure for the faith of those that brought him to Him, and might be proved from a thousand other instances as clear as the sun. (The Answers of the Orthodox of the East to the Proposals sent from Britain for Union and Agreement with the Oriental Church: Answers to Proposals 9, 10, 11 and 12)

St. Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony on Universalism

Elder Sophrony of Essex 1896-1993

There is a domain in human life where a limit is set even to love — where even love is not supreme. This domain is freedom.

Man’s freedom is positive, real. It concedes no determinism in his destiny, so that neither the sacrifice of Christ Himself nor the sacrifices of all those who have trodden in His footsteps lead necessarily to victory.

The Lord said, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth’ (that is ‘crucified on the cross’) ‘will draw all men unto me’. (cf. John 12:32) Thus Christ’s love hopes to draw all men to Him, and so reaches out to the last hell. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. (It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz.)

What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’. Awareness of the possibility of eternal damnation remained deeply engrained in his spirit. (St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 109)

On the Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy

 

Separation of the Soul from the Body, fol. 63v, Heavenly Ladder of John Klimax, 1081, Princeton, University Library, Manuscripts Division

‘He Who is at the Point of Death’: The Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy

by Vasileios Marinis

This paper is an examination of the content and iconography of the Kanon eis Psychorragounta (Canon for He Who Is at the Point of Death). This was the most important component of an akolouthia by the same name, a liturgical service meant to be read and sung on one’s behalf shortly before death. The canon’s extensive use and impact are evident in that it was depicted at least three times, once in manuscript illumination and twice in monumental painting, unusual given the rarity of illustrations of minor services. Because of its inclusion in euchologia, the prayer books used by clergy containing all the services of the Byzantine Rite, the author argues that the akolouthia and its canon provided a canonical, Church-sanctioned understanding of death and its immediate aftermath and exerted a normative influence on people’s perception of the separation of the soul from the body and subsequent events. On the most basic level, the iconography of the canon is meant to illustrate its contents.

On Origenist Eschatology

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

[T]he Orthodox Church is far from the excessive optimism of those who maintain that at the end of time God’s mercy will extend to all of unrighteous humanity and all people, including great sinners, and together with them the devil and his demons will be saved in a lofty form by will of the God Who is good. Origen expressed this idea in the third century, Origen whose teaching on apokatastasis (“universal restoration”) was condemned in its entirety by an Ecumenical Council as contrary to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.

…However, such a theory, first of all, contradicts the Christian vision of the historical process as a path to the final transfiguration into a better state, and not at all as a return to the initial condition. Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky writes that “the whole pathos of Origen’s system is concluded in the cancellation, the abolition of the enigma of time and being. It is precisely in this intimate thought that his famous teaching of the ‘universal restoration (apokatastasis) lies… Apokatastasis is the rejection of history. The whole content of historical time is dispersed without memory or consequence. And ‘after’ history remains only that which was already ‘before’ history.” (Dogmat i istoriya, Moscow 1995, 294-295)

…Origenist apokatastasis radically contradicts the basic fundamentals of Christian morality. Indeed, what moral sense is there throughout the whole drama of human history if good and evil end up being equal in the eyes of divine mercy and just judgment? What meaning does the separation of the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment have, if the good is not the only and absolute criterion by which this division occurs, or if this division bears a temporary character? What meaning is there in suffering, prayer, ascetical efforts, the fulfillment of the Gospel commandments, if the righteous will be sooner or later equal to sinners? As Emperor Justinian asked, is it fair that “those who led a life full of perfection to the end should be united with the lawless and pederasts, and to acknowledge that both the former and the latter should enjoy equal blessings?” (Letter to the Holy Council on Origen and His Accomplices) The Origenist understanding of apokatastasis does not give an answer even to one of these questions.

Origen’s supposition on the potential salvation of the devil and his demons is in radical opposition to Church Tradition… the devil and demons’ falling away from God is perceived in Christian Tradition as final and irrevocable. In the words of John of Damascus, repentance is impossible both for angels and for the devil and his demons. It is impossible for the former because they are incorporeal and do not sin, and for the latter because they cannot change and be saved, but the unquenchable fire and eternal torment await them.

Origen’s view on the non-eternal nature of the torment… directly contradicts the Gospel, where this torture and perdition of sinners is repeatedly called eternal… It is true that Origen placed much attention on the fact that the adjective “eternal” (aionios) comes from the word “age” (aion) and therefore can indicate a certain length, though not a never-ending stretch, of time: in Origen’s opinion, hellfire is exactly like this — eternal, but not never-ending. The argument is on the two notions of the word “eternity” — on the eternity of God in comparison to which nothing created is eternal, and on eternity as an endless length of time. However, such a distinction is absent in the very texts of Holy Scripture that speak of eternal torment and eternal perdition, as well as any kind of allusions to the possibility of a spiritual progression and subsequent salvation of the devil and his demons.

…The teaching on apokatastasis and universal salvation gained a whole group of supporters in the form of theologians and philosophers of the Russian diaspora in the twentieth century. The consistent and decisive proponents of this teaching were Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov and N.A. Berdiaev. V.N. Lossky was more cautious, yet still spoke out in favor of this teaching. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh in particular also repeatedly defended it in his compositions… However, the opinions of individual theologians and philosophers defending the teaching of universal salvation do not grant it legitimacy. The Church condemned the concept of apokatastasis. (Orthodox Christianity Vol. II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, pp. 557-570)

On the Death of Infants

Holy Innocents from Uncut Mountain Supply

Lenten Triodion

When baptized infants die, they enjoy the paradise of delight, whereas those not illumined by baptism and those born to pagans go neither to paradise nor to Gehenna. (Saturday before Meatfare; Matins. Synaxarion at the Sixth Ode of the Canon)

On Various Theories of Purgation

St. Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

But if it be said that in the interval of time between the death of this body and that Last Day of Judgment and retribution which shall follow the Resurrection, the bodies of the dead shall be exposed to a fire of such a nature that it shall not affect those who have not in this life indulged in such pleasures and pursuits as shall be consumed like wood, hay, stubble, but shall affect those others who have carried with them structures of that kind; if it be said that such worldliness, being venial, shall be consumed in the fire of tribulation either here only, or here and hereafter both, or here that it may not be hereafter—this I do not contradict, because possibly it is true. For perhaps even the death of the body is itself a part of this tribulation, for it results from the first transgression, so that the time which follows death takes its color in each case from the nature of the man’s building. The persecutions, too, which have crowned the martyrs, and which Christians of all kinds suffer, try both buildings like a fire, consuming some, along with the builders themselves, if Christ is not found in them as their foundation, while others they consume without the builders, because Christ is found in them, and they are saved, though with loss; and other buildings still they do not consume, because such materials as abide for ever are found in them. In the end of the world there shall be in the time of Antichrist tribulation such as has never before been. How many edifices there shall then be, of gold or of hay, built on the best foundation, ChristJesus, which that fire shall prove, bringing joy to some, loss to others, but without destroying either sort, because of this stable foundation! (City of God, Bk. 21.26)

Orthodox Observations on Purgatory

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel releasing souls from Purgatory. Image from Wikipedia

Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow 1816-1882

Orthodox Dogmatic Theology,  Vol. 2, 1857, §259. pp.463-467

The doctrine of the Roman Church on Purgatory has some resemblance to the doctrine of the Orthodox Church on the possibility for some sinners to be released from the bonds of Hades by the prayers of the living, although it has also some difference. To properly judge between the one and the other one must understand the teaching as set forth by the Roman theologians themselves.

I. They distinguish in the doctrine of Purgatory two parts: the ‘essential part’, or what has been decreed and taught by their church as dogma, and the inconsequential, that is to say, what has not been fixed by their Church and forms the object of theological opinions. The first part refers only to two points:

a) there is a purgatory, that is to say a place or state of atonement (status expiationis) in which the souls of those who died without having received absolution for even slight faults, or even after obtaining absolution for their sins, but without enduring in this life the temporal punishment for sins, suffer torment to satisfy Divine Justice, until they have been purified by these torments and have become worthy of eternal felicity.

b) the souls of those in Purgatory are in great need of prayer to aid them, such as alms, and especially the Bloodless Sacrifice.

As regards the non-essential teaching relates the solution of the following questions:
a) Is Purgatory a specific place or not, and if so, where is it? Are the sufferings of the souls in the purgatorial fire real or metaphorical?
b) How long are souls in purgatory? How are they aided by the prayers of the Church? (2)

II .— Stopping our thoughts on the essential part of the Roman doctrine concerning Purgatory, we find some resemblance to that of the Orthodox Church on the prayers for the dead, and at the same time some differences.

1) There is similarity in the fundamental idea. Indeed, the Orthodox Church teaches, like that of Rome: —- a) that the souls of some of the dead, namely those who died in faith and repentance, but without having had time to bring in life fruit worthy of repentance, and therefore, did not manage to receive from God complete forgiveness of their sins and be purified, undergo torments until they are deemed worthy of forgiveness and cleansed ; —- b) that in such cases the souls of the dead are benefited by prayers for them from those of their brothers in Christ who are still living, their works of charity, and especially the Offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice.

2) The differences, in particular, are: a) According to the doctrine of the Orthodox Church the aforesaid souls of the dead are suffering because, although they repented before death, they have not had time to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, and therefore to deserve God’s complete forgiveness of their sins, and, thus, to actually be purified, and to overcome the natural consequences of sin, punishment; whereas, according to the doctrine of the Church of Rome, the souls of the dead suffer in Purgatory, strictly because they have not suffered here below the temporal punishment needed for sins in satisfaction of Divine Justice;. b) According to the Orthodox doctrine, these souls are purified of sins and deserve God’s forgiveness, not by themselves and of their own suffering but by the prayers of the Church and by the power of the Bloodless Sacrifice; with these same prayers not only benefiting the souls suffering, but mitigating their position, freeing them from the torment [2], whereas, according doctrine of the Roman Church, it is by their same suffering that souls are purified in Purgatory and thus Divine Justice is satisfied, and the prayers of the Church serve only to give them some relief in this condition. [3]

3) Moreover, although the differences between the Roman doctrine of Purgatory and the Orthodox doctrine of prayer for the dead are over these particulars, nevertheless, these are important, and we cannot accept the differences. For upon these differences we find both false things and a reversal of fundamental dogma:

a. the first idea is false, as we have already seen, [4] that is, that a sinner who repents before dying should still bring a kind of satisfaction to divine justice for his sins undergoing some temporal punishment for this purpose, and that in Purgatory, for lack of being able to suffer here below. Complete satisfaction to Divine Justice, the same superabundant satisfaction, was Presented once and for all, for all sinners, through Jesus Christ Our Savior, Who took upon Himself the sins of the world and all punishment for sin; and, to obtain complete forgiveness of God and freedom from all punishment of sin, sinners have to appropriate the merits of the Redeemer, that is to say, believe in Him, truly repent of their sins, bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, i.e., good deeds. Consequently, if there are sinners who, having repented before they died, have, despite this, torments to endure after death, it is only because they do not have time to fully appropriate the merits of the Savior, either because of the weakness of their faith in Him or by an effect of the failure of their repentance, and mainly because they did not bear fruits worthy of repentance, and were not actually purified from sin, as the Orthodox Church teaches.

b. it is no less a misconception that sinners would be purified in Purgatory and satisfy divine justice by their own torments. In whatever sense the fire of Purgatory is understood, either literally or in a figurative sense, in none of these senses can we ascribe this to God. If you attach a literal meaning to the fire, then, the fire by its very nature is incapable of purifying a soul which is a simple and immaterial spiritual essence. If you attach a figurative meaning, that is to say, the fire is an inner torment of the soul due to its consciousness of its past sins and the deep contrition for them, then, in that case, this cannot purify the soul in the life beyond the grave, because in the life after death there is no longer a place for repentance, nor for merit or any personal self-correction as Roman Catholics believe. And as long as the soul remains in sin, not purified and renewed, until then, whatever it may have to endure, it can in no way satisfy by its own suffering the Divine Justice and overcome these inevitable consequences of sin. [5]

c. If the souls of some of the dead suffer in Purgatory, even repentant sinners must necessarily suffer a temporal punishment for sin in satisfaction to Divine Justice, and, if the souls suffering in Purgatory are truly cleansed and meet their obligation to Divine Justice, then, the question is, “What is the point of prayers and the general intercession of the Church in their favour?” The souls in Purgatory necessarily have to suffer until they have fulfilled the desired satisfaction and have been purified by suffering; now, if the prayers of the Church only weaken and alleviate that suffering, instead of shortening the period of time that souls must pass in Purgatory, they (the prayers) prolong it and therefore are less useful than harmful. Does this not, of course, overturn the fundamental idea of the dogma of the prayers for the dead?

III. – If we now turn our attention to the non-essential part of the Roman doctrine concerning Purgatory, being theological opinions we find that it differs much more from the doctrine of the Orthodox Church on prayer for the dead, though on issues of little importance judging by their intimate meaning. Let us mention the two most remarkable:

1) The Orthodox Church teaches there is no intermediate class after death between those who are saved and go to heaven, and those who are condemned, and go to Hades; there is not a particular intermediate place where souls go who did penance before death and are subject to the prayers of the Church; all those souls go to Hades, where they can only be freed by its prayers. [6] Most Roman theologians consider Purgatory as a special intermediary place between heaven and hell, and sometimes placed in the vicinity thereof, in the interior of the earth, sometimes close to that one, sometimes in the air. There are others, however, who see in purgatory, not a place apart, but a particular state of souls, and recognize that the souls in this state can undergo their temporal punishment and be purified even where are contained those condemned to eternal punishment (that is to say, to hell); thus, there can be found in the same prison inmates sentenced to temporary imprisonment and prisoners condemned forever. (7)

2) The Orthodox Church strongly rejects the teaching of a Purgatorial fire, in the truest sense of the word, which cleanses the soul. (8) A great number of Roman theologians consider this fire as real and material (this being the almost universal belief of the laity of the Roman confession), and to garner proof of their teaching they attempt to collect from the Holy Scriptures and from the writings of the ancient Doctors of the Church references that seem to refer to such a fire (9). Others, however, understand the fire of Purgatory in a figurative sense, for spiritual torment, and therefore cite in their treaties on the subject similar evidence either from the word of God, or the writings of the Fathers, adding that the ancient Doctors themselves were of varied opinions on the fire (10). It would therefore be superfluous even to refute the evidence given. It is finally noted that in general their church has not determined precisely what the fire of Purgatory is, if it is material or not, and therefore it does not belong to faith to understand it in one way or another (11).

We will say nothing of other opinions concerning Purgatory, for example, how long a soul remains, and if they are all suffer the same space of time for the same penalties; what penalties they face; if they are more stringent than those of the present life and lighter than those of hell; if souls in purgatory pray for themselves and for us who are still  in this world; if they give themselves up to the practice of good works, etc., etc. All these opinions have little value even to theologians of Rome and few seriously engaged themselves in answering them (12). (Source) h/t Hieromonk Enoch

Notes from Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow’s “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology”, Volume 2, 1857, §259. pp. 463-467

1. Perrone. Praelectiones theologicae. Vol. III. 308-310. Louvain, 1839; Feier. Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae. VII. R. 41-47; Cursus Theologiae Completus VII. P. 1604 et squ; Liebermann. Institutiones Theologiae. V. Paris, 1839. P. 406-413
2. The Confession of the Orthodox Faith, Dogmatic Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, Part 1, Response 64.
3. At the Council of Florence this doctrine was expressed as: “Si vere poenitentes in charitate Dei decesserint, antequam dignis poenitentiae fructibus de commissis satisfecerint et omissis: eorum animas poenis purgatorii post mortem purgari, et, ut a poenis hujusmodi releventur, prodesse eis fidelium suffragia, missarum scilicet sacrifica, orationes….” (In Definit. Fidei.) [“If true penitents do depart in the love of God, but, before they make satisfaction by fruits worthy of repentance for things committed and omitted, their souls are cleansed after death by the penalties of purgatory, and, they are relieved from the pains of this sort by the suffrages of the faithful, that is to by the Sacrifice of the Mass, prayers…”]
4. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 2. §226-228, Concerning Penance and so-called “Indulgences”
5. Orthodox Confession, Response 66, Dogmatic Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs
6. Orthodox Confession, Response 64, Dogmatic Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs
7. Cursus Theologia Completus. T. VII. P. 1607; Feier. Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae VII. P. 42; Liebermann. Institutiones Theologiae. Paris, 1839. V> $!#
8. Orthodox Confession, Response 66, Dogmatic Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs
9. Cursus Theologiae Completus. Locus citatus.
10. Perrone. Praelectiones theologicae. Vol.III. P.310-318,323,327; Klee. Manuel de l’histoire des dogmatiques. T.II.Paris, 1848. P.474

11. Bellarmin. De purgatorio. Liber II. S. 11 [Bellarmine. About purgatory. Book II, Chapter 11].
12. Feier. Institutiones Theologiae dogmaticae VII. P.42-43; Cursus Theologiae completus VII. P.1068-1612.

On St. Kevin of Ireland and the Aerial Demons

How St. Kevin of Glendalough [ca. 498-618] did battle with demons, and by the Mercy of God, Saved the Soul of an Undeserving Man, by God’s Grace

A certain cruel soldier had frequently perpetrated robberies among those mountain ridges. He had never done a good action but one, which was praying each day, that through St. Kevin’s merits, his soul might be saved. On a particular occasion, being surrounded by those who were in pursuit of him, he was put to death, and afterwards cut to pieces. An Angel of the Lord then appeared to [St.] Kevin saying: “A certain wretched man, who hath daily invoked thee to ward off danger from his soul, is slain on this day. Do you, therefore, act valiantly in the Lord’s name, and follow the demons who drag his soul to torments. For, although his body is destroyed, yet through the power of God, you shall snatch his soul from destruction.” Then, the holy Abbot felt comforted. Guided by the Angel, he was taken up from the earth to the higher regions of air, where he remained from the ninth hour to the following day, engaged in a contest with demons. In fine, through the Mercy of God, he release the wretched man’s soul from their power. Meantime, not knowing the cause of their holy Abbot’s absence, his monks felt sorrowful, on finding their venerable superior missing. When he returned to them, on the following day, he said: “O my brethren, bury the body of that culprit in your cemetery, for on his account, I ascended towards heaven. His soul is now liberated from the demons, and is at rest in God’s presence.” The monks did as they were commanded, while admiring those wonders wrought by the Almighty, through his holy servant. (J. O’Hanlon, “Lives of the Irish Saints” Volume 6, pp. 62-63)

H/T to Fr. Enoch

On the Cleansing Power of the Fear of Death

Pope St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

[S]ometime the only fear of death doth purge the souls of just men from their smaller sins, as you and I have often heard of a certain holy man that was very much afraid when he came to die: and yet, after he was dead, appeared to his disciples in a white stole, reporting to them in what excellent manner he was received, when he departed out of this world. (Dialogues Bk. 4 Chap. 46)

On the Middle State of Souls in Patristic and Byzantine Literature

The Forerunner Preaching in Hades

“To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”: The Middle State of Souls in Patristic and Byzantine Literature

by Nicholas Constans (Fr. Maximos of Simonopetra)  Senior Research Scholar at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, in Brookline, Mass. He holds a Ph.D. in Patristics and Historical Theology from the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He was a professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School, after which he became a monk at Simonopetra (Mt. Athos).

This study is concerned with Patristic and Byzantine beliefs about the immediate postmortem phase of existence, understood as a liminal, intermediate phase between death and resurrection. Never precisely defined, this para-eschatological state appears as an attenuated, semiconscious mode of existence, of indefinite relation to time and space. It is often a phase of self-discovery, or of being self-discovered, in which one’s true character is uncovered and revealed. As a mode of self-confrontation and encounter, it is frequently seen as a form of judgment anticipatory of a future resurrection and a final judgment.

read the paper here

On the Vision of the Saints

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

All those who have their mind on high, all those who forget the things of the earth, all those who give no care to the flesh… who, to be sure, have mortified their earthly members, having a pure mind and an acute mind’s eye, being yet on earth, these see the sufferings that are in hell, the eternal torments, the everlasting fire, the outer darkness, the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. But they also see the heavenly gifts that God has presented to the Saints: the royal attire, the shining inner chambers, the inexpressible delights and eternal life. What more can I say? Indeed, the greatest wonder of all is that he who has a pure mind also perceives with his inner eyes even God Himself. (Constantine Cavarnos, The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching, p. 38)

On Satisfying Divine Righteousness

St. Nektarios of Pentapolis 1846-1920

[B]oth the Holy Synods as well as the Holy Fathers — St. Athanasios the Great and Peter Patriarchs of Alexandria, St. Dionysios, St. Gregory Thaumaturgos, St. Basil, the divine Chrysostom, and others — precisely designate the satisfaction required of sinners according to the quantity and degree of sin; because the person who does not obey [these canons] will be sent to the future courthouses to give an account of the improprieties that he has committed, as having rejected the laws of the Church. Therefore, the satisfaction of the insulted Divine Justice is an unavoidable requirement. So then, an urgent need obligates us to hasten towards propitiation of God, especially since we do not know what tomorrow will bring. We should hasten with tears. We should appear before the sympathetic judge and therapist, the affectionate spiritual father, with contrition of heart and compunction. We should pour out our heart wile confessing our sins, so that we may be acquitted from the condemnation of the future tribunal — where everyone who did not give an account of the deeds they committed to the earthly courthouses will be sent — so that we may reconcile with God and become communicants of eternal life. (Repentance and Confession, Part 2: Confession, 4. The Person who has Sinned is Obligated to Satisfy the Divine Righteousness, pp. 48-49)

Note by the translators: They who reject the idea of the necessity of satisfying/compensating Divine Righteousness as a denial of the satisfaction made by our Savior Christ to God the Father, these people neglect that this is in reference to sinful Christians and not to unbelievers. Yes, reconciliation has already been made through Jesus Christ. St. Nicodemos says that “the satisfaction and payment made by our Lord on behalf of our sins was so bountiful and rich that this satisfaction resembles a boundless ocean, while all the sins of humanity — past, present, and future — represent a drop of water.” (Unseen Warfare, p. 207) However, having sinned after baptism, we have “saddened” the Savior Himself, and it is Him Who we are seeking to please through repentance, confession and good works. This is what St. Nektarios is calling “satisfaction of Divine Righteousness”. This is what all the saints have spoken about in their own manner. St. Mark the Ascetic says: “A sinner cannot escape retribution except through repentance appropriate to his offense.” (Philokalia, Vol. 1, p. 130) St. Maximos the Confessor says: “No sinner can escape future judgment without experiencing in this life either voluntary hardships or afflictions he has not chosen.” (Philokalia, Vol. 2, p. 76) (ibid., p. 44) 

On the Trials of Darkness After Death

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves 1009-1074

…I pray Thee, O my Lord, have mercy on my soul, that it may not encounter the malice of Thy enemies, but that Thy angels may receive it and lead it through the trials of the darkness after death towards the light of Thy mercy. (A Life of St. Theodosius, The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality edited by G.P. Fedotov [kindle version])

St. Photios on St. Gregory of Nyssa and Apokatastasis

St. Photios the Great ca. 810-893

Read a book which has the name of St. Germanus as the author, who was first chosen for Cyzicus and then was Bishop of Constantinople.  It has as its title The Punisher or The Legitimate which are  equivalent to “On the Legitimate Retribution to Men According to the Actions of Their Life.”

The subject that defines this book which is a polemical work is to demonstrate that St. Gregory of Nyssa and his writings are free of any taint of Origenism.  In fact those to whom this silly idea of the redemption of demons and men freed from everlasting punishment is dear are those, I say, —- because they know the man by the elevation of his teaching and the abundance of his writings and because they see his distinguished conception of the faith spread among all men, —- who have attempted to mix into his works, full of the light of salvation, informed, troubled and disastrous ideas from the dreams of Origen as part of the design to soil with heresy by a method which overturns the virtue and distinguished wisdom of the great man.

This is why, sometimes by faked additions, sometimes by their relentless efforts to pervert correct thinking, they have attempted to falsify many of his works which were beyond reproach.  It is against these that Germanus, the defender of the true faith, has directed the sword sharpended with truth and leaving his enemies mortally wounded, he makes the victory apparent and his mastery over the legion of heretics who created these pitfalls. (Myriobiblion, 233)

Evangelist Billy Graham on the Soul After Death

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

Orthodox Christians are fortunate to have the teaching of the aerial toll- houses and the particular judgment clearly set forth in numerous Patristic writings and Lives of Saints, but actually any person who carefully reflects on nothing more than the Holy Scripture will come to a very similar teaching. Thus, the Protestant Evangelist Billy Graham writes in his book on angels: “At the moment of death the spirit departs from the body and moves through the atmosphere. But the Scripture teaches us that the devil lurks there. He is ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Eph. 2:2). If the eyes of our understanding were opened, one would probably see the air filled with demons, the enemies of Christ. If satan could hinder the angel of Daniel for three weeks on his mission to earth, we can imagine the opposition a Christian may encounter at death…. The moment of death is satan’s final opportunity to attack the true believer; but God has sent His angels to guard us at that time.” (Billy Graham, Angels, God’s Secret Messengers , Doubleday, New York, 1975, pp. 150–51.) (The Soul After Death, Chap. 6 [kindle version])

On Burdening One’s Ancestors

St. Paisios the Athonite 1924-1994

It is a very sad thing those people who live a sinful life constantly adding more weight to the souls of their departed ancestors. For, these souls are burdened with guilt for having been the cause of their birth and of them living estranged from God and the fact that eternal hell awaits them after the small hell of their present life, which they live in sin. (Epistles p. 196, Fourth Epistle)

On the Ultimate Fate of the Passionate Soul

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

[I]f the soul, as I have said, uses its own powers properly, and if, consistent with God’s purpose, it passes through the sensible world by way of the spiritual principles that exist within it, so that with understanding it arrives at God. If, however, it makes the wrong or mistaken use of these powers, delving into the world in a manner contrary to what is proper, it is obvious that it will succumb to dishonorable passions, and in the coming life will rightly be cast away from the presence of the divine glory, receiving the dreadful condemnation of being estranged from relation with God for infinite ages, a sentence so distressing that the soul will not be able to contest it, for it will have as a perpetually relentless accuser its own disposition, which created for it a mode of existence that in fact did not exist. (Ambigua to John, Ambiguum 21)

On Good Death

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Except for sin nothing in this life, even death itself, is really evil, even if it causes suffering. The company of the saints brought bodily sufferings upon themselves. The martyrs made the violent death which others inflicted on them into something magnificent, a source of life, glory and the eternal heavenly kingdom, because they exploited it in a good way that pleased God. (Homily XVI, 33)

On Salvation in Hades

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

What occasion will we still have for weeping? On the contrary, will not what has happened to us, thanks to the Savior, cause us boundless rejoicing? He it was Who showed the way of salvation not only to us, but also went as herald to the once disobedient spirits of the underworld, as Peter says (1 Pet. 3:19-20). For it would not have done for His loving-kindness to be shown only to some; the manifestation of the gift had to extended to all of nature. For He spoke opportunely through the Prophets, “One part shall be rained upon, and the part on which I shall not rain shall be dried up.” (Amos 4:7) But the word which befits the Savior is: “Come to me, all you who labor and are weary, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) Having proclaimed His message, then, to the spirits in the underworld and having said to those in fetters, “Come forth!” and to those in darkness, “Show yourselves!” (cf. Isa. 49:9) He raised up the temple of Himself in three days, (cf. Jn. 2:19) and renewed for nature even the ascent into heaven, presenting Himelf to the Father as a kind of first-fruits of humanity, having endowed those on earth with a share of the Spirit as a pledge of grace. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5) (Festal Letter 2.8)

St. John of Damascus ca. 676-749

Some say that [Christ delivered from Hades] only those who believed,
such as fathers and prophets,
judges and together with them kings, local rulers
and some others from the Hebrew people,
not numerous and known to all.
But we shall reply to those who think so
that there is nothing undeserved,
nothing miraculous and nothing strange
in that Christ should save those who believed,
for He remains only the fair Judge,
and every one who believes in Him will not perish.
So they all ought to have been saved
and delivered from the bonds of Hades
by the descent of God and Master —
that same happened by His Disposition.
Whereas those who were saved only through [God’s] love of men
were, as I think, all those
who had the purest life
and did all kinds of good works,
living in modesty, temperance and virtue,
but the pure and divine faith
they did not conceive because they were not instructed in it
and remained altogether unlearnt.
They were those whom the Steward and Master of all
drew, captured in the divine nets
and persuaded to believe in Him,
illuminating them with the divine rays
and showing them the true light. (Concerning Those Who Died in Faith PG 95, 257 AC).

On the Differences Between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Views of the Afterlife and Middle State

The Return of the Prodigal Son

Love, Purification, and Forgiveness versus Justice, Punishment, and Satisfaction: The Debates on Purgatory and the Forgiveness of Sins at the Council of Ferrara – Florence by Fr. D. Bathrellos

A significant part of the debates at the Council of Ferrara-Florence was dedicated to the question of purgatory and more generally of the forgiveness of sins after death. Both Latins and Greeks agreed that there are Christians who belong to the so-called ‘middle state’ and who, assisted by the suffrages of the Church, will in due course join the group of the saved. But they disagreed as to how these souls will attain to salvation. The Latins emphasized divine justice, punishment, and satisfaction. Divine justice demands that those who have failed to offer full satisfaction for sins forgiven in this life will have to go through fiery punishment in purgatory, until due satisfaction is eventually offered. The Greeks, on the other hand, emphasized God’s love and forgiveness. They repudiated the idea of purgatory and of material fire burning (immaterial) souls, and rejected the Latin view that souls are punished for sins already forgiven. They argued that the souls of people who die with unforgiven minor sins will experience spiritual sufferings in the afterlife, which, however, are not divine punishments but self-inflicted consequences of these sins. These souls will eventually be purified and saved thanks to God’s love and forgiveness.

Read the paper here and here

On Francis of Assisi and the Soul After Death

Death and Ascension of Francis of Assisi

I toured Italy for two weeks and Assisi was one of the scheduled stops so I got the opportunity to see this peculiar fresco pretty closely. Our tour guide pointed out the recent discovery of a demonic face in the cloud beneath the ascending Roman Catholic saint. I asked the guide the significance of the demonic image and she stated that it symbolized an old belief that held that demons in the air tried to impede souls on their way to heaven.

Despite the objections of a minority within the U.S., Orthodoxy can claim to have taught this belief universally for 2,000 years and many contemporary Saints and prominent teachers have taught it as well. Fr. Seraphim Rose was highly criticized for his book The Soul After Death where he taught the patristic post-mortem teaching. Whereas, Fr. Peter Alban Heers, who resides in Thessaloniki, Greece states: “In America, Fr. Seraphim, although venerated by many and with many miracles associated with his life after his repose, is sometimes seen as controversial because of his writings, especially on the soul after death. He is seen as controversial or just plain wrong. Whereas here in Greece, a traditional Orthodox country, we see that this book, The Soul After Death, has been the most positively received of all the books Fr. Seraphim has written.”

For a complete treatment of this particular topic, purchase Jean-Claude Larchet’s comprehensive work Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition.

Read the article below and see the images to observe how the Orthodox teaching on the intermediate state must have persisted in the West even after the Schism.

Smirking Face of the Devil Discovered in Giotto Fresco

The smirking face of the Devil has been discovered hidden in a fresco by the Italian medieval artist Giotto after remaining undetected for more than 700 years in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.

by Nick Squires

The Satanic image went unnoticed until now because it is artfully hidden in the folds of a cloud and is invisible from ground level.

The discovery of the face, in a fresco which depicts the death of St Francis, was made by Chiara Frugoni, a medievalist and an expert on the saint.

“It’s a powerful portrait, with a hooked nose, sunken eyes and two dark horns,” Ms Frugoni said in an article in a forthcoming issue of the St Francis art history periodical.

“The significance of the image still needs to be delved into. In the Middle Ages it was believed that demons lived in the sky and that they could impede the ascension of human souls to Heaven.”

Demonic face in the cloud

“Until now it was thought that the first painter to use clouds in this way was Andrea Mantegna, with a painting of St Sebastian from 1460, in which high up in the sky there’s a cloud from which a knight on horseback emerges. Now we know that Giotto was the first (to use this technique).”

Sergio Fusetti, the head of the restoration work in the basilica, said the devil face may have been a dig at somebody the artist had quarrelled with.

Claudio Strinati, an art historian, said it was not unusual for Renaissance artists to include hidden meanings in their works. “Paintings often had two facets – an explicit one and an implicit one.”

Millions of pilgrims and tourists have trooped through the basilica in Assisi, in Umbria, since the fresco was painted in the 13th century without noticing the devil’s face.

Close-up of the demonic face in the cloud discovered by medievalist expert Chiara Frugoni.

It was only discovered during restoration of the fresco, the 20th in a series of images of St Francis’s life and death by Giotto.

St. Augustine on the Departure of the Soul

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

I then, O my Praise and my Life, Thou God of my heart, putting aside for a little her good deeds, for which I joyfully give thanks to You, do now beseech You for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine of our wounds who hung upon the tree, and who, sitting at Your right hand, makes intercession for us. Rom. 8:34 I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart Mat. 18:35 forgave her debtors their debts; do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech You; enter not into judgment with her. Let Your mercy be exalted above Your justice, James 2:13 because Your words are true, and You have promised mercy unto the merciful; Mat. 5:7 which You gave them to be who wilt have mercy on whom You will have mercy, and wilt have compassion on whom You have had compassion. Rom. 9:15

And I believe You have already done that which I ask You; but accept the free-will offerings of my mouth, O Lord. For she, when the day of her dissolution was near at hand, took no thought to have her body sumptuously covered, or embalmed with spices; nor did she covet a choice monument, or desire her paternal burial-place. These things she entrusted not to us, but only desired to have her name remembered at Your altar, which she had served without the omission of a single day; whence she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed, by which the handwriting that was against us is blotted out; Col. 2:14 by which the enemy was triumphed over, who, summing up our offenses, and searching for something to bring against us, found nothing in Him Jn. 14:30 in whom we conquer. Who will restore to Him the innocent blood? Who will repay Him the price with which He bought us, so as to take us from Him? Unto the sacrament of which our ransom did Your handmaid bind her soul by the bond of faith. Let none separate her from Your protection. Let not the lion and the dragon Ps. 91: 13 introduce himself by force or fraud. For she will not reply that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and got the better of by the wily deceiver; but she will answer that her sins are forgiven Mat. 9:2 by Him to whom no one is able to repay that price which He, owing nothing, laid down for us. (Confessions Bk. 9 Chap. 13.35-36)

On the Judge at the Tollhouses

St. Ignaty Brianchininov 1807-1867

Not only temporal sorrows, but also those that await man at his entry into eternity, beyond the bounds of the grave, are unable to withstand the vision of Divine providence. They are blunted and destroyed by the grace-filled consolation that always descends upon a soul who denies himself in order to be submissive to God. In the face of selflessness, in the face of devotion to God’s will, death itself is not terrible. The true servant of Christ entrusts his soul and his eternal lot into Christ’s hands, entrusting them with firm faith in Christ, with unwavering hope in His goodness and power. When his soul parts from his body, and the rejected angels defiantly and impudently approach him, he strikes the dark and evil angels with his self-renunciation and turns them to flight. “Take me—take me!” he courageously tells them. “Cast me into the abyss of darkness and fire; cast me into the abyss of hell, if it is my God’s will for you to do that, if such a determination has come from Him. It is easier to be deprived of the sweetness of Paradise, it is easier to bear the flames of hell, than to transgress the will and decision of the great God. I have surrendered myself to Him, and still surrender to Him! He is the Judge of my infirmities and sins, not you! You—even in the midst of your insane rebelliousness—are only the fulfillers of His determinations.” The servants of the prince of this world will tremble and become astonished, seeing such courageous selflessness, such meek, total devotion to God’s will! When they spurned that blessed obedience, they went from being radiant and good angels to being dark and utterly malicious demons. They will back away with shame, and that soul, without hindrance, will direct his course to where his treasure is—to God. There he will see, face to face, Him Who is seen here through faith in His providence, and he will eternally exclaim: Glory be to God! (“Glory be to God!” Orthodox Word No. 294-295, 2014)

St. Symeon the Stylite on the Soul After Death

St. Symeon the Stylite ca. 390-459

When the soul goes forth from the body, as it rises from the earth to heaven there meet it troops of demons, each in his own regiment. A band of demons of arrogance meet it, they feel it all over to see whether the soul possesses their works. A band of the spirits of slander meets it; they inspect it to see whether it has ever uttered slanders and not repented. Again higher up the demons of harlotry meet it; they investigate whether they can recognize their pursuits in it. And while the wretched soul is being brought to account on its way from earth to heaven the holy angels stand on one side and do not help it, only its own virtues can do that. (Supplement to the Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 41)

St. Ambrose on Gehenna

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

That gnashing is not of bodily teeth, nor is that perpetual fire made up of physical flames, nor is the worm a bodily one. These things are spoken of, however, because, just as worms are born from massive overeating and fevers, so too, if anyone does not boil away his sins… he will be burned up in his own fire and devoured by his own worms. Whence also Isaias says: “Walk in the light of your fire, and the flame which you have ignited.” (Isa. 50:11) It is a fire which the gloominess of sins generates. It is a worm insofar as irrational sins of the soul stab at mind and heart and eat the guts out of your conscience. (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 7.205)

On Holy Communion and Death

St. Anthony of Optina 1795-1865

It is very salutary to nourish your soul with the Eternal and Holy Bread. If a person should die on the very day when he has communed of the Holy Mysteries, the Holy Angels will receive his soul into their hands, for the sake of the communion, and he will pass safely through the heavenly toll-gates. (Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina, p. 134)

On the Passion of Lust

St. Anatoly of Optina 1824-1894

The passion of lust wars against everyone, and at the toll-houses the demon of lust will boast before all the princes of darkness that he provided hell with more spoils than all the rest. Be patient, and implore Divine help! (Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsel of the Holy Elders of Optina, pg. 5)

St. Pacian on Confession and Eternal Judgment

St. Pacian of Barcelona 310-391

Remember that confession (exomologesis) extinguishes hell (gehennan) for you. And you may guess the intensity of hell from what is visible. Some of its chimneys boil away the greatest mountains by its subterranean fires. Etna in Sicily and Vesuvius in the Campania burn with unflagging balls of fire; and they will test us, sear us, devour us in an eternity of judgment, nor will they be finished after any number of ages. (Sermon Exhorting to Penance, 11)

On the Nature of Future Punishments

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

There are many who say there are no future punishments for sins nor any torments extrinsically applied, but that sin itself and the consciousness of guilt serve as punishment, while the worm in the heart does not die, and a fire is kindled in the mind, much like a fever, which does not torment the ailing person externally but punishes even bodies by its seizures, without the application of any torments that might be brought to bear from without. These arguments and fraudulent fancies are but inane and empty words having the semblance of a certain eloquence of speech but serving only to delude sinners; and if they give them credence they only add to the burden of eternal punishment which they will carry with them. (Commentary on Ephesians, 3.5,6)

On the First Pontifical Definition of Purgatory (1254)

Pope Innocent IV official letter (sub catholicae) to Cardinal Eudes of Chateauroux, the papal legate to the Greeks on Cyprus

March 6, 1254

Since the Truth asserts in the Gospel that, if anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, this sin will not be forgiven either in this world or the next: by which we are given to understand that certain faults are pardoned in the present time, and others in the other life; since the Apostle also declares that the work of each man, whatever it may be, shall be tried by fire and that if it burns the worker will suffer the loss, but he himself will be saved yet as by fire; since the Greeks themselves, it is said, believe and profess truly and without hesitation that the souls of those who die after receiving penance but without having had time to complete it, or who die without mortal sin but guilty of venial [sins] or minor faults are purged after death and may be helped by the suffrages of the Church; we, considering that the Greeks assert that they cannot find in the works of their doctors any certain and proper name to designate the place of this purgation, and that, moreover, according to the traditions and authority of the Holy Fathers, this name is Purgatory, we wish that in the future this expression be also accepted by them. For, in this temporary fire, sins, not of course crimes and capitol errors, which could not previously have been forgiven through penance, but slight and minor sins, are purged; if they have not been forgiven during existence, they weigh down the soul after death.

On Fiery Judgment

St. Columbanus ca. 543-615

Men, created out of the earth and making a brief sojourn on the earth return almost at once to the earth and then, a second time, on orders from God, are yielded up and put forth by the earth, and at the end of time tried by passing through the fire, which in some way will dissolve the earth and mud; and if, after the counterfeit coin has melted, there remains gold or silver or some other useful matter from the earth, the fire will show it. (Instructiones, Instructio 9)

On Why the Orthodox Pray for the Dead

Eustratios Argenti 1687-1757

To show that their souls are alive, and have not passed into non-existence as the irrational beasts.

In confirmation of the General Resurrection.

In confirmation of the Last Judgment.

To confirm that each of them has not yet received his reward (as the Holy Fathers teach).

To remind us that they are our members, and that we ought to commemorate them.

To help them. ‘For sacrifices and almsgiving help some, effecting for them a complete remission; while for those who have been condemned, they perhaps make the punishment more tolerable’ (St. Augustine, Enchiridion, Chap. 110)

To comfort and console their relatives who are still alive.

In accordance with teaching of the greatest antiquity, handed down to us from the Fathers, that we should pray for those who have fallen asleep to commemorate them.

Because we are under obligation to pray for one another. The Calvinolutherans are thus misanthropists and haters of their brethren, for after burying their kinfolk they then refuse to make any further mention of them. (Eustratios Argenti, A Study of the Greek Church Under Turkish Rule by Kallistos Ware, pp. 157-158)

 

Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky on Hellfire

Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky 1863-1936

But what is the fire, making sinners burn? — First of all, it is the same fire, which will enlighten the righteous since the day, “when all deeds, good and evil, will be tried by fire,” as we read in the canon to the Guardian Angel; it is like the Chaldean furnace: “A furnace once in Babylon, by divine decree, divided its action, burning up the Chaldeans but refreshing the faithful”. The fire burns the wood, hay and straw, but cleanses gold and silver. The sinners shall be cast “into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Math. 13:42-43). Similarly Apostle Paul tells about one and the same fire — the Divine touch — that influences different souls in a different way. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:13-15).

In this sense the Lord is called as consuming fire in the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah calls Him eternal fire, eternal flame, which burns the sinners. “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions”, and further (33:14-15).

Do not you want to say that the lot of the righteous and sinful will be the same if to look at them from aside: it is the state of constant vision of God and the impossibility to hide from Him, — but for one it will be the source of pleasure, and for others — of tortures, forthcoming from their hatred and powerless rage? — Or do you want to say that the eternal fire is nothing but the Divine presence, which is so hard to bear for his enemies? I did not mean “nothing but” but what was meant is “in the first place”. To say “nothing but” will be possible only in the case, when someone compares the eternal fire with material fire from the church legend (and the church legend is as well holy for us, as the words of the holy Bible), and only if it is possible to bring this idea together with that indisputable truth about the resurrection of the body, so precious for most ancient Christians and so obviously revealed to us through the Word of God.

But, in the vast course of dogmatics there is no expression of the holy fathers about the material fire in hell. But, certainly, we would not dare to deny the presence of physical tortures there, — it is only easier to talk about the soul in respect of future life, than in respect of the resurrected body, for as well in this life the spiritual aspect is more understandable for us, then that of flesh and matter, as correctly states one Russian philosopher, who passed away long before. No one could yet define what matter is, and it is more difficult to imagine, which qualities of matter will definitely remain in the resurrected flesh. (Life Beyond the Grave and Eternal Sufferings)

On the Reality of the Particular Judgment

Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow 1816-1882

“Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” v.II, pp. 526-538

§ 249.

Reality of the Particular Judgment

The doctrine that, upon the death of a man a judgment takes place, known as the particular judgment in contrast to the general, which is to be at the end of the world.

1) Was known even in the Church of the Old Testament. The wise son of Sirach says in one place: “For it is a convenient thing unto the Lord in the day of death to reward a man according to his ways. The affliction of the hour maketh a man forget pleasure: and in his end his deeds shall be revealed.” ( Sir. 11, 26. 27). If it is a convenient thing unto the Lord on the very day of his death to reward a man according to his merits, and if, according to His will, there is indeed a revelation at his very end to a person of his doings, and this is not postponed until the general judgment, it must be necessary to allow that immediately upon a man’s death there will be a particular judgment. Otherwise, what would be the purpose that at that time all his works would be revealed to him? What does that revelation itself mean? And why does the Wise one note that it is convenient to God to reward a man for his deeds on the very day of his death?…

2) Was expressed with all clarity in the New Testament by St. Apostle Paul when he said: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Hebrews. 9, 27). Here the Apostle, obviously, does not suggest any gap between death and the judgment. Therefore is speaking not of the general judgment, but of the particular one.

3) Was clearly preached by the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church. For example:

St. Gregory The Theologian, speaking in one place on the death of King Constantius, remarks that he translated from life here, “having brought, as they say, useless repentance at his last breath, at which time everyone becomes a sincere judge of himself, on account of the judgment that awaits there([1640]).

St. John Chrysostom inspired his audience: “No one living on earth, without having obtained the remission of his sins, after his transition to the future life, can escape those torments. But just as criminals are taken from prison to court in chains: so, upon their departure from this life, souls will be led to the terrible judgment, burdened by the various bonds of sins “([1641]). “On departure from this life, we will appear at a fearful judgment, and will give an account of all our affairs, and–if we remained in our sins , then we shall undergo tortures and executions, but if decide to pay at least a little heed to ourselves, then we shall be made worthy of crowns and blessings unimaginable: knowing this, let us keep the naysayers silent and let us ourselves embark on the path of virtue, that with hope, befitting a Christian, we shall appear at the aforesaid judgment, and obtain the benefits promised to us “([1642]). And also: “Prepare thy works for [thy] going forth, and prepare thyself for the path;” (Prov. 24: 27 [Septuagint]). If you have someone stolen something, give it back, and say, like Zacchaeus: I will restore it fourfold (Luke 19,). If you have berated someone, if you have become the enemy of anyone either, reconcile prior to the trial. Resolve all things here, so that you will see that judgment without any grief. As long as we are here, until then we have a good expectations: but when we depart there- we will be powerless to repent and wash away our sins. Therefore we must continually prepare for our departure from here. For what if it will be pleasing to God to call us tonight? What if tomorrow? “([1643]).

Blessed Augustine calls it a “fair and very salutary belief that the souls are judged as soon as they emanate from their bodies, before they appear for the judgment where they will be tried in resurrected bodies “([1644]).

St. Demetrius of Rostov: “For us, Orthodox Christians, it is meet for every one of us on every day and at every hour to look for the unknown hour of the ending of our lives, and to be ready for departing: for there will be a terrible judgment for each one of us, prior to the general terrible judgment.”([1645]). “Judgment is twofold: particular and general. A particular judgment is one which every man, dying, has, since he will then see all of his own deeds “([1646]). “We look for every day and every hour the coming of the Lord to us, but not yet that terrible coming again, with which He will come to judge the living and the dead and to reward each for his deeds; we do not await at every hour that time, in which (by the words of Peter the Apostle) in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peter. 3, 10), but await, each one, the hour of our own death, in which the judgment of God will come to take our souls from our bodies, in which hour there will be for each a particular trial about that which we have done; we await that hour at every hour as the Lord Himself, protecting us, taught in the Gospel: Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. (Luke 12, 40) “([1647]).

4) It is comprehensible also for common sense. It could not accept that the state of souls, from death until the general judgment remain undetermined, uncertain ([1648]). For how to represent this state? Unconscious? But how is that possible for the soul which is, by nature, self-conscious? And even if this were possible, with what purpose could this be permitted by the wise Providence? ““Or conscious? In that case, how could the soul be conscious of itself, while not being found in a defined state? And what kind of an existence would this be? Therefore, it is necessary to postulate a disposition for every soul immediately upon the death of a man; and do it is necessary to postulate the particular judgment, at which this disposition must be determined.

§ 250.

The representation of the particular judgment: the doctrine of the toll-houses.

How the particular judgment takes place The Holy Scripture does not set forth. But the figurative representation of the judgment, based mainly on Holy Tradition and in concord with the Holy Scriptures, we find in the doctrine of the toll-houses, which exists from ancient times in the Orthodox Church.

I. The essence of the doctrine of the toll-houses can be seen in the Word of St. Cyril of Alexandria on the departure of the soul, which is usually printed in one of the books of the Church- “The Augmented Psalter”([1649]). Let us borrow from its primary themes. “When separation of our soul with the body there will appear before us, on the one hand, the hosts and the forces of heaven, on the other powers of darkness, evil holders of the air, aerial toll-house officers, torturers and accusers in our matters … Seeing them, the soul is troubled, shudders, trembles, and in confusion and horror, wishes to seek the protection of God’s angels, but, even being accepted by the holy angels, and under their shelter flowing through the aerial spaces and soaring to the heights, it will encounter different toll-houses (like some outposts or customs houses that exact fees), which are blocking its way into the kingdom, and will be stopping it and impeding its aspiration to achieve that goal. At each of the toll-houses an answer will be demanded concerning particular sins. The first toll-house concerns sins committed through the mouth and tongue … The second toll-house — sins through sight … The third toll-house–sins through hearing … The fourth toll-house–smell… The fifth -toll-house– All iniquity and foul deeds perpetrated by using the hands. To further toll-houses other sins are related, such as: anger, hatred, envy, vanity and pride … briefly, each passion of the soul, every sin in this way will have its toll-takers and torturers … There will be present at this also the divine powers and a host of evil spirits, and just as the first would represent the virtues of the soul, so the last accusers of sins, committed by word or deed, with the thought or intention. Meanwhile, the soul, being among them, will be living in fear and trembling, worrying in its thoughts, until, finally, based on its acts, deeds and words, either will be convicted and bound with chains, or, having been acquitted, it will be released (for everyone is tied by the bonds of their own sins). And if for its life being devout and pious, it would be found worthy, it will be taken up angels, and then it will already fearlessly speed to the kingdom, accompanied by the holy powers … On the contrary, if it turns out that it spent its life in negligence and incontinence: it shall hear that terrible voice: let the ungodly be taken away, that he see not the glory of the Lord. (Isa. 26, 10 , [Septuagint])…; then the angels of God leave it, and it is taken by the terrible demons …, and the soul, bound by unbreakable ties, will be cast down into a abode grim and dark, in places under the earth, for confinement in underground dungeons and prisons of hell.” ([1650]).

It is therefore evident: a) That the toll-houses represent the inevitable path that all human souls, both evil and good, make during the transition from temporal life to the eternal lot; b) that at the toll-houses, during this transition, every soul, in the presence of angels and demons, before the eye of the all-seeing Judge, gradually and in detail is interrogated concerning all its deeds, both bad and good, c) that as a result of this interrogation, this detailed examination of every soul concerning its previous life, souls that are good, who have been acquitted at every toll-house, will be lifted up by the angels into the heavenly abodes, while the souls of sinners, being detained in one or another of the toll-houses, having been accused of wickedness, are dragged, upon the sentence of the unseen Judge, by demons to their dark dwelling-places ([1651]). And, therefore, the toll-house is nothing other than the particular judgment, which is performed on human souls invisibly by the Lord Jesus Himself through the angels, and admitting to the this also the accusers of our brethren (Rev. 12, 10), the evil spirits, — the judgment, at which the soul is reminded of all its deeds which are impartially evaluated before it, and after which is determined its known outcome[1652]).

II. This doctrine of the toll-houses, as set out by St. Cyril of Alexandria, existed in the Church before St. Cyril, as well as after–in all subsequent centuries.

1) Before St. Cyril of Alexandria, it is found very frequently, as a doctrine generally known, in the writings of Holy Fathers and teachers, in particular of the fourth century ([1653]). For example:

In St. Ephraim the Syrian: “When the lordly powers are approaching, when the terrible hosts are coming, when the divine collectors command the soul to move from the body, when, dragging us by force, lead us to the inevitable judgment: then, seeing them, the poor man. . . begins to shake, as if from an earthquake, and is all atremble … The divine collectors, having taken the soul, rise up through the air, where appear the principalities, the dominions, the rulers of the adverse powers. These are our evil of accusers, strange toll-collectors, scribes, tax-collectors; they meet the soul on its path describe and examine the sins and the handwriting of this person, the sins of his youth and old age, voluntary and involuntary, committed in deed, word, and thought. There is great fear and great trepidation for the poor soul, indescribable need, which it will then suffer from countless multitudes and hordes of its enemies, slandering it, to keep it from being able to rise to heaven, to dwell in the light of the living, to enter into the land of life. But the holy angels, having taken the soul, lead it away.”([1654]).

In St. Athanasius the Great: “In some night, a voice from above came to him (Anthony), saying: “Anthony, arise, go out and see. And having arisen, he went out, and having lifted up his eyes to heaven, he saw someone long and dark, reaching the clouds with his head: he saw others, also, as if with wings, striving to rise to the heavens, but this one, stretching forth his hand, prevented their climb, and they were pushed away from him and cast down on the ground; others, however, ignoring him, flew across with boldness, causing that one to lament about them, gnashing his teeth. And again there was a voice to Anthony: understand what you saw, and he began to understand with an illuminated heart that this was the rising of the souls, the obstruction of the devil, when he could clutch sinners to himself, while he could not catch the saints. “And also, “St. Anthony, once finding himself in a state similar to death, saw himself being carried on the air. Impeding him on his path were aerial demons and they would not let him pass by: while angels, in conflict with them, demanded to know the reason for this obstruction. They then were forced to discover the sins of Anthony from the time of his birth”([1655]).

In St. Macarios the Great: “When the human soul emanates from the body, a great kind of mystery occurs. For if it were guilty of sin: then come hordes of demons, evil angels and dark forces, which are taking this soul and carrying it away to their side. No one should be surprised by this. For if a man, while still alive, while still being found in this world, resigned, surrendered and subjugated himself to them, then will not they even more possess and enslave him when he goes out of this world? “As to the other, better part of people, with them it occurs in another way. That is, the angels are with the holy servants of God, so even in this life, the holy spirits surround them and protect them. And when the soul is to be separated from the body, then the choirs of angels take them into their society, into a radiant life, and thus lead them to the Lord”([1656]).

In St. John Chrysostom: “If when we are going into some foreign country or city, demand guides: how much more will we need helpers and directors for us to pass unhindered by the chiefs, authorities, aerial world rulers, persecutors, keepers of the toll-houses?…» “The Holy angels peacefully separated us from the body (these words are placed by the holy father into the mouth of infants who died), and we, having good guides, without calamity passed by the aerial authorities. The evil spirits could not find in us what they were looking for, did not notice what they wanted. Having seen the body without sin, they are humiliated, and seeing the immaculate soul, they are ashamed, and seeing the undefiled tongue, silent. We passed by, and humiliated them. The net was broken, and we were freed. Blessed be God, who hath not let us fall into their snare” ([1657]). And also: “those lying on the bed with great force shall shake it and look in fear at those present, while the soul tries to stay in the body and does not want to part with it, terrified by the vision of approaching angels. For if we, looking at frightening people, tremble; then what will be our anguish when we see the approaching angels fierce and merciless powers when they will be dragging our soul and will be tearing it away from our body, when it [the soul] will weep, but in vain and to no avail? ” ([1658]).

The same is set out, with more or less detail, by St. Basil the Great ([1659]), St. Gregory of Nyssa ([1660]), St. Epiphanius ([1661]), Eusebius of Caesaria ([1662]), Palladius of Elenopolis ([1663]), Macarius of Alexandria ([1664]).

2) After St. Cyril of Alexandria this doctrine is transmitted by a series of teachers of the Church, of different places and times.

Namely: Eusebius, bishop of Galicia: “Afore its separation from the body it will be too late for the soul to repent of its iniquities. Alas, what will happen to it, when those responsible for its death (the evil spirits) will drag it across the vast aerial air space and lead it by dark paths?” ([1665]).

Blessed John the Merciful: “As the soul departs from the body and wishes to arise to the heavens, it is met by faces of demons, and is tortured first for lies and slander. And if it has not repented of them, then it will be restrained by the demons. And again, higher, the soul is met by demons and tortured for fornication and self-glorification. If it has repented of these, it will be free of them. And there are many barriers and trials by the demons for the soul striving toward the heavens. After these–rage, jealousy, gossip, anger, slander, pride, bad words, disobedience, vengeance, avarice, greed, evil remembering, doing magic, casting spells, gluttony, hating one’s brother, murder, stealing, having no mercy, fornication and adultery. And when that accursed soul is going from earth to heaven is, apart from it are found holy angels who do not help it: but the soul speaks for itself, giving an answer of its repentance and good deeds, and especially of alms. For if there are sins that it forgets to repent here, then by alms it will be delivered from the violence of the demonic toll-houses”([1666]).

Venerable Maximos the Confessor: “Who of those like me, defiled by the filthiness of sin, will not fear the presence of the Holy angels, who is to pass from this life, according to the commandment of God, with force, anger, and against his will, force him from his body? Who, conscious of their own evil deeds, does not fear meeting cruel and merciless crafty demons? “([1667]).

Also: St. John Climacus ([1668]), Venerable Theodosius of the Caves ([1669]), St. Cyril of Turov ([1670]), Mark of Ephesus, Gabriel of Philadelphia ([1671]), St. Dimitry of Rostov ([1672]) and others.

3) We know also that the doctrine of the toll-houses is included in the Lives of the Saints ([1673]) and in the most holy songs and prayers, used by the Orthodox Church. These are:

In the canon to the Lord Jesus and All-Holy Mother of God, which is sung at the separation of the soul from the body of every right believer:

“Vouschafe me to pass from the earth unhindered by the Aerial Prince, the violent one, torturer, keeper of the terrible ways and vain word-extortionist “(Ode 4, tr. 4).

“Vouschafe me to flee from the barbarian bodiless hosts, to pass the aerial depths and to arise to the heavens, so that I may forever glorify Thee, O Mother of God “(Ode. 8, tr. 2).

In the Octoechos of St. John Damascene, in the Canon for the dead:

“When my soul desires to separate its bodily ties and depart from life, do Thou appear to me, O Mistress, and destroy the councils of the bodiless enemies, crush their jaws of those who seek to devour me: that I may without hindrance pass the princes of darkness, standing in the air, O Bride of God, “(Tone 2, Sat. Ode 9, Tr. 16) ([1674]).

In Canon to the Guardian Angel:

“All my life I have spent much time in vain, now I approach the end: I pray thee, my keeper, be a protector to me and an undefeated champion, when I will pass the toll-houses of the ferocious keeper of the world”(Ode. 9, tr. 3) ([1675]).

In the Prayer after the fourth Kathisma:

“O Lord, grant me tears of compunction … that with them I will pray to Thee to be cleansed before my end of every sin: a fearsome and stern place I must pass, having separated from my body, and a multitude of dark and inhumane demons will meet me (Psalt. Prayer after the 4th Kath.).

Such continuous, perpetual and ubiquitous use in the Church of the doctrine of toll-houses, and especially among teachers of the fourth century, offers indisputable evidence that it has been transmitted to them from teachers of the prior centuries and is based on apostolic tradition.

III. It is natural because the doctrine of the toll-houses is in complete agreement with the Holy Scripture. In this doctrine:

1) It says that to people dying, at the time of the separation of their soul from the body, are sent angels of God and the torturing spirits.

The Savior Himself said: when the poor man died he was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16: 22), and God said to another man: “You fool! In this very night your soul will be wrested from you (Luke 12, 20) ““ “wrested,” it is most fair to consider, by malevolent spirits ([1676]). In addition St. Scripture teaches that the angels in general are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1, 14), that they cared about us during all our lives (Ps. 90, 10. 11), and are our intercessors and directors, especially the Guardian Angel given to each person at baptism (Matt. 18, 10, Ps. 33,): very natural, if these good spirits do not leave us without their the help especially at the weighty moment of our death, and that they will not refuse to accompany our souls, guide and support them also during the fearsome and totally unknown to them passage from this real life into the realms of eternity. On the other hand the Holy Scripture teaches that all activities of evil spirits are continually directed to our destruction (Eph. 6: 12, 2 Tim. 2: 26, 1 Thess. 3:5) that our adversary the devil, with his minions, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter. 5, 9): Would he miss his convenient opportunity to do anything possible to achieve the ruin of our souls also in the moments of their separation from the body?

2) It is said that, on separation from the body, a person”™s soul, making its way into the upper world through the ethereal space, continually meets fallen spirits there. And the word of God witnesses that the air is as if filled with the spirits of wickedness in the heavenly spheres (Eph. 6, 12), naturally, filled not physically, but spiritually ([1677]) – that their prince is a prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2, 2), and that, therefore, the soul of man, as soon as it comes out of the body, inevitably comes into their area.

3) It appears that these dark spirits, as toll-collectors, torturers, stop the soul during its path to heaven at various toll-houses, reminding it in stages about its different kinds of sins, and trying in every way to condemn it – yet, good angels, accompanying the soul at the same time, remember, the opposite of its sins — its kind deeds and strive to justify it. It is natural to such an activity of the evil spirits is completely natural: they cannot not know and not remember all of our sins, they cannot not use, when the occasion arises all efforts in order to condemn us, when, according to the teachings of the Holy Scripture, they are our constant tempters and participants in all our wrongdoings (I Thess. 3, 5; I John. 3,  and are committed to one goal: to deprive us of our eternal salvation (Luke 8, 12; I Peter. 5, . In the same way the previously mentioned activity of good angels is equally natural, of those, who, as our mentors in every good thing and who lead us to eternal salvation (Hebrews 1, 14), who, no doubt, know our good deeds, and by their love, cannot but help to contribute to our justification.

4) It appears that God does not directly perform a private judgment of the soul of a man upon its separation of the body, but allows it to suffer torture by the evil spirits, who act as if they were the instruments of his terrible justice, and yet at the same time uses as instruments of His goodness, the good angels. But if even at the time of the end of the world when the Lord will appear in all His glory, to judge the living and the dead, He will not directly will perform everything related to the judgment, but “will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. (Matt. 13: 41-49;): what then surprising that He performs the particular judgment not directly, but through His serving spirits, of course, while being present at this invisibly Himself, as the Omnipresent One. Similarly, if it is known know that before the judgment of all, when even the fallen spirits will receive their final due (Jude 6), God allows them to act against man (Job 1, 12; 1 Peter. 5, 9), and sometimes uses them while still on the earth as His instruments of righteous wrath against sinners, as angels of destruction (Ps. 77, 49; 1 Cor. 6, 5): that what is strange if He allows them to be the same sort of instruments of His righteousness also during the particular judgment over the souls of men, using at the same time, as instruments of His goodness, His good angels?

IV. One must, however, note that, as in general with all depictions of matters of the spiritual world, — for us, clothed with flesh, there are inevitably features which are presented more or less physically, anthropomorphically,- -so, in particular, inevitably, they occur in the detailed teaching on the toll-houses, which the human soul passes upon separation from the body. And therefore we must keep firmly in mind the instruction that the angel gave the Venerable Macarius of Alexandria, when he just began talking about the toll-houses: “Accept earthly things here as being the weakest representation of the heavenly” ([1678]). It is necessary to consider toll-houses not in the rough, or sensual sense, but as much as it is possible for us, in a spiritual sense, and not be tied to particulars, which have been presented by various authors and in various stories of the Church differently, while preserving the unity of the basic idea regarding the toll-houses, ([1679]).

 

____________________

[1640] Word XXII, Praise of Athan. the Great, in Works of the Holy Fathers II,

200.

[1641] On the Gospel of Matt Word XIV, n. 4. v. I, p. 263.

[1642] On the Gospel of Matt, Word XIII, n. 6, v. I, pp. 251-252.

[1643] Word on Lazarus II, n. 4, t. I, Addresses to the Antioch. people, p. 63, in Russian trans.

[1644] Nam illud, Quod rectissime et valde salubriter Credit (Vincentius Victor), judicari Animas, cum de corporibus exierint, antequam veniant ad illud judicium, quo eas oportet jam redditis corporibus judicari, atque in ipsa, qua in hic vixerint, carne torqueri, hoc itaque tandem ipse nesciebas? (De Anima et ejus origine II, 4, n. 8, in Patrolog. Curs. compl. T. XLIV, p. 498).

[1645] Investigation of the schismatic Brynsk faith, p. 117.

[1646] Collected Works. t. V, p. 8.

[1647] Investigation pp. 285-286.

[1648] Some heretics were taught that the soul dies together with the body, so then to rise with it on the day of resurrection (Eusebius. Church History VI,

Sec. 37 Augustine. haeres. LXXXIII; Damascene, haere.). The Nestorians taught that if the soul, without dying, but during the entire named period, i.e. from the death of the body until its future Resurrection, remains in a state of unconsciousness (Asseman. dissert. de Nestor. In Bibl. Orient. T. III, P. 11 , ρ. 342). The latter belief has been renewed by the Anabaptists and some Protestants (Zwing. Elench. adv. Catabapt. vol. III, n. 433).

[1649] However, even in the most Orthodox confession is expressed the essence of

the doctrine, although not clearly and fully, and the word “toll-houses” is not used (see Part II, Ans. To Quest. 25). [1650] Λόγος περι ̉εξόδου ψυχής, in Opp. T. V, p. II, p. 405-408, ed. Lutet., Χ in Christian Readings 1841, 1, 202-207.

[1651] Also about the toll-houses, as the path which is common for all who have deceased, it is described in the Life of the Venerable Vasiliy the New, where the Blessed Theodora, among other things, explains: “While ascending up I asked the holy angels who were leading us: my lords, do all Christians pass through these toll-houses, or is it possible for some person to pass through here without torture and fear, which are found in the toll-houses? The blessed angels answered me: there is no other path for the souls of the faithful, ascending to the heavens, all pass through here, but not all are equally tortured as you were; only sinners like you, those who have not performed a full confession of sins they have committed , those who were embarrassed and hid their shameful sins before their Spiritual Father; for if someone should truly confess all of his evil deeds, and is remorseful, and repents of those evil things he has done” ”then their sins are invisibly erased by the mercy of God, and when such a soul passes through here, the aerial torturers, having opened their books, can find nothing written in them, and they can do no harm, and the soul ascends joyously to the throne of grace. ”

[1652] “And it is meet, says St. Basil the Great, that the judgment of God would not be forcible, but rather that it be more like those courts, which are common among the people, and the defendant is given an opportunity to be justified, so that the person, seeing his case presented in clarity, and while defending his case, confirmed the inarguable judgments of God, agreeing, that punishment is meted out to him fully justly, and also when being pardoned he could see that forgiveness is given to him in accordance with law and order “(Exegesis of the 1 Chap. Of Isaiah, in Works of the Holy Fathers VI, 69-70). [1653] Prior to the fourth century, hints at this doctrine can be seen in Tertullian (de Anima cap. 53, in Patrolog. cursus. compl. T. II, P. 741), Origen (in Joan. T. XIX, n. 4; Τ. XXVIII, n. 5; in Levit. Hom. IX, n. 4), Hippolytus (adv. Platon. c. 1), Clement of Alexandria (Strom. IV 18) and others.

[1654] Homily on those who have reposed in Christ, in the Works of the Holy Fathers, XV, 269. 270. 271. The same doctrine is expressed by St. Ephraim, in his Homily Concerning those who deny the resurrection of the dead (in the Work of the Holy Fathers XV, 115-116) and in his Testament (Christian Readings, 1827, ХХVII, 275. 285. 292).

[1655] Life of Venerable Antholy of Egypt., in Orr. T. I, p. II, pag. 845, ed.Maur., in the  Chetyi-Minei , genv. 17.

[1656] Conversations on the double nature of those who have departed this life in Christian Writings 1828. XXXI, 113-114.

[1657] Homily XI, In memory of the dead (see in the Margarete). The Holy Father speaks in the same manner in his Conversation II οn Lazarus, n. 3, in t. I Conversations with the Antiochian people, p. 61 in the Russian translation.

[1658] on Matt. LIII, in volume II, p. 414.

[1659] In one place, he says: “Let no one flatter himself with vain rhetoric (Eph. 5, 6). For sudden destruction will come upon them (1 Thess. 5, 3), and they will be overturned, as by a storm. A morose angel will appear to take you forcibly and will pull your soul, bound by sins and, often turning back to what is left here, and weep silently, because the instrument of weeping has already been shut”(Conversation exhorting those who wish to be baptized in Works of the Holy Fathers VIII, 241). Αnd elsewhere: “Start thinking of your last day (because, without a doubt, you are not alone going to live forever), imagine to yourself confusion, reduced respiration and the hour of death, the approaching verdict of God, hastening angels, the soul in terrible perturbation because of this, mercilessly tormented by our sinful conscience, drawing the pitiful glances at what is there, finally- an undeniable need for being transported to that far-off resettlement”(Letter. 43 to a fallen virgin, ibid. X, 139).

[1660] De baptism. in Opp. T. II. p. 220, ed. Morel.

[1661] Hæres. LXXV.

[1662] Demonstr. Evangel. III, c. 5; praeparat. Evang. XI, c. 20.

[1663] Lavsaik Ch. 24, p. 89-90, St. Petersburg. 1850

[1664] Homily on the passing of the soul in Christian Readings 1831, XLIII, 126-131.

[1665] Homil. an ad monach., in Biblioth. PP., T. VII, p. 656.

[1666] Homily on the passing of the soul, in the Prologue for 29 October pg. 211 on the reverse

[1667] Epist. ad Cubicularium, in Biblioth. PP. T. XXVI, p.. 581.

[1668] Joan Climacus. Scala paradisi, p. 158, Paris 1633.

[1669] On his deathbed he prayed to the Lord Jesus thus: “My Lord! Be merciful to my soul, that it may not be met by the evil of the powers of the enemy, but let it be taken by Thy angels, who conductors through the dark toll-houses, leading me to the light of Thy mercy”(Chetyi-Minei. under 3 May)

[1670] He discloses the teaching on the toll-houses in great detail (The monuments of Russia Literature. XII century, p. 92, Moscow, 1821).

[1671] Vid. apud LeQuien, Dissert. Damascen. V, in Opp. s. Joan. Damasceni T.1.

[1672] “when the terrible hour of separation of my soul from the body shall come: then, My Redeemer, take me up in Thy hands, and protect me from all disasters unharmed, and let not my soul see the gaze of the cunning demons, but being saved, let it pass all of the toll-houses” (Coll. Works. p. I, pp. 179).

[1673] Which are: The Life Rev. Anthony the Great under 17 January; Life of St. John the Merciful at 29 October; Life of the Venerable Vasiliy the New at 12 November and 26 March.

[1674] And again: “In the hour, O Virgin, of my end keep me from the hands of the demons, and from the judgment, and trials , and terrible torture, and the bitter toll-houses, and the evil Prince, O Mother of God, and eternal condemnation (Octoechos. p. I, p. 286 on the reverse.Moscow, 1838).

[1675] Also: “Be merciful unto me, O angels of all-holy God Almighty, and save me from all of the evil toll-houses: for I do not have good deeds to measure against the measure of my evil doings.” (Trebnik. p. 182 on the reverse, M. 1836).

[1676] “At that time, Lazarus was led away by angels. On the contrary, the soul of the other (the rich man) was taken by some powers, perhaps, sent for this purpose; for the soul does not by itself depart to the other life, because this is impossible. If we, traveling from city to city, need a guide, then how much more will we need a guide for our soul, torn from our body and being presented to future life. For this reason, it, flying away from the body, frequently arises, frequently lowers down, and it fears, and it trembles. Because the consciousness of our sins always tortures us, but especially in that hour, when we face being led away to the coming tortures and the terrible judgment seat” (St. John Chrysostom, Conversations with the Antiochian people, III, On Lazarus II, n. 3 in vol. I, p. 61 in the Russian translation).

[1677] “But there is also mental (noetic) place where the mind is active, and mental and incorporeal nature exists: where the mind dwells and acts and is contained not in a bodily but in a mental fashion. For it is without form (σχ̃Εμα), and so cannot be contained as a body is. . . The angel, although not contained in place with figured form as is body, yet is spoken of as being in place because he has a mental presence and acts in accordance with his nature, and is not elsewhere but has his mental limitations there where he acts.”  (St. John Damascene, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 1, Chapter 13, Pp. 42-43).

[1678] Word on the departure of the soul, in Christian Readings, 1831, XLIV, 126.

[1679] Compare, for example, the detailed description of the toll-houses in the Homily of St. Cyril of Alexandria and in the Life of the Venerable Basil the New.

St. Ambrose on Universalism

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

Now let the Manichæan have his word: ‘I hold that the devil is the creator of our flesh.’

The Lord will answer him: What, then, are you doing in the heavenly places? Depart, go your way to your creator. ‘My will is that they be with Me, whom my Father has given Me.’ (John 17:24) You, Manichæan, hold yourself for a creature of the devil; hasten, then, to his abode, the place of fire and brimstone, where the fire thereof is not quenched, lest ever the punishment have an end. (Exposition of the Christian Faith, Bk. 2.119)

 

St. Maximus on the Fire of God

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

From the same (St. Gregory the Theologian), “I know a fire that is not purifying but avenging i.e., the fire of Sodom, which He pours down on all sinners mixed with brimstone and storms; or that which is prepared for the devil and his angels; or that which come forth from the face of the Lord and shall burn up His enemies round about; or more feared than these, that which is fused to one mass sleepless worms, unable to be quenched but existing perpetually for the wicked. (St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 40)

“The fire of Sodom” is poured down upon those who trample on the law of nature by abusing it. And this is the reproof of the conscience, whenever, like fire, it completely burns it. And brimstone is the different circumstances, and storms are the sudden circumstances, which when mixed together injure in a more violent way. And they burn the conscience in imitation of the “devil and his angels” who through pride enviously slander the providence of God and employ treachery towards their neighbor. And the fire “which proceeds before the face of the Lord” burning “His enemies” is the energies of God. For they characterize the face of God, that is, His goodness, love of humankind, meekness, and things similar to these. These energies enlighten those who are like them and burn up those who oppose and have been alienated from the likeness. And the passage did not say these, the forms of fire, are eternal, since according to Gregory of Nyssa nature must recover its own powers and be restored by full knowledge to what was from the beginning, so that the Creator may be proven not to be the cause of sin. And he called the “more feared” fire, that “which is fused eternally into one mass with worms, not able to be quenched but existing perpetually for wicked”. For this reason, when the divinity appears and is offered to the worthy for their enjoyment, they who do not, through good works, illumine themselves, like a little worm which always uproots one’s memory, are devoured, evaluated by their failure and endless deprivation of the good, and are continually put to test by a more violent fire. (St. Maximus the Confessor’s Questions and Doubts pp. 95-96. Question 99)

Since in the [the text of] St. Diadochus, in the 100th chapter, it has been written, “Some will be judged through fires and purified in the future age,” I ask [that] the father’s aim be revealed to me by clarification.

They who have acquired the perfection of love for God and have elevated the wing of the soul through the virtues, according to Apostle “are caught up in the clouds” and do not come into judgment. And they who did not completely acquire perfection but have acquired both sin and good works, come into the court of judgment; there, they are scorched as by a fire by the comparison of their good and evil deeds, and if, in fact, the scale of their good deeds weighs downwards, they are cleansed of punishment. (St. Maximus the Confessor’s Questions and Doubts pg. 143. Various Questions and Selections from Various Passages that are Perplexing, Question I, 10)

St. Theophan on Universalism

St. Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894

The righteous will go into eternal life, but the satanized sinners into eternal torments, in communion with the demons. Will these torments end? If Satanism and becoming like Satan should end, then the torments also can end. But is there an end to Satanism and becoming like Satan? We will behold this and see this then. But until then we shall believe that just as eternal life will have no end, so also eternal torment that threatens sinners will have no end. No conjectures can show the possibility of the end of Satanism. What did Satan not see after his fall! How much the powers of God were revealed! How he himself was struck by the power of the Lord’s Cross! How up to now all his cunningness and malice are defeated by this power! But still he is incorrigible, he constantly opposes; and the farther he goes, the more stubborn he becomes. No, there is no hope at all for him to be corrected! And if there is no hope for him, then there is no hope either for men who become satanized by his influence. This means that there must be hell with eternal torments. (excerpted from “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, pg. 351)

St. Theophylact on Universalism

St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107

A conclusion to be drawn against the Origenists who say that there will be a time when there is an end to hell, that the sinners will be united with the righteous and with God, and thus God will be all in all. Let us hear what Abraham says, that they who would pass from hence to you, or from thence to us, cannot. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to go from the place apportioned to the righteous to the place of sinners, and likewise, Abraham teaches us, it is impossible to go from the place of punishment to the place of the righteous. And Abraham, I presume, is more trustworthy than Origen. (Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 16)

On the Locations of Heaven and Hell

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

What is this heaven? Where is it? Is it “up”? …It so happens that the question of the “location” of heaven (and hell) is one that has been very widely misunderstood in modern times. It was only a few years ago that the Soviet dictator Krushchev was laughing at religious people who still believed in heaven — he had sent cosmonauts into space and they had not seen it!

No thinking Christian, of course, believes in the atheist caricature of a heaven “in the sky”, although there are some naive Protestants who would place heaven in a distant galaxy or constellation; the whole visible creation is fallen and corrupt, and there is no place in it anywhere for the invisible heaven of God, which is a spiritual and not a material reality. But many Christians, in order to escape the mockery of unbelievers and avoid even the slightest taint of any materialistic conception, have gone to the opposite extreme and declare that heaven is ‘nowhere’. Among Roman Catholics and Protestants there are sophisticated analogies which proclaim that heaven is ‘a state, not a place’, that ‘up’ is only a metaphor, the Ascension of Christ (Lk. 24:50-51, Acts 1:9-11) was not really an “ascension”, but only a change of state. The result of such apologies is that heaven and hell become very vague and indefinite conceptions, and the sense of their reality begins to disappear – with  disastrous results for Christian life, because these are the very realities toward which our whole earthly life is directed.

All such apologies, according to the teaching of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, are based on the false idea of the modern philosopher Descartes that everything that is not material is “pure spirit”and is not limited by time and space. This is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Bishop Ignatius writes: ‘The fantasy of Descartes concerning the independence of spirits in space and time is a decisive absurdity. Everything that is limited is necessarily dependent on space’ (vol. III, p. 312). ‘The numerous quotations from the Divine service books and the works of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church decided with complete satisfaction the question as to where paradise and hell are located… With what clarity the teaching of the Orthodox Eastern Church indicates that the location of paradise is in the heavens and the location of hell is in the bowels of the earth’ (vol. III, pp. 308-9; the emphasis is his). Here we shall only indicate just how this teaching is to be interpreted.

It is certainly true, as Bishop Ignatius’ numerous citations indicate, that all Orthodox sources – the Holy Scripture, Divine services, Lives of Saints, writings of Holy Fathers – speak of paradise and heaven as ‘up’ and hell as ‘down’, under the earth. And it is also true that since angels and souls are limited in space…, they must always be in one definite place – whether heaven, hell, or earth. We have already quoted the teaching of St. John Damascene that “when the angels are in heaven they are not on earth, and when they are sent to earth by God they do not remain in heaven” (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, II.3, p. 206), which is only the same doctrine taught earlier by St. Basil the Great (On the Holy Spirit, ch. 23), St. Gregory Dialogist (Morals on the Book of Job, Bk. II,3), and indeed all the Orthodox Fathers.

Heaven, therefore, is certainly a place, and it is certainly up from any point on the earth, and hell is certainly down, in the bowels of the earth; but these places and their inhabitants cannot be seen by men until their spiritual eyes are opened… Further, these places are not within the ‘coordinates’ of our space-time system: airliner does not pass ‘invisibly’ through paradise, nor an earth satellite through the third heaven, nor can the souls waiting in hell for the Last Judgement be reached by drilling for them in the earth. They are not there, but in a different kind of space that begins right here but extends, as it were, in a different direction. (The Soul After Death, pp. 128-131)

St. Photios on Ancestral Sin and Death

St. Photios the Great ca. 810-893

[E]ver since men have been created, we share life and death and the penalty is ancestral, as there is no one who will live and who will not face death… But let us take hold of ourselves; let us know our nature; let us know the Shaper; let us comprehend the depth of the Master’s clemency. He gave death as a punishment, but through His own death He transformed it as a gate to immortality. It was a resolution of anger and displeasure, but it announces the consummate goodness of the Judge. The thought surpasses methods of reason. For though He dissolves such nature as was destroyed through original sin, the dissolution becomes a prelude to re-creation. He separates the soul from the body, and the separation is the beginning of a union that is both rather brilliant and holy. “A physical body is sown, but it is raised as a spiritual body; it is sown in dishonor, but raised in glory.” The Creator takes back the work of art of His own hands, and He draws it to Himself; He removes it from human eyes, but He places it under the protection of the flashes and the brilliances of angels… for …the angels are now rejoicing in the reception of this soul that is virginal and superior to sufferings to fill up the number of demons that have fallen away… (Letter 3 To Nun Eusebia, On the Death of Her Sister)

On Hellfire

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

What sort of fire is that, which burns bodies, and rational beings with bodies, and spirits without bodies, tormenting them while detaining them forever alive? It will melt even the fiery element in us, for the Scripture says “the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (2 Pet. 3:10, 12). How greatly is suffering increased when there is no hope of redemption. And that fire is unquenchable. Again, what gives it it’s violent impetus? They say that a river draws that fire along, apparently bearing it ever further away from God. So He did not say “You have departed”, but “Depart from Me, ye cursed”. (Homily 4.21)

St. Ambrose on the Baptism of Fire

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

Before the resurrected lies a fire, which all of them must cross. This is the baptism of fire foretold by John the Baptist, in the Holy Ghost and the fire; it is the burning sword of the cherub who guards the gate of heaven, before which everyone must pass: all shall be subjected to examination by fire; for all who want to return to heaven must be tried by fire. (Jacques Le Goff, “The Birth of Purgatory” pg. 59)

On the Immortal Wounds of Christ and the Martyrs

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Why did He have scars? It would be impossible for a mortal, suffering body to display marks of wounds and nails and to remain healthy and sound. On the other hand, an immortal body without suffering can show the scars and wounds it suffered to anyone at will, and nevertheless continue free from suffering and death.

This enables me to understand something else: that those who have suffered for Christ are adorned forever with their wounds. Windows in a house do not make it less safe and are not something ugly but a necessary decoration for a building, to let in light and allow those within to look out. In the same way, the body’s sufferings for Christ’s sake and the resultant wounds become for those who bear them windows to let in light without evening. And when that light shines forth they will be recognizable by the divine beauty and radiance of their wounds and not by their ugliness. Their scars will not be obliterated when suffering comes to an end, in so far as they procure immortality. (Homily 17, 18-19)

St. Basil on the Torments of Gehenna

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The one who has done much evil in this life will be confronted by frightening, sinister-looking angels, emitting fire in their breath and their glances because of the harshness of their character; their gloomy and threating demeanor will be like the night. See the deep pit, the impenetrable darkness; fire without brightness, which has the power to burn but is deprived of light. Then imagine a kind of worm that is venomous and carnivorous, that can eat ravenously without ever being filled, and that cause unbearable pain with its bites. Then think of the worst punishment of all: eternal reproach and shame. Fear these things; and trained by this fear, rein in your soul from its desire for evil. (PG 29.372A7—B6. Excerpted from “The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology by Brian E. Daley. Chap 7: Facing Death in Freedom: Eastern Eschatology in the Age of Nicea [325-400], pg. 82)  

On Purgatory and the Afterlife

Bishop Auxentios of Photiki

When the body and soul are separated, according to Roman Catholic teaching, the soul experiences a Particular Judgment at death. Those with mortal sins and who are unrepentant go to Hell, while saints go directly to Heaven. Unbaptized babies enter into Limbo, and the souls of those who die with sins on their souls, but who are repentant, go to Purgatory, where their stay can be shortened by the prayers of the faithful on earth. Those in Purgatory, however, are guaranteed salvation after the cleansing of the purgatorial fires. At the Great Judgment, after the return of Christ to earth, those in Purgatory will be released, if they have not already been, and the sinners in Hell and saints in Heaven will be confirmed in the decisions rendered about them at the Particular Judgment at the time of death. While these views have been modified by the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council, they nonetheless represent traditional Roman Catholic teaching and the doctrines which underlie the Second Council’s reforms.

According to Orthodox teaching, there is also a Particular Judgment after death, based, like Latin doctrine, on St. Paul’s statement that a man dies once and is then judged (Heb. 9:27). When Christ teaches that those who heed His words will not come into judgment, He establishes the Orthodox belief that saints go straight into Paradise (Jn. 5:24). St. Maximos the Confessor says that those who have perfect love of God are caught in the clouds at death are not brought to judgment.  The judgment of the imperfect – a calling into account for their sins – sometimes begins, however, when the demons and angles come to question them. St. John Klimakos, in the seventh step of his Ladder, recounts the experiences of a man who was being questioned about his life by unseen spirits while still on his deathbed. St. Gregory the Dialogist, an Orthodox Bishop of Rome living before the separation of the Roman Catholic Church from the Orthodox Church, also provides many accounts of such testing, which are contained in the first volume of the Evergetinos, a collection of spiritual writings also edited in the eighteenth century by St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite. Thus the soul of a sinner who has lived a careless life, according to these Orthodox teachings, is taken to punishment, after being tested by the demons, while the person who, despite his sins, lived in repentant humility is allowed to pass, after his testing, into a state of bliss, escorted thereto by angels.

Between the Particular Judgment and the Great Judgment, at Christ’s Second Coming, the righteous and the evil experience a foretaste of the suffering or joy that they will experience after the Great Judgment. They remain feeling, conscious entities, having memories and even – most especially in the case of the righteous – recognizing one another. As the great Abba Dorotheos writes, “…the soul [in this state] forgets nothing that it did in the world.” In this Middle State, moreover, those who are condemned and those who are saved can benefit from the prayers of the living. For, as St. Makarios the Great writes in one of his homilies, “There are many levels and differences and measures, both in the kingdom [in Heaven] and in Hell.” Souls in the Middle State are, as it were, at one of the many levels of punishment and spiritual reward that exist in Heaven and in Hell. And by the prayers and almsgiving of the faithful on earth, since the Particular Judgment is not a final judgment, these souls can improve their lot. St. Nectarios, a contemporary Church Father, in an essay on the immortality of the soul and the benefit of memorial services, published in Athens in 1901, tells us that one can be delivered even from the sufferings of Hell by the prayers of the Church.

We must emphasize here that the prayers and acts of charity of the faithful on earth, not the cleansing of a purgatorial fire, benefit the dead, according to Orthodox teaching. This is because the unity of the Church extends to the realm beyond and because the efficacy of prayer does not end with death. Those in Middle State may still come to salvation or may better their eternal lot through the love of the praying Christian Church. It is the confusion of this possibility of spiritual growth in the Middle State, which expresses the great power of love and Christian compassion beyond the grave that leads some observers wrongly to think that the Orthodox Church believes in Purgatory. It does not, in fact, accept the idea that souls must be cleansed by the fire of Purgatory and that this cleansing can be facilitated by indulgences (payments of money) from the body of believers on earth, as did the medieval Latin Church.

Nor does it believe that those in the Middle State are assured of salvation. The Middle State is inhabited both by those who will be saved and by those who will be damned at the Final Judgment. It is wholly unrelated to the idea of Purgatory and a cleansing fire that prepares the soul for Paradise, and idea which suggests that God bestows bliss on those whom He first burns and punishes – something repugnant to Orthodox, who call God a “man-loving God”. In the Middle State, there is an opportunity for spiritual growth in an upward direction, in recognition both of the love of God and the efficacy of the loving prayers of the living for those who are dead.

At the General Resurrection, at Christ’s Second Coming, when the bodies of the dead will be raised, made spiritual, and joined to the soul, then Christ will assign each soul either to Heaven or Hell. Those with a foretaste of Heaven will know its blessedness more greatly, while those with a foretaste of Hell will know its torments more fully. At the same time, through the prayers of the Church, some of those in the Middle State may be lifted up and advanced to a higher and more positive state – even from damnation to salvation. For them, the General Resurrection may entail a change in their eternal plight. In this way, the Church on earth and the souls of those in the so-called Middle State are joined together in prayer and love and in a common effort for the salvation of all mankind, which is what God wishes.

It is important to note that Roman Catholic doctrines about life after death and Purgatory are based on theological theory, as demonstrated by the fact that the Second Vatican Council could modify such theory and put forth a revised notion of life after death and the cleansing effects of Purgatorial fire. It is true that some Roman Catholic ideas about life after death are derived from the teachings of the Orthodox Church (ideas gleaned from Orthodoxy before the Latin Church’s separation from the Mother Church of Christianity); but whereas the Orthodox teaching on the afterlife is drawn from Scriptural exegesis, the Patristic witness, and the living experiences which underlie these two sources of authority, the Latin Church has dealt with these living witnesses in a dead way, as theories, in formulating her doctrine.

There is nothing theoretical in the Orthodox view. There is no attempt to make the mystery of death conform to a systematic model. For the afterlife has its own dimensions of reality and its own working principles: eternal principles that remain largely unknowable to the minds of men and women limited by the confines of time and space. The teachings of the Orthodox Church on this subject are nothing less than codified experience and a statement of the nature of the afterlife as it has been revealed to the Church. The subject is not open to debate, since what is empirical is clearly before us and is devoid of the hypothetical. Moreover, the Orthodox view of Purgatory and the afterlife is not subject to revision or change. Should a Church council, citing theoretical reasons for revising Orthodox teachings, restate our beliefs, as the Second Vatican Council did those of the Latin Church, then that council would earn itself the title of a false council, of a heretical gathering. The true spiritual experience of the Church is not chaotic or speculative, and it is thus not subject to theoretical readjustments. It can be but confirmed and protected.(A Patristic Reader: “Latin Purgatory and the Orthodox View of the Afterlife” by Bishop Auxentios pg. 83-90)

On Those Who Require Our Souls

St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107

God said unto him, Thou fool, this night they shall require thy soul of thee. The words God said unto him do not mean that God conversed with the rich man, although the parable puts it in this form. Instead, the thought’s that came into the man’s mind are what God spoke. Thou fool. He calls him a fool because everything he wanted was foolish, as we have shown. And every man like him is foolish and acts in vain, for, as David says, in vain doth every man disquiet himself. (Ps. 38:14) Why? Because he stores up things without knowing for whom he gathers them. How can he not be called a fool who does not know that the length of a man’s life rests with God alone and that no man can set limits of his own life? Notice also the words they will require. Like some stern imperial officers demanding tribute, the fearsome angels will ask for your soul, and you will not want to give it because you love this life and claim the things of this life as your own. But they do not demand the soul of a righteous man, because he himself commits his soul into the hands of the God and Father of spirits, and he does so with joy and gladness, not in the least bit grieved that he is handing over his soul to God. For him the body is a light burden, easily shed. But the sinner has made his soul fleshy, something in substance like the body and like the earth, rendering it difficult to separate from the body. This is why the soul must be demanded of him, the same way that harsh tax collectors treat debtors who refuse to pay what is due. See that the Lord did not say, “I shall require thy soul of thee,” but, they shall require. (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 12.16-21)

St. Anastasios the Sinaite on the Soul After Death

St. Anastasios the Sinaite ca. 620-710

We were there at the end of Abba Stephen the Byzantine, I and Abba Theodosios the African who became the bishop of Babylon. As we were chanting the “Blameless is the man…” (Psa. 119 [118 LXX]) as is usual at the gathering of the soul, suddenly his face became very grim and with a commanding voice he spoke to something that appeared to him. “Why do you come here? Go into the outer darkness. You have nothing on me. The Lord is my part.” When we arrived in our chanting at this verse saying, “You are my part, O Lord,” Abba Stephen gave over his spirit to the Lord. Seeking a garment in order to bury him we found nothing at all of wealth and glory. (Tales, 20)

Abba Stephanos the Cypriot, a serene man participating in the Holy Spirit and adorned with all virtues, had come with me to the holy mountain. When he was about to die he suffered such trouble in departing as nobody had seen; and after remaining many days as if impaled, he died. Someone who knew his work and life had difficulty in his thoughts as to why such a man needed to fall into such trouble. And behold, Stephanos appeared to him in a dream saying, “Brother, although troubled a little, I found greater confidence before the Lord.” (Tales, 28)

One of the brothers met an elder who lived on Mount Sinai and asked him, “Father, tell me how I should pray, for I have done much to anger God.” The elder said to him, “Son, when I pray I say this, ‘Lord, make me worthy to serve You as I have served Satan; make me worthy to love You as I have loved sin.’” And again he said, “It is good to raise the hands in the air and beg God that at its exit the soul might pass unhindered by all the impediments which try to delay it in the air.” (Tales – Supplement 4. Material found only in the Sinai manuscripts. These being primarily Sinai Greek Codex 451, and SGC 659)

On the Efficacy of Prayers for the Dead

St. John the Almsgiver of Alexandria died ca. 616

When the plague was at one time raging in the city, the just man used to go and watch the funerals for he said that this and the contemplation of graves were very edifying. Often too he would sit at the bedside of persons in their death anguish, and would close their eyes with his own hands, wishing thereby to keep the thought of his own death in continual remembrance. He also enjoined prayers for the dying to be celebrated diligently and perpetually, and in support of this he told the following story: ‘A short time ago,’ he said, ‘a man was captured by the Persians, and when taken to Persia was confined in the dungeon called Lethe. Some other prisoners who escaped and reached Cyprus were asked by his parents whether they had seen him by any chance; to which they replied: “We buried him with our own hands.” But that was not really the man about whom they were questioned, but another exactly like him. They also told the parents the month and the day of his death, and so the latter had prayers said three times a year for him whom they presumed to be dead.

‘Four years later he escaped from the Persians and returned to Cyprus. Then his relatives said, “We heard for certain, brother, that you were dead and therefore we have held memorial services for you three times a year”.

‘On hearing that they did this for him three times a year he asked on what month and day the services were held and they replied: “At Epiphany, at Easter, and on Whit-Sunday.”

‘Thereupon he said: “On those three feasts in the year a man in white raiment, like the sun, used to come and free me invisibly from my chains and from my cell and a]l that day I walked about and nobody recognized me. Yet on the morrow there I was in chains again!” ‘

The holy Patriarch used to say: ‘We learn from this story that those who have fallen asleep obtain comfort from the prayers we make on their behalf.’ (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 25)

On Demonic Encounters at the Departure of the Soul

Lk. 12:20 But God said to him, Fool! This night they demand your soul from you; and that which you prepared, to whom will it be?

Jn. 14:30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me…

Eph. 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Jude 1:9 But when the Archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Met. Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos

Also related to the foregoing is the teaching of both Holy Scripture and the holy fathers about the taxing of souls… We find this topic in the whole biblico-patristic tradition and it corresponds to a reality which we need to look at in order to prepare ourselves for the dreadful hour of death… According to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, the soul at its departure from the body, as well as when it is preparing to leave, senses the presence of demons who are called customs demons, and is possessed with fear because of having to pass through customs.

Of course we must say from the start that the customs demons have no sovereignty over the righteous, those who have united with Christ. The righteous not only will not go through the “customs-houses”, but they will also not be in fear of that. We shall see this better when we compare the teachings of the Fathers… the tax collectors, in their effort to collect as many taxes as they could — and especially in order not to let some people escape who could not accept the very heavy and unjust tax — contrived various means: they would lie in wait in narrow roads and seize passers-by, forcing them to give what they owed. It was very unpleasant and odious to the people of that time. It is just this familiar and odious image which the Fathers used in order to give the people of that time an understanding of the terrible mystery of death and of the terrible things that unfold when the soul is being prepared for departure, especially when it is leaving the body.

The image of the tax collectors certainly belongs to the reality of that time. But the teaching that the demons try to seize a man’s soul at its departure is mentioned in many texts of Holy Scripture and of the Fathers of the Church. We have already seen that after death the souls of the righteous are received by the angels and the souls of the of sinners by the demons. With the malice which all the demons have against men, they would like to dominate everyone and have them in their power forever. But they cannot have authority over the righteous.

A basic passage which the Fathers of the Church interpret as referring to the customs demons is what Christ said shortly before His Passion: “for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (Jn. 14, 30). The ruler is this world is the devil. He is called the ruler of the world not because he is really the ruler and final authority in the whole world, but because he dominates the world of the unjust…

St. Paul, referring to the spiritually dead who were deprived of the grace of God, writes: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the ways of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2, 1-2). This passage indicates that men are deadened by sins and the work of the devil.

Likewise the devil is characterised as the prince of the power of the air because he is in the atmosphere and is constantly waging war on men. It is precisely this image which the Fathers have in view, saying that when the soul leaves the body and passes through the air towards heaven, it meets the ruler of the air. The passage also mentions that this ruler is working now too in the sons of disobedience.

There are many passages in the Old Testament which the Fathers use to indicate what is called the souls’ payment of customs duties. I should like to mention two of them. One comes from a psalm of David in which the Prophet King speaks to God and says: “0 Lord my God, in you I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces, with no one to rescue me” (Psalm 7, 1-2). The other passage is in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, where it says: “there seemed to be a fire burning in my bones; I was wearied and could not endure, for I heard many mocking me on every side” (Jer. 20, 9-10). (Life After Death pg. 65)

Met. Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk

According to the patristic view widespread in the East, the soul of the righteous encounters angels after its departure from the body (this opinion is partly based on Luke 16:22), but demons torture the soul of a sinner. One of the homilies of Macarius of Egypt speaks of this…We find a similar concept of the fate of a person after death in Blessed Diadochus, the bishop of Photiki, who says that people who have not confessed their sins during life will be terror-stricken at the hour of death. And “he who then finds himself in fear will not pass freely by the prince of Hades, because they consider the timidity of this soul to be a sign of its co-participation in their evil deeds.” But the soul of the God-loving person that bears repentance for sins, at the hour of separation from the body “is borne from the world by angels beyond all the dark hordes, because such a soul is inspired by spiritual love in some way.” It is said in both Macarius and Diadochus that demons meet the souls of sinners, while the souls of the righteous fall into the arms of angels. There exists, however, another idea, according to which the soul of every person, including the righteous, endures trials after death. Basil the Great, speaking on the “steadfast divine ascetics, who have sufficiently grappled with invisible enemies all their life,” claims that when they find themselves at the end of life, “the prince of this age comes to know of it, in order to keep them for himself if there can be found any wounds on them received during the battle, or any kind of stain or imprint of sin.”

…The testimony of another type of patristic literature is the fundamental teaching on the “tribulations” — trials in the afterlife that the soul of each persons endures. This teaching found reflection in various memorials of Byzantine ascetic and hagiographic literature, particularly in The Torments of Blessed Theodora. Described in this account is an experience of going through twenty torments (“tollhouses”), each of which correspond to one of the sins: a person must give answer to the demon-torturer for every sin committed, and if hat person cannot prove their innocence, they will not be permitted to go on to the next torment. To a modern person, such descriptions can seem to be the stuff of fantasy or some kind of unhealthy “eschatological sadism,” although the experience of people who have survived clinical death, researched by doctors, psychologists, and theologians, in some cases support the testimony in these ordeals. (Orthodox Christianity, Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church Vol. II pp. 499-501)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

For the passage, ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion’s mouth, and my humility from the horns of the unicorns,’ is indicative of the suffering by which He should die, i.e., by crucifixion. For the ‘horns of the, unicorns,’ I have already explained to you, are the figure of the Cross only. And the prayer that His soul should be saved from the sword, and lion’s mouth, and hand of the dog, was a prayer that no one should take possession of His soul: so that, when we arrive at the end of life, we may ask the same petition from God, who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls. (Dialogue with Trypho 105)

St. Melito of Sardis died ca. 180

And what was taken from earth was dissolved, and what was given from God was confined in Hades; and there was separation of what fitted beautifully, and the beautiful body was split apart. For man was being divided by death; a strange disaster and captivity were enclosing him, and he was dragged off a prisoner under the shadows of death, and desolate lay the Father’s image. (On Pascha, 54-56)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

Undoubtedly, when the soul, by the power of death, is released from its concretion with the flesh, it is by the very release cleansed and purified: it is, moreover, certain that it escapes from the veil of the flesh into open space, to its clear, and pure, and intrinsic light; and then finds itself enjoying its enfranchisement from matter, and by virtue of its liberty it recovers its divinity, as one who awakes out of sleep passes from images to verities. Then it tells out what it sees; then it exults or it fears, according as it finds what lodging is prepared for it, as soon as it sees the very angel’s face, that arraigner of souls, the Mercury of the poets. (A Treatise on the Soul 53)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

For as a serpent cannot mark its track upon a rock, so the devil could not find sin in the body of Christ. For the Lord says, Behold, the prince of this world comes, and will find nothing in me. (Jn. 14:30) (On Proverbs)

And when those who are conducted by the angels appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not proceed on one and the same way; but the righteous, being conducted in the light toward the right, and being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, are brought to a locality full of light…. But the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment, and they go of their own accord no longer, but are dragged by force as prisoners. And the angels appointed over them send them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when they are brought there, those appointed to that service drag them on to the confines or hell. And those who are so near hear incessantly the agitation, and feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, (as if they were) already feeling the power of their punishment. (Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Who could follow the soul of a martyr as it passes beyond all the powers of the air and makes its way toward the altar of heaven? Blessed is that soul which, by the crimson of its blood poured out in martyrdom, puts to rout the ranks of the demons of the air advancing toward it. Blessed is he of whom the angels shall sing the prophetic words as he enters into heaven: “Who is this that comes up from Bosra?”(Hom. in Judic., 7.2. excerpted from “The Angels and Their Mission” by Jean Danielou pg. 115)

St. Alexander of Alexandria died ca. 326

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 infernos, 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. (On the Soul and Body and Passion of the Lord, 3)

St. Anthony the Great ca. 251-356

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.

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. (St. Athanasius: Life of St. Anthony, Chaps. 65-66)

St. Pachomius the Great ca. 292-346

As for you, my son, shun the satisfactions of this age, so as to be happy in the age to come. Do not be negligent, letting the days pass by till unexpectedly they come looking for you and you arrive at the straits of your anguish and the ‘horror-faces’* surround you and drag you off violently to their dark place of terror and anguish. Do not be sad when you are cursed by men; be sad and sigh when you sin — this is the true curse — and when you go away bearing the sores of your sins.

If you have hit your brother, you will be handed over to pitiless angels and you will be chastised in torments of fire for all eternity. (Pachomian Koinonia III: Instructions, Letters, and Other Writings of Saint Pachomius and His Disciples. The Instructions of Saint Pachomius, 23,41)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392

When the soul of a man departs from the body, a certain great mystery is there enacted. If a person is under the guilt of sin, bands of demons and fallen angels approach along with the powers of darkness which capture the soul and drag it as a captive to their place. No one should be suprised by this fact. For if, while a man lived in this life, he was subject to them and was their obedient slave, how much more, when he leaves this world, is he captured and controlled by them? (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 22)

[T]he angel of the Lord that had appeared to him earlier in his [St. Macarius] life, appeared surrounded with heavenly hosts and said to him, ‘Come with us, for all of these are waiting for you.’ The saint replied and said, ‘My master Lord Jesus Christ whom my soul loves, accept my spirit.’ When he said that he gave up his spirit.

This was on the twenty-seventh day of the Coptic month of Baramhat. As the Angel of the Lord was escorting his spirit to Heaven, some of the elders saw the devils come to hinder his ascent. They heard them saying to him. ‘You are saved and have escaped from us.’ The saint replied, ‘Not yet.’ When the saint set one foot inside the Heavenly gate they said to him, ‘You have entered,’ he replied ‘Not yet.’ When he had completely entered they said again to him weeping, ‘You have entered,’ He then shouted back, ‘I have accepted the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I thank my Lord for His Heavenly grace and love to mankind.’ (The Life of St. Macarius the Great)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

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)

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

While the dying person addresses his last words to us, suddenly his tongue is at a loss, his eyes dim, his mouth falls silent, his voice paralyzed when the Lord’s troops have arrived, when His frightening armies overwhelm him, when the divine bailiffs invite the soul to be gone from the body, when the inexorable lays hold of us to drag us to the tribunal… Then the angels take the soul and go off through the air. There stand principalities, powers and leaders of the adverse troops who govern the world, merciless accusers, strict agents of an implacable tax bureau, like so many examiners that await the soul in the air, ready to demand a reckoning, to examine everything, brandishing their claims, that is to say our sins: those of youth and of old age, those intentional and those not so, those committed by actions and those by words or thoughts. Great then is the fear of the poor soul, inexpressible its anguish when it sees itself at grips with these myriads of enemies, who stop it, push and shove it, accuse it, hinder it from dwelling in the light, from entering into the land of the living. But the holy angels, taking the soul, lead it away. (“Sur la seconde venue du Christ”, ed. Assemani, tome 3, pp. 275-276. excerpted from “Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition” by Jean-Claude Larchet pp. 90-91)

St. Macrina the Younger ca. 327-379

Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross, to destroy the adversary and save our life. O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother’s womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now—-do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the Slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of St. Macrina)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The dying person, knowing only that there is only one Savior and Liberator cries out: In Thee have I put my hope, save me” from my weakness “and rescue me” from captivity. For I think that the valiant athletes of God, after having kept up the good fight the whole course of their existence against the invisible enemies and escaping every trap, when they arrive at life’s end, are examined by the Prince of this world. If they are found, following the battle, to still have some wounds, stains or remnants of sin, are detained by him. However , if they are to the contrary whole and untainted, these invincible heroes remain free and are admitted by Christ to the place of rest. (Homilies, On Psalm 7, 2 PG 29, 232B, D.)

The one who has done much evil in this life will be confronted by frightening, sinister-looking angels, emitting fire in their breath and their glances because of the harshness of their character; their gloomy and threating demeanor will be like the night. (PG 29.372A7—B6. Excerpted from “The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology by Brian E. Daley. Chap 7: Facing Death in Freedom: Eastern Eschatology in the Age of Nicea [325-400], pg. 82)

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. (Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection pp. 81-82)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

[F]rom the parable, it is quite certain that souls when they leave the body do not still linger here, but are forthwith led away. And hear how it is shown: “It came to pass,” it is said, “that he died, and was carried away by the angels.” Not the souls of the just only, but also those of sinners are led away. This also is clear from the case of another rich man. For when his land brought forth abundantly, he said within himself, “What shall I do? I will pull down my barns and build greater,” (Luke xii. 18.) Than this state of mind nothing could be more wretched. He did in truth pull down his barns; for secure storehouses are not built with walls of stone; they are “the mouths of the poor.” But this man neglecting these, was busy about stone walls. What, however, did God say to him? “Thou fool, this night shall they require thy soul of thee.” Mark also: in one passage it is said that the soul is carried away by angels; in the other, that “they require it;” and in the latter case they lead it away as a prisoner; in the former, they guard and conduct it as a crowned victor. And like as in the arena a combatant, having received many wounds, is drenched with blood; his head being then encircled with a crown, those who stand ready by the spot take him up, and with great applause and praise they bear him home amid shouting and admiration. In this way the angels on that occasion led Lazarus also away. But in the other instance dreadful powers, probably sent for that purpose, required the soul. For it is not of its own accord that the soul departs this life; indeed, it is not able. For if when we travel from one city to another we need guides, much more does the soul stand in want of those who can conduct it, when it is separated from the flesh, and is entering upon the future state of existence. (Four Discourses, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Discourse 2.1-2)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Let no one tear her [St. Monica] away from Your protection. Let not the devil, who is a lion and serpent in one, bar her way by force or by guile. For she will not answer that she has no debt to pay, for fear that her cunning accuser should prove her wrong and win her for himself. Her reply will be that her debt has been paid by Christ, to whom none can repay the which He paid for us, though the debt was not His to pay. (Confessions, Bk. 9, 13.36. excerpted from the “Birth of Purgatory” by Frances Le Goff, p. 65)

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)

LXX Isa. 3:12 My people, the tax collectors scourge you, and the creditors lord it over you.

At a mystical level, on the other hand, the text refers also to other tax collectors, whom those wanting to live an upright life should avoid; the wicked and hostile powers even demand, as it were, of people on earth attention that is depraved, and collect from them as a kind of tax the inclination to the passions of the mind. The sacred text, for instance, blesses those who do not heed the call of the collector; anyone who resists the desires of the flesh and with youthful alertness repels the harm coming from sin, trampling down its overtures and vanquishing the spirits of wickedness, is proof against the call of the collector. Such tax collectors are therefore to be avoided, not allowed to harvest in us the produce leading to sin or apply scourging. Now, we shall succeed in this when we are strengthened in Christ, and expel from our minds wicked thoughts, base desires, and every form of vice. (Commentary on Isaiah Vol. 1: Chapters 1-14 trans. by Robert Charles Hill pg. 97)

St. Euthymius the Great ca. 377-473

Listen to an edifying and true story that some Egyptian elders I met told me about a man thought holy by all but who in secret stirrings of his heart angered God becuase, I think, of assent to impure thoughts. Their story went as follows. A man with second sight, on entering this man’s city, found him gravely ill and all the citizens affirming with tears, “If the saint dies, we have no firther hope of salvation; for we are all protected through his intercession.” On hearing this, the man with second sight hurried off to get a blessing from the supposed saint. When he drew near, he saw many candles all ready and great crowds of clerics and laymen, including the bishop himself, waiting to conduct the funeral. Going in to him, he found him still breathing, and saw with the eye of his mind the devil of hell with a fiery fork inserting the fork into his heart and with many tortures pulling at his soul; and he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Just as his soul did not give me rest for a single day, so you too are not to stop pulling at his soul and torturing it.” I have recounted this to make us at all times ready for combat and prepared for the departure of the soul from the body, lest, seduced by love of pleasure, we be unbearably tormented at the time of departure…let us entreat God, Who has applied corrective not capital punishment, to free His creature from the plot of the impure and pleasure loving spirit. (Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine. Life of Euthymius pp. 33-34)

St. Diadochos of Photiki ca. 5th cent.

If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover an ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we should be without fear at that time; for if we are afraid then, we will not be able to freely pass the rulers of the nether-world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which experiences the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness. (Philokalia Vol. 1, pg. 295: On Spiritual Knowledge, 100)

St. Symeon of Emesa, Fool for Christ ca. 6th cent.

Grant her angels who will keep her soul safe from the spirits and beasts of the air, evil and unmerciful beings who endeavor to swallow up everything which comes into their midst. Lord, Lord, send out to her mighty guards to rebuke every impure power molesting her. (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of Symeon the Fool, 9; Krueger, p. 141.)

St. Columba of Iona ca. 521-597

[W]hilst the holy man was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he one day suddenly raised his eyes to heaven and uttered the words, “O happy woman happy because of thy virtues; the angels of God are now carrying thy soul to paradise.” Now these words from the mouth of the saint were heard by a certain religious brother, a Saxon, by name Genere, who was at the moment working at his trade, which was that of a baker. And on the same day of the month, at the end of the same year, the saint addressed the same Genere the Saxon, and said, “I see a wonderful thing; behold, the woman of whom I spake in thy presence last year, now meeteth in the air the soul of her husband, a poor and holy man, and together with the holy angels engageth in a contest for it against the adverse powers; by their united assistance, and by the aid of the virtuous character of the man himself, his soul is rescued from the assaults of the demons, and brought to the place of eternal refreshment. (St. Adamnan, Life of St. Columba Bk. 3.11)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

One must reflect deeply on how frightful the hour of death will be for us, what terror the soul will then experience, what remembrance of all the evils, what forgetfulness of past happiness, what fear, and what apprehension of the Judge. Then the evil spirits will seek out in the departing soul its deeds; then they will present before its view the sins towards which they had disposed it, so as to draw their accomplice to torment. But why do we speak only of the sinful soul, when they come even to the chosen among the dying and seek out their own in them, if they have succeeded with them? (Homilies on the Gospels, XXXIX, 8 [on Luke 19:42-27], PL 76, 1298D-1299D)

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)

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

One of the fathers said that in Thessalonica there was a monastery of virgins. One of them was coerced by the operation of the evil one into going out of the monastery. She went and fell into porneia by the machinations of the demon who scoffed at her until she left the monastery. Once she had fallen, she remained some time in sin then finally, undergoing a change of heart by the cooperation of God the good, she came to repentance. Re-entering her community in order to repent, she fell before the gateway of the monastery — and she died. Her death was revealed to one of the holy bishops. He saw holy angels coming to receive her soul and demons in attendance; he witnessed a dialogue taking place between them. The angels were saying: ‘She came in repentance’, but the demons said: ‘She served us so long a time she is ours’. Their altercation lasted some time and then the demons, those who obstruct the good, said: ‘She did not get as far as entering the monastery; how can you say she repented?” In answer to this the holy angles said: ‘Insofar as God saw her intention tending in that direction, He accepted her repentance. And she was a mistress of repentance by virtue of the goal she set for herself: the Lord the and Master of all.’ Put to shame by these words, the demons withdrew. (The Spiritual Meadow: Supplementary Tales. Cistercian Publications trans. by John Wortley, pg. 200)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

By the fear of God and the threat [of chastisements] to come, halt the violent impulses of the senses. In everything and everywhere remember death and the soul’s terror upon it’s leaving the body, and how the powers of the air and the dark forces come to meet it, all dissociated and cut to pieces in proportion to its disastrous familiarity with them through the passions. (Letters, 24, PG 91, 609C-612D.)

So the Lord put off the principalities and powers at the time of His first experience of temptation in the desert, thereby healing the whole of human nature of the passion connected with pleasure. Yet he despoiled them again at the time of His death, in that He likewise eliminated from our human nature the passion connected with pain. In His love for humanity, He accomplished this restoration for us though He were Himself liable; and what is more, in His goodness, He reckoned to us the glory of what He had restored. So too, since He assumed our nature’s liability to passions, albeit without sin (cf. Heb. 4:10), thereby inciting every evil power and destructive force to go into action, He despoiled them at the moment of His death, right when they came after Him to search Him out. He triumphed (Col. 2:15) over them and made a spectacle of them in His Cross, at the departure of His soul, when the evil powers could find nothing at all [culpable] in the passibility proper to His human nature. (Ad Thalassium 21)

St. John Climacus ca. 7th century

Some of the dying would answer: “Blessed be God Who has not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me.” (Ps. 62:50) Others would say, “Blessed be the Lord God Who has not given us a prey for their teeth.” (Ps. 123:6) But others would be sad and say: “Will our souls pass through the impassable water of the spirits of the air?” (cf. Ps. 123:5) These would be unsure, and worried about the rendering of accounts after death. (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5)

St. Anastasios the Sinaite ca. 620-710

We were there at the end of Abba Stephen the Byzantine, I and Abba Theodosios the African who became the bishop of Babylon. As we were chanting the “Blameless is the man…” (Psa. 119 [118 LXX]) as is usual at the gathering of the soul, suddenly his face became very grim and with a commanding voice he spoke to something that appeared to him. “Why do you come here? Go into the outer darkness. You have nothing on me. The Lord is my part.” When we arrived in our chanting at this verse saying, “You are my part, O Lord,” Abba Stephen gave over his spirit to the Lord. Seeking a garment in order to bury him we found nothing at all of wealth and glory.

Abba Stephanos the Cypriot, a serene man participating in the Holy Spirit and adorned with all virtues, had come with me to the holy mountain. When he was about to die he suffered such trouble in departing as nobody had seen; and after remaining many days as if impaled, he died. Someone who knew his work and life had difficulty in his thoughts as to why such a man needed to fall into such trouble. And behold, Stephanos appeared to him in a dream saying, “Brother, although troubled a little, I found greater confidence before the Lord.” (Tales, 20, 28)

One of the brothers met an elder who lived on Mount Sinai and asked him, “Father, tell me how I should pray, for I have done much to anger God.” The elder said to him, “Son, when I pray I say this, ‘Lord, make me worthy to serve You as I have served Satan; make me worthy to love You as I have loved sin.’” And again he said, “It is good to raise the hands in the air and beg God that at its exit the soul might pass unhindered by all the impediments which try to delay it in the air.” (Tales – Supplement 4. Material found only in the Sinai manuscripts. These being primarily Sinai Greek Codex 451, and SGC 659)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Whilst Sigebert still governed the kingdom, there came out of Ireland a holy man called Fursey renowned both for his words and actions, and remarkable for singular virtues, being desirous to live a stranger for our Lord, wherever an opportunity should offer…he built himself the monastery, wherein he might with more freedom indulge his heavenly studies. There, falling sick, as the book about his life informs us, he fell into a trance, and quitting his body from the evening till the cock crew, he was found worthy to behold the choirs of angels, and to hear the praises which are sung in heaven. He was wont to declare, that among other things he distinctly heard this: “The saints shall advance from one virtue to another.” And again, “The God of gods shall be seen in Sion.” Being restored to his body at that time, and again taken from it three days after, he not only saw the greater joys of the blessed, but also extraordinary combats of evil spirits, who by frequent accusations wickedly endeavored to obstruct his journey to heaven; but the angels protecting him, all their endeavors were in vain. Concerning which particulars, if any one desires to be more fully informed, that is, with what subtle fraud the devils represented both his actions and superfluous words, and even his thoughts, as if they had been written down in a book…He also saw devils flying through the fire, raising conflagrations of wars against the just. Then followed accusations of the wicked spirits against him, the defense of the good angels in his favor, and a more extended view of the heavenly troops; as also of holy men of his own nation, who, as he had long since been informed, had been deservedly advanced to the degree of priesthood, from whom he heard many things that might be very salutary to himself, or to all others that would listen to them. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 3.19)

St. Boniface the Apostle to the Germans ca. 680-755

I thank God that now I can the more fully meet thy wishes, because but lately I spoke with this brother myself, when he came back here from abroad; he set forth to me in his own words the marvellous spectacle which he beheld when rapt in spirit beyond the body… As he quitted the body, angels of such dazzling brightness that he could scarcely look upon them for their splendour, bore him up. With sweet and harmonious voices they were singing, “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.” “They raised me,” said he, “high into the air, and circling the world I beheld a blazing fire, the mighty flame soaring terribly aloft, as though to grasp the whole mechanism of the world in its embrace, had not the holy angel calmed it with the sign of Christ’s holy cross. When he had made the sign of the cross before the threatening flame, it gradually retired. By its terrible heat I was sorely tried, while my eyes were burned, and my sight was shattered by the brightness of the gleaming spirits until an angel, splendid to behold, touched my head with a protecting hand, and brought me safe from harm in the flames.

He added that during the time while he was out of the body, such a multitude of souls leaving the body had gathered where he was as to exceed what he had thought before to be the numbers of the whole human race. An innumerable band of evil spirits and a bright choir of heavenly angles had also assembled; and there was the greatest dispute between the demons and the angels over the souls leaving the body, for the demons were accusing the dead and making heavy the burden of their sins, while the angels were excusing them and lightening their load. (Letter XIII, To the Holy Virgin and Dear Lady Eadburga)

St. Theodore the Studite ca. 759-826

Are you not afraid of death, which we shall all face in a little while? How are we to look on the fearsome angels, as they come to take us from the body? How are we to journey on that long and unending road, if we have not obtained the necessities for the journey? (Catechesis 103, On Keeping God’s Commandments and the Just Threat Against Those who Neglect Them)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

You fill me with all blessings, O my God; but all of these will not help me if You will not give me the grace to overcome without confusion the gates of death. If the prince of darkness, when he come, should not see Your glory surrounding me and be not completely rendered powerless, he with his darkness be not dissipated by Your inaccessible light and if all the opposing powers with him be not put to flight, seeing the sign of Your stamp on me…of what use to me are all these which are now taking place in me? (Hymns, 28, ll. 201-211; Maloney, p. 152. Also see: Sources Chretiennes, Les Editions du Cerf, Paris. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos “Life After Death” pg. 68)

St. Boris the Passion-Bearer ca. 986-1015

My Lord, Jesus Christ, hear me this hour and vouchsafe me to share of the company of Thy saints. For, O Lord, even as once this day Zechariah was slaughtered before Thine altar, so now also am I slaughtered before Thee, O Lord. O Lord, Lord, remember not my former transgressions, but save my soul, so that the deceitful counsel of my adversaries may not block its way, and let Thy bright angels receive it. Because, O Lord, Thou art my Savior, do Thou forgive them that do these things, for Thou art the true God, and to Thee is glory forever. Amen. (Hagiography of Kievan Rus’, trans. Paul Hollingsworth [Cambridge, MA: Harvard U, 1992], p. 16)

St. Nikitas Stithatos ca. 1005-1090

[S]ouls, obscured and frightfully plunged in darkness because of the malice of their acts, words and thoughts, their habits, occupations and dispositions, these are the souls of sinners; when they are violently torn from the body, they give off such stench as they have imparted to it in leaving, along with all manner of unpleasantness. These souls, filled with obscurity, stench and rottenness, are dragged away against their will by dark and avenging angels, in the midst of a terrible fear, shaking with fright, to the depths of hell as into a dark prison devoid of consolation. They are handed over to the impure and evil spirits that guard this prison, there where the prince of darkness is held fast by eternal bonds so to be consumed by fire along with his kind, the angels of darkness. They are handed over to them to remain with them eternally in the future; they have, in fact, accepted them as friends during their life in their acts and their words. They have preferred their suggestions, they have implemented them to their loss and others. (On the Soul, XIV, 79-81)

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves ca. 1009-1074

…I pray Thee, O my Lord, have mercy on my soul, that it may not encounter the malice of Thy enemies, but that Thy angels may receive it and lead it through the trials of the darkness after death towards the light of Thy mercy. (A Life of St. Theodosius, The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality edited by G.P. Fedotov)

St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107

God said unto him, Thou fool, this night they shall require thy soul of thee. The words God said unto him do not mean that God conversed with the rich man, although the parable puts it in this form. Instead, the thought’s that came into the man’s mind are what God spoke. Thou fool. He calls him a fool because everything he wanted was foolish, as we have shown. And every man like him is foolish and acts in vain, for, as David says, in vain doth every man disquiet himself. (Ps. 38:14) Why? Because he stores up things without knowing for whom he gathers them. How can he not be called a fool who does not know that the length of a man’s life rests with God alone and that no man can set limits of his own life? Notice also the words they will require. Like some stern imperial officers demanding tribute, the fearsome angels will ask for your soul, and you will not want to give it because you love this life and claim the things of this life as your own. But they do not demand the soul of a righteous man, because he himself commits his soul into the hands of the God and Father of spirits, and he does so with joy and gladness, not in the least bit grieved that he is handing over his soul to God. For him the body is a light burden, easily shed. But the sinner has made his soul fleshy, something in substance like the body and like the earth, rendering it difficult to separate from the body. This is why the soul must be demanded of him, the same way that harsh tax collectors treat debtors who refuse to pay what is due. See that the Lord did not say, “I shall require thy soul of thee,” but, they shall require. (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 12.16-21)

St. Meletios Homologetes ca. 1209-1286

…[T]he time of death is full of consternation since all the tax collectors bring forward deeds and words, plans and thoughts, desires, and all that we have done when instructed by them, in obedience to our enemies. Alas for our lack of perception! After the release the powers and authorities and all the principalities of Satan pick everyone out and examine minutely the things that are in the soul and the body. They meet with us to cut and chop, to forcibly drag us down because of the previous disposition we had towards them, because the affection and condition through the passions, and because of our familiarity with them, by which they alienated us from God our Maker and Master. (excerpted from “Traditions of Belief in Late Byzantine Demonology” by R.P.H. Greenfield, pp. 17-18)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

When the evil one was justly abandoned by the God of the true life because of his voluntary sin, he became a dead spirit… the evil one caused our double death by his single death. Having flung us down even lower than himself, he appeared to be great and exalted, and boasted that he had outwitted us with his intelligence and reduced us to slavery. As he was immortal, he appeared, alas, to be our god. Even after death our souls, having been deserted by God, fell to his lot and he dragged them down to into Hades, and shut them up in seemingly inescapable prisons. (Homily 16, On Holy and Great Saturday)

St. Nilus of Sora 1443-1508

But, O soul, whatever time you still have, give up your shameless deeds and convert yourself to a noble life. Turn to the Lord and cry out with faith: “I have sinned, Lord. But I know your mercy and love for men. For this reason, I fall down and beg your goodness to grant me mercy, O Lord! For my soul will be confused and will be sick at my having turned away from my repentance and at my wicked bodily deeds. May the evil powers never capture me and cast me into darkness for my invisible and visible sins of my whole earthly life.

Have mercy on me, O Master, and do not let my soul ever look upon the ugly countenances of the evil demons, but let your radiant and most glorious angels receive me. You have authority to forgive sins. Forgive me my sins. Let my sin never again be before You for because of my weakness I have sinned in word and in deed and in thought, deliberately and indeliberately. May I turn toward you when I am divested of my body and not be found with any filth on the image of my soul. And may the hand of the dark prince of this world never receive me, a sinner, and drag me into the depths of hell, but may you stand before me and be my Savior and Protector! (Nil Sorsky, The Complete Writings: Have Mercy on Me, O Master!)

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk 1724-1783

After the Prayer of the Ambon at the liturgy on every Lord’s day and holy day, there shall be a reading, either an interpretation of the Gospel, or from another book accepted by the holy Church or even a profitable sermon from the Prologue. On certain Sundays, there shall be read from the Sequential Psalter that greatly profitable sermon, so stirring for for the sleepy and heedless soul, On the Departure of the Soul (*) by St. Cyril of Alexandria. (Journey to Heaven, The Life of St. Tikhon pg. 204)

(*) In the fifth century the depiction of the immediate judgement upon the soul after its departure from the body, called the Particular judgement, was even more closely joined to the depiction of the toll-houses, as we see in St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “Homily on the Departure of the Soul,” which sums up the images of this kind in the Fathers of the Church which preceded him. (Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky “On the Question of the Tollhouses”)

St. Makarios of Corinth 1731-1805

Suffer me to say: if death suddenly overtakes those who delay communicating and finds them unprepared, without Divine Communion, what will be in store for these wretched ones? How will they be able to pass freely by the demonic publicans of the air? (Manna from Athos: The Issue of Frequent Communion on the Holy Mountain in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries by Hieromonk Patapios and Archbishop Chrysostomos, p. 126)

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite 1749-1809

The Great Elder [Barsanuphius of Gaza] would give over the souls of certain dying brethren to the Holy Life-giving Trinity, and while they would be passing over to heaven, he would free them from demonic attacks. (The Life of Saints Barsanuphius and John, 5)

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Two nuns, who had both been abbesses, died. The Lord revealed to me how their souls had been subjected to the aerial tests, how they had been tried and then condemned. For three days and nights I prayed, wretched as I am, entreating the Mother of God for them, and the Lord in His goodness pardoned them through the prayers of the Mother of God; they passed all the aerial tests and received forgiveness through God’s mercy. (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter XV “Amazing Wonderworker” pg. 396)

St. Ignaty Brianchaninov 1807-1867

For the testing of souls as they pass through the spaces of the air there have been established by the dark powers separate judgment places and guards in a remarkable order. In the layers of the under-heaven, from earth to heaven itself, stand guarding legions of fallen spirits. Each division is in charge of a special form of sin and tests the soul in it when the soul reaches this division. The aerial demonic guards and judgment places are called in the patristic writings the toll-houses, and the spirits who serve them are called tax-collectors. (Discourse on Death, Collected Works, vol. III, Saint Petersburg, 1886, p. 136)

At both judgments God Himself is present and judges. At the private judgment He judges by means of angels of light and fallen angels; at the general judgment He judges by means of His Incarnate Word. (The Arena, An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, p. 6)

St. Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894

No matter how absurd the idea of toll-houses may seem to our ‘wise men’, they will not escape passing through them. What do these toll-gatherers seek in those who pass through? They seek whether people might have some of their goods. What kind of goods? Passions. Therefore, in the person whose heart is pure and a stranger to passions, they cannot find anything to wrangle over; on the contrary, the opposing quality will strike them like arrows of lightning. To this someone who has a little education expressed the following thought: The toll-houses are something frightful. But is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something deceptive and seductive, according to all kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other. When, during the course of earthly life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes it by, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it. Therefore, it is very doubtful that a soul, as long as there remain in it sympathies for the objects of any passion, will not be put to shame at the toll-houses. Being put to shame here means that the soul itself is thrown into hell. (The One-Hundred Eighteenth Psalm, Interpreted by Bishop Theophan, Moscow 1891, reprinted Jordanville, 1976 pp. 289-290)

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

Represent to yourself how necessary repose is to the departed one, and how greatly he (or she) needs the prayers for him (or her) of the living, being a member of the one body of the Church; how the demons are contesting his (or her) soul from the angels, and how it trembles, not knowing what its eternal destiny will be. Our prayer of faith and love for the departed means much in the Lord’s sight. (Saint John of Kronstadt on Prayer – Extracts from his Writings. Chap. XI.118 On Prayer for the Departed, pp. 44-45)

St. Nikolai Velimirovich 1881-1956

[Taxiotes] spent his entire life in grievous sins, but finally repented, left his military service and adopted a way of life pleasing to God. Once when he had gone with his wife to their property close to the city, he fell into adultery with the wife of his workman, and immediately after this a snake bit him and he died. He lay dead for six hours, and after that he arose and, on the fourth day, broke his silence and related how he had somehow passed through all the toll-houses until he arrived at the toll-house for adultery. There he had fallen into the dark dwelling of the demons, but was then led out by an angel who vouched for him, and had returned to the body to expiate his last sin. He lived in penitence for forty days, going from church to church and striking his head against the doors and thresholds. Weeping incessantly, he spoke of the terrible torments in which sinners lived in that world, and implored people not to sin and to repent of sins already committed. On the fortieth day he went with joy to the Kingdom of the merciful God. (The Prologue from Ochrid: April 10th)

St. John Maximovitch 1896-1966

[W]hen it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them.

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of her approaching death, answering her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. (A Homily on Life After Death)

[T]he Virgin Mary during Her earthly life avoided the glory which belonged to Her as the Mother of the Lord. She preferred to live in quiet and prepare Herself for the departure into eternal life. To the last day of Her earthly life She took care to prove worthy of the Kingdom of Her Son, and before death She prayed that He might deliver Her soul from the malicious spirits that meet human souls on the way to heaven and strive to seize them so as to take them away with them to hades. The Lord fulfilled the prayer of His Mother and in the hour of Her death Himself came from heaven with a multitude of angels to receive Her soul. (The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God)

St. Nektarios on Universalism

St. Nektarios of Aegina 1846-1920

After the end of the General Judgment, the Righteous Judge (God) will declare the decision both to the righteous and to the sinners. To the righteous He will say: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;” while to the sinners He will say: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” And these will go away to enternal hades, while the righteous will go to enternal life. This retribution after the General Judgment will be complete, final, and definitive. It will complete, because it is not the soul alone, as the Partial Judgment of man after death, but the soul together with the body, that will receive what is deserved. It will be final, because it will be enduring and not temporary like that at Partial Judgment. And it will be definitive, because both for the righteous and for the sinners it will be unalterable and eternal. Source

St. John the Almsgiver on the Soul After Death

St. John the Almsgiver ca. 7th century

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 demeanour 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?’ And indeed the saintly man had especially noted that which was made known through revelation by St. Simeon, the stylite; the words were: ‘When the soul goes forth from the body, as it rises from the earth to heaven there meet it troops of demons, each in his own regiment. A band of demons of arrogance meet it, they feel it all over to see whether the soul possesses their works. A band of the spirits of slander meets it; they inspect it to see whether it has ever uttered slanders and not repented. Again higher up the demons of harlotry meet it; they investigate whether they can recognize their pursuits in it. And while the wretched soul is being brought to account on its way from earth to heaven the holy angels stand on one side and do not help it, only its own virtues can do that.’

Pondering on these things the glorious Patriarch would grow fearful and troubled about such an hour, for he also bore in mind the saying of St. Hilarion who, as he was on the point of leaving this life, lost courage and said to his soul: ‘For eighty years, O humble soul, you have been serving Christ and are you afraid to go forth? Go forth, for He is merciful.’ And the Patriarch would say to himself: ‘If he, after serving Christ for eighty years and raising men from the dead and doing signs and wonders, was yet afraid of that bitter hour, what can you, humble John, do or say when you come to face those cruel and pitiless exactors of taxes and tributes? To which will you have the strength to make your defence? To the demons of falsehood, to those of slander, to those of unmercifulness, to those of avarice, to those of malice, to those of hatred, to those of perjury?’ and with new doubts rising in his mind he would say: ‘Oh God, do Thou rebuke them, for the whole strength of man is of no avail against them; do Thou, Lord, give us as guides the holy angels who protect and pilot us. For great is the fury of the demons against us, great is the fear, great the trembling, great the peril of the voyage through this sea of air. For if, when travelling from city to city on this earth, we require a guide to lead us lest we fall into crevasses, or into the haunts of wild beasts, or into impassable rivers, or into pathless and inaccessible mountains, or into the hands of brigands, or into some boundless and waterless desert and be lost, how many strong guides and divine guardians do we not need when we start on this long journey which is everlasting, I mean the exodus from the body and the journey up to heaven?’ These were the teachings, full of God’s wisdom, that the blessed man gave to himself and to all; these were his daily thoughts and meditations. (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 41)

St. John of Kronstadt on Prayers for the Dead

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

When you pray for the repose of the soul of the departed, force yourself to pray with your whole heart remembering that to do so is your essential duty, and not only that of a priest, or ecclesiastic. Represent to yourself how necessary repose is to the departed one, and how greatly he (or she) needs the prayers for him (or her) of the living, being a member of the one body of the Church; how the demons are contesting his (or her) soul from the angels, and how it trembles, not knowing what its eternal destiny will be. Our prayer of faith and love for the departed means much in the Lord’s sight. Represent to yourself, further, how necessary rest is for you when you are bound by the fetters of sin, and how fervently, with what sincerity, ardor, and power you then pray to the Lord and to the Most-pure Mother of the Lord, and how you rejoice in and triumph when, after your fervent prayer, you obtain the remission of your sins and peace of heart. Apply all this to the soul of the departed. His (or her) soul also needs prayer – your prayer now – because it cannot pray fruitfully any longer itself; the soul of the departed also requires the rest which you can implore for it by means of your ardent prayer, joined to the works of charity for the benefit of that soul, and especially by the offering of the bloodless sacrifice on its behalf. (Saint John of Kronstadt on Prayer – Extracts from his Writings. Chap. XI.118 On Prayer for the Departed, pp. 44-45)

On Preaching to the Dead

For this cause was the Gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Pet. 4:6)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Some say that Scriptures call ‘dead’ those who died before the coming of Christ, for instance, those who were at the time of the flood, at Babel, in Sodom, in Egypt, as well as others who in various times and in various ways received various punishments and the terrible misfortune of divine damnation. These people were punished not so much for their ignorance of God as for the offences they imposed on one another. It was to them, according to [St Peter] that the great message of salvation was preached when they were already damned as men in the flesh, that is, when they received, through life in the flesh, punishment for crimes against one another, so that they could live according to God by the spirit, that is, being in hell, they accepted the preaching of the knowledge of God, believing in the Savior who descended into hell to save the dead. So, in order to understand [this] passage in [Holy Scriptures] let us take it in this way: the dead, damned in the human flesh, were preached to precisely for the purpose that they may live according to God by the spirit. (Questions-Answers to Thalassius 7)

On Praying for the Ungodly Deceased

St. Nicetas Stethatos ca. 1005-1090

For the ungodly, we implore the pardon and remission of their faults, having fallen down in prayer before God, so that an alleviation of punishment might be granted them, so that they might benefit from a ray of God’s goodness for mankind and obtain His mercy and pity; to this end we offer alms and donations to the poor, supplications and prayers all night long, following the Apostolic tradition, and bloodless sacrifices for their intention; for we are indeed convinced that their intellectual feelings are affected by these and that they benefit from a slight respite in the afflictions that surround them, as the Apostles of Christ think and as revealed to numerous Fathers. (On the Soul, XIII, 77)

St. Moses on Soul-sleep

St. Moses the Ethiopian ca. 330-405

At least we must avoid, and shun with the utmost horror, that wicked punctuation of the heretics, who, as they do not believe that Christ could be found in Paradise on the same day on which He descended into hell, thus punctuate Verily, I say unto you today, and making a stop apply you shall be with Me in Paradise, in such a way that they imagine that this promise was not fulfilled at once after he departed from this life, but that it will be fulfilled after the resurrection, as they do not understand what before the time of His resurrection He declared to the Jews, who fancied that He was hampered by human difficulties and weakness of the flesh as they were: No man has ascended into heaven, but He Who came down from heaven, even the Son of Man Who is in heaven: Jn. 3:13 by which He clearly shows that the souls of the departed are not only not deprived of their reason, but that they are not even without such feelings as hope and sorrow, joy and fear, and that they already are beginning to taste beforehand something of what is reserved for them at the last judgment, and that they are not as some unbelievers hold resolved into nothing after their departure from this life: but that they live a more real life, and are still more earnest in waiting on the praises of God. (St. John Cassian, Conference 1.14)

St. Isaac on the Remembrance of Death

St. Isaac the Syrian died ca. 700

Prepare your heart for departure. If you are wise, you will expect it every hour. Each day say to yourself: “See, the messenger who comes to fetch me is already at the door. Why am I sitting idle? I must depart forever. I cannot come back again.” Go to sleep with these thoughts every night, and reflect on them throughout the day. And when the time of departure comes, go joyfully to meet it, saying: “Come in peace. I knew you would come, and I have not neglected anything that could help me on the journey.” (Homily 65[64] tr. Wensick, 309)

On the Resurrection Body

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

Consider the man in whom there dwelt a legion of all kinds of devils (Mk. 5:9): they were there though they were not recognized, for their army is of stuff finer and more subtle than the soul itself. That whole army dwelt in a single body.

A hundred times finer and more subtle is the body of the just when they are risen at the resurrection: it resembles a thought that is able, if it wills, to stretch out and expand, or, should it wish, to contract and shrink; if it shrinks, it is somewhere, if it expands, it is everywhere.

The spiritual beings [in Paradise]…are so refined in substance that even thoughts cannot touch them! (The Harp of the Spirit: Eighteen Poems of Saint Ephrem)

On God Being All in All

St. Neilos the Wise died ca. 430

In order that God might be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28; Eph. 1:23), He is Light to those who are worthy of light, but a chastising Fire to those who deserve eternal chastisement. (Epistle 1.47 To Dositheos)

St. Benedict and Absolution After Death

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

For not far from his Abbey, there lived two Nuns in a place by themselves, born of worshipful parentage: whom a religious good man did serve for the dispatch of their outward business. But as nobility of family doth in some breed ignobility of mind, and maketh them in conversation to show less humility, because they remember still what superiority they had above others: even so was it with these Nuns: for they had not yet learned to temper their tongues, and keep them under with the bridle of their habit: for often did they by their indiscreet speech provoke the foresaid religious man to anger; who having borne with them a long time, at length he complained to the man of God, and told him with what reproachful words they entreated him: whereupon he sent them by and by this message, saying: “Amend your tongues, otherwise I do excommunicate you”; which sentence of excommunication notwithstanding, he did not then presently pronounce against them, but only threatened if they amended not themselves.

But they, for all this, changed their conditions nothing at all: both which not long after departed this life, and were buried in the church: and when solemn mass was celebrated in the same church, and the Deacon, according to custom, said with loud voice: “If any there be that do not communicate, let them depart”: the nurse, which used to give unto our Lord an offering for them, beheld them at that time to rise out of their graves, and to depart the church. Having often times, at those words of the Deacon, seen them leave the church, and that they could not tarry within, she remembered what message the man of God sent them whiles they were yet alive. For he told them that he did deprive them of the communion, unless they did amend their tongues and conditions. Then with great sorrow, the whole matter was signified to the man of God, who straightways with his own hands gave an oblation, saying: “Go your ways, and cause this to be offered unto our Lord for them, and they shall not remain any longer excommunicate”: which oblation being offered for them, and the Deacon, as he used, crying out, that such as did not communicate should depart, they were not seen any more to go out of the church: whereby it was certain that, seeing they did not depart with them which did not communicate, that they had received the communion of our Lord by the hands of his servant.

PETER: It is very strange that you report: for how could he, though a venerable and most holy man, yet living in mortal body, loose those souls which stood now before the invisible judgment of God?

GREGORY: Was he not yet, Peter, mortal, that heard from our Saviour: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in the heavens: and whatsoever thou shalt loose in earth, shall be loosed also in the heavens?” (Matt. 16:19) whose place of binding and loosing those have at this time, which by faith and virtuous life possess the place of holy government: and to bestow such power upon earthly men, the Creator of heaven and earth descended from heaven to earth: and that flesh might judge of spiritual things, God, who for man’s sake was made flesh, vouchsafed to bestow upon him: for from thence our weakness did rise up above itself, from whence the strength of God was weakened under itself.

PETER: For the virtue of his miracles, your words do yield a very good reason. (Dialogues Bk. 2. 23)

Elder Paisios and a Soul in Hades

The Elder related: “I knew an old woman who was very stingy. Her daughter was very good, and whatever she wanted to give as alms she would throw out the window so she could leave the house with empty hands, because her mother would always check to see if she was taking anything. Then she would pick up whatever it was and give it away. But if she told her mother that ‘the monk’ [that is, me] had asked for something, then her mother would be willing to give it up.

After her death, I saw a young man [her guardian angel], and he said to me, ‘Come — so-and-so wants you.’ I couldn’t understand what happened to me, but we were standing in front of a grave in Konitsa. He moved his hand, like this, and the grave opened. Inside, I saw a grimy mess and the old woman, who had started to decay. She was calling out, ‘Monk, save me.’

My heart went out to her. Feeling sorry for her, I climbed down inside and without being repulsed I embraced her and asked, ‘What is wrong?’

She said, ‘Tell me, didn’t I always give you anything you asked, willingly?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that’s true.’

‘All right,’ said the young man, soothing her.

He moved his hand like this again and closed the grave like a curtain, and I was back in my cell. The sisters from Souroti asked me, ‘What happened to you on the feast of Saint Andrew?’ I answered, ‘Pray for so-and-so’s soul.’

Two months later, I saw her again. High above an abyss, there was a plateau with palaces, a lot of houses, and many people. The old woman was up there. She was very happy with the face of a small child that had just a tiny spot that her angel was also scrubbing clean off. In the abyss, in the distance, I saw people being beaten and harassed, and trying to climb up. I embraced her out of joy. I took her aside a little, so the people in the abyss wouldn’t see us and be hurt. She said to me, ‘Come on, let me show you the place where the Lord has put me'” (Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, pp. 202-204)

On Meditating on the End of Days

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

You might indeed find many remedies for evil in Scripture, many medicines to save from destruction and lead to health; the mysteries of death and resurrection, the sentences of terrible judgment and everlasting punishment; the doctrines of repentance and of remission of sins; all the countless illustrations of conversion, the piece of money, the sheep, the son who wasted his substance with harlots, who was lost and was found, who was dead and alive again. Let us not use these remedies for ill; by these means let us heal our soul. Bethink you of your last day, for you will surely not, unlike all other women, live for ever. The distress, the gasping for breath, the hour of death, the imminent sentence of God, the angels hastening on their way, the soul fearfully dismayed, and lashed to agony by the consciousness of sin, turning itself piteously to things of this life and to the inevitable necessity of that long life to be lived elsewhere. Picture to me, as it rises in your imagination, the conclusion of all human life, when the Son of God shall come in His glory with His angels, For he shall come and shall not keep silence; when He shall come to judge the quick and dead, to render to every one according to his work; when that terrible trumpet with its mighty voice shall wake those that have slept through the ages, and they that have done good shall come forth unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. Remember the vision of Daniel, and how he brings the judgment before us: I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool;…and His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth before Him; thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened, Dan. 7:9-10 clearly disclosing in the hearing of all, angels and men, things good and evil, things done openly and in secret, deeds, words, and thoughts all at once. What then must those men be who have lived wicked lives? Where then shall that soul hide which in the sight of all these spectators shall suddenly be revealed in its fullness of shame? With what kind of body shall it sustain those endless and unbearable pangs in the place of fire unquenched, and of the worm that perishes and never dies, and of depth of Hades, dark and horrible; bitter wailings, loud lamenting, weeping and gnashing of teeth and anguish without end? From all these woes there is no release after death; no device, no means of coming forth from the chastisement of pain. (Letter 46.5)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

By the fear of God and the threat [of chastisements] to come, halt the violent impulses of the senses. In everything and everywhere remember death and the soul’s terror upon it’s leaving the body, and how the powers of the air and the dark forces come to meet it, all dissociated and cut to pieces in proportion to its disastrous familiarity with them through the passions. Let us think of the bitterness of the soul in hell, in the awareness and recollection of all the evil it has done in its body. Let us think of the final consummation of the entire world, of the immense conflagration destroying the universe in a frightful tumult of elements dissolved by flames: the heavens precipitously fleeing the terrifying development of fire purifying creation for the Parousia of the Pure; the sea disappearing; the earth shaken to its foundations, casting forth the countless myriads of the bodies of all men without exception. Let us think of the dread hour of reckoning at that time, at the dreadful and terrifying judgment seat of Christ, when all the powers of heaven and every human creature since the foundation of the ages will see right down to the most naked of our thoughts; when the ineffable light will welcome some for the brilliance of their works and when the illumination of the holy and blessed Trinity will cause to shine with even more brilliance those who can see It and endure the sight by the purity of their soul. Outer darkness will welcome the others, as well as the gnawing, untiring worm and the inextinguishable fire of Gehenna. Finally, the most serious of all, the eternal shame and regret of conscience. Think of all that so to be worthy of the first and not to be condemned to suffer this trial; let us be with them and with God, or rather wholly with God alone, totally within Him, with no longer anything of the earthly within us; in order to be close to God, become gods, receiving being gods, from God. In this way the divine gifts are venerated and are awaited in the love of the Parousia of divine joy. (Letters, 24, PG 91, 609C-612D.)

St. Nicodemus on Paradise

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite ca. 1749-1809

O Paradise, we will be able to delight in thee, but we will be unable to comprehend thee! (Exomologetarion pg. 362)

On the Judgments

St. Ignaty Brianchaninov 1807-1867

At both judgments God Himself is present and judges. At the private judgment He judges by means of angels of light and fallen angels; at the general judgment He judges by means of His Incarnate Word. (The Arena, An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, p. 6)

St. Ephrem of Syria on the Tollhouses

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

While the dying person addresses his last words to us, suddenly his tongue is at a loss, his eyes dim, his mouth falls silent, his voice paralyzed when the Lord’s troops have arrived, when His frightening armies overwhelm him, when the divine bailiffs invite the soul to be gone from the body, when the inexorable lays hold of us to drag us to the tribunal… Then the angels take the soul and go off through the air. There stand principalities, powers and leaders of the adverse troops who govern the world, merciless accusers, strict agents of an implacable tax bureau, like so many examiners that await the soul in the air, ready to demand a reckoning, to examine everything, brandishing their claims, that is to say our sins: those of youth and of old age, those intentional and those not so, those committed by actions and those by words or thoughts. Great then is the fear of the poor soul, inexpressible its anguish when it sees itself at grips with these myriads of enemies, who stop it, push and shove it, accuse it, hinder it from dwelling in the light, from entering into the land of the living. But the holy angels, taking the soul, lead it away. (“Sur la seconde venue du Christ”, ed. Assemani, tome 3, pp. 275-276. excerpted from “Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition” by Jean-Claude Larchet pp. 90-91)

St. Basil on the Examination of the Soul

Ps. 7:1-2 O Lord my God, in You have I trusted: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me, lest at any time the enemy seize my soul as a lion, while there is none to ransom, nor to save.

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The dying person, knowing only that there is only one Savior and Liberator cries out: In Thee have I put my hope, save me” from my weakness “and rescue me” from captivity. For I think that the valiant athletes of God, after having kept up the good fight the whole course of their existence against the invisible enemies and escaping every trap, when they arrive at life’s end, are examined by the Prince of this world. If they are found, following the battle, to still have some wounds, stains or remnants of sin, are detained by him. However , if they are to the contrary whole and untainted, these invincible heroes remain free and are admitted by Christ to the place of rest. The Pslamist is praying therfore for the present life and for the future life. Save me, he says, from those who persecute me here and deliver me there, at the moment of my examination, from the fear that [the ruler of this world] might seize my soul like a lion. This is what the we can learn from the Lord Himself, Who said on the eve of His Passion: “The ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” He Who had not comitted any sin said that he had nothing. As for man, it is enough for him to be able to say: “The ruler of this world comes and he will have nothing in me but a small number of little things. (Homilies, On Psalm 7, 2 PG 29, 232B, D.)

St. Justin Martyr on the Soul After Death

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

For the passage, ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion’s mouth, and my humility from the horns of the unicorns,’ is indicative of the suffering by which He should die, i.e., by crucifixion. For the ‘horns of the, unicorns,’ I have already explained to you, are the figure of the Cross only. And the prayer that His soul should be saved from the sword, and lion’s mouth, and hand of the dog, was a prayer that no one should take possession of His soul: so that, when we arrive at the end of life, we may ask the same petition from God, who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls. (Dialogue with Trypho 105)

On the Departure of St. Macarius the Great

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392
 
When the saint’s body had grown weak because of old age and because of all his secret ascetic practices that nobody knew about, and while he was thinking one day about the day he would leave this world the two saints Abba Anthony and Abba Pachomius appeared to him at the seventh hour of the day telling him that he would repose in nine days. After nine days the angel of the Lord that had appeared to him earlier in his
life, appeared surrounded with heavenly hosts and said to him, ‘Come with us, for all of these are waiting for you.’ The saint replied and said, ‘My master Lord Jesus Christ whom my soul loves, accept my spirit.’ When he said that he gave up his spirit.
 
This was on the twenty-seventh day of the Coptic month of Baramhat. As the Angel of the Lord was escorting his spirit to Heaven, some of the elders saw the devils come to hinder his ascent. They heard them saying to him. ‘You are saved and have escaped from us.’ The saint replied, ‘Not yet.’ When the saint set one foot inside the Heavenly gate they said to him, ‘You have entered,’ he replied ‘Not yet.’ When he had completely entered they said again to him weeping, ‘You have entered,’ He then shouted back, ‘I have accepted the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I thank my Lord for His Heavenly grace and love to mankind.’ (The Life of St. Macarius the Great)
 

Fr. Daniel Sysoyev on the Soul After Death

Blessed Fr. Daniel Sysoyev 1974-2009

When a person dies he is met by angels. The angels of God help a person while demons attack him and intimidate him. Two weeks ago I was with a person as they were dying and I saw how demons were attacking him. This is not a joke, it is truly so. Only the Orthodox faith, the power of the cross, and, especially, Holy Communion can protect such a person. Therefore, if after death demons attack you, cross yourself and say “Lord Jesus, help!” and particularly ask the Most Holy Mother of God. She quickly protects from the demons. And then, after death, rise up to heaven, not concerning yourself with the earth, and run quickly to God, then the demons cannot attack you. The demons detain those at the toll houses who are attached to the earth, those who think too much about the earthly. If a person has striven for God his whole life then he will not even notice their attack. But remember that the demons will trick you with the help of the sin of vanity. To Macarius the Great, when he was rising up, the demons said, “you have conquered us! you have conquered us!” But he answered, “Not quite yet,” and only when he had entered the gates of paradise did he say, “now I have conquered you with the power of Jesus Christ.” Just the same do we need to prepare early and get in the disposition not to boast and be captured there. When you get into paradise, and I want all our listeners to end up in paradise, go to your beloved saints. Therefore, while still on the earth make friends with them, with St. Savva, St. Paraskeva, St. Nicholas, and, in this case, they may even approach you after death. And then, when you bow down to God, He sends you to look at hell, because often we think that sin is sweet and pleasant, but the Lord says, “Look at how it ends.” Therefore, the Church fervently prays for people during the 40 days following their death, because at that time is the final trial for the soul. Close ones can help during this time with both the giving of alms and reading of the Psalter-I think that all our listeners know this but to repeat it is never superfluous. Some of our close ones act incorrectly: they spend too much money on funeral feasts when it would be better to give that money to the poor who would then pray for the reposed. Those whom we have brought to Orthodoxy will, of course, especially pray for us. For example, those former Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Protestants who became Orthodox thanks to us. And angels will carry us to heaven on their wings. Remember that life is a school and paradise is a university. And true life begins after the Final Judgment. Therefore, I hope that we will prepare well to be able to live eternally in joy.
 

St. Pachomius on the Demons and the Soul After Death

St. Pachomius the Great ca. 292-346

As for you, my son, shun the satisfactions of this age, so as to be happy in the age the come. Do not be negligent, letting the days pass by till unexpectedly they come looking for you and you arrive at the straits of your anguish and the ‘horror-faces’* surround you and drag you off violently to their dark place of terror and anguish. Do not be sad when you are cursed by men; be sad and sigh when you sin — this is the true curse — and when you go away bearing the sores of your sins.

…if the devil for his part whispers…do not give in to his clever talk. [If you should,] the Spirit of God would leave you, and you would become weak without strength, like Samson, and strangers would put you in chains and lead you off to the mill, that is, to the grinding of teeth (Mt. 8:12). You would be for them the object of mockery, that is, they would laugh at you; you would not know the way to your city because they would have gouged out your eyes, for you have opened your heart to Delilah, that is, the devil, who has taken you by wile, because you have neglected the counsels of the Spirit.

If you have hit your brother, you will be handed over to pitiless angels and you will be chastised in torments of fire for all eternity. (Pachomian Koinonia III: Instructions, Letters, and Other Writings of Saint Pachomius and His Disciples. The Instructions of Saint Pachomius, 23, 26, 41)

* These ‘horror-faces’ are the servants of Abbaddon, the angel of death (Rev. 9:11); they have the mission of making the soul of the dying man come out by frightening him with their terrifying aspect. (see L. T. Lefort, Oeuvres, [CSCO-160], p. 7).

St Philaret on the Intermediate State

St. Philaret of Moscow 1821-1867

What is to be remarked of such souls as have departed with faith, but without having had time to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance?

This: that they may be aided towards the attainment of a blessed resurrection by prayers offered in their behalf, especially such as are offered in union with the oblation of the bloodless sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, and by works of mercy done in faith for their memory.

On what is this doctrine grounded?

On the constant tradition of the Catholic Church; the sources of which may be seen even in the Church of the Old Testament. Judas Maccabæus offered sacrifice for his men that had fallen. (2 Macc. 12: 43) Prayer for the departed has ever formed a fixed part of the divine Liturgy, from the first Liturgy of the Apostle James. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: Very great will be the benefit to those souls for which prayer is offered at the moment when the holy and tremendous Sacrifice is lying in view. (Lect. Myst. v. 9.)

St. Basil the Great, in his prayers for Pentecost, says that the Lord vouchsafes to receive from us propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for those that are kept in Hades, and allows us the hope of obtaining for them peace, relief, and freedom. (The Longer Catechism 376-377)

On Christian Business

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death (μελεπᾷν ἀποθνήσκειν). (Fragments 11)

On the Unbaptized

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

And so also in those who fail to receive the Gift, some are altogether animal or bestial, according as they are either foolish or wicked; and this, I think, has to be added to their other sins, that they have no reverence at all for this Gift, but look upon it as a mere gift— to be acquiesced in if given them, and if not given them, then to be neglected. Others know and honour the Gift, but put it off; some through laziness, some through greediness. Others are not in a position to receive it, perhaps on account of infancy, or some perfectly involuntary circumstance through which they are prevented from receiving it, even if they wish. As then in the former case we found much difference, so too in this. They who altogether despise it are worse than they who neglect it through greed or carelessness. These are worse than they who have lost the Gift through ignorance or tyranny, for tyranny is nothing but an involuntary error. And I think that the first will have to suffer punishment, as for all their sins, so for their contempt of baptism; and that the second will also have to suffer, but less, because it was not so much through wickedness as through folly that they wrought their failure; and that the third will be neither glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge, as unsealed and yet not wicked, but persons who have suffered rather than done wrong. For not every one who is not bad enough to be punished is good enough to be honoured; just as not every one who is not good enough to be honoured is bad enough to be punished. (Oration 40.23)

St. Symeon on the Judgment

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

[I]n the future life a Christian will not be tested as to whether he renounced the world, whether he fasted, whether he performed vigils, whether he prayed, whether he wept, or performed any such good deeds in the present life; but he will be carefully tested as to whether he has some kind of likeness to Christ, as a son to his father, as the Apostle Paul also says: My little children, over whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you (Gal. 4:19). For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).

Those who keep the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, if they do not see in a Christian the likeness of Christ, as a son to his father, will by no means open to him and allow him to enter. (Homily 2.3-4 The Blessed State)

St. Theodore on the Judgment

St. Theodore the Studite ca. 759-826

Are you not afraid of death, which we shall all face in a little while? How are we to look on the fearsome angels, as they come to take us from the body? How are we to journey on that long and unending road, if we have not obtained the necessities for the journey? How are we to take our stand at the judgment seat of Christ, to Whom ‘every knee shall bow and every tongue confess’, if we have a bad conscience? Will we not inevitably be sent away from there to the place ‘where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die’, where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. But, brethren, so that this does not happen, ‘Come, let us worship and let us weep to our good God. Let us come into His presence with confession’, supplication, compunction, tears, prayers, fasts, purity and every form of good conduct. ‘He is expiation for our sins’, and He has not shut the doors against us, He has not turned away from someone who turns back, but He lets them approach like the harlot, the prodigal and the thief. Yes, brethren, I beg you, let us stand up, let us rouse ourselves and let us compete, so that, like school children, who are ready learners, when they are dismissed, go home rejoicing, we too, as genuine disciples of the Gospel, when we have been dismissed from life here, may depart with joy for the everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom belong glory and might, with Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (Catechesis 103, On Keeping God’s Commandments and the Just Threat Against Those who Neglect Them)

On the Dormition and Angelic Powers

St. Gregory of Tours ca. 538-594

Finally, when blessed Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was about to be called from this world, all the Apostles, coming from their different regions, gathered together in her house. When they had heard that she was about to be taken up out of the world, they kept watch together with her.

And behold, the Lord Jesus came with His Angels and, taking her soul, handed it over to the Archangel Michael and withdrew. At dawn, the Apostles lifted up her body on a pallet, laid it in a tomb, and kept watch over it, awaiting the coming of the Lord. And behold, again the Lord presented Himself to them and ordered that her holy body be taken and carried up to heaven. There she is now, joined once more to her soul; she exults with the elect, rejoicing in the eternal blessings that will have no end. (Libri Miraculorum I, De Gloria Beatorum Martyrum 4; PL 71, 708. Excerpted from “Mary and the Fathers of the Church, The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought” by Luigi Gambero pg. 353)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

And behold, the glorious and wonderful  arrival of Christ her God and Son took place, and there were with Him innumerable hosts of angels and archangels and other hosts of seraphim and cherubim and thrones: they all stood with awe before the Lord, for wherever the King is, the host also accompany Him.

As she escaped the pains of childbirth in the ineffable Nativity, so the pains of death did not come upon her at the time of her Dormition, for both then and now the King and Lord of natures altered the course of nature. Then the host of angels invisibly applauded the send-off of her holy soul. The house and the surrounding area were filled by a waft of indescribable perfume, and unapproachable light (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16) spread forth over the holy body. And in this way the master and the disciples, and heaven and earth led forth the Holy Virgin: the gracious and glorious Lord and master led away the holy soul of His immacualte mother to heaven; the disciples took care of her immacualte body on earth, anointing it with myrrh and tending to the things that she had planned. And after a little while, her Son and God wished to translate the body to Paradise or somewhere. The Holy Apostles encircled the bed on which the Holy Theotokos’ body, wider than the heaven. They honored it with hymsn and praise; they embraced it with fear and trembling. They not only showed faith and devotion but were also gratified to receive grace and great benefit, and the work of faith had only just began.

Nevertheless, as soon as news of the holy queen’s Dormition had spread, all the sick and infirm assembled there. Then the eyes of the blind were opened, the ears of the deaf were unblocked, the lame stood up to walk (cf. Isa. 35:5-6), demons were expelled, and every suffering and sickness was cured. The sky and the heavens of heavens were sanctified by the ascension of the holy soul, and the earth likewise was made worthy of the honor of sanctity by the immaculate body. (The Life of the Virgin: 109, 110-111)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

Angels with Archangels bear thee up. Impure spirits trembled at thy departure. The air raises a hymn of praise at thy passage, and the atmosphere is purified. Heaven receives thy soul with joy. The heavenly powers greet thee with sacred canticles and with joyous praise, saying : “Who is this most pure creature ascending, shining as the dawn, beautiful as the moon, conspicuous as the sun? How sweet and lovely thou art, the lily of the field, the rose among thorns; therefore the young maidens loved thee. We are drawn after the odour of thy ointments. The King introduced thee into His chamber. There Powers protect thee, Principalities praise thee, Thrones proclaim thee, Cherubim are hushed in joy, and Seraphim magnify the true Mother by nature and by grace of their very Lord. Thou wert not taken into heaven as Elias was, nor didst thou penetrate to the third heaven with Paul, but thou didst reach the royal throne itself of thy Son, seeing it with thy own eyes, standing by it in joy and unspeakable familiarity. O gladness of angels and of all heavenly powers, sweetness of patriarchs and of the just, perpetual exultation of prophets, rejoicing the world and sanctifying all things, refreshment of the weary, comfort of the sorrowful, remission of sins, health of the sick, harbour of the storm-tossed, lasting strength of mourners, and perpetual succour of all who invoke thee…Thy pure and spotless body was not left in the earth, but the abode of the Queen, of God’s true Mother, was fixed in the heavenly kingdom alone.

O how did heaven receive her who is greater than heaven? How did she, who had received God, descend into the grave? This truly happened, and she was held by the tomb. It was not after bodily wise that she surpassed heaven. For how can a body measuring three cubits, and continually losing flesh, be compared with the dimensions of heaven ? It was rather by grace that she surpassed all height and depth, for that which is divine is incomparable. O sacred and wonderful, holy and worshipful body, ministered to now by angels, standing by in lowly reverence. Demons tremble: men approach with faith, honouring and worshipping her, greeting her with eyes and lips, and drawing down upon themselves abundant blessings. (Homily I, On the Dormition)

How can death claim as its prey this truly blessed one, who listened to God’s word in humility, and was filled with the Spirit, conceiving the Father’s gift through the archangel, bearing without concupiscence or the co-operation of man the Person of the Divine Word, who fills all things, bringing Him forth, without the pains of childbirth, being wholly united to God? How could Limbo open its gates to her ? How could corruption touch the life-giving body ? These are things quite foreign to the soul and body of God’s Mother. Death trembled before her. In approaching her Son, death had learnt experience from His sufferings, and had grown wiser. The gloomy descent to hell was not for her, but a joyous, easy, and sweet passage to heaven.

…What happens? Nature, I conjecture, is stirred to its depths, strange sounds and voices are heard, and the swelling hymns of angels who precede, accompany, and follow her. Some constitute the guard of honour to that undefiled and immaculate (panagia) soul on its way to heaven until the queen reaches the divine throne. Others surrounding the sacred and divine body proclaim God’s Mother in angelic harmony. What of those who watched by the most holy and immaculate (panagiw) body? In loving reverence and with tears of joy they gathered round the blessed and divine tabernacle, embracing every member, and were filled with holiness and thanksgiving. Then illnesses were cured, and demons were put to flight and banished to the regions of darkness. The air and atmosphere and heavens were sanctified by her passage through them, the earth by the burial of her body. (Homily II, On the Dormition)

St. John Maximovitch 1896-1966

[T]he Vir­gin Mary during Her eart­hly life avoi­ded the glory which belon­ged to Her as the Mot­her of the Lord. She pre­fer­red to live in quiet and pre­pare Her­self for the depar­ture into eter­nal life. To the last day of Her eart­hly life She took care to prove worthy of the King­dom of Her Son, and before death She prayed that He might deli­ver Her soul from the mali­cious spi­rits that meet human souls on the way to hea­ven and strive to seize them so as to take them away with them to hades. The Lord ful­fil­led the prayer of His Mot­her and in the hour of Her death Him­self came from hea­ven with a mul­ti­tude of angels to receive Her soul. (The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God)

[T]he so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of her approaching death, answering her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. (A Homily on Life After Death)

Also see: http://classicalchristianity.com/2011/12/12/who-is-the-king-of-glory/

St. Augustine on Prayers for the Dead

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

The prayer either of the Church herself or of pious individuals is heard on behalf of certain of the dead; but it is heard for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not for the rest of their life in the body do such wickedness that they might be judged unworthy of such mercy, nor who yet lived so well that it might be supposed they have no need of such mercy. (The City of God Bk. 21.24)

But by the prayers of the holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they arecommemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death. (Sermons 172.2)

During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who offer the sacrifice of the Mediator, or give alms in the church on their behalf. But these services are of advantage only to those who during their lives have earned such merit, that services of this kind can help them. For there is a manner of life which is neither so good as not to require these services after death, nor so bad that such services are of no avail after death; there is, on the other hand, a kind of life so good as not to require them; and again, one so bad that when life is over they render no help. Therefore, it is in this life that all the merit or demerit is acquired, which can either relieve or aggravate a man’s sufferings after this life. No one, then, need hope that after he is dead he shall obtain merit with God which he has neglected to secure here. And accordingly it is plain that the services which the church celebrates for the dead are in no way opposed to the apostle’s words: For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad; for the merit which renders such services as I speak of profitable to a man, is earned while he lives in the body. It is not to every one that these services are profitable. And why are they not profitable to all, except because of the different kinds of lives that men lead in the body? When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable. (The Enchiridion 109-110)

St. Gregory Palamas on Death

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

As the separation of the soul from the body is the death of the body, so the separation of God from the soul is the death of the soul. And this death of the soul is the true death. This is made clear by the commandment given in paradise, when God said to Adam, ‘On whatever day you eat from the forbidden tree you will certainly die’ (cf. Gen. 2:17). And it was indeed Adam’s soul that died by becoming through his transgression separated from God; for bodily he continued to live after that time, even for nine hundred and thirty years (cf. Gen. 5:5).

The death, however, that befell the soul because of the transgression not only crippled the soul and made man accursed; it also rendered the body itself subject to fatigue, suffering and corruptibility, and finally handed it over to death. For it was after the dying of his inner self brought about by the transgression that the earthly Adam heard the words, ‘Earth will be cursed because of what you do, it will produce thorns and thistles for you; through the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the earth from which you were taken: for you are earth, and to earth you will return’ (Gen. 3:17-19).

Even though at the regeneration to come, in the resurrection of the righteous, the bodies of the godless and sinners will also be raised up, yet they will be given over to the second death, age-long chastisement, the unsleeping worm (cf. Mark 9:44), the gnashing of teeth, the outer, tangible darkness (cf. Matt. 8:12), the murky and unquenchable fire of Gehenna (cf. Matt. 5:22), in which, as the prophet says, the godless and sinners ‘will be burned up together and there will be none to quench the flame’ (Isa. 1:31). For this is the second death, as St. John has taught us in the Revelation (cf. Rev. 20:14). Hark, too, to the words of St. Paul, ‘If you live in accordance with your fallen self, you will die, but if through the Spirit you extirpate the evil actions of your fallen self, you will live’ (Rom. 8:13). Here he speaks of life and death in the age to be: life is the enjoyment of the everlasting kingdom, death agelong chastisement.

Thus the violation of God’s commandment is the cause of all types of death, both of soul and body, whether in the present life or in that endless chastisement. And death, properly speaking, is this: for the soul to be unharnessed from divine grace and to be yoked to sin. This death, for those who have their wits, is truly dreadful and something to be avoided. This, for those who think aright, is more terrible than the chastisement of Gehenna. From this let us also flee with all our might. Let us cast away, let us reject all things, bid farewell to all things: to all relationships, actions and intentions that drag us downward, separate us from God and produce such a death. He who is frightened of this death and has preserved himself from it will not be alarmed by the oncoming death of the body, for in him the true life dwells, and bodily death, so far from taking true life away, renders it inalienable. (To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia 9-12)

Death is thus a kind of protracted process or, rather, there are myriads of deaths, one death succeeding the next until we reach the one final and long-enduring death. For we are born into corruption, and having once come into existence we are in a state of transiency until we cease from this constant passing away and coming to be. (Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts, 52)

 

 

 

 

Are Paradise and Hell Places or States?

Schemamonk Constantine Cavarnos 1918-2011

Nowadays, many who speak about Paradise and Hell avoid the term “place”. They say that Paradise and Hell are simply “states” of the soul and not “places”. But the fact is that not only the Fathers, but also the Hymnographers of the Church, refer to both Paradise and Hell as places, and the God-Man Himself speaks of a place in Heaven and Hell. In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Christ says: “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, he refers to Hell, where the soul of the rich man has gone, as a “place of torment”. With regard to Church Hymnography, I will cite the prokeimenon sung at the Funeral Service as an example:

Blessed is the way wherein you proceed today, for there is prepared for you a place of rest.

And I will add that in this same Service the priest says aloud: “O Lord, give rest to Thy departed servant in a place of light, in a verdant place, from whence pain, sorrow, and sighing are fled away.” As regards the God-bearing Fathers, I will note that we can see their characteristic manner of speaking of Paradise and Hell as “places” in the following passage from Abba Dorotheos: “The saints are received into certain places of light and angelic happiness, but sinners are received into places of darkness, full of fear and trembling, as the saints tell us.”

“Space” in the spiritual world, where the souls go and abide after death, is not the same as space in the physical world, where material bodies exist and move about: it is different from this. Likewise, “time” in the spiritual world is of a different nature than time in the material world, the time that is measured by watches.

In regard to the possiblility of a change in the soul’s condition during the interval between the Particular and General Judgments, the Orthodox Church teaches that it is possible for it to change for the better. The God-enlightened John the Damascene emphasizes this in his treatise, Concerning the Departed Faithful: That the Liturgies and Charities Performed for Them are to Their Benefit. He observes how the divine Apostles decreed that “at the dread and immaculate and life-giving mysteries” those who had faithfully departed were to be commemorated and that since then the Orthodox Church has practiced this everywhere, and will continue to practice it until the end of the world. He notes that the commemoration brings them much gain and benefit. He adds that benevolences performed for the poor on behalf of the dead benefit the latter greatly, as also does the lighting of sacred lamps and candles in their memory. In his own words, this divine Father says: “Do not reject bringing oil for the sacred lamp at the tomb and lighting candles there when entreating Christ God, for these are acceptable to God and bring a great return. For the oil and wax are the sacrifice of a burnt offering; the bloodless sacrifice is an expiation; and benevolences extended to the poor are an addition to every good return.” (The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching pp. 34-35)

On the Dark Riders

From the Gerontikon

Once an ascetic elder left the desert and went down to a city to sell his handicrafts. Fortuitously, he happened to sit by the door of a neighbor, who was dying. When he sat down, he began to stare intently, seeing a number of dark men whose sight evoked fear, since they were seated on black horses and held in their hands flaming swords. Anyway, these dark men arrived at the door of his neighbor’s house. They left their horses there and went into the house. As soon as the sick and dying neighbor saw them, he egan to cry out desperately: “Lord have mercy on me and save me!”

The dark men said to him: “Now at the setting of the sun, you remember God? Why did you not call on Him in the light of the day? There is now for you no hope of salvation or of comfort. Thereupon they hurriedly seized his soul and took leave. (The Evergetinos: A Complete Text. Vol. II of the First Book pg. 17)

On the Sufferings of Hades

There is a holy tale, preserved by the Fathers of the Holy Mountain, which tells how grave are the sufferings experienced in hell. There were two friends, of whom one was moved by the word of God and entered a monastery. There he spent his life in tearful penance. The other friend remained in the world, led a life full of distractions, and finally his heart became so hardened that he began to insolently deride the Gospel.

Death came to him in the midst of such a life. When his friend the monk learned about his death, he, obeying the dictates of friendship, began to pray to God that the state of his departed friend might be revealed to him.

After some time, when the monk had sunk into a light sleep, his friend appeared to him. “How are you? Is it well with you?” asked the monk. — “Woe is me! The never-resting worm is consuming me and will give me no rest for all time.”

“What is the suffering of hell like?” the monk continued.

“This suffering is unbearable!” the departed exclaimed. “But it is impossible to avoid God’s anger. Because of your prayers, I have been temporarily set free. If you wish, I shall show you my suffering. Were I to reveal it to you in its entirety, you would not be able to bear the view; but recognize it at least partly.” At these words the dead man raised his clothes to his knees. O horror! His legs were completely covered with frightful worms that were eating his flesh. Such a stench issued from his wounds that the horrified monk instantly woke up. But his whole cell was filled with the hellish stench, and the odor was so strong that the monk in his horror jumped out. But he forgot to close the door, and the stench penetrated the whole monastery. All the cells were filled with it, and time did nothing to take it away. Thus the monks were forced to leave their monastery and to wander to a different place. As for the monk who had seen the prisoner of hell and his terrible suffering, all his life he was unable to free himself from the evil odor that kept clinging to him. He could neither wash it off nor cover it with any perfumes. (From the book Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave, issued by the monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos. Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave: Orthodox Teachings on the Existence of God, the Immortality of the Soul, and Life Beyond the Grave compiled by Archimandrite Panteleimon pp. 174-175)

St. John Climacus on the Accounting After Death

St. John Climacus ca. 7th century

Some of the dying would answer: “Blessed be God Who has not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me.” (Ps. 62:50) Others would say, “Blessed be the Lord God Who has not given us a prey for their teeth.” (Ps. 123:6) But others would be sad and say: “Will our souls pass through the impassable water of the spirits of the air?” (cf. Ps. 123:5) These would be unsure, and worried about the rendering of accounts after death. (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5)

More Painful than Hell

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

But alas! Wherewith am I forced to affright you! With men’s estimation! When I ought to use the fear of God, and His condemnation. For what, pray, is to become of us then when bound, and gnashing our teeth, we are led away to the outer darkness? Or, rather, what shall we do (and this is the most fearful thought of all) when we offend God? For if any one have sense and reason, he has already endured a hell when he is out of sight of God. But since this does not pain, fire is therefore threatened. For we ought to smart not when we are punished, but when we sin. Thus listen to Paul wailing and lamenting over sins, for which he was not to be punished. For I am not meet, he says, to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church. (1 Cor. 15:9) Hear also David, when he is set free from the punishment, yet, as thinking that he had offended God, calling vengeance down upon himself, and saying, Let your hand be upon me and upon my father’s house. (2 Sam. 24:17) For to have offended God is more distressing than to be punished. But now we are so wretchedly disposed, that, were there no fear of hell, we should not even choose readily to do any good thing. Wherefore were it for nothing else, yet for this at least, we should deserve hell, because we fear hell more than Christ. But not so the blessed Paul, but contrariwise. But since we feel otherwise, for this reason are we condemned to hell: since, did we but love Christ as we should love Him, we should have known that to offend Him we love were more painful than hell. (Homily 5 on Romans)

St. Ephrem on the Soul After Death

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

My brethren, great is one’s fear at the hour of death, since at the moment of the separation of the soul from the body, there appear before the soul all of the works which it did, both day and night, both good and evil, while, at the same time, the Angels hurry to take the soul from the body. Now, the soul of a sinner, seeing its evil deeds, hesitates to depart. Urged by the Angels and trembling from its evil deeds, it implores with fear, saying: “Leave me for just one more hour, and afterwards I will leave.” But the answer to the soul is given by all of its deeds together — all that the soul has done –: “You created us. Together with you, then, we must appear before God.” So, trembling and wailing, the soul leaves the body and goes to appear before the eternal Judge of divine justice. (The Evergetinos, A Complete Text. Vol. II The First Book, pp. 17-18)

St. Ephrem on Gehenna

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

[M]aybe it is that the Gehenna of the wicked consists in what they see, and it is their very separation that burns them, and their mind acts as the flame. The hidden judge who is seated in the discerning mind has spoken, and has become for them there the righteous judge, who beats them without mercy with the torments of contrition. Perhaps it is this which separates them out, sending each one to the appropriate place; perhaps it is this which grasps the good with its right hand stretched out [or, just right hand], sending them to that right hand of mercy; and it again which takes the wicked in its upright left hand, casting them into the place called “the left”; maybe it is this which silently accuses them, and quietly pronounces sentence upon them. (Epistle to Publios, 22)

On a Blessed Repose

St. Theognostos ca. 14th cent.?

Inexpressible is the soul’s delight when in full assurance of salvation it leaves the body, stripping it off as though it were a garment. Because it is now attaining what it hopes for, it puts off the body painlessly, going in peace to meet the radiant and joyful angel that comes down for it, and traveling with him unimpeded through the air, totally unharmed by the evil spirits. Rising with joy, courage and thanksgiving, it comes in adoration before the Creator, and is allotted its place among those akin to it and equal to it in virtue, until the universal resurrection. (On the Practice of the Virtues, Contemplation and the Priesthood 61)

On the Examination of Christ

St. Hippolytus ca. 170-235

For as a serpent cannot mark its track upon a rock, so the devil could not find sin in the body of Christ. For the Lord says, Behold, the prince of this world comes, and will find nothing in me. (Jn. 14:30) (On Proverbs)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

So the Lord put off the principalities and powers at the time of His first experience of temptation in the desert, thereby healing the whole of human nature of the passion connected with pleasure. Yet he despoiled them again at the time of His death, in that He likewise eliminated from our human nature the passion connected with pain. In His love for humanity, He accomplished this restoration for us though He were Himself liable; and what is more, in His goodness, He reckoned to us the glory of what He had restored. So too, since He assumed our nature’s liability to passions, albeit without sin (cf. Heb. 4:10), thereby inciting every evil power and destructive force to go into action, He despoiled them at the moment of His death, right when they came after Him to search Him out. He triumphed (Col. 2:15) over them and made a spectacle of them in His Cross, at the departure of His soul, when the evil powers could find nothing at all [culpable] in the passibility proper to His human nature. For they certainly expected to find something utterly human in Him, in view of His natural carnal liablity to passions. It seems that in His proper power and, as it were, by a certain “first-fruits” of His holy and humanly begotten flesh, He completely freed our human nature from the evil that had insulated itself therein through the liability to passions. For He subjugated — to this very same natural passibility — the evil tyranny which had once ruled within it (within that passibility, I mean). (Ad Thalassium 21)

On the Importance of Mourning for Sin

St. John Climacus ca. 579-649

When we die, we will not be criticized for having failed to work miracles. We will not be accused of having failed to be theologians or contemplatives. But we will certainly have some explanation to offer to God for not having mourned unceasingly. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7: On Mourning)

A Prayer of St. Nilus of Sora

St. Nilus of Sora 1443-1508

But, O soul, whatever time you still have, give up your shameless deeds and convert yourself to a noble life. Turn to the Lord and cry out with faith: “I have sinned, Lord. But I know your mercy and love for men. For this reason, I fall down and beg your goodness to grant me mercy, O Lord! For my soul will be confused and will be sick at my having turned away from my repentance and at my wicked bodily deeds. May the evil powers never capture me and cast me into darkness for my invisible and visible sins of my whole earthly life.

Have mercy on me, O Master, and do not let my soul ever look upon the ugly countenances of the evil demons, but let your radiant and most glorious angels receive me. You have authority to forgive sins. Forgive me my sins. Let my sin never again be before You for because of my weakness I have sinned in word and in deed and in thought, deliberately and indeliberately. May I turn toward you when I am divested of my body and not be found with any filth on the image of my soul. And may the hand of the dark prince of this world never receive me, a sinner, and drag me into the depths of hell, but may you stand before me and be my Savior and Protector!

Have mercy, O Lord, on my soul, stained by the passions of this life, and receive it, purified by repentance and confession. And by Your power conduct me before your divine judgment seat. And when You come down, God, upon this earth in glory, You will sit on Your throne, O Merciful One, to pass your just judgment; we shall all stand naked before your wise judgment. When you will begin to examine our sinfulness, then, O most Good One, do not expose my secret thoughts, nor disgrace me before the angels and all other human beings, but spare me, O God, and show me your mercy.

As much as I meditate on your judgment, O Good One, I am filled with fear for the day of the terrifying judgment. My conscience condemns me and the evil of my deeds fills me with over whelming remorse. I am gripped with confusion as to how I shall answer You, O Immortal King, for I incurred Your wrath. How shall I look upon You in the terrible Last Judgment with such boldness, for I have been filthy and a fornicator? But, O Lord, good and compassionate Father, Only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit, have mercy on me and free me then from the inextinguishable fire and allow me to stand at your right hand, O just Judge. (Nil Sorsky, The Complete Writings: Have Mercy on Me, O Master!)

From Repose to Resurrection: the Intermediate State of Souls

by Jesse Dominick

In a letter to Fr. Thomas Merton, the young Orthodox convert Eugene (later Fr. Seraphim) Rose wrote: “Above all, the Christian in the contemporary world must show his brothers that all the ‘problems of the age’ are of no consequence beside the single central ‘problem of man’: death, and its answer, Christ … Let the contemporary sophisticate prattle of the childishness of seeking ‘future rewards’ and all the rest – life after death is all that matters.”[1] Although modern man enshrines death as supposedly natural he has no understanding of the reality of death. In the Orthodox Church alone is preserved the authentic Christian teaching on man’s paradisiacal condition, his fall and consequent death, Christ’s death-destroying Resurrection, and life after death.

Unfortunately, even in the Church today there is confusion and unawareness of what the Church teaches, clouded by the notion that Orthodoxy has little to say about life after death. In researching the Orthodox doctrines of Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, and life after death St. Ignatius Brianchaninov found that, in fact, the Church is quite precise in what it teaches, as opposed to western teachings that become increasingly vague under the influence of philosophy and man’s growing attachment to the things of this world.[2]

Although the Church provides us with much information on the after-life, it is easily misunderstood. In regards to the soul’s existence after death it is good to remember the advice of the angel to St. Macarius of Alexandria: “Accept earthly things here as the weakest kind of depiction of heavenly things.”[3] Contentions and debates within the Church concerning eschatology often arise out of an overly-literal approach to the ascetic texts that speak of life after death. Concerning this Fr. Seraphim Rose writes:

It is one thing to say … that one must be careful not to read the Orthodox texts on the other world and life after death in too literal or earthly a manner, since that reality is in many obvious ways very different from earthly reality; but it is quite something else to “sweep away” all these texts and deny that they refer to anything at all in an outward way, and are nothing but “allegories” and “fables” … the Orthodox Church and faithful have always accepted these descriptions as corresponding faithfully to reality, even while making allowances for the peculiar, other-worldly nature of this reality.[4]

Upon separation from the body the soul embarks upon a purely spiritual existence which is unknown to us living in the flesh, and this is why the ascetical texts on life after death often seem strange, confusing, or even problematic to us. Only the righteous who have purified themselves and acquired a greater depth of spiritual vision have experienced a taste of such a spiritual life, and thus it is to them that we must look for guidance in understanding revelations on the soul after death. Through Patristic writings, lives of the Saints, hymnography, and even iconography, the Church provides us with no shortage of sources from which to discern the proper Orthodox understanding of the soul’s journey after death.

In the Church’s theology the period between death and the Last Judgment at the return of Christ is known as the intermediate state of souls. During this time the soul is judged and is given a foretaste of the Heaven or Hell that awaits it after the general resurrection at the consummation of time. Orthodox anthropology firmly rejects all forms of dualism and affirms that man naturally consists of both body and soul. Thus the soul that separates from the body at death is in an unnatural state, and for this reason the parting of the soul is a fearful event. Of this St. John of Damascus writes: “Truly most frightening is the mystery of death, how the soul is violently separated from its concord with the body and, by divine decree, the most natural bond of their cohesion is severed,”[5] and a Stichera for the Dead sung at Tone Two Friday evening Vespers reads:

Woe is me! How great a struggle the soul endures at its parting from the body. Woe is me! How many tears it sheds, but there is none to pity it. Turning to the angels, it supplicates in vain; stretching out its hands to men, it finds no one to help. Therefore, my beloved brethren, reflecting on the shortness of our life, let us ask Christ to give rest to the departed and to grant our souls great mercy.[6]

St. Dorotheos of Gaza further adds the truly terrifying thought that “the souls of the dead remember everything that happened here … [it] remembers the passions it gave way to and the sins it committed and the persons with whom it committed them,” and “it is alone with its own passions and, in short, it is tormented by them.”[7] St. Ephraim of Syria teaches the same, that upon death the soul sees “all the works it performed, good and bad, by day and by night.”[8] This is why the Fathers encourage us to remember the day of our impending death, for those who truly take up remembrance of death will never sin again.[9]

It should be noted that for the righteous, the separation of the soul from the body is not frightful, but is in fact joyful, for he has already begun to taste of the spiritual life and the soul goes to dwell in the blessedness of the light of Christ. Again, St. Ephraim teaches that “the righteous and holy, and the ascetics rejoice at the hour of death and separation … Their souls leap up, for they are prepared to go out of their bodies for their rest,” and St. Seraphim of Sarov exclaims: “What joy, what exultation await the soul when God’s Angels come to take it.”[10] The Psalmist states: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 115:6). But for those who have not wholly united themselves to Christ in this life the separation of the soul from the body is fearful because it is unnatural, and furthermore because at death and afterwards the soul is surrounded and attacked by horrid demons. “The death of sinners is evil,” says King David (Psalm 33:22). This reality is referred to repeatedly in our rich liturgical tradition. Every night at Small Compline the Church prays: “And at the time of my departure from this life, care for my wretched soul and drive far away from it the dark forms of evil demons,”[11] and at the Office for the Parting of the Soul from the Body we pray: “O Refuge renowned for the sinful and contrite, make thy mercy known upon me, O Pure One, and deliver me from the hands of demons: For many dogs have compassed me about.”[12] These are but two of the innumerable examples that could be brought forth.[13]

By these attacks of demons is accomplished the Particular Judgment of which St. Paul wrote: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). St. Ignatius Brianchaninov writes that from the time of Adam’s fall until Christ’s harrowing of Hades Satan stood on the path to Paradise blocking the entrance of every soul, and after Christ’s Resurrection he continues to take those souls which incline towards him. He continues:

All who have openly rejected the Redeemer comprise the inheritance of satan: their souls, after the separation from the body, descend straight to hell. But Christians who are inclined to sin are also unworthy of being immediately translated from earthly life to blessed eternity. Justice itself demands that these inclinations to sin, these betrayals of the Redeemer should be weighed and evaluated. A judging and distinguishing are required in order to define the degree of a Christian soul’s inclination to sin, in order to define what predominates in it – eternal life or eternal death. The unhypocritical Judgment of God awaits every Christian soul after its departure from the body.[14]

Fallen angels stand guard in the expanse of the air for the testing of souls according to various sins to which the soul may have inclined during its life.[15] These judgment places are known as the toll-houses and the guarding spirits the tax-collectors who “act thus by the right which they have acquired.”[16] Constantine Cavarnos likewise states that this calling to account is a test of the imperfect soul by demons who reproach it with its many sins.[17]

It is important to note that the trials of the toll-houses are chiefly for those who leave this life in a tepid state, for the souls of the righteous are immediately received by holy angels, while the souls of the decidedly unrepentant are taken to Hades by the demons. Psalm 1:5 states: “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.” Conversely, John 5:24 teaches that he who hears and believes the word of God shall not come into judgment, and Blessed Theognostos states that the soul of the righteous man “passes through the air without hindrance, without being troubled in the least by the evil spirits.”[18] Archimandrite Vasilios Bakogiannis concludes that “the toll-houses are for those who leave this world in a lukewarm, torpid mortal state. They are for those whose flight from this world takes place in the winter of passions or on a Sabbath (Matthew 24, 20) (i.e. without having cultivated the virtues).”[19] Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos teaches the same of the souls of the righteous and the unrepentant, as does Constantine Cavarnos.[20]

The purpose here is not to offer an in-depth examination and explanation of the teaching of the toll-houses[21], but because the subject is so controversial in the Church in America the evidence will be weighed and certain objections addressed. It is important to note that there are only two “prominent” and vocal opponents to the traditional teaching of the toll-houses: Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, and Fr. Michael Azkoul, both of whom have histories of connections to the much troubled Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston of the so-called “Holy Orthodox Church of North America,” and other schismatic groups.[22] It should also be noted that to be in schism does not necessarily negate one’s teachings (I have already approvingly quoted Abp. Chrysostomos of the “Cyprianite” Holy Synod in Resistance), but it is useful to consider the authority of who denies the existence of the toll-houses, and who affirms it.

Abp. Lazar writes: “Anyone familiar with the Bible will know that the toll-house (telonia) stories … not only have no basis in Scripture, but in general are contradictory to Christian Scripture. They also have no bases in the works of the holy fathers of the Orthodox Church.” Thus it is necessary to see just who it is that the Archbishop considers being unfamiliar with Scripture and Patristics. In the last two centuries the toll-houses have been taught by:

  • St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Two nuns passed on. Both had been abbesses. The Lord revealed to me that their souls were having difficulty getting through the aerial toll-houses. Three days and nights, I, a lowly sinner, prayed and begged the Mother of God for their salvation. The goodness of the Lord, through the prayers of the Most Holy Mother of God, finally had mercy upon them. They passed the aerial toll-houses and received forgiveness of sins.”[23]
  • St. Theophan the Recluse: “No matter how absurd the idea of the toll-houses may seem to our ‘wise men,’ they will not escape passing through them.”[24]
  • St. Ignatius Brianchaninov: “The teaching of the toll-houses is the teaching of the Church.”[25]
  • St. Macarius of Moscow (1879-1882): After quoting numerous examples of Church Fathers who taught the toll-houses he says, “Such an uninterrupted, constant, and universal usage in the Church of the teaching of the toll-houses, especially among the teachers of the 4th century, indisputably testifies that it was handed down to them from the teachers of the preceding centuries and is founded on apostolic tradition.”[26]
  • St. Barsanuphius of Optina: “Pray to the Mother of God. She will intercede for you in this life, and, after death, she will help you pass through the tollhouses and reach the heavenly Kingdom.”[27]
  • St. John of Kronstadt: He teaches the toll-houses according to Elder Ephraim’s Counsels From the Holy Mountain, p. 436.
  • St. Nikolai Veilmirović: “O, let no one speak of the happiness of tomorrow’s day. Behold, yet this night your soul may depart your body and tomorrow you will find yourself surrounded by black demons in the tollhouses!”[28]
  • St. John Maximovitch: On the third after death the soul “passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested.”[29]
  • St. Justin Popović: Volume 3 of his Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church (1980) contains the toll-house teaching.[30]
  • Elder Michal of Valaam:“I knew that [the tailor] expected a gift; for a gift he would do anything and he would both know how to do it and do it. But I also know that for even the smallest participation in this type of work – that is, bribe and gratuity – I would have to answer for sin when I go through the toll houses; and so I left him with nothing. One must have caution so as not to give others an example and participate in sins.”[31]
  • Archbishop Theophan of Poltava (ROCOR): A young man who had reposed appeared to the Archbishop and asked him to pray for him to pass safely through the toll-houses, which he did. The man appeared again later to thank the Archbishop and to ask him to offer prayers of thanksgiving.[32]
  • Elder Cleopa of Sihastria: “If you confess thoroughly before your death, your soul is saved. As the soul passes through the tollhouses, any sins that were absolved by the priest on earth have been erased from the record by the Holy Spirit.”[33]
  • Elder Porphyrios: “I didn’t want to think about hell and about tollgates. I didn’t remember my sins, although I had many. I set them aside. I remembered only the love of God and was glad.”[34]
  • Elder Paisios: “When a soul is prepared and ascends to Heaven, the toll booths can’t bother it. However, if it is not prepared, it is tortured by the toll booths. Sometimes God allows the toll houses to be seen for the soul of a person who needs it, at the hour in which it is in agony, to help us who are still alive, that we might struggle to pay our debts here. Do you remember the event with Theodora? God’s compassion, in other words, allowed some things to be seen, to help others to repent.”[35]
  • Fr. Seraphim Rose: See chapters 6, 10, and Appendix III: “Answer to a Critic” in his Soul After Death.  
  • Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica: “In this world it is possible for a person to expend great effort and labor for the good of his fellow men, yet for his soul to remain soiled without sin. A person can pass through most of the toll-houses, yet to be pushed into the abyss as he reaches the toll-house of mercy, for in spite of all his efforts he failed to notice that his heart was firmly bound to the power of hades … Such a person is under the rule of the spirits of wickedness, according to the level of his unmercifulness. Even during his earthly life he is in their power. When his soul departs his body, such a person will be in their power.”[36]
  • Hieromartyr Daniel Sysoev: “When a person dies he is met by angels. The angels of God help a person while demons attack him and intimidate him … The demons detain those at the toll houses who are attached to the earth, those who think too much about the earthly.”[37]
  • Fr. Michael Pomazansky: “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 … The path of the soul after its departure from the body is customarily called the “toll houses.”[38]
  • Archbishop Nathanael of Vienna and Austria (ROCOR): He conveys the traditional teaching that Christ received the soul of the Theotokos because she prayed to be spared the vision of the toll-house demons.[39]
  • Bishop Alexander (Mileant) of Buenos Aires (ROCOR): “These wandering spirits of the heavens upon seeing a soul led by an angel approach it from all sides reproaching it for sins committed throughout its life. Being extremely insolent, they attempt to frighten the soul, bring it to despair and thus take hold of it. During this trial the Guardian Angel bolsters the soul and defends it.”[40]
  • Archimandrite Panteleimon (Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville): “When the Christian soul, led by the holy angels, begins its ascent to heaven, then the spirits of darkness remind it of all its sins which have not been made up for by penance.”[41]
  • Constantine Cavarnos: The toll-houses are taught in his The Future Life According to the Orthodox Church, pp. 23-30.
  • Met. Hierotheos Vlachos: “According to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, the soul … senses the presence of the demons who are called customs demons, and is possessed with fear because of having to pass through customs … The holy Fathers teach all these things not from their imagination, but from enlightening experiences. Sometimes other holy men have revealed these things to them, and at other times they themselves, illumined by God, have had such frightening experiences.”[42]
  • Met. Kallistos Ware: “It is the normal teaching in the Orthodox Church that, during the period immediately following death, the soul, accompanied by the guardian angel, passes through a series of twenty-two telonia, celestial toll or custom houses … This teaching about the toll houses has early origins; while not a dogma of the Church, it is far more than mere legend or pious opinion.”[43]
  • Elder Ephraim of Philotheou and Arizona: “Keep this struggle constantly in mind; think and note that we also have to pass the aerial toll-houses which impede souls from ascending as they present the deeds of our life in order to obstruct our souls’ ascent and drag them down into Hades.”[44]
  • Archimandrite Zacharias Zachariou:Rdr. Andreas Moran relates: “when my late wife died, Archimandrite Zacharias said, ‘her soul went straight up – no hindrance’. Being blessed with much grace, this must mean either that she did not endure passage through the toll houses or that the demons had nothing in her.”[45]
  • Archimandrite Vasilios Bakogiannis: See his After Death pp. 59-67.
  • Fr. Thomas Hopko: “So, my opinion is that the teaching is that, when a person dies, a huge battle, it’s the last battle, in a sense, to see whether that person really does believe in God, and accepts the grace of God and the forgiveness of God, or whether they cling to their demons, cling to their sins and passions … it’s a very old teaching; you find the teaching about toll houses is in practically every Church Father: you find it in Saint John Chrysostom, you find it in John of the Ladder; the first development of it was in Saint Cyril of Alexandria.[46]
  • Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis: at death “the soul undergoes a detailed and thorough examination by the demons since an invisible but relentless warfare is waged between the good and the evil angels for the soul’s possession.”[47] 
  • Protopresbyter Vassily Boshchanovskiy: “The universal faith of the Church in the reality of the personal judgment after death finds its illustrative depiction in the Church Patristic teaching about the toll houses beyond the grave.”[48]
  • Fr. Artemy Vladimirov: He relates how happening upon the Tale of St. Theodora led him to offer his first confession and a dramatic conversion to faith in Christ at the age of 18.[49]
  • Fr. Maximos of Simonopetra (formerly Nicholas Constas): “The tradition of the tollgates was firmly established throughout the east long before the end of late antiquity.”[50]
  • Vladimir Moss:“The doctrine of the toll-houses, of the particular judgement [sic] of souls after death, is indeed a fearful doctrine. But it is a true and salutary and Orthodox one. Let us therefore gather this saving fear into our souls, in accordance with the word: “Remember thine end, and thou shalt never sin” (Sirach 7.36).[51]
  • Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna: “A number of poor scholars and pseudo-scholars alike have, over the past several decades, made a case against the Orthodox Church’s teaching on life after death, and especially the “toll house” image used by some Fathers and in many of our worship services. Misrepresenting the Fathers, ignoring liturgical and theological evidence, and overstating their case, some of these critics have made of various theologoumena, unfortunately, matters of intense debate. Likewise misusing philosophy, misrepresenting the Patristic use of classical philosophical ideas and images, and attributing, with a naiveté that would embarrass a first-year philosophy student in the most mediocre of schools, they pontificate about neo-Gnosticism and neo-Platonic influences on Orthodox thinking, artlessly using the very arguments against the teachings to which they object that the most polemical Westerners have used against the Eastern Fathers.”[52]

None of these Saints, holy elders, and respected theologians has relegated the toll-house teaching, based on the testimony of many Fathers[53], to the realm of mere theologumena and many included them in works of dogmatic theology. No Saint or elder has publicly rejected the toll-house teaching. Abp. Lazar and Fr. Michael have focused their polemical attacks on Fr. Seraphim Rose, claiming that he has mistranslated and misinterpreted Patristic texts, but obviously Fr. Seraphim is far from alone in his interpretation; and on the 10th century life of St. Basil the New containing St. Theodora’s vision of the aerial toll-houses,[54] but several of the authors who have written extensively on the toll-houses, including Fr. Seraphim, Met. Hierotheos Vlachos, Constantine Cavarnos, and Archimandrite Vasilios Bakogiannis, and Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, have done so without appealing to the authority of St. Theodora story which “contains nothing significant that is not to be found in other Orthodox sources on the toll-houses.”[55] To debunk Fr. Seraphim and St. Theodora does nothing to debunk the toll-houses.

Other objections to this traditional teaching of the Church are as easily answered. Against the claim that the teaching as a whole is Gnostic, Met. Hierotheos Vlachos provides the obvious answer. Acknowledging that similar ideas can be found in Gnostic texts, he notes that the teaching about the immortality of the soul, the ecstasy of man and the dispassion of the soul and body, the triparatite soul and many other things also originated outside the Church but were placed in a proper ecclesiastical atmosphere by the God-bearing Fathers.[56] In fact, Origen in his Contra Celsium 6.22 provides and dismisses the Persian Mithraist ascent of the soul, but elsewhere, referencing John 14:30[57] writes that we shall encounter toll collectors who search us to find something that belongs to them at the end of our lives.[58]

Against claims that the toll-house tradition is Latin-influenced, Fr. Seraphim Rose says of the “bag of gold” with which the angels “paid the debts” of St. Theodora that it is clearly a metaphor for the prayers of the Church and critics are simply being too literal-minded.[59] Here it is wise to recall the angel’s admonition to St. Macarius about earthly explanations of spiritual realities. Furthermore, Constantine Cavarnos writes that the deeds which are weighed refer not only to external works but moreso to the “deeds” of repentance, prayer, sobriety, and virtues in general,[60] which aligns with St. Ignatius’ teaching that the deeds are weighed not in any juridical sense but because they demonstrate whether the soul inclines more to eternal life or eternal death.[61] The toll-houses are also sometimes compared to Purgatory[62] which is traditionally a third place, alongside Heaven and Hell, where a material fire causes a satisfactory and purgative suffering of souls which are bound for Heaven.[63] Conversely however, the toll-houses are a journey and not a place of destination, through which souls may end up in either Paradise or Hades. If anything, the journey through the toll-houses would result in a soul’s placement in Purgatory, although this is of course not the Orthodox teaching. Furthermore, while Purgatory purges the soul of sin, the demons of the toll-houses seek to keep a soul entrenched in its sins. The comparison of the toll-houses with Purgatory is simply a straw-man.[64]

Critics such as Archbishop Lazar and Fr. Michael Azkoul also claim that detailed Patristic expositions of the toll-houses, such as the homilies on the departure of the soul by St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Markarios the Great, and St. John Chrysostom are pseudepigraphal and thus lacking authority.[65] However, even was this true the Church has deemed fit to preserve these texts under their names as if they belonged to these great luminaries. St. Cyril’s homily is even traditionally included in the Sequential Psalter.[66] Even those who claim the works of St. Dionysius the Areopagite to be “pseudo” do not therefore question their orthodoxy.

Finally, it is claimed that the trials of the toll-houses make Satan equal to God in the realm of judgment.[67] However, it must be remembered that God is always in charge, although He may sometimes use Satan and/or demons to accomplish His purposes. The most obvious example of this is the entire book of Job, in addition to Judges 9:23, 1 Kings 16:14 and 3 Kings 22:21-23 wherein God sends an evil spirit. Of those souls taken by demons Cavarnos writes: “They are not taken, though, against God’s consent and without divine concession, for God is the Lord of life and death.”[68] Providing an interpretive context, Met. Hierotheos says that the demons are persons with free will who by permission of God and man’s allowance are able to dominate man through his passions and unrepentant heart, and that the demons have no authority over men of God.[69] The demons only have as much power as we give them.

Because so much space has been given to answering objections and those modern authorities who are trusted interpreters of the Patristic tradition, only a few Patristic and liturgical passages concerning the toll-houses will be considered here. Perhaps the earliest instance occurs in St. Justin Martyr who exhorts us to plead for protection at the end of our lives from the sword and lion’s mouth (referencing Ps. 22:20-21) from God  “who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls.”[70] The teaching also appears early in Origen who has already been quoted, although Clement of Alexandria already used the imagery of tolls being exacted on the passions.[71] Perhaps the earliest full exposition is found in St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Homily on the Departure of the Soul which speaks of several different toll-houses where the soul encounters “tax officials guarding the ascent, holding and preventing the souls from ascending.” [72] The teaching of the toll-houses can be found in innumerable other eastern Fathers and even in the pre-schism western Church in the writings of St. Gregory the Dialogist, St. Boniface, and the Life of St. Columba of Iona.[73] The teaching also exists in the Oriental tradition. A prayer to the Theotokos in the Eleventh Hour service of the Coptic tradition reads: “Come to my rescue, when my soul departs from my body, defeat the conspiracies of the enemy, shut the gates of hell lest they swallow my soul,”[74] and following in the tradition of Origen, St. Anthony and St. Cyril, the Monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria, Theodosius (d. 567) writes of the Dormition of the Theotokos where he has her speak of the powers of light and darkness that seek for the departed soul and of the “merciless avengers, with diverse faces, whom God has set to teach the lawless in the way” who stand on the path whereon the departed soul will trod.[75]

The teaching is also pervasive in the Church’s universal liturgical tradition. At the 8th Ode of the Matins canon on Friday in the 4th tone we sing: “O Virgin, in the hour of my death rescue me from the hands of the demons, and the judgment, and the accusation, and the frightful testing, and the bitter toll-houses, and the fierce prince, and the eternal condemnation, O Mother of God,”[76] and in the Theotokion of the first Kathisma hymns at Matins on the Saturday of Cheesefare week we sing: “We ever give thee thanks and magnify thee, O pure Theotokos; we venerate and praise thy childbearing, O full of grace, and we call upon thee without ceasing: Save us, merciful Virgin, in thy love; deliver us from the fearful scrutiny which we must undergo before the demons, and in the hour of our examination suffer not thy servants to be put to shame.”[77] The universal tradition of the Church has handed to us the teaching of the soul’s journey through the aerial toll-houses.

By now it is clear that the soul remains active and aware after departing from the body. While Archbishop Lazar (then Deacon Lev) writes that “in the Orthodox understanding, at death, the soul is held to be assigned to a state of repose by an act of the Will of God, and enter into a condition of inactivity, a sort of sleep in which it does not function, hear or see,”[78] St. Ambrose of Milan teaches that after death “the soul is not held back by any obstacle placed by death, but is more active, because it is active in its own sphere without any association with the body,”[79] and St. John Cassian writes:

The souls of the dead … become yet more alive and more zealously cling to the glorification of God … on the basis of the testimony of Sacred Scripture … would it not be, I will not say extreme stupidity, but at least folly, to suspect even in the least that the most precious part of man (that is, the soul) … after putting off this fleshly coarseness in which it finds itself in the present life, should become unconscious …?[80]

Indeed, it would be folly to relegate the departed soul to a state of inactivity, lest we deny every appearance and intercession of the Saints.

In the forty days after death this conscious and active soul embarks upon a great journey, at times beautiful and at times frightful.[81] This journey is clearly expounded upon by St. Macarius of Alexandria who received an angelic revelation. For two days the soul is free to wander accompanied by angels. Often the soul will stay near the body and virtuous souls will visit those places where they did good deeds. On the third day when the body is brought into the Church the soul receives some relief from its Guardian Angel because of the prayers offered on his behalf in Church. Following this teaching, St. John Maximovitch states that it is on the third day that the soul passes through the toll-houses.[82] Having successfully passed through the demonic trials, souls are brought to Heaven to do reverence before God Himself in imitation of His Resurrection, and thus the Church offers oblations on the third day. Then the soul is shown the mansions of the Saints and the beauty of Paradise during the course of six days which allows it to forget all its bodily sorrows. After this the Angel again takes the soul to do reverence to God, and thus Church offers oblations on the ninth day. From the ninth until the fortieth day the soul is shown the horrors of Hades which cause souls to groan and gnash lest it be imprisoned there. On the fortieth day the soul again reverences God and only then does the Judge determine its fitting place. Thus the Church remembers the dead on fortieth day. Elder Cleopa teaches the same in his “The Soul’s Journey After Death.”[83] Here it is important to note, as does Fr. Seraphim, that these numbers characterize simply a general rule – they are not dogmatic in and of themselves.[84] Furthermore, this model in no way contradicts or negates the association of the third day memorial with Christ’s Resurrection, the ninth with the ranks of angels, and the fortieth with the period of lamentation over the Prophet Moses as is taught by the holy Apostles.[85]

On this fortieth day the soul undergoes the finality of the Particular Judgment before Christ the just Judge:

And so, if by the verdict of the Righteous Judge the soul be given freedom, then immediately the enemies are put to shame, the luminous Angels seize the soul from them, and with no further obstructions it is led by the Angels to that unutterable joy and glory, to which it will finally be established. If, however, the soul lived carelessly and so was found unworthy of freedom, then it will hear that most terrifying voice: ‘Take this ungodly one away from here, that he see not the glory of the Lord’ (Isaiah 26:10.[86]

Here begins the “intermediate state” proper, when the soul will experience either a foretaste of Heaven in Paradise or a foretaste of Hell in Hades, which will last until the Dread Judgment enacted at the Lord’s return. As Cavarnos notes, many today intentionally speak of Paradise/Heaven and Hades/Hell as “states” rather than “places,” but he emphasizes that the Fathers, our hymns, and the Lord Himself refer to both destinations as places, although he clarifies that both “space” and “time” in the afterlife are not as we know them in the physical world.[87] Fr. Seraphim, following St. John of Damascus’ teaching on the relative physicality of the soul, and St. Ignatius’ statement that “the location of paradise is in the heaven … the location of hell is in the bowels of the earth,”[88] states that “these places and their inhabitants cannot be seen by men until their spiritual eyes are opened … Further, these places are not within the “coordinates” of our space-time system … They are not there, but in a different kind of space that begins right here but extends, as it were, in a different direction.”[89] Vassiliadis teaches the same,[90] but Met. Hierotheos is among those who says that these “places” are used to denote a particular way of life, although he does also refer to them as “noetic” places.[91]

Both the souls of the righteous and the ungodly remain alive in these states of anticipation, and although the separation of body and soul is unnatural the hypostasis is not abolished. St. John of Damascus teaches that “even though the soul is separated from the body in death, the hypostasis of both remains one and the same. For the constitution in itself of each thing at its beginning of being is a hypostasis.”[92] Following St. Gregory of Nyssa, Met. Hierotheos teaches that even after dissolution the soul recognizes the elements that made up its body and with its cognitive power contacts them and draws them nearer until the Lord reunites them at His Second Coming.[93] St. Gregory says: “The soul always recognizes its own, what it was like when it had its form.”[94]

It is difficult for us in the flesh to have any comprehension of what souls experience in either Paradise or Hades, but the Fathers do take care to consistently emphasize that each is but a foretaste of the fullness that is to come after Christ’s return. The souls of the righteous live in communion with God a comfortable life with the angels and Saints while the sinners in Hades live with affliction and great grief. Neither Paradise nor Hades exist from God’s point of view – He did not create them, but rather both are the experience of the uncreated energy of His love. As Met. Hierotheos states, they are not in the form of threat and punishment, but rather of illness and cure. The cured and purified experience the illumination of God’s energies, while the sick experience His love as a caustic energy.[95] Indeed, St. Isaac of Syria maintains that “those who are punished in Gehenna, are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love?” for the sorrow caused by the rejection of God’s love “is more poignant than any fear of punishment.”[96]

However beautiful or terrifying are these experiences respectively, neither is yet the fullness of Heaven or Hell. This distinction can be difficult to understand because “Paradise” and “Heaven” and “Hades” and “Hell” are often used interchangeably in Orthodox literature, but this seems to be because they are in essence describing the same reality. Paradise is the enjoyment of God’s light in the soul and Heaven is the fullness experience by the soul reunited with the body, and Hades is the torture the soul feels by the memories of its passions, its aversion to the light of God, and the threats of the malicious demons, while Hell is the torture experienced by the soul reunited with its body. In any of these “places” the omnipresent God is of course “there” and the soul responds to His illuminating presence as it did in this life. As depicted by the soul’s forty day journey, and as taught by St. Andrew of Crete, all souls pass through Hades although the souls of the righteous do not stay there. The Saint voluntarily lays down his life that He may follow the Lord into Hades and experience yet more the wondrous mystery of the divine economy, and to know the Lord’s victory over Hades and death.[97]

Constantine Cavarnos also puts forth the teaching that Paradise and Hades are not static conditions of equality, but rather, each consists of various levels, corresponding to the virtues and vices of each soul. St. Macarius of Egypt says:

Some say that there is one kingdom and one hell; but we say that there are many levels and differences and measures, both in the kingdom and in hell … God, being a just judge, gives to each a reward according to the measure of faith … For there are superior measures, and there are little measures, and in hell itself appears magicians and robbers, as well as others who have committed only little sins. Those who say that there is one kingdom and one hell, and that there are no levels, say ill.[98]

St. Gregory of Sinai writes likewise of Paradise and Hades, noting that the differing degrees of ascent in the soul are known as “many mansions” in the words of Christ. He says there is one kingdom but many divisions within it corresponding to the varying levels of deification in the soul, just as there is one glory of the sun, another of the moon, and another of the stars.[99] And speaking starkly of the divisions within Hades, St. Ephraim the Syrian writes:

There is an outer darkness, as we hear in the Gospel, and consequently there is an inner one. The Gehenna of fire is one place; the gnashing of teeth, the unsleeping worm, the lake of fire, the inextinguishable fire, and the fiery river are others. The miserable sinners are distributed among these hells, each one according to his sins. And as there are different sins, so also are there different hells. Thus, there is one kind of hell for the adulterer, another for the fornicator, another for the murderer, and another for the thief and drunkard …”[100]

St. Symeon of Thessalonica also says that we are obliged to believe that the souls of sinners and unbelievers are tormented by the demons according to the degree of their sins and unbelief.[101]

As the departed soul retains sight, hearing, speech, memory, feelings and other qualities it had while in the body,[102] so the Church teaches that souls can recognize one another and remember and care for their loved ones yet on the earth. St. Macarius of Egypt teaches that the righteous are blessed to recognize and converse with one another just as men do in the market place, and that they may even come to know those whom they did not know in this life. However, this blessing is withheld from the souls of sinners because Hades is characterized by discord and the rule of hatred. The loathing that we hold for others here is multiplied a thousand times there, for as Dostoyevsky says “Hell is the ordeal of not loving anybody.”[103] St. Athanasius also teaches that righteous souls may meet and rejoice in the expectation of their ultimate Heavenly reward.[104]

It needs no explanation that the souls of the righteous remember us – the ethos of the Church certainly includes prayer to the Saints, and to departed loves ones in private prayer, and there have been countless visitations by the Saints either through their icons and relics or “in person.” The Church teaches adamantly that death does not sever us from the one Body of Christ. Vassiliadis teaches that just as St. Peter knew supernaturally of the dishonesty of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 3:5ff.), so the souls in Heaven are made aware of our needs on earth through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and Bakogiannis teaches that when a Saint appears it is not the immaterial soul itself which is seen but a form taken by the condescension of God. The appearance of a Saint may even be in truth an angel when the soul is preoccupied in prayer or is appearing elsewhere, for only God is omnipresent.[105] When St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was taken to Paradise and the third Heaven he was not able to see the Most-Holy Theotokos because she was serving the suffering world at that time.

According to Bakogiannis, those in Hades also remember us who labor on earth. For this he points foremost to the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man wherein the Rich Man suffering in Hades calls out to Abraham, who represents God, to send Lazarus to warn his family of the suffering that awaits them if they do not repent. He also cites the story of a pagan priest in Hades who recognizes St. Macarius of Egypt on earth praying for the souls of the damned, and says there are innumerable other such examples.[106] However, St. Athanasius teaches that the souls of the unrepentant do not think of us because they are absorbed by the torturous memory of their sins and their coming punishment.[107] Perhaps the story of Lazarus was an exception to the rule for educative purposes, or perhaps there is no “rule” here, but God does what is necessary in each situation. Indeed, Bakogiannis also says that it is impossible for souls in Hades to recognize those in Paradise because they do not partake of the Divine Light, but that God condescended to allow the Rich Man to see Lazarus to teach him that his punishment was just. Those in Hades are unworthy to look upon those in Paradise because they would be burned by the brightness of the glory of God within them.[108] However, again according to Bakogiannis, those in Paradise remember their loved ones and recognize those in Hades but, according to the teaching of St. Gregory the Dialogist, because they have acquired the impassivity of God they are at peace about the justice of God.[109]

This leads to the questions of our prayer for the departed: what is accomplished thereby? Can souls in Hades repent? Can they be moved from Hades to Paradise? In essence this is the same as the question of prayer for the living – if God has His will and we pray that His will be done then of what value are our prayers? The Church teaches that after death the soul is incapable of performing works or repenting in order to find release from Hades. In Bakogiannis’ translation, Psalm 6:5 reads: “In Hades there is no repentance.”[110]  St. John of Damascus teaches that one who has departed in an unrepentant and evil life cannot be helped in any way.[111] This is the meaning of the great chasm between Abraham’s Bosom and Hades in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man – that there is no hope of repentance for the departed sinner. St. John of Kronstadt says that for those who are unworthy of salvation God does not move anyone to pray for them.[112] For whom, and why, then, do we pray?

St. John of Damascus also teaches that he who departed with even the slightest virtue, but for some reason did not do works worthy for repentance (cf. Matt. 3:8, Acts 26:20), the righteous Lord will not forget – even for reasons of indolence, indifference, procrastination or timidity! Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Church to pray for all the departed, for we know not who is able to receive the benefit of our prayers.[113] The Church prays for the departed continuously and in many ways, beginning with the Office at the Parting of the Soul from the Body, and as we have seen on the third, ninth, and fortieth days, and that the soul may pass safely through the toll-houses. Fr. Seraphim recalls how Bishop Savva of Edmonton inspired the faithful to fervent prayer at the funeral for St. John Maximovitch by citing the “fearful toll-houses.”[114]

The intermediate state is dynamic until the return of Christ when each receives his due reward. The righteous go from glory to glory, participating in the light of Christ ever more, but even departed sinners may receive some relief from the pains of Hades, and may even be moved to Paradise by the prayers of the Church and the mercy of God. Bakogiannis teaches that it is certain that the soul feels relief at the very moment of our prayers, while the movement to Paradise is uncertain but not impossible.[115] Concerning relief from suffering, he also writes that after traveling through Hades the Theotokos entreated Christ to have mercy on the souls that suffer there and so they are given respite between Pascha and Pentecost each year, and for this reason the Royal Doors remain open, the Saturday of Pentecost is dedicated to the departed, and the third kneeling prayer of Pentecost is a supplication for the departed.[116] A pagan priest who suffered in Hell revealed to St. Macarius of Egypt in what this relief consists, saying: “When you show pity on those in Hell and pray for them, they find comfort … seeing, in a way, each others’ faces. That is the comfort.”[117] Thus they receive, however temporary, some respite from the discord and hatred that characterizes the sufferings of Hades.

Souls in Hades cannot pray for their own release from that prison, and we do not pray that the souls move from Hades to Paradise, but rather for God to take them to Paradise. A great gulf is fixed between the two which only God can cross. Again according to Bakogiannis, the dead are no longer masters of their own souls and in this sense no longer have free will, and thus our prayers for the departed are even more powerful than those we make for the living. Whereas the living often choose to reject God’s mercy, the dead are unable to make this decision and so it is easier for God to have mercy on them. Thus the Church prays fervently for them in line with the will of God Who desires the salvation of all men. Likewise, Vassiliadis writes: “With our removal to the other life, the door for confession and repentance, that is, for personal decision and action worthy to move the compassion of the impartial Judge, is definitely closed.”[118]

Drawing on the testimony of the Fathers, the Liturgies and the Diptychs of the Church, St. Nektarios notes that for those who have reposed in communion with the Body and Blood of Christ the Church prays that God may forgive their sins and establish their souls where the just repose, but for those who have come to an evil end the Church does not supplicate for their salvation, but only that He will lighten their torments.[119] Vassiliadis concludes the same from the Fathers.[120] That sins may be forgiven during the intermediate state is told us by the Lord Who says in Matthew 12:32: “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come,” which thereby implies that all other sins, however heinous, are possibly forgiven, and this is why the Church offers memorials for the departed. The Church preserves many visions and stories of souls being moved from Hades to Paradise by the mercy of God, including Colonel Andrei Feodorovich Petrov who entered bliss through the prayers and asceticism of his wife St. Ksenia of St. Petersburgh, and the Emperor Trajan who is said to have been “baptized by St. Gregory [the Dialogist’s] tears” who was moved to compassion after learning that the Emperor once ordered recompense be paid to a widow whose son had been murdered.[121]

There are various other means by which the faithful may benefit the departed: through offering charity to the poor on their behalf, the lighting of the candles and oil lamps (which constitute a kind of prayer), and the offering of alter-bread, wine and oil for the performance of the Holy Liturgy. Of course no offering is greater than the Eucharist on the behalf of the departed. However, of charity on behalf of the departed the Apostolic Constitutions teach that “These things we say concerning the pious; for as to the ungodly, if thou givest all the world to the poor, thou wilt not benefit him at all. For to whom the Deity was an enemy while he was alive, it is certain it will be so also when he is departed; for there is no unrighteousness with Him. For ‘the Lord is righteous, and has loved righteousness (Ps. 6:7).’”[122] And here it must absolutely be noted: the Church in no way guarantees the salvation of any soul through its prayers and deeds – nothing replaces repentance in this life! Each man ought to throw himself at the mercy of God in this life and not rely on prayers offered after his repose. This would be folly.

Special mention must be given to St. Mark of Ephesus, the hero of the robber Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1439 and great pillar of the Orthodox Church in whom is found perhaps the most concise and authoritative teaching on the fate of the soul after death. Drawing upon the Scriptures, Patristic homilies, Church services, Live of Saints, and visions and revelations of life after death, St. Mark ably defeated the falsities of the Latin Purgatorial doctrine put forth by Julian Cardinal Cesarini at the earlier “Union” Council of Lyons in 1270. Whereas modern “theologians” tend to distrust the lives and visions of the Saints, St. Mark shows that he is quite at home with such sources and accepts them as reliable transmissions of the Apostolic Tradition. St. Mark offered four homilies against the doctrine of Purgatory, but it is in his first Homily that is found the most concise account of the Orthodox doctrine.

The Latin teaching as laid forth by Cardinal Cesarini seems to be a product of precisely that mindset which has been often warned against – of interpreting Scriptural and Patristic passages and Saintly visions too literally and legalistically. By this time the Catholic Church had come to understand Heaven and Hell as finished and unchangeable, thus the souls in them already receive the fullness of reward or punishment. Thus there is no need to pray for those in Heaven whose lot is absolute nor those in Hell who have no hope or chance of cleansing and forgiveness. However, there are the souls who repose in a middle state of imperfection but not so imperfect that they belong in the eternal punishments of Hell. These souls are assigned to Purgatory, a third place wherein they are punished by a material fire in the present time to give satisfaction for even those sins which were forgiven, and to be purified before entering Heaven. For these souls prayers and charities may be offered to lessen their time spent there.[123]

           

By now the errors of this teaching ought to be clear. Firstly, neither the Scriptures nor the Fathers, Greek or Latin, ever posit a third destination for the departed soul or a second fire besides the eternal fire of Gehenna that exists after the Dread Judgment of Christ upon His return. Passages that speak of fire are properly understood allegorically as the purifying uncreated light of God that may grant relief and pardon to souls in Hades or as prophecies of the eternal fire that is to come, but there is certainly no material fire that exists in our present time. And as we have seen, Paradise and Hades are foretastes but not the fullness of Heaven and Hell. Only the soul united to the body in its natural state can know the fullness of joy or pain that comes from God’s love. Furthermore, no payment or satisfaction is due for sins that have been forgiven. In Orthodox theology forgiven sins are truly forgiven. St. Mark states:

To this we say the following, and pay heed how simple and at the same time how just this is: it is generally acknowledged that the remission of sins is at the same time also a deliverance from punishment; for the one who receives remission of them at the same time is delivered from the punishment owed for them. Remission is given in three forms and at different times: (1) during Baptism; (2) after Baptism, through conversion and sorrow and make up (for sins) by good works in the present life; and (3) after death, through prayers and good deeds and thanks to whatever else the Church does for the dead … In the first and last remission of sins the grace of God has the larger part, with the cooperation of prayer, and very little is brought in by us. The middle remission, on the other hand, has little from grace, while the greater part is owing to our labor. The first remission of sins is distinguished from the last by this; that the first is a remission of all sins in an equal degree, while the last is a remission only of those sins which are not mortal and over which a person has repented in life.

Thus does the Church of God think, and when entreating for the departed remission of sins and believing that it is granted them, it does not define as a law any kind of punishment with relation to them, knowing well that the Divine goodness in such matters conquers the idea of justice.[124]

Thus, although there are certain similarities in the Orthodox and Latin understandings of the afterlife, the congruence is often a matter of words alone. As St. Mark of Ephesus ably demonstrates, the Orthodox teaching has nothing to do with the overly literal and legalistic philosophy of the Latins but is rather the pure and unadulterated teaching of the Scriptures and the great Fathers of the Church, both east and west.

Death is the central reality of our lives but the world can give no satisfying answers to this great mystery. It is only to the Orthodox Church that we must turn to understand the origin and meaning of death. The world can only speculate blindly but in the Church we know the divine light of Christ that sweeps away the vanity of speculation. To understand death and the afterlife we turn to “the holy Fathers [who] teach all these things not from their imagination, but from enlightening experiences,” as Met. Hierotheos states.[125] Through the Scriptures, Patristic writings, lives and visions of Saints, hymns and prayers and iconography the Church teaches us the truths of life after death, but it is incumbent to remember that earthly words can provide but a weak description of spiritual realities. However, as Fr. Seraphim Rose teaches, that these words are allegories does not mean they are lacking in substance – the Church and her pious do not sweep these teachings away although they may seem fantastic to those who labor in a fleshly life.[126] Pastorally speaking, a priest must know the teachings of the Church but also understand that for some they may inspire repentance and joy, and for others, despair. Fr. Seraphim wisely observed, speaking of the toll-houses (although his words equally apply to the entire afterlife):

With those who are ready for it, the teaching of the toll-houses is a powerful incentive for repentance and a life lived in the fear of God; but there are those for whom the teaching would be so frightening that I would not even speak of it to them until they were better prepared to accept it. A priest sometimes encounters dying people so little prepared for the other world that it would be pointless to speak to them even of hell, let alone the toll-houses, for fear of removing in them the little hope and awareness they might have of the Kingdom of Heaven.[127]

And he continues “but this does not mean that hell has no part in the teaching of such a priest, or that he would not defend its reality decisively if it were attacked.”[128] As in all things, so in the afterlife the Church’s teachings center on Christ and the reality of His death-destroying Resurrection and His desire for the salvation of all men. Thus the Church calls us to a life of repentance and of prayer on behalf of the departed that they might find rest with the Saints “where sickness and sorrow are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”[129]

http://oldbelieving.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/from-repose-to-resurrection-the-intermediate-state-of-souls/

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Note: Complete citations will be provided in the Works Cited section.

[1] Cathy Scott, Seraphim Rose: The True Story and Private Letters, pp. 180, 181.

[2] Fr. Seraphim Rose, A Prologue of the Orthodox Saints of the West, in Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers by St. Gregory of Tours, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (1988), pp. 23-24.

Similarly, Archimandrite (now Archbishop) Chrysostomos of the Holy Synod in Resistance writes: “So it is that many have written of late that Scripture and the Fathers of the Church are silent about the afterlife and reticent in their approach to this topic. Reticent they are, indeed, to speak of the mystical realm of Eternity in words that might make of Heaven the middle-class Protestant songfest so feared by Samuel Clemens, or cast Hell in images, not of metaphysical anguish, but of epic barbecues; but quiet about the afterlife Holy Scripture and the Fathers most certainly are not. Only our departure from Patristic study and from theology which derives from the Patristic mind can account for this great error among our contemporary theologians,” Foreword to Constantine Cavarnos’ The Future Life According to Orthodox  Teaching (1985), p. 8.

[3] Quoted in Fr. Seraphim Rose, The Soul After Death (2004), p. 67.

[4] Ibid., pp. 234-235.

[5] Idiomelon for the dead in the 4th tone (Octoechos), qtd. in Cavarnos, The Future Life, p. 21.

[6] The Lenten Triodion, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press (1994), p. 144.

[7] Discourses and Sayings, Cisterna Publications (1977), pp. 185,184.

[8] The Ascetic Works, in the modern Greek version by Mark D. Sakkorrafos, Athens, 1964, p. 155, qtd. in Cavarnos, The Future Life, p. 22.

[9] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 6:24.

[10] St. Ephraim, The Ascetic Works, p. 9, and Cavarnos and Zeldin, St. Seraphim of Sarov, in Modern Orthodox Saints V (1980), p. 47; both qtd. in Cavarnos, The Future Life, pp. 22, 23.

[11] A Prayer to the Theotokos by Monk Paul

[12] Office at the Parting of the Soul from the Body, Canon of Prayer to the All-undefiled Birth-giver of God, on behalf of a man whose soul is departing, and who cannot speak, in Hapgood, Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (1965), p. 361.

[13] The Office at the Parting of the Soul from the Body alone contains eight references to the assault of demons upon the newly-departed soul. Additionally, from the Menaion for Sept 3rd, the Theotokion on the Praises: “Carelessly reclining in the bed of languor and heedlessness, I most slothfully pass through life; and I fear the hour of death, lest that wicked serpent, like a savage lion, in snatching up my lowly soul, rend it asunder with ruthless villainy; O blameless Theotokos, in thy goodness, hasten before the end to bestir me and raise me up to repentance and change of life,” Holy Transfiguration Monastery, p. 60.

[14] Bishop Ignatius, Collected Works, vol. III, p. 136, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 65. Emphasis added – to highlight that the tests of the toll-houses are not a Latin-inspired juridical affair, but rather are a means by which to determine the love, or lack thereof, for God in the soul of man.

[15] cf. Eph. 2:2, 6:12.

[16] Ibid., p. 136, 133, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 66, 65.

[17] The Future Life, p. 24.

[18] Quoted in Ibid., p. 60.

[19] Ibid., p. 61.

[20] Vlachos, Life After Death (1995), p. 62, 66, 72, 77; Cavarnos, The Future Life, p. 23. Cavarnos quotes St. Maximus the Confessor: “Those who have acquired perfect love of God and have, through their virtues, risen on the wings of the soul, will ‘be caught up in the clouds,’ as the Apostle says, and will not be brought into judgement [sic]. On the other hand, those who have not acquired love in all its perfection, but have both sins and virtues on their account, will appear before the court of judgment. There they will be tried, as it were, by fire. Their good actions will be put in the balance against the bad, and if the good outweighs the bad, they will be delivered from punishment,” Philokalia I, Athens, 1957, p. 273.

[21] Another student has taken up this task.

[22] The Archbishop was formerly Deacon Lev of ROCOR, but he was defrocked by its Synod in 1980 for his persistent and agitated attacks against the teaching of the toll-houses and for entering into the schismatic Free Serbian Church which ordained him to the priesthood in 1981. Puhalo now considers ROCOR to be a heretical synod which had no canonical authority (see his The Tale of Elder Basil “The New” and the Theodora Myth: Study of a Gnostic Document and a General Survey of Gnosticism , p. 10, and his video “ROCOR, Monks, Marriage and Toll Houses,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHSo5HvEtWA&list=UUdvBZZ1IKEK_gbgA8b590Lg&index =86&feature=plcp, beginning at 24:10). In 1988 he joined the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece and was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite; in 1990 he was received into the Holy Synod of Milan and consecrated as a bishop; in 1996 he joined the schismatic Kiev Patriarchate and was elevated to the rank of Archbishop. Finally, in 2003 he was received into the OCA by economia with the title of “Retired Archbishop.” For this history, see his entry on OrthodoxWiki at http://orthodoxwiki.org/Lazar_%28Puhalo%29_of_Ottawa. Fr. Michael Azkoul was a priest in ROCOR but schismed with the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in the 1980s and is now a priest of their “Holy Orthodox Church of North America.”

[23] Quoted by Fr. John Mack in St. John Maximovitch, Life After Death, at http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/lifeafterdeath.aspx.

[24] The One-Hundred Eighteenth Psalm, Interpreted by Bishop Theophan, Moscow, 1891, reprinted by Jordanville, 1976, pp. 289-290, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 86. St. Theophan also uses the Tale of Theodora as a preparation for confession, in The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (1995), pp. 166-169.

[25] Collected Works vol. 3, p. 138, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 268.

[26] Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2 (1883), p. 535, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 74.

[27] Quoted by Fr. Constantine Aliferakis in The Tropeoforos: St. George Greek Orthodox Church Monthly Newsletter: Schererville, IN, Aug. 2011, at http://content.seekandfind.com/bulletins/01/1173/20110801N.pdf. St. Barsanuphius also referred to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov’s Essay on Death which contains the toll-house teaching as “indispensable in its genre,” in Victor Afanasiev, Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, p. 736.

[28] Prologue of Ohrid Vol. 1: January to June, Homily for June 25, p. 654. He also speaks of the toll-houses in his reflections for Sept. 22,  24, 27, Oct. 18, 24, Dec. 23, Aug. 15 and in his homilies for Nov. 7, June 25, and in the lives of Venerable Theodora of Constantinople on Dec. 30, Venerable Basil the New on March 26, and St. Taxiotis on March 28.

[29] Life After Death, at http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/lifeafterdeath.aspx.

[30] http://orthodoxwiki.org/Aerial_Toll-Houses; see post #167 at http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,36319.135.html.

[31] Nun Maria Stakhovich, Sergius Bolshakoff, Interior Silence, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (1992), p. 109.

[32] Vladimir Moss, A Life of Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, at http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/212/a-life-archbishop-theophan-poltava/.

[33] Archimandrite Ioanichie Bolan, Elder Cleopa of Sihastria, p. 152. For a full exposition of the toll-house teaching from Elder Cleopa see “The Soul’s Journey After Death,” at http://valahia.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/the-soul%E2%80%99s-journey-after-death/.

[34] Wounded by Love (2005), p. 226. In saying that he did not want to think about the toll-houses Elder Porphyrios is not denying their existence, just as he is not denying the existence of Hell, but this is consonant with his overall spirituality through which he did not seek to battle the demons but only to cling to Christ.

[35] Words from Elder Paisios the Hagiorite: The Trials of Our Life, Holy Monastery “Evangelist John the Theologian: Souroti, Thessaloniki (2002), chapter 1, quoted in Greek at https://www.facebook.com/groups/167340509648/. See also Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters, pp. 151-152.

[36] Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, p. 198.

[37] Interview conducted by Dusanka Zekovic, at http://incendiarious.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/serbian-conversations-part-1/.

[38] Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (1994), pp. 333, 334. See also his article “On the Question of the “Toll-Houses:”

Our War is not Against Flesh and Blood” at http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/tollhouse_pomaz.aspx.

[39] “The Holy Righteous Abraham, Moses and Elias as Preparers of Man’s Salvation.” Orthodox Life 28.6 (Nov- Dec. 1978), p. 45.

[40] Life After Death, trans. Nicholas Stoltz, at http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/life_after_death.htm#n6.

[41] Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave, (1989), p. 62.

[42]Life After Death, pp. 62, 70.

[43] “’One Body in Christ’: Death and the Communion of Saints,” in Sobornost vol. 3, no. 2 (1981), p. 182.

[44] Counsels from the Holy Mountain, p. 71. See also pp. 140, 151-153, 156-157, 337, 371, 417, 436.

[45] http://www.monachos.net/forum/showthread.php?8794-Clarification-needed-on-the-experience-of-Christians-after-death, post #15.

[46] Illumined Heart podcast on Ancient Faith Radio: “Toll Houses: After Death Reality or Heresy?”, Sept. 30, 2007, http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/toll_houses_after_death_reality_or_heresy.

[47] Mystery of Death, The Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians: “the Savior”, Athens, Greece, (1993), p. 385. Vassiliadis is a member of this monastic brotherhood.

[48] “Lessons in Dogmatic Theology,” in ROCOR’s official publication Tserkovnaya Zhizn (Church Life), no. 5-6 (Sept.-Dec. 2001), p. 41.

[49] Bright Faith, Christ the Savior Brotherhood, p. 9.

[50] “’To Sleep, Perchance to Dream’: The Middle State of Souls in Patristic and Byzantine Literature,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 55, at http://www.doaks.org/publications/doaks_online_publications/DOP55/DP55ch06.pdf.

[51] Death and the Toll-Houses, at http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/214/death-toll-houses/.

[52] Introduction to Fr. Michael Pomazanksy’s On the Question of the “Toll-Houses:” Our War is not Against Flesh and Blood, at http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/tollhouse_pomaz.aspx.

[53] Innumerable Patristic and liturgical witnesses are provided in the books cited in this paper. The Fathers, in turn, were pulling from Scriptural sources, most notablyLuke 12:20 which accurately reads: “But God said unto him, You fool, this night they demand of you your soul,” and John 14:30, already cited, in addition to those verses already cited which speak of the spirits of the air. Met. Hierotheos also cites Psalm 7:1-3, and Jer. 20:9-10. See also Zechariah chapter 3 wherein he beholds a vision of the High Priest Joshua standing before the Lord in filthy rags. Although Satan resists him, the angels of the Lord clothe the priest in new garments.

[54] See Abp. Lazar’s The Tale of Elder Basil “The New” and the Theodora Myth: Study of a Gnostic Document and a General Survey of Gnosticism and Fr. Michael Azkoul’s The Aerial Toll-House Myth: The Neo-Gnosticism of Fr Seraphim Rose.

[55] Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 75.

[56] Life After Death, p. 77-78.

[57] “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.”

[58] Hom. in Luc., 23 (PG 13:1862).

[59] Soul After Death, p. 185.

[60] The Future Life, p. 26.

[61] Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 136, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 65

[62] Abp. Lazar Puhalo writes: “We need not even go into detail and offer comparison with the horror-filled Scholastic, Latinized doctrines of aerial purgatories, toll-houses and demonic tribunals,” in The Commemoration of the Dead, Synaxis Press, p. 21.

[63] Met. Kallistos Ware, ‘One Body in Christ,’ p. 184.

[64] Fr. Seraphim writes: “There is no paganism, no occultism, no ‘oriental astrology,’ no ‘purgatory’ whatever to be found in the Orthodox accounts of the toll-houses,” in Soul After Death, p. 243.

[65] Concerning Fake Patristic Texts Used by the Toll-House Cult, at http://new-ostrog.org/discussion-on-the-toll-houses. See also Abp. Lazar, The Tale of Elder Basil “The New,” pp. 73-78.

[66] Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 74.

[67] Archbishop Lazar: “This is the first selected aspect of Gnostic dualism that concerns us here. In a somewhat modified form, it is a necessary element of the aerial toll-house myth, which makes Satan equal with God in the realm of the judgment of the soul,” The Tale of Elder Basil “The New,” pp. 4-5.

[68] The Future Life, p. 26.

[69] Life After Death, p. 79.

[70] Dialogue with Trypho 105.

[71] The Stromata 4.18, although he is not clearly referring to the soul’s after death ascent.

[72] Quoted in Vassiliadis, The Mystery of Death, p. 390.

[73] Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, pp. 72, 76, 77.

[74] From the Coptic prayer book The Agpia, at http://www.saint-mary.net/books/agpia/Agpia.pdf.

[75] Coptic and Apocryphal Gospels, ed. and trans. Forbes Robinson (Cambridge, 1896), pp. 95-99, qtd. in George Every, “Toll Gates on the Way,” Eastern Churches Review vol 8, no. 2, 1976, p. 141.

[76] Quoted in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 73.

[77] Lenten Triodion Supplement, p. 58.

Many other references to the Toll-Houses and the terror of demons at death can be found throughout the Octoechos, Menaion, Triodion, Pentecostarion, and the Office at the Parting of the Soul from the Body, the Canon to the Guardian Angel, The Order at the Parting of The Soul from the Body When One Has Suffered For a Long Time, Another, Similar Prayer for the Assault of Lust in the Book of Needs vol. 3, the funeral services for priests and for laymen, numerous Akathists, and many other prayers and hymns of the Church.

[78] Tlingit Herald, St. Nektarios American Orthodox Church, Seattle, vol. 5, no. 6:3-9, p. 19, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Life After Death, p. 237.

[79] “Death as a Good,” in Seven Exegetical Works (Fathers of the Church  Series vol. 65), 4:15, p. 80, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Life After Death, p. 177.

[80] First Conference, chapter 14, in the Works of St. John Cassian the Roman, Russian tr. by Bishop Peter, Moscow, 1892, pp. 178-179, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Life After Death, p. 178.

[81] This revelation is summarized in Archbishop Lazar’s The Tale of Elder Basil ‘The New,’ pp. 74-76.

[82] Life After Death, http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/lifeafterdeath.aspx.

[83] http://valahia.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/the-soul%E2%80%99s-journey-after-death/.

[84] Soul After Death, p. 187.

[85] Apostolic Constitutions 8.42

[86] Evergetinos 1, p. 161, qtd. in Cavarnos, The Future Life, p. 30.

[87] The Future Life, pp. 34-35.

[88] Collected Works vol. 3, pp. 309, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, p. 130.

[89] Soul After Death, p. 130-131.

[90] The Mystery of Death, p. 399.

[91] Life After Death, p. 90.

[92] Philosophical Chapters 29, FC 37, p. 54, qtd. in Vlachos, Life After Death, pp. 84-85.

[93] Life After Death, pp. 85-86.

[94] On the Soul and Resurrection chap. 5, p. 65-69, SVS, qtd. in Vlachos, Life After Death, p. 86.

[95] Life After Death, p. 265.

[96] The Ascetical Homilies, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, Homily 28, p. 141.

[97] Homily 12: On the Dormition of the Virgin, PG 97, 1049-1052.

[98] Spiritual Homilies, Homily 40, qtd. in Cavarnos, The Future Life, p. 33.

[99] Philokalia vol. 4, Athens, 1961, pp. 36-38.

[100] The Ascetic Works, modern Greek version by Mark D. Sakkorrafos, Athens, 1964, p. 279, qtd. in Cavarnos, The Future Life, pp. 33-34.

[101] Collected Works [in Greek], Athens, c. 1960, pp. 346-347.

[102] Bakogiannis, After Death, p. 69.

[103] Quoted in Ibid., p. 79.

[104] St. Macarius of Egypt, Spiritual Homilies, p. 233; St. Athanasius, Library of the Greek Fathers and Ecclesiastical Authors, 33, p. 195.

[105] After Death, pp. 75-76.

[106] After Death, p. 70.

[107] To Antiochus the Ruler, Question 32, 35:108-109.

[108] After Death, p. 80.

[109] Ibid., pp. 80-81.

[110] After Death, p. 86.

[111] On Those Who Have Fallen Alseep in Faith, 21, PG 95, 268BC.

[112] In Nun Maria Stakhovich, Sergius Bolshakoff, Interior Silence, p. 176.

[113] On Those Who Have Fallen Asleep in Faith 21.

[114] Soul After Death, p. 253.

[115] After Death, p. 87.

[116] Bakoyannis, Mother of Christ: Mother of God p. 111-112 (Archimandrite Vasilios’ last name is spelled differently in the two works cited in this paper.)

[117] Qtd. in Bakogiannis, After Death, p. 90.

[118] The Mystery of Death, p. 430.

[119] Study Concerning the Immortality of the Soul and Holy Memorial Services, Athens, 1901, pp. 83-85.

[120] Mystery of Death, p. 434.

[121] The Earliest Life of St. Gregory the Great, by an anonymous Monk of Whitby, tr. by Bertram Colgrave, Univ. of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 1968, pp. 127-129, referenced in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, pp.  203-204n.

[122] 4.43.

[123] Fr. Seraphim Rose offers a succinct summary of the Latin teaching in The Soul After Death, pp. 197-198.

[124] First Homily: Refutation of the Latin Chapters Concerning Purgatorial Fire, qtd. in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Soul After Death, pp. 209-210.

[125]Life After Death, pp. 70.

[126] Soul After Death, pp. 234-235.

[127] Ibid., p. 267.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Kontakion of the Departed.

On Preparation for Departure

St. Euthymius the Great ca. 377-473

Listen to an edifying and true story that some Egyptian elders I met told me about a man thought holy by all but who in secret stirrings of his heart angered God becuase, I think, of assent to impure thoughts. Their story went as follows. A man with second sight, on entering this man’s city, found him gravely ill and all the citizens affirming with tears, “If the saint dies, we have no firther hope of salvation; for we are all protected through his intercession.” On hearing this, the man with second sight hurried off to get a blessing from the supposed saint. When he drew near, he saw many candles all ready and great crowds of clerics and laymen, including the bishop himself, waiting to conduct the funeral. Going in to him, he found him still breathing, and saw with the eye of his mind the devil of hell with a fiery fork inserting the fork into his heart and with many tortures pulling at his soul; and he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Just as his soul did not give me rest for a single day, so you too are not to stop pulling at his soul and torturing it.” I have recounted this to make us at all times ready for combat and prepared for the departure of the soul from the body, lest, seduced by love of pleasure, we be unbearably tormented at the time of departure…let us entreat God, Who has applied corrective not capital punishment, to free His creature from the plot of the impure and pleasure loving spirit. (Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine. Life of Euthymius pp. 33-34)

St. Gregory the Dialogist and Emperor Trajan

In the time that Trajan the emperor reigned, and on a time as he went toward a battle out of Rome, it happed that in his way as he should ride, a woman, a widow, came to him weeping and said I pray thee, sire, that thou avenge the death of one my son which innocently and without cause hath been slain. The emperor answered: If I come again from the battle whole and sound then I shall do justice for the death of thy son. Then said the widow: Sire, and if thou die in the battle who shall then avenge his death? And the emperor said: He that shall come after me. And the widow said: Is it not better that thou do to me justice and have the merit thereof of God than another have it for thee? Then had Trajan pity and descended from his horse and did justice in avenging the death of her son. On a time Saint Gregory went by the market of Rome which is called the market of Trajan, and then he remembered of the justice and other good deeds of Trajan, and how he had been piteous and debonair, and was much sorrowful that he had been a pagan, and he turned to the church of Saint Peter wailing for the horror of the miscreance of Trajan. Then answered a voice from God saying: I have now heard thy prayer, and have spared Trajan from the pain perpetual. By this, as some say, the pain perpetual due to Trajan as a miscreant was some deal taken away, but for all that was not he quit from the prison of hell, for the soul may well be in hell and feel there no pain by the mercy of God. (The Life of St. Gregory the Pope)

On the Power of Repentance to Save a Soul

St. Nikolai Velimirovich 1880-1956

Can a sinner, in the space of ten days, make full repentance of his sin? By the immeasurable grace of God, he can. In the time of the Emperor Maurice, there was a well-known bandit in the region around Constantinople. Both in the countryside and in the capital itself, he inspired fear and trembling. Then the Emperor himself sent him a Cross, as a pledge that he would not punish him if he gave himself up.The bandit took the Cross, and did indeed give himself up. Arriving in Constantinople, he fell at the Emperor’s feet and begged his forgiveness. The Emperor kept his word, had mercy on him and let him go free. Immediately after that, the bandit fell gravely ill and sensed that death was near. He began to repent bitterly of all his sins, and implored God with tears to forgive him as the Emperor had. He shed many tears in his prayer, so that the handkerchief with which he wiped them became soaked, and he died after ten days of prayerful weeping. The night of his death, the doctor who had been attending him had a strange vision in a dream: when the bandit on the bed breathed his last, a number of little black men gathered round him, flourishing bits of paper on which his sins were written, and two glorious angels also appeared. A pair of scales was placed in the middle, and the little black men gleefully put all the bits of paper on it, and their side of the scales was loaded while the other was empty. ‘What can we put in?’, the angels asked each other.’Let’s look for something good in his life.’ Then there appeared in the hand of one of the angels the handkerchief soaked with tears of repentance. The angels quickly placed it on their side of the scales, and it at once outweighed the other with all its papers. Then the little black men fled, howling in anguish, but the angels took the man’s soul and carried it to Paradise, glorifying God’s love for mankind. (The Prologue From Ochrid, Vol. 4 Lazarica Press, Birmingham, 1986 pp. 81-82)

Let Me Not be Put to Shame

St. Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894

Ps. 118:80 Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be put to shame.

The prophet does not mention how and where one ‘may not be put to shame.’ The nearest ‘not being put to shame’ occurs during the arising of inward battles…

The second moment of not being put to shame is the time of death and the passage through the toll-houses. No matter how absurd the idea of toll-houses may seem to our ‘wise men’, they will not escape passing through them. What do these toll-gatherers seek in those who pass through? They seek whether people might have some of their goods. What kind of goods? Passions. Therefore, in the person whose heart is pure and a stranger to passions, they cannot find anything to wrangle over; on the contrary, the opposing quality will strike them like arrows of lightning. To this someone who has a little education expressed the following thought: The toll-houses are something frightful. But is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something deceptive and seductive, according to all kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other. When, during the course of earthly life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes it by, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it. Therefore, it is very doubtful that a soul, as long as there remain in it sympathies for the objects of any passion, will not be put to shame at the toll-houses. Being put to shame here means that the soul itself is thrown into hell.

But the final being put to shame is at the Last Judgment, befor the face of the All-seeing Judge… (The One-Hundred Eighteenth Psalm, Interpreted by Bishop Theophan, Moscow 1891, reprinted Jordanville, 1976 pp. 289-290)

On Wednesdays and Fridays

At the sheepfold there was an experienced older monk, Fr. Galacteon, who guided the young Constantine (the future Elder Cleopa Ilie of Sihastria Monastery)…On Wednesdays and Fridays the Elder would not eat at all until after the first stars had appeared in the sky. Then he would cross himself, ask forgiveness of everyone , eat a piece of holy bread, and quietly eat in the presence of his brothers. Once a disciple asked him, “Fr. Galacteon, the day is long and your holiness is weak and old. Wouldn’t it be better to allow yourself to have the meal earlier?”

“Br. Constantine, hear what Fr. Athanasius of Neamts Monastery said to me: ‘Once a saint saw a dead man was being taken to a grave, and in front of and behind the dead man were two beautiful angels. Then the saint asked them, “Who are you?” And the angles answered, “I am called Wednesday.” “And I am Friday!” We have come here by the order of God to help this soul, who all his life fasted on Wednesday and Friday in honor of the Passion of Christ.”‘Since the time Fr. Athanasius told me this narrative, I haven’t eaten anything on these days, so that the the holy angels of Wednesday and Friday will also help me at the hour of death.” (Shepherd of Souls: The Life of Elder Cleopa pp. 51-52)

Of a Certain Sinner Who Died

St. Pachomius the Great ca. 292-346

And it came to pass once that Abba Pachomius went to another monastery to visit the brethren who were there, and as he was on his journey he met the funeral of a certain brother of the monastery who was dead, and [the monks] were going to the funeral and were singing as they went; and there were also among them the parents of the man who had died. Now the brethren saw from a distance the holy man coming towards them, and they set down the bier upon the ground so that he might come and pray over him. And when the blessed man had come, and had said a prayer, he commanded the brethren not to sing any more psalms and hymns over him; and he also commanded them to bring the garments of him that had died, and they brought them, and in the presence of them all he ordered the men to burn them; then, when they had been burned he commanded that the dead body should be taken and buried without any further singing.

Then the brethren, and the parents, and kinsfolk of him that was dead threw themselvs down at his feet and entreated him to permit them to sing over him, but he remained unmoved; and the parents of the dead man said unto Abba Pachomius, ‘What hast thou done, O Father? This is a new thing, and thou art sending away our son away in an unlawful fashion. It befitteth not thy holiness to display such a want of compassion unto this dead man, and morever, this savage cruelty is like to bring about sorrow. Even an enemy who seeth the dead body of his adversary knoweth how to shew pity many times over, although his disposition be unutterable and immovable. We have seen a new sight with you, O Christians, the like of which hath never been seen, even among the barbarians. through this want of compassion [on thy part] thou hast made to cling to the family [of the dead man] a disgrace which shall never be blotted out. Would that we had never seen this day! For then our house, which hath ever possessed an untarnished name, would not have inherited disgrace. Would that our poor son had never come into thy savage hands! For then he would not have bequeathed unto us this everlasting sorrow. We beseech thee now, since thou hast caused even his clothes to be burned, to allow a Psalm to be said over him.’

Then the Abba Pachomius answered and said unto them, ‘O my brethren, in very truth I have more compassion upon him that lieth here than ye have, and because, like a father, I am shewing exceeding great care on his behalf, I have commanded these things to be done. Ye would take care of the body which is visible, but I strive for his soul [which is invisible]; for if ye sing Psalms over him he will receive the greater torments, and a reckoning will be demanded from him because of the Psalms which have been sung, for he departeth not with the power of the Psalms upon him. If then ye wish to make an addition to his everlasting sufferings, sing Psalms; but I tell you, of a truth, that if ye do indeed sing Psalms over him, he will certainly suffer more pain because of them, and he will curse you. And because I know what will benefit his soul I take no care for his dead body whatsover; for if I permit ye to sing Psalms, I shall to be found to be in the sight of God as one who [striveth to] please the children of men, because of the sake of gratifying men I have treated with contempt that which will benefit the soul which is about to be punished in judgment. For because God is a fountain of grace He seeketh excuses upon which He can hold in order to pour out upon us the abundant streams of His grace; if then, we, who have been held to be worthy by God to become acquainted with the art of divine healing, do not apply the binding up which is suitable to the wound, we shall, like those who despised [God], hear that which is written, “Those who despised [God] saw, and marvelled at the wonderful thing, and were destroyed.” For this reason then, that is to say, that we may lighten his punishment, I entreat you to bury the dead man without any singing of Psalms; for the good God knoweth that in return for this slight which hath come upon him, we are giving him rest and calling him to life. Had he listened unto me on the several occasions on which I admonished him, he would never have come to this pass.’

And when the blessed man had said these things they carried him to the mountain without the singing of Psalms, and he was buried. And the holy man passed several days in that monastery in admonishing and teaching each one of the brethren the fear of God, and the way to strive rightly against the Calumniator, and against his arts, and wiles, and guile, and how in short time, by the might of the Lord, we shall be able to bring to naught beforehand the things which are cared for by him. (The Paradise of the Fathers Vol. 1. pp. 287-289. The Rule of Pachomius at Tabenna Chap. III “Of a Certain Sinner Who Died”)

On the Fire of the Judgment

Mal 4:1-2 For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Mar 9:49 For everyone will be salted with fire.

St. Mark of Ephesus 1392-1444
Let us take the passage from the first epistle of the Blessed Paul to the Corinthians, in which he, speaking of building on the foundation, which is Christ, of gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble, adds: For that day shall declare it, because it is revealed with fire; and the fire it self shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). This citation, it would seem, more than any other introduces the idea of purgatorial fire; but in actual fact it more than any other refutes it.
First of all, the Divine Apostle called it not a purgatorial, but a proving (fire); then he declared that through it good and honorable works also must pass, and such, it is clear, have no need of any cleansing; then he says that those who bring evil works, after these works burn, suffer loss, whereas those who being cleansed not only suffer no loss, but acquire even more; then he says that this must be on “that day”, namely, the day of Judgment and of the future age, whereas to suppose the existence of a purgatorial fire after that the fearful Coming of the Judge and the final sentence — is this not a total absurdity? For the Scripture does not transmit to us anything of the sort, but He Himself Who will judge us says: And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:46); and again: They shall come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (Jn. 5:29). Therefore, there remains no kind of intermediate place; but after He divided all those under judgment into two parts, placing some on the right and others on the left, and calling the first “sheep” and the second “goats” — He did not at all declare that there are any who are to be cleansed by that fire. It would seem that the fire of which the Apostle speaks is the same as that of which the Prophet David speaks: Fire shall blaze before Him, and round about Him shall there be a mighty tempest (Ps. 49:4); and again: Fire shall go before Him, and shall burn up His enemies round about (Ps. 96:3). Daniel the Prophet also speakes about this fire: A stream of fire issued and came forth from before Him (Dan. 7:10).
Since the saints do not bring with them any evil work or evil mark, this fire manifests them as brighter, as gold tried in the fire, or as the stone amianthus, which, as it is related, when placed in fire it appears as charred, but when taken out of the fire become even cleaner, as if washed with water, as were also the bodies of the Three Youths in the Babylonian furnace. Sinners, however, who bring evil with themselves, are seized as a suitable material for this fire (cf. Isa. 1:31, 9:18-19 & Ps. 21:9, 68:2) and are immediately ignited by it, and their “work,” that is, their evil disposition or activity, is burned and utterly destroyed and they are deprived of what they brought with them, that is, deprived of their burden of evil, while they themselves are “saved” — that is, will be preserved and kept forever, so that they might not be subjected to destruction together with their evil. (Refutation of the Latin Chapters Concerning Purgatorial Fire, First Homily)

A Vision of the Heavens

St. Andrew, the Fool for Christ of Constantinople ca. 9th cent.

Once during a terrible winter when St. Andrew lay in a city street frozen and near death, he suddenly felt a warmth within him and beheld a splendid youth with a face shining like the sun, who conducted him to paradise and the third heaven.

“By God’s will I remained for two weeks in a sweet vision…I saw myself in a splendid and marvelous paradise…In mind and heart I was astonished at the unutterable beauty of the paradise of God, and I took sweet delight walking in it.There were a multitude of gardens there, filled with tall trees which, swaying in their tips, rejoiced my eyes, and from their branches there came forth a great fragrance…One cannot compare these trees in their beauty to any earthly tree…In these gardens there were innumerable birds with wings golden, snow-white, and of various colors. They sat on the branches of the trees of paradise and sang so wondrously that from the sweetness of their singing I was beside myself…After this a kind of fear fell upon me, and it seemed to me that I was standing at the peak of the firmament of heaven. Before me a youth was walking with a face as bright as the sun, clothed in purple…When I followed in his steps I saw a great and splendid Cross, in form like a rainbow, and around it stoood fiery singers like flames and sang sweet hymns, glorifying the Lord Who had once been crucified on the Cross. The youth who was going before me, coming up to the Cross, kissed it and gave me a sign that I should also kiss the Cross…In kissing it I was filled with unutterable sweetness, and smelled a fragrance more powerful than that of paradise. Going past the Cross, I looked down and saw under me as it were the abyss of the sea…My guide, turning to me, said, ‘Fear not, for we must ascend yet higher.’

“And he gave me his hand. When I seized it we were already above the second firmament. There I saw wondrous men, their repose, and the joy of their feasting which cannot be communicated by the human tongue…And behold, after this we ascended above the third heaven, where I saw and heard a multitude of  heavenly powers hymning and glorifying God. We went up to a curtain which shone like lightning, before which great and frighful youths were standing, in appearance like fiery flames…And the youth who was leading me said to me: ‘When the curtain opens, you shall see the Master Christ. Bow down to the throne of His glory.’ Hearing this, I rejoiced and trembled, for I was overcome by terror and unutterable joy…And behold, a flaming hand opened the curtain, and like the Prophet Isaiah I beheld my Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and above it stood the Seraphim (Isa. 6:1). He was clothed in a purple garment; His face was most bright, and His eyes looked on me with much love. Seeing this, I fell down before Him, bowing down to the most bright and fearful throne of His glory. The joy that overcame me on beholding His face cannot be expressed in words. Even now, remembering this vision, I am filled with unutterable joy. In trembling I lay there before the my Master…After this all the heavenly host sang a most wondrous and unutterable hymn, and then — I myself do not understand how — again I found myself in paradise.”

When St. Andrew reflected that he had not seen the Mother of God in heaven, an angel told him: “Did you wish to see here the Queen who is brighter than the heavenly powers? She is not here; she has gone away to the world which lies in great misfortune, to help people and to comfort the sorrowing. I would have shown you her holy place, but now there is no time, for you must again return.” (The Soul After Death by Fr. Seraphim Rose pp. 137-139)

Sanctification Continues Into Eternity

Saint John of Kronstadt

The present state of our souls foreshadows the future. The future will  be a continuation of the present inward condition, only in a modified  form as to its degree. My Life in Christ, p .51, Holy Trinity Monastery 2000

St. Mark on Prayers for the Dead

St. Mark of Ephesus ca. 1392-1444

The sinners and those imprisoned after death in Hades benefit from these prayers [for the reposed] on the one hand because they have not been definitively condemned and do not yet have the final decision of the tribunal, on the other hand because they have not yet fallen into hell, which will happen after the Second Coming of Christ. If this is effective for sinners, much more do the memorial services and prayers benefit those who have repented but did not have time to be purified completely and therefore illuminated. If these have very small or light sins, they are restored to the inheritance of the righteous or remain where they are, that is to say in Hades, and their troubles are lightened and they return towards more honorable hopes. (excerpted from the pamphlet “The Dead Urgently Need Our Help” produced by Orthodox Monastery of the Archangel Michael, Marrickville, NSW, 1475 Australia)

On the Righteous Repose of St. Seraphim of Sarov

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Near St. Seraphim’s cell was the cell of a monk called Paul who, being his neighbor, performed the duties of his cell attendant.When he went from the monastery to his near hermitage, St. Seraphim used to leave candles burning in his cell which he had lit from morning before the icons. Father Paul had often told him that burning candles might cause of fire. To this St. Seraphim always replied:

“While I am alive, there will be no fire, but when I die, my death will be revealed by fire.”

His prediction was justified.

On the 1st January 1833, Father Paul noticed that St. Seraphim went out of his cell three times in the course of the day to the spot which he had assigned as the place of his burial. In the evening he heard Father Seraphim singing in his cell the holy songs of the Easter Canon: “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, ” “Shine, shine, New Jerusalem,” “O great and holiest Passover, Christ.”

About 6 in the morning on the 2nd January 1833, Father Paul, on leaving his cell to attend the early Liturgy, noticed in the ante-room near Fr. Seraphim’smell the of smoke. Having said the customary prayer he knocked at the door, but there was no answer. Then he went outside and tsomeone of the brethren who were passing by. One of them, the novice Anikita saw that various presents made of coarse linen which had been given to the Saint by zealous pilgrims and which we’re lying in great disorder on a bench together with some books, had begun to smoulder. They had probably been kindled by a fallen whose candle-stick was nearby.

It was dark outside; there was no fire in the cell, and the Elder himself was neither to be seen or heard. Meanwhile, he early liturgy in the hospital church was going on. They were already singing “It is truly meet”, when the young novice ran into the church and informed the brethren of what had happened. The monks hastened to St. Serphim’s cell. Father Paul and the novice John, wanting to know whether the Elder was resting, began to grope in the dark in his cell, and found the elder himself. They brought a lighted candle and saw that St. Seraphim was kneeling before the Icon of Our Lady of Compunction: He was in his usual white smock, bare-headed, with a brass crucifix hanging from his neck and with his arms crossed on his chest.

At first they thought that blessed Elder had fallen asleep and began to try wake him up, but there was no response. The great ascetic had already finished his earthly pilgrimage and was resting for ever in God. His eyes were closed. His face was animated by his last prayer.

With the blessing of the superior the monks lifted the Saint’s body and, having dressed him according to monastic regulations in a mantle in the adjoining cell of Hieromonk Eustace, they put him into the oaken coffin which he made with his own hands and carried him into the cathedral.

On the actual day of the Saint’s death Abbot Philaret of the Glinsky Monastery of the Mother of God (Province of Kursk) went out of the church after Matins and, glancing up at the sky, he was astonished to see an extraordinary light. Then the abbot saw in spirit that it was the soul of St. Seraphim ascending to the heavenly mansions, and he said to the brethren who were with him: “That is how the souls of the righteous depart. Father Seraphim has just passed away in Sarov.” (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moor. Chap XVIII The Last Year pp. 429-434)

 

 

On St. Salvius the Seer of Heavenly Mysteries

St. Gregory of Tours ca. 538-594

The feeling of reverence which I have for him compels me to say something about St. Salvius. He often used to tell how, during his years as a layman, while he was occupying himself with worldly affairs he never permitted himself to be ensnared by the carnal desires which so frequently fill the minds of young people. When the Holy Spirit finally found a place in his heart, he gave up the struggle of worldly existence and entered a monastery. As one now consecrated to Almighty God, he understood that it was better to serve the Lord in poverty and to humble oneself before Him, rather than to strive after the wealth of this transient world. He spent many years in his monastery and observed the rule instituted by the Fathers…

One day when Salvius lay in bed, gasping for breath and weakened by a fever, his cell was suddenly filld with a bright light and the walls seemed to shake. He stretched out his hands to heaven, and as he gave thanks he breathed forth his spirit. The monks, together with his own mother carried his dead body out of the cell with lamentation; then they washed it, vested it and placed it upon a bier. They passed the long night in weeping and singing psalms.

When morning came and all was ready for the funeral, the corpse began to move on the bier. Salvius’ cheeks became flushed, he stirred himself as if awakened from a deep sleep, opened his eyes, raised his hands and spoke: “Oh merciful Lord, why hast Thou done this to me? Why hast Thou decreed that I should return to this dark place where we dwell on earth? I would have been much happier in Thy compassion on high, rather than having to begin once again my profitless life here below.” Those around him were in perplexity. When they asked him the meaning of the miracle which had occurred, he gave no reply. He rose from the bier, feeling no ill effects from the illness which he had suffered, and for three days he remained without food or drink.

On the third day he called the monks, together with his mother. “My most dear friends,” he said, “hear what I am about to say. You must understand that all you see in this world is entirely without value. All is vanity, exactly as the prophet Solomon proclaimed. Blessed is he who behaves in such a way in this earthly existence that he is rewarded by beholding God in His glory in heaven.”

As he said this, he wondered whether he should say more or stop with this. He was silent for a while, but the monks begged him to tell them what he had seen. “When my cell shook four days ago,” he continued, “and you saw me lying dead, I was raised up by two angels and carried to the highest peak of heaven, until I seemed to have beneath my feet not only this miserable earth, but also the sun and moon, the clouds and the stars. Then I was conducted through a gate that shone more brightly than the light of the sun and entered a building where the whole floor shone with gold and silver. The light was impossible to describe. The place was filled with a multitude of people, neither male nor female, stretching so far in all directions that one could not see where it ended. The angels made a way for me through the crowd of people in front of me, and we came to the place towards which our gaze had been directed even when we had been far away. Over this place there hung a cloud more brilliant than any light, and yet no sun or moon or star could be seen; indeed, the cloud shone more brightly than any of these with its own brilliance. A voice came out of the cloud, as the voice of many waters. Sinner that I am, I was greeted with great respect by a number of beings, some dressed in priestly vestments and others in ordinary dress; my guides told me that these were the martyrs and other holy men whom we honor here on earth and to whom we pray with great devotion. As I stood here there was wafted over me a fragrance of such sweetness that, nourished by it, I have felt no need of food or drink until this very moment.”

“Then I heard a voice which said: ‘Let this man go back into the world, for our churches have need of him.’ I heard the voice, but I could not see who was speaking. Then I prostrated myself on the ground and wept. ‘Alas, alas, O Lord!’ I said. ‘Why hast Thou shown me these things only to take them away from me again? Thou dost cast me out today from before Thy face and send me back again to a worldly life without substance, since I am powerless to return on high. I entreat Thee, O Lord: turn not Thy mercy away from me. Let me remain here, I beseech Thee, lest falling once more to the earth, I perish. The voice which had spoken to me said: ‘Go in peace. I will watch over you until I bring you back once more to this place.’ Then my guides left me and I turned back through the gate by which I had entered, weeping as I went.”

As he said this, those who were with him were amazed. The holy man of God wept. Then he said: “Woe to me that I have dared to reveal such a mystery! The fragrance which I smelled in that holy place, and by which I have been nourished for three days without food or drink, has already left me. My tongue is covered with sores and has become so swollen that it fills my whole mouth. It is evident that it has not been pleasing in the eyes of my Lord God that these mysteries should be revealed. Thou knowest well, O Lord, that I have did this in the simplicity of my heart, and not in a spirit of vainglory. Have mercy on me, I beseech Thee, and do not forsake me, according to Thy promise.” When he had said this, Salvius became silent; then he began to eat and drink.

As I write these words, I fear that my account may seem quite incredible to some of my readers; and I am mindful of what the historian Sallust wrote: “When we record the virtue or glory of famous men, the reader will readily accept whatever he considers that he might have done himself; anything which exceeds these bounds of possibility he will regard as untrue.” I call Almighty God to witness that everything that I have related here I have heard from the lips of Salvius himself. (Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers by St. Gregory of Tours; trans. by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose. Chap. 21 pp. 295-298)

Elder Cleopa on The Soul’s Journey After Death

Blessed Elder Cleopa Ilie 1912-1998

Brothers, never forget that our soul is immortal. Let me tell you one thing: we are mere strangers and passers-by here on earth. Listen to what the Psalm book says: Unworthy is man on earth and a stranger, just like all his ancestors. Nobody stays in this world. We are not here to stay. Down here is a ceaseless passing-by; we come by birth and leave by death.

Divine Job says: From my mother’s womb I have fallen into the pit. Did you hear? That is all that life on earth seemed to him after 400 years. As after having put him through all that trying time, God gave him another 140 years of life – after having tested him with so much torment and so many illnesses – and that’s all that life seemed to him: that from his mother’s womb he had jumped into a pit. Life seemed like a mere jump to him.

Don’t you know what the Holy Spirit compares us to? Man is like grass; his days are like the flowers of the field; that is how he will bloom. And again: His days pass like shadows. And again: My days have gone down like shadows and I have withered away like grass.

And again: My days have gone like smoke and my bones have dried up like dryness. And again: The days of our years are like the spider-web. The days of our lives are likened to a spider-web. That is, our life on earth is just as fragile as the spider-web; we are shadow, dream, and flower, on earth!

God tells Isaiah: Listen, prophet, call out to the people and tell them: All man’s body is grass and all man’s glory is like the flower of the grass. The grass has wilted and the flower has fallen, yet God’s word remains for ever. So let us not rely on this life, brothers, because it’s nothing but shadow and dream.

But do you know what remains for eternity? Our soul. It is clear that our bodies turn to dust. As we bury and unbury our dead one can see how little time it takes for them to turn into dust. Especially after a while, not even the bones remain; it all turns into nothingness.

This is also the first of God’s commandments, that one is dust and into dust one shall return. Yet the soul never dies. The soul remains unto the ages of ages, because it is spirit and cannot die. That is how God has made it.

But in order for you to know what happens to our soul when man dies, I will tell you about the journey that the soul takes right after death, according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church.

From the moment of our death until 40 days later – when the individual judgement of the soul takes place and God decides where we will go, to the good or the bad places, until the Last Judgement – there is a transition time, for both the righteous and the sinners.

When a person dies and his/her soul is about to depart, there are as many devils that show up before him as the number of sins s/he has had; in the same way, a number of saints appear, according to the number of good deeds he did in his life. This is what St. Ephraim the Syrian indicates.

And there is a big “battle” at that moment. Because the holy powers are fighting with the devils over the soul, as the latter say it’s theirs, that is has more sins, while the angels say it has more good deeds. And there is a big battle over it and hence the soul is afraid to come out of its body. His/her tongue gets all tied up when s/he sees all these things. S/he sees a lot of things then, but cannot describe them. Otherwise s/he would say: “Look how many demons have come here!”

A week before he reposed in the Lord, Father Euthyme at the Agapia Veche Monastery saw how the angels were fighting the demons over his soul and exclaimed: “Look how they’re fighting! God’s angels wear golden wreaths on their head and they’re hitting the demons. Watch how they’re running away!”

This Father knew the time of his death a week before he reposed, as he was a man chosen by God, as nuns were saying. But not everyone gets to see such mysteries and is able to tell others about it; most people see them but cannot speak about them.

At the hour of death, the angel we have from our christening has much boldness. When he shows up, everyone steps aside. The angel that we have from the Holy Christening has much authority. Which is why, when you pray in your homes, after you have done your rule, do a few prayers to your angel, too, and say this: “Holy Angel, guardian of my life, pray to Lord Jesus Christ for me, the sinner!”

Because this angel not only guards us now, but also us at the time of our death. He travels with us through the aerial toll-houses, until 40 days pass; and we have him from our divine Christening as a great protector. If it weren’t for him, the devil would do with us whatever he would want.

Listen to the Psalm book: The one who guards you should never sleep. And again: God’s angel will go upon the ones who are afraid of Him and will deliver them. So it is clear that the angel is the one who guards us in this life and after we die, for 40 days.

So the angel comes and says: “Clear away, you demons. I know the life of this soul, ever since s/he was born.” And he starts speaking to the soul thus: “Don’t be afraid, my soul brother!” St. Gregory of Nyssa explains why he calls it brother. Because the angel and the soul are rational, autonomous, speaking, beings and are also spirits, as the Holy Scripture says: And they will all be like God’s angels.

[And the angel continues:] “Behold your body! There, my soul brother – that is your body, that is the house in which you have lived until now. It’s been within that shell that you were begotten by your mother’s womb; it was within it that you have lived for 20, 60, 80” – whatever number of years God has given us on earth (since all life strings are with God, not with us). “Remember, my soul brother, when the Last Judgement trumpet calls, within the blink of an eye this body will come back to life, just as you see it now, and you will re-enter it and go to the Judgement, as Apostle Paul says: They will all stand before the Judgement Throne of Jesus Christ, to be rewarded according to their deeds, whether good or bad.

The guardian angel reminds him again: “Look, my soul brother, when you were a little child, your mother has sent you to bring a bucketful of water or vegetables from the garden or bring the geese back from the meadow or do this or that little household chore. Look, this is what your thoughts were then; this is what you understood then”. And he starts reminding the soul things from his/her early childhood, good deeds that s/he did in his/her body, as well as bad things. “Look, this is what you did when you were in your first grade, in the second grade, in the third grade; this is what you would do. Once you grew up to be a young girl or lad and went out into the world, and then got married, this is what you did”. And he reminds the soul everything s/he did from early childhood until the moment of his/her death, on every day and in every minute of his/her life. Because once it is out of the body, the soul has a very sharp memory. It is as clear as sunlight. The earth no longer pulls it down and neither does its body, to interfere with its memory. It sees everything as clearly as in a mirror.

So that is what happens on the first day after death.

On the second day, a more fearsome thing happens. The guardian angel takes him to all the places where man has been during his life. It is at this point that what is described in the Psalm book happens: What do I fear on the bad day? That the lawlessness of my heel will surround me.

The whole picture of man’s life is revealed to him on his second day after death. But you will ask me: “Father, how can man’s soul travel in one day to all the places he’s been to during his entire life?”

The soul will go around the whole globe in a blink of an eye. Both our soul and our guardian angel travel faster than lightning bolt, as the Bible says: They will run, oh, God, faster than lightning; the souls of the just will return to You, as we read in Ezekiel and in many other places.

The soul is a thinking being. No sooner than uttering a word and thinking it, I have already done the tour of the earth; like I would say now: Peking, New York, Moscow, Bucharest, Sihăstria [- and I’m already there].

The soul travels so quickly after we leave our bodies. And there is no problem for it whatsoever to travel with its guardian angel and visit all the places he has been to throughout his life. He will only think about the place and he’ll already be there, because it travels with the speed of thought.

So where does the angel take him on the second day? He takes him everywhere the man has been throughout his whole – life and shows him where he has done good things and where he has done bad things. He does nothing but show him the truth.

“Look, over here – you danced, you got drunk, you indulged in debauchery with so many women or men; you swore, you smoked, here you aborted that many children, here you insulted, here you stole, here you sang, here you were lazy, here you took revenge on someone. You have mocked, cursed, beaten. You have not confessed, you have not fasted, and you have taken the Eucharist while being unworthy of it.”

And he also shows him the good deeds: “Look, soul, here you went to Church; here you listened to the word of God, here you gave alms to the poor; here you taught the children about the fear of God; here you read the holy books, here you bore your troubles with joy; here you shared a useful piece of advice with another person; here you dressed the naked, here you gave water to the thirsty, here you received the strangers”.

He shows him everything, everything, and the poor soul cannot say anything, because he is only shown the truth, as the angel cannot lie. He shows him both the good and the bad things.

And the soul wonders at all that and asks the angel: – Holy Angel, how do you know about all these things? – How could I not know, if I have been with you all the time! You have eaten – but I cannot eat; you have slept – but I have not slept; you have drunk – but I cannot drink; you have sat idle – but I cannot do that. I am not a spirit that can eat, drink, or sleep. I have always been awake – as it is said in the Psalm book: Neither does the one who guards you, sleep. Because if I had not been next to you, the devils would have caused much misfortune, along with your seen and unseen enemies. I have defended you and I have always been near you and kept writing down your thoughts. Because I know both your thoughts and what you speak and do – be they good or bad.”

So that is what happens on the second day: the guardian angel takes the soul to all the places s/he has been to during his/her whole life.

But on the third day after death, the soul sees us [the people who have remained on earth]. S/he sees that his/her mother, sister, or husband, or wife weep after him/her and feels sorry for that. Yet s/he no longer cares for us [that much], as what s/he is thinking now is only his/her own welfare and says: “They stay on earth and will repent, because they still have time to do good deeds. But where am I going? Who will help me there?”

And so after having been to all the places that s/he has visited in his life, yet a more fearsome thing happens on the third day. Our soul is given yet more accompanying angels – they are six light-bearing angels, who, together with our guardian angel make seven in all – and their job is to help the soul through the terrifying toll-houses that are in the air.

You have heard of the 24 aerial toll-houses. Services are done for those who want mercy from God and help them escape from the spirits of darkness in the air.

The most important services that are done for the dying persons are the general Confession and the Holy Eucharist, as well as making peace with everyone. And right after death, the Holy Liturgy is served for 40 days, as well as food-sharing commemoration events that are held, along with forgiveness services and almsgiving, which help the soul best when it passes through the toll-houses – because the Church, our spiritual mother, prays at such a time for the poor soul, who is her son since the chrismation, to help it pass through the aerial toll-houses unhampered. 

So what happens until the soul passes through the toll-houses? That is a time when man sees how useful it would have been for him to be confessed clear of his sins. If God had not left the mystery of the Holy Confession between Him and us, no man could be saved. As Apostle Jacob says: We all make many mistakes and no one is without sin.

But the mystery of Confession was left to us, between us and God; as this is the second chrismation, as the priest says – as you heard him say during confession: “Since through the second chrismation you were christened, through the Christian Mysteries”.

It is at this point that the soul realises how useful it would have been for him to have already been confessed, when he goes through the toll-houses.

Which is why I ask you to remember one thing: when you see that your mother, your sister, your brother, your wife, your grandchild, your father, daughter etc has fallen ill – don’t call in the doctor first, but the priest, and have them confess clear of all their sins.

A person must confess four times a year all his life: during the four Lents throughout his/her life, but especially when you see that s/he’s fallen seriously ill. When you see such a thing, have the priest come with no delay, to confess the person. Not when s/he is not able to speak any more or has become unconscious, but early, when their mind is clear and their memory is still working. And tell them: father, mother, my son, tell the priest everything you have done!

Ask them to write it all down, if they know they have done something, and to try to remember everything – because if you’ve managed to cause a successful confession, you will have “won” that person’s soul for redemption. Because listen to what the Holy Fathers say: Even if one has mortal sins, if s/he dies confessed, the Church will take him/her out [of the ensuing punishments]. The soul will then sit in hell only until it will clean off its sin(s), because the Holy Scripture says: Nothing unclean will ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Heard what a holy man says?

He saw there a sea of fire and pigeons as white as snow coming out of it and soaring to the sky. That sea was hell and you could hear moaning and crying coming out of it. “How come, oh God, that pigeons would fly out of the fire?” he wondered. What was happening was that the pigeons were the souls of the righteous people who had been purified through their canons while sitting in hell and had paid up everything they had to pay.

Because the Church intervenes on earth the most through the Holy Liturgy, as the sacrifice and our redemption are achieved through the blood of Jesus Christ, just as the Apostle says: His blood cleans all of our sins.

If s/he dies unconfessed and if – God forbid – s/he has heavy sins and has not done his/her canon, the Christian will do that in the beyond, in hell. But it is only the Church that will take him/her out of there, through the Holy Liturgy, through forgiveness services and almsgiving and as a result of that, s/he will go to heaven.

And if someone dies unconfessed from his youth and has had heavy, mortal sins, it is almost like dying without having ever been christened at all. All the services that are done here on earth for such a soul will help it very little, because nothing unclean shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

So that is how the devils have set up the toll-houses – so that, if possible, no Christian will go to heaven. Do you know why they have such hatred and envy against people? Because the souls of the righteous are completing their numbers – the numbers of the fallen angels. This is as long as God will keep this world – as St. Symeon the New Theologian shows – until the numbers of the fallen angels shall be completed by the souls of the righteous. Don’t you guys read the Psalm book?

Until the numbers of the fallen angels are completed – because there were very many of them, one third of all the angels, as the Revelation says: I have seen a large, red, devil that took down with its tail the third part of the heaven’s stars and threw them to the ground.

A third of the angels fell from all the Hosts, including from among the Cherubim and the Seraphim – all the angels who entertained Satan’s thought to become like God. And that is why the devils have such hatred against us, because they know that if it goes to Heaven, each soul will accomplish what the Scripture says: they will all be like God’s angels; they will replace them and take over their functions.

Which is why they sit in the air and say: “There, God threw us down from the sky, but these souls down here want to pass through to God and take our places!” So then God allows the devils to stand in the souls’ way and rightfully so, because God is not only merciful, but also just and has made these stations – or toll-houses – between heaven and earth in order to cast the souls of those who died unconfessed and who carry heavy sins, into hell.

This is how the toll-houses are ranged: the first toll-house is for evil-speaking; the second one, for gossiping/chattering; the third one, for anger; then follows the one for gluttony, and so on – from the smallest to the biggest sins.

And who has never badmouthed anyone? Who has never got angry in his life? Who has never been lazy? Who has never drunk a glassful too much? Who has never indulged in one’s thoughts, imagination or even through one’s deeds – in debauchery, drunkenness, in doubting one’s faith and in other bodily or spiritual sins, as we read in St. Theodora’s life?

Did you see St. Theodora’s comment, when she got to the drunkenness toll-house? “I was very surprised that the devils reminded me of all the glasses of wine and brandy that I had had in my life. And they would show me when I had done that, at what moment and who else had been there with me at the time and how many times I had gone drunk and how many times I had drunk. And I kept asking the holy angels:

– How do the devils know all these things?

– They were angels once!”

You should know, however, that ever since our chrismation, besides our good angel, who stands to our right, we also have a servant of the hell masters, a devil that sits on our left shoulder. That devil will write down every bad thing you have done and said and all the sins that you have done all throughout your life. All that time, the good angel will write down both the good and the bad deeds, as the Holy Book says. That is what Christ’s Church holds.

Now let’s see what happens to the soul of a confessed person, when the devil comes along with his “paper-roll” where he has written all the man’s sins. He will not find them there any more! At that point the devils yell, shout, and become furious that the soul, who had big sins, like abortions, debauchery, theft, cursing, drunkenness, and other things, does no longer have anything written in his record. When the Christian is forgiven through the priest on earth, the Holy Spirit erases all his sins in that record-book. Christ’s word that says: Everything that the priest forgives on earth will be forgiven in heaven, too – haven’t you heard that? And whatever he does not forgive on earth will not be forgiven in heaven, either.

Therefore, the mystery that confession is – is so great, that it has the power to cleanse man of any sin and give forgiveness for all his sins. Yet only if man was wise during his life on earth and confessed correctly will s/he cross the terrifying aerial toll-houses easily on the third day.

And his/her good deeds are weighed against the bad deeds. The good deeds are like gems, while the bad deeds are like ordinary stones or other heavy things.

The soul is very wise. He realises by himself where he will go. If at the toll-houses he sees that his sins weigh more than his good deeds, he starts crying heavily and gets sad, especially since he sees that there are thousands of devils that cannot wait snatching him at every toll station. And his guardian angel tells him:

– Don’t be afraid, brother soul, as one never knows God’s judgements. Don’t be afraid!

The soul will tuck under the angels’ wings when he sees so many devils. One devil alone is so ugly, that if he were to come here where we are now and show his face just as it is in hell, none of us will survive the horror. We would all die of such ugliness and terror at the sight of a fallen angel. So the soul, when he sees so many thousands of devils, gets under the angel’s wings and says:

– Please, my good angels, sirs, don’t leave me! I am so afraid of these!

And the angels tell him:

– Don’t be afraid, brother soul, as you are with us! We are God’s guards and our job is to accompany you! May God forbid you from falling into their hands after 40 days! But don’t worry for now, as we are here to guard you!

So on the third day, the soul goes through the toll-houses and it is precisely at that moment, three days after he left his body, that he is presented for the first time before the Throne of the Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity.

And what does he see there? The Holy Scripture says: Nobody has ever seen God. But what does the soul see, then? Since everybody saw Lord Jesus Christ – and wasn’t He God? Abraham saw Him, Moses saw Him; but they saw Him by allowance, as an imagined figure, as He wanted to show Himself. Otherwise, nobody has ever seen God’s Being, neither the Cherubim, nor the Seraphim. God’s Being is inaccessible to any rational mind in heaven and on earth.

So what does our soul see on the third day when he arrives before God’s Throne for the first time? This is what he sees, according to the Holy Fathers’ testimony: an indescribable shining light, which is billions of times stronger than the sun, and feels the scent of the Holy Spirit. He hears the Cherubim and the Seraphim chanting, as some sky-blue and golden clouds appear, drifting eastwards and the angels kneel on them together with the soul.

And the clouds come to a halt, facing eastwards. Because that is why – remember this – that is why we make the sign of the cross facing east when we do our prayers; because God’s throne is in the east. Have you seen what the Holy Scripture says? And they planted the heaven in Eden, eastwards. Haven’t you heard what Isaiah says? East is His name. Haven’t you read what the Psalm book says, that you have in your houses? God climbed above the heavens of heavens, towards east. So the Throne of the Holy Trinity is in the east.

So the clouds halt, with the angels and the soul kneeled on them. And on this third day, they hear this voice, in Abraham’s language: “Take this soul to Heaven for six days.” – as it is for six days that our soul will travel through Heaven, with the speed of thought. So then the angels take the soul away and with lightning speed, they take him to the Gardens of Heaven.

When the soul gets there with the angels, nobody can describe the beauty he sees. It is at such a time that he notices that a flower in Heaven – as St. Andrew says – is more precious than all the peoples of the world and than all the ornaments and riches of our time, because that flower has life and never withers or dies out.

There, the soul sees, as I’ve said, “the Heaven of pleasure”, “the Palace of the New Zion”, “the Heavenly Jerusalem” and all the other things that the Holy Scripture describes. Moreover, an unspeakable joy to the soul is when he hears the chanting of the millions of angels, Cherubim, and righteous souls who sing there. Then he sees the tents of the righteous, about which they say at the Panakide, as St. Cosmas says, who visited Heaven when he was still on earth. There is such beauty that one could admire only in that place alone!

He then arrives at some orchards that cover endless areas. Golden-leaved trees appear, with golden flowers and underneath each tree there is a tent and inside the tent is a golden table, and in those trees birds with wings of indescribable beauty sit, that never die.

And the soul wonders that one soul’s tent is made of silver; another soul’s tent is made of pearls; another one, of jacinth; another one, of onyx; another one yet, of sardonyx; others yet – of amethyst, ruby, sapphire, and all the other precious stones that the Revelation tells about.

He sees that the tables aren’t similar, either. And the trees bear 70 types of fruit on every branch. Even the leaves of the trees sing, as well as their flowers, and birds; and milk and honey streams flow through those orchards that are as clear as mirrors.

There is also a prevailing scent of the Holy Spirit that man cannot describe. But the biggest joy of all, upon the soul’s passage through Heaven is this: the moment he meets with his relatives.

Brothers, let me tell you that in all of our families, we have some members that are in Heaven and others that are in hell, as God is just. Those who have done wrong have gone to hell and those who have done good deeds have gone to Heaven. And when you get to Heaven, you don’t only recognise your grandfather or great-grandfather; but far many more souls than that.

If I asked you now: “Do you know your great-grandfather who lived 300 years ago?” – where would you know that from?! You’re barely familiar with the ones who lived 50 or 60 years ago. But up there in Heaven people recognise one another. St. John Chrysostom says: “Are you asking me if the souls know each other in Heaven? Consider the Scripture about the rich man and poor Lazarus. When did the rich man die and when did Abraham die? At a distance of thousands of years yet they knew each other and talked to each other”.

Up in Heaven, all your relatives who are in a good place – and dwell in golden palaces and precious stones and orchards – come to greet you and say: “You, grandson! You’re X’s son, or Y’s daughter, from that country and that village. We are your relatives. We died 100 or 300 years before you. You are X’s son; you don’t know us, but we know you. We know where you’re going. You’re on your way to your particular/individual judgement. After 40 days a decision will be made on where you will go – to Heaven or hell.

If you find mercy with God and He will send you to the good places, come to our abodes, as look what beauties we have here; what palaces and unimaginably wondrous things.”

And that is how his relatives and angels speak while they accompany him during the six days that they walk through Heaven.

During such moments, the soul completely forgets that s/he ever lived on this planet, that s/he had had a mother, a sister, a brother, etc… Because what s/he sees there are different kinds of joys, which completely surpass our transitory world. And when the guardian angel sees him rejoice so much – as no one can be sad in the joy that reigns everywhere in Heaven – comes to him and says (if he knows the soul is righteous): “My soul brother, look, after 40 days you will come and take a place here!”

And if he knows that he’s sinful, he tells him: “My brother soul, don’t rejoice, as I have not brought you here to stay. I have brought you to see what you have lost during the short time you had on earth, if you did not fear God and did not confess and fast and go to Church and do good things.”

When the soul hears that he will not stay in Heaven – as he initially thought, that he’ll stay there forever – for all the great joy that surrounds him in Heaven, he will become sad and start crying heartily.

– So I will not stay here? he asks his guardian angel.

– No, the angel replies. Your passage here is only to show you briefly what God-fearing people have earned and what the unfaithful ones, who have not honoured God, have lost.

So this is how the soul spends his six days in Heaven – and with the third days until he got to the Throne of the Holy Trinity, that makes nine. And after the nine days, again, the angels will come like lightning on clouds and will take him before the Most Holy Trinity, in the distant, thinking, Light. [Again,] he does not see God, as neither the Cherubim themselves do; there is only light – indescribable light [all around].

And the clouds halt and at that moment, after nine days, the soul hears these words, if he is righteous: “This soul is to receive the boundless joy and happiness of the nine angelic leagues.” And if he is sinful, he will hear: “This soul is not to receive the happiness and glory of the nine angelic leagues.”

At which point the angels take the soul and lead him south-west, to the places of hell, that have no limits. And that is when the soul sees what the Holy Scripture describes as “the lowest Hell”, “the Fountain of the deep”, and “the Lake of Fire” in the Revelation. That is where he sees the sleepless worm, about which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke; he will see the unquenched fire, the hell pit, the black fire that is billions of times hotter than earthly fire and whose depth has no limits.

That is where he sees the inner and outer darkness and hears the gnashing of teeth and sees the Tartar and all the other things you hear mentioned during the Holy Liturgy and read about in the Scripture.

And upon seeing so many kinds of punishments and devils, he also sees relatives of his there, being punished and tormented, just as he saw the others in the good places, earlier, in Heaven. And his relatives know where he is going and they will come out before him and call out to him:

“Our brother, nephew, cousin, uncle – you’re on your way to your particular/individual judgement. Please, remember us and pray to God for us, if He sends you to the good places. Because – look, we have been tormented here for so many years – for 200, 300, 500 years, each!”

Just as the soul was rejoicing earlier upon seeing his relatives in Heaven, so s/he grows sad now, upon seeing these relatives who have been sent to punishments for their sins.

And the 30 days in hell pass and with the 9 since he returned from Heaven, they add up to 39. And on the 40th day, the angels take him to the Throne of the Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity, for the third time, in the distant, thinking light, for worshipping.

And it is then, after the 40 days, that the soul hears the voice speaking to him in Abraham’s Aramaic language, if s/he is righteous: “Take this soul to Gan Eden.”, that is, to the place of boundless happiness and joy; and if, God forbid, s/he is sinful, s/he hears: “Take this soul to Sheol or Hades” – that is, to hell and torment.

For all their kindness and merciful nature, upon hearing God’s command to take the soul to hell, God’s angels will take it there.

If someone were to see at that point how the soul entreats the angels when he sees they will take him to the punishment places, the foundations of the earth will shake with so much crying. He gets under the angels’ wings and says:

– God’s most-holy and most-kind angels, please don’t leave me! Where are you taking me? In whose hands will you give me? Who will get me out of there now? Who will take mercy upon me now? Who on the face of the earth knows to what torments I am going now?

But the angels cry and tell him: – Brother soul, we are God’s servants, we follow His commands. We cannot do anything above what the Creator commanded: to take you to the good or to the bad places.

So if – God forbid – the soul has led a bad, sinful life, without having repented, they take him to the bad places, and if he is good and has observed God’s commands, they take him to Heaven. So it is all up to his good or bad deeds.

That is what happens 40 days after his death. Which is why the Church, our spiritual mother, takes great care in commemorating every reposed person after 3, 9, and 40 days, because that is when the decision is made where our soul will go – to the good or the bad place.

Once the 40 days have passed, there is only one little “exit gate” remaining for the soul. If the soul has lived in the true Orthodox faith and has been a true son of the Church of Christ and if he has not fallen pray to some sect or any other heresies or heavy sins and if he confessed and took the Eucharist, the Church can take him out of its hell punishment through its holy services and almsgiving.

The Church is our spiritual mother, from which we are born through the divine chrismation, through water and Spirit. The Church is the pillar and strengthening of the truth; the Church is the body of Christ; the Church is the Lamb’s Bride, as the Revelation says.

This is why the Church has much boldness before its Head in heaven, Lord Jesus Christ. You have heard what Christ says in the Scripture: I am the stock, the vine – that is, the trunk of the tree – and you are the branches; all the vines that stay within Me will bear much fruit, and those that do not stay within Me, will be cast into fire.

So, mind this! Whoever does not stay within the Church, does not stay within the Body of Christ. Whoever has broken away from the Church – like all these sectarians who have left it and spread throughout the world, since only in Europe alone there are 800 sects – they are all weeds in the wheat; they are Satan’s seeds. God, says the Scripture, haven’t you planted good seed in Your land? Where do the weeds come from? A wrathful man, — that is, the devil, has done that.

Sectarians are weeds that have grown in the shadow of the Church, people of distorted minds and faith, by which Satan wishes to lose others, too. Don’t listen to them! Whoever has broken off with the Church, has severed himself from the body of Christ.

To give you this example: if that tree over there were covered in bloom or fruit – a well-bearing tree – and a small twig fell off under the weight of its fruit, is that twig still going to bear fruit? What will happen to it? It will dry out and it will be thrown into the fire.

The same thing happens to the soul that has broken off with the Church – it has broken away from the body of Christ. Because the Church is – as Apostle Paul says – the body of Christ.

And that little twig, that soul that has broken off with the Church will never ever bear fruit, neither will it gain salvation. Because the Holy Spirit and the sap of the Holy Spirit comes only through the placing of hands, having been handed down all the way from the Apostles to the Bishops, from the Bishops to the Priests, and from the Priests it works down among the faithful, through the Mysteries that God decided that the Priest will prepare, as “economer” of His Mysteries. The Holy Spirit does not come into the Church in any other way.

Beware! Run away as fast as you can – like from the devils, from all of those who teach you not to worship the Holy Cross or to the Holy Mother of God, or not go to church or not listen to the priest. These people come with Satan in their hearts and in their mind, to break you away from the Church, from our dogmatic truth, from our Orthodox faith, which has remained unchanged for 2000 years, since Christ.

Sects mushroom nowadays. Most of them come from the West and originate from individuals that are sick in the mind. I have a sectology paper that was printed in Bucharest and I have shown there their history, where they come from, and their purpose. They come with the purpose of breaking our faith and our nation, and lose our souls!

Do not leave the ship of salvation. Do not leave the Church of Christ. The Church is our spiritual mother. She has born us through water and Spirit, upon chrismation. So, honour the Church and its Priests and Archierarchs, and the Holy Synod.

Stay near the Church that has been always ours. Be good Christians and citizens and fulfil Apostle Paul’s command: Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour and let no debt remain outstanding.

It is said in the Epistle to the Romans: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. And again: Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God.

There is this cursed sect that has appeared, which is very dangerous to the country and the Church, called “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. These are the staunchest opponents of government and Church. Run away from them like from the devils, like from Satan! Not only that these folks aren’t Christian, but they are worse than all pagans – because they neither recognise the Church, nor the government, and they do not believe in Christ.

Watch out for every sect, remain sons of the Church of Christ, just as your parents and your grandparents and your ancestors have been from times immemorial.

Stay within the Church, stay next to our mother, who is the Church. Because – God forbid – even if a man goes to hell for his sins, the Church can still take him out through the holy Liturgy, commemorations, almsgiving, and sacrifice.

There is no salvation outside the Church. Whoever has left the Church no longer has Christ, because the Church is the body of Christ. Whoever has left the Church is no longer a son of God through the Gift of chrismation, but a son of Satan, for having broken off with his spiritual mother and followed his own mind and got lost.

God help you all. With that, I will end and I pray for all of you to have fear of God and never forget to pray – and also please pray for us sinners. Amen.

Source: http://valahia.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/the-soul%E2%80%99s-journey-after-death/

A Homily on Life After Death

St. John Maximovitch 1896-1966

Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see.

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them.

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of her approaching death, answering her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself.

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead. Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers.

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: “I thank you for laboring with me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents” — and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria). “How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God’s mercy?” the priest-monk asked. “Yes, that is true,” replied St. Theodosius, “but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer.”

Therefore, panikhidas and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition “for those in hell.”

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: “Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints.” We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations.

The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls. Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead.

As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. The funeral need not be performed elaborately, but most definitely it should be complete, without abbreviations; think at this time not of yourself and your convenience. Each word of prayer for he reposed ismlike a drop of water to a thirsty man. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days.  Usually, in churches where there are daily services, the deceased whose funerals have been served there are commemorated for forty days and longer. But if the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services. It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. but the forty-day memorial must be begun immdiately after death, when the soul is especially in need of help in prayer, and therefore one should begin commemoration in the nearest place where there are daily services.

Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Life After Death, A Homily)

Ante-Nicenes on the Soul After Death

Tertullian ca. 160-220

[I]ndeed, many times it happens that the soul in its actual separation is more powerfully agitated with a more anxious gaze, and a quickened loquacity; while from the loftier and freer position in which it is now placed, it enunciates, by means of its last remnant still lingering in the flesh, what it sees, what it hears, and what it is beginning to know. In Platonic phrase, indeed, the body is a prison, but in the apostle’s it is the temple of God, because it is in Christ. Still, (as must be admitted,) by reason of its enclosure it obstructs and obscures the soul, and sullies it by the concretion of the flesh; whence it happens that the light which illumines objects comes in upon the soul in a more confused manner, as if through a window of horn. Undoubtedly, when the soul, by the power of death, is released from its concretion with the flesh, it is by the very release cleansed and purified: it is, moreover, certain that it escapes from the veil of the flesh into open space, to its clear, and pure, and intrinsic light; and then finds itself enjoying its enfranchisement from matter, and by virtue of its liberty it recovers its divinity, as one who awakes out of sleep passes from images to verities. Then it tells out what it sees; then it exults or it fears, according as it finds what lodging is prepared for it, as soon as it sees the very angel’s face, that arraigner of souls, the Mercury of the poets. (A Treatise on the Soul 53)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235
 
And when those who are conducted by the angels appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not proceed on one and the same way; but the righteous, being conducted in the light toward the right, and being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, are brought to a locality full of light. And there the righteous from the beginning dwell, not ruled by necessity, but enjoying always the contemplation of the blessings which are in their view, and delighting themselves with the expectation of others ever new, and deeming those ever better than these. And that place brings no toils to them. There, there is neither fierce heat, nor cold, nor thorn; but the face of the fathers and the righteous is seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven which succeed this location. And we call it by the name Abraham’s bosom. But the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment, and they go of their own accord no longer, but are dragged by force as prisoners. And the angels appointed over them send them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when they are brought there, those appointed to that service drag them on to the confines or hell. And those who are so near hear incessantly the agitation, and feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, (as if they were) already feeling the power of their punishment. And again, where they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they are also punished there. For a deep and vast abyss is set there in the midst, so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to pass it, nor any of the unrighteous dare to cross it. (Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe)
 
Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254
 
Who could follow the soul of a martyr as it passes beyond all the powers of the air and makes its way toward the altar of heaven? Blessed is that soul which, by the crimson of its blood poured out in martyrdom, puts to rout the ranks of the demons of the air advancing toward it. Blessed is he of whom the angels shall sing the prophetic words as he enters into heaven: “Who is this that comes up from Bosra?”(Hom. in Judic., 7.2. excerpted from “The Angels and Their Mission” by Jean Danielou pg. 115)

On The Importance of Godly Upbringing

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

Neither must that be forgotten, which the servant of God before mentioned, called Probus, used to tell of a little sister which he had, called Musa: for he said that one night our blessed Lady appeared unto her in vision, shewing her sundry young maids of her own years, clothed all in white: whose company she much desiring, but yet not presuming to go amongst them, the Blessed Virgin asked her whether she had any mind to remain with them, and to live in her service: to whom she answered that willingly she would. Then our blessed Lady gave her in charge, not to behave herself lightly, nor to live any more like a girl, to abstain also from laughing and pastime, telling her that after thirty days she should, amongst those virgins which she then saw, be admitted to her service. After this vision, the young maid forsook all her former behaviour: and with great gravity reformed the levity of her childish years: which thing her parents perceiving, and demanding from whence that change proceeded, she told them what the blessed Mother of God had given her in commandment, and upon what day she was to go unto her service. Five and twenty days after, she fell sick of an ague; and upon the thirtieth day, when the hour of her departure was come, she’ beheld our blessed Lady, accompanied with those virgins which before in vision she saw to come unto her, and being called to come away, she answered with her eyes modestly cast downward, and very distinctly spake in this manner: “Behold, blessed Lady, I come, behold, blessed Lady, I come”: in speaking of which words she gave up the ghost, and her soul departed her virgin’s body, to dwell for ever with the holy virgins in heaven.

PETER. Seeing mankind is subject to many and innumerable vices, I think that the greatest part of heaven is replenished with little children and infants.

GREGORY. Although we ought not to doubt, but believe that all infants which be baptized, and die in their infancy, go to heaven; yet no point of our belief it is, that all little ones which can speak do come unto that holy place: because some little children are kept from heaven by their parents, which bring them up wickedly and in lewd life. For a certain man in this city, well known to all, some three years since had a child, as I think five years old, which upon too much carnal affection he brought up very carelessly: in such sort that the little one (a lamentable case to speak of) so soon as anything went contrary to his mind, straightways used to blaspheme the name of God.

This child, in that great mortality which happened three years since, fell sick, and came to the point of death: and his father holding him at that time in his arms, the child (as they say, which were then present) beheld with trembling eyes certain wicked spirits coming towards him: at which sight he began to cry out in this manner: “Keep them away, father, keep them away”: and crying so out, he turned away his face, and would have hid himself in his father’s bosom: who demanding why he was so afraid, and what he saw: “O father,” quoth he, “there be blackamoors come to carry me away “: after which words straightways he blasphemed God, and so gave up the ghost. For to the end God might make it known to the world for what sin he was delivered to such terrible executioners, he permitted him at his very death to iterate that sin, for which his father, whiles he lived, would not correct him: so that he which through God’s patience had long lived a blasphemer, did at length, by his just judgment, blaspheming end his life, that the father might both know his own sin, and also how, by neglecting the soul of his little son, he nourished and brought up not a little sinner for hell fire. But now to surcease from further speech of this sad and melancholy matter, let us prosecute, as we have begun, our former joyful narration. (Dialogues Bk. IV:17-18)

On the Mystery of Paradise and Hell

Fr. George Metallinos

The mystery of paradise-hell is also experienced in the life of the Church in the world. During the holy mysteries/sacraments, there is a participation of the faithful in divine grace, so that grace may be activated in our lives, by our course towards Christ. Especially during the Holy Eucharist, the uncreated (Holy Communion) becomes either paradise or hell within us, depending on our condition. Primarily, our participation in Holy Communion is a participation in either paradise or hell, in our own time and place. That is why we beseech God, prior to receiving Holy Communion, to render the Precious Gifts “not as judgment or condemnation” within us, “for the healing of soul and body,” not as “condemnation. ”

This is why participation in Holy Communion is linked to the overall spiritual course of life of the faithful. When we approach Holy Communion uncleansed and unrepentant, we are condemned (burnt). Holy Communion inside us becomes the “inferno” and “spiritual death” (see 1Cor.11:30, etc.). Not because it is transformed into those things of course, but because our own uncleanliness cannot accept Holy Communion as “paradise.” Given that Holy Communion is called “the medicin of immortality” (Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, 2nd century), the same thing exactly occurs as with any medication. If our organism does not have the prerequisites to absorb the medication, then the medication will produce side-effects and can kill instead of heal. It is not the medication that is responsible, but the condition of our organism. It must be stressed, that if we do not accept Christianity as a therapeutic process, and its holy mysteries/sacraments as spiritual medication, then we are led to a “religionisation” of Christianity; in other words, we “idolatrize” it. And unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence when we perceive Christianity as a “religion.”

Besides, this lifetime is evaluated in the light of the twin criterion of paradise-hell. “Seek first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Christ teaches us (Mt.6:33). Saint Basil the Great says in To The Youth (ch.3) “Everything we do is in preparation of another life.” Our life must be a continuous preparation for our participation in paradise – our communion with the Uncreated (Jn.17:3). Everything begins from this lifetime. That is why Apostle Paul says: “Behold, now is the opportune time. Behold, now is the day of redemption.” (2Cor.6:2) Every moment of our lives is of redemptive importance. Either we gain eternity, the eternal community with God, or we lose it. This is why oriental religions and cults that preach reincarnations are injuring mankind: they are virtually transferring the problem to other, (nonexistent of course) lifetimes.

The thing is, however, that only one life is available to each of us, whether we are saved or condemned. This is why Basil the Great continues: “We must proclaim that those things therefore that lead us towards that life should be cherished and pursued with all our strength; and those that do not lead us to that destination, we should disregard, as something of no value.” Such are the criteria of the Christian life. A Christian continuously chooses whatever favours his salvation. We gain paradise or lose it and end up in hell, already during our lifetime. That is why John the Evangelist says: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn3:17-18).

Consequently, the work of the Church is not to “send” people to paradise or to hell, but to prepare them for the final judgment. The work of the clergy is therapeutic and not moralistic or character-shaping, in the temporal sense of the word. The purpose of the theraphy offered by the Church is not to create “useful” citizens and essentially “usable” ones, but citizens of the celestial (uncreated) kingdom. Such citizens are the Confessors and the Martyrs and the true faithful, the saints…

However, this is also the way that our mission is directed: What are we inviting people to? To the Church as a [spiritual] hospital/therapy Centre, or just an ideology that is labelled “Christian”? More often than not, we strive to secure a place in “paradise”, instead of striving to be healed. That is why we focus on the rites and not on therapy. This of course does not signify a devaluing of worship. But, without ascesis (spiritual exercise, ascetic lifestyle, acts of therapy), worship cannot sanctify us. The grace that pours forth from it remains inert inside us. Orthodoxy doesn’t make any promises to send mankind to any sort of paradise or hell; but it does have the power — as evidenced by the incorruptible and miracle-working relics of our saints (incorruptibility=theosis) — to prepare man, so that he may forever look upon the Uncreated Grace and the Kingdom of Christ as Paradise, and not as Hell. (Paradise and Hell According to the Orthodox Tradition)

Source: http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/OurFaith/Articles/Paradise&Hell%20-Mellitos.pdf

For various sources on Orthodox Eschatology:

http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/OurFaith/Foundation%20of%20Faith/Eschatology.html

N.A. Motovilov’s Unfortunate Illness

Nikolas Alexandrovitch Motovilov, “Seraphim’s servant” as he liked to call himself, had been granted a miraculous healing and the further privilege of seeing with his own eyes St. Seraphim’s illumination by the light of Tabor or, in other words, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Being a fervent and sincere man, he wanted to perpetuate Father Seraphim’s memory. So he decided to visit Kursk (the saint’s birth-place) personally in order to collect information about his childhood and youth; he also wanted to visit the Kiev-Florovsky Monastery. The journey had very sad consequences for Nikolas Alexandrovitch. Through the permissive will of God, the enemy inflicted upon him an illness in revenge for his literary labours; for his writings served to enhance the fame of one of God’s Saints — Father Seraphim — to a very considerable extent.

Certain circumstances which preceded N.A. Motovilov’s illness throw light on its origin. Once during a talk with St. Seraphim the question somehow arose as to the reality of diabolic assaults on men. Motovilov who had had a worldly upbringing did not fail, of course, to doubt the existence of the evil power. Then the saint told him of his terrible fight with the devils for one thousand days and nights, and by the power of his word, by the authority of his holiness which excluded all possibility of even the shadow of a lie or exaggeration, he convinced Motovilov of the existence of devils, not as phantoms or figments of the imagination, but as a stark and bitter reality. The impetuous Motovilov was so stirred by the elder’s talk that he cried from the depths of his soul:

“Father, how I should like to have a bout with the devils!”

Father Seraphim, in alarm, cut him short:

“What on earth are you talking about, your Godliness! You don’t know what you are saying. If you knew that the least of them can turn the world upside down with it’s claw, you would never challenge them to a fight.”

“But Father, have the devils really got claws?”

“Ah, your Godliness, whatever do they teach you at the university? Don’t you know that the devils have no claws? They have been represented with hoofs, horns and tails becuase it is impossible for the human imagination to conceive of anything more hideous. And they really are hideous, for their conscious desertion of God and their voluntary resistance to divine grace made them, who before the Fall, were angels of light, angels of such darkness and abomination that they cannot be portrayed in any human likeness. Still some likeness is necessary; that is why they are represented as black and ugly. But having been created with the powers and properties of angels, they possess such indomitable might against man and everything earthly that, as I told you already, the least of them can turn the world upside down with its nail. Only the divine grace of the Holy Spirit which has been given to us Orthodox Christians as a free gift through the merits of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ —  only this frustrates all the wiles and artifices of the enemy.”

An uncanny feeling crept over Motovilov. While he was still under the saint’s protection he could defy Satan’s malice. But, by the permissive will of God, his reckless challenge did not remain unanswered. It was accepted.

When Motovilov went to Kursk afer Father Seraphim’s death, he did not get much information about the childhood and youth of the saint. Of the near relatives who had known Father Seraphim as a child, some were dead, while others had forgotten the facts. Even the house where the saint was born and brought up was destroyed, and new buildings had sprung up in its place. However, one old man was found who was a contemporary of Father Seraphim, and who supplied Motovilov with the facts which have been included in all the editions of the saint’s life. The actual journey to Kursk and his stay there were without mishap. The storm broke out on his way back to Voronezh.

Motovilov was obliged to spend a night at one of the post-stations on the road from Kursk. As he was quite alone in the room for travelers, he took his manuscripts out of his suitcase and began to sort them out by the dim light of a single candle which scarcely lit up the spacious room. One of the first records he discovered contained a description of the cure of possessed lady of noble parentage called Eropkin at the Shrine of St. Metrophan of Voronezh.

“I wondered,” writes Motovilov, “how it could happen that an Orthodox Christian who partook of the most pure and life-giving Mysteries of the Lord could suddenly be possessed by a devil, and morever, for such a long period as over thirty years. And I thought Nonsense! It is impossible! I should like to see how the devil would dare to make his abode in me, especially  when I frequently have recourse to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.”

At that very moment he was surrounded by a horrible, cold, evil-smelling cloud which began to makes its way into his mouth, while he made convulsive efforts to keep it tightly shut.

The unhappy Motovilov struggled desperately, trying to protect himself from the stench and icy cold cloud of the cloud which was gradually creeping into him. In spite of all his efforts it got into him completely.

His hands became exactly as if they were paralyzed, and he could not make the Sign of the Cross; his mind became frozen with terror and he could not remember the saving name of Jesus. Something terrible and repulsive had happened, and Nikolas Alexandrovitch experienced a time of dreadful torture. A manuscript in his own handwriting gives us the following description of the torments he experienced:

“The Lord granted me to experience in my own body, and not in a dream or apparition, the three torments of hell. The first was that of the fire which gives no light and which can be extinguished only by the grace of the Most Holy Spirit. This agony lasted for three days. I felt myself burning, yet I was not consumed. Ten or eleven times a day they had to scrape off the hellish soot which covered my whole body and was visible to all. This torture ceased only after Confession and Holy Communion, through the prayers of Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh who ordered litanies to be said for the suffering servant of God Nikolas in the forty-seven churches and monasteries of his diocese.

Then I was tormented for two days by the unbearable cold of Tartarus, so that fire could neither burn nor warm me. According to the wish of His Grace, Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh, I held my hand over a candle for about half an hour, and though it was thickly coated with soot, it did not get warm in the least. I described this experiment on a whole sheet of paper and signed it by stamping it with my sooty hand. Both these torments were visible to all; yet with the help of Holy Communion I could partake of food, drink and sleep to some extent.

But the third torment of Gehenna, though it was still shorter by half a day, for it lasted only a day and a half (possibly a little more), caused me the greatest terror and suffering as it was something indescribable and incomprehensible. It is a wonder that I remained alive! This torment also disappeared after Confession and Holy Communion. This time Archbishop Anthony himself administered the Holy Sacrament to me with his own hands. This torment was the undying worm of Gehenna. The worm in this case was visible only to Archbishop Anthony and myself. But my whole body was riddled with this pernicious worm which crawled through the whole of me and in an indescribably frightful manner gnawed at my vitals. Though it crawled out through my nose, mouth and ears, yet it went back in again. However, God gave me some power of it, and  I could take it into my hands and stretch it like rubber.

I feel myself compelled to make this declaration, for God did not grant me this vision for nothing. Let no one think that I dare take the Lord’s name in vain. No! On the day of the Lord’s awful judgment, He Himself — my God, my Helper and my Protector — will testify that I did not lie against Him, my Lord, and against the operation of His Divine Providence which was accomplished in me.”

Soon after this terrible test which is beyond the experience of ordinary men, Motovilov had a vision of his patron St. Seraphim who had comforted the sufferer with the promise that he would be cured at the exposition of the relics of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and that until that time the devil residing in him would not torment him so cruelly.

The expostiton of the relics of St. Tikhon actually took place thirty years later, and Motovilov lived to see it and was in fact cured according to his great faith.

On the day of the exposition of the relics of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (1865), Motovilov was standing in the sanctuary praying and weeping bitterly because the Lord had not granted him a cure for which his tortured soul was waiting according to the promise of St. Seraphim of Sarov. During the Song of the Cherubim, he glanced at the bishop’s throne in the apse and saw St. Tikhon there. The holy prelate blessed the weeping Motovilov and vanished from sight. Motovilov was healed instantly. (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter IX: Are the Torments of Hell a Reality? pp. 209-215)

On the Benefit of Prayers for the Dead

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Two nuns, who had both been abbesses, died. The Lord revealed to me how their souls had been subjected to the aerial tests, how they had been tried and then condemned. For three days and nights I prayed, wretched as I am, entreating the Mother of God for them, and the Lord in His goodness pardoned them through the prayers of the Mother of God; they passed all the aerial tests and received forgiveness through God’s mercy. (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter XV “Amazing Wonderworker” pg. 396)

 

On the Death of the Saints

Wis 3:1 But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them.

Abba Sisoes ca. 4th-5th cent.

It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, ‘Look, Abba Anthony is coming.’ A little later he said, ‘Look, the choir of prophets is coming.’ Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, ‘Look, the choir of apostles is coming.’ His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men ask him, ‘With whom are you speaking, Father?’ He said, ‘Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance.’ The old man said to him, ‘You have no need to do penance, Father.’ But the old man said to him, ‘Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet.’ Now they all knew that he was perfect. Once more his countenance suddenly became like the sun and they were all filled with fear. He said to them, ‘Look, the Lord is coming and He’s saying, “Bring me the vessel from the desert.”’ Then there was as a flash of lightning and all the house was filled with a sweet odour. (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: Sisoes, Saying 14)

St.Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

Neither must I forget that which the reverent Abbot Stephen (who not long since died in this city, and whom you knew very well) told me to have happened in the same province of Nursia. For he said that a Priest dwelt in that country, who in the fear of God governed the church committed to his charge: and although, after he had taken orders, he did still love his old wife as his sister, yet did he avoid her as his enemy: and never would he permit her to come near him upon any occasion, abstaining wholly from all intercourse of familiarity. For this is a thing proper to holy men, oftentimes to deprive themselves of those things which be lawful, to the end they may remain the more free from such as be unlawful: and therefore this man, not to fall into any sin, utterly refused all necessary and requisite service at her hands.

When this reverent man had long lived in this world, the fortieth year after he was made priest, by a great and vehement ague [he] was brought to the last cast: his old wife, beholding him so far spent, and to lie as though he had been dead, put her head near unto him, to see whether he did breathe or no: which he perceiving, having yet a little life left, enforced himself to speak as well as he could, and in great fervour of spirit brake out into these words: “Get thee away, woman: a little fire is yet left, away with the straw.” After she was gone, his strength somewhat increasing, he began with great joy to cry out: “Welcome, my Lords, welcome, my Lords: why have you vouchsafed to visit me, your unworthy servant? I come, I come: I thank you, I thank you”: and when he did often repeat these and the like words, his friends that were present asked him to whom he spake, to whom with a kind of admiration he answered: “What? do you not here behold the holy Apostles? Do you not see the chief of them, St. Peter and St. Paul?” And so, turning himself again towards them, he said: “Behold I come, behold I come”: and in speaking those words, he gave up his happy ghost. And that he did indeed verily behold the holy Apostles, he testified by that his departure with them. And thus it doth often fall out, by the sweet providence of God, that good men at their death do behold his Saints going before them, and leading as it were the way, to the end they should not be afraid at the pangs thereof; and that whiles their souls do see the Saints in heaven, they may be discharged from the prison of this body, without all fear and grief. (Dialogues Bk. IV.11)

On the Power of Love and Faith in the Soul

St. John of Karpathos ca. 7th cent.

When the soul leaves the body, the enemy advances to attack it fiercely reviling it and accusing it of its sins in a harsh and terrifying manner. But if a soul enjoys the love of God and has faith in Him, even though in the past it has often been wounded by sin, it is not frightened by the enemy’s attacks and threats. Strenghtened by the Lord, winged by joy, filled with courage by the holy angels that guide it, encircled and protected by the light of faith, it answers the malicious devil with great boldness: ‘Enemy of God, fugitive from heaven, wicked slave, what have I to do with you? You have no authority over me; Christ the Son of God has authority over me and all things. Against Him have I sinned, before Him shall I stand on trial, having His precious Cross as a sure pledge of His saving love towards me. Flee far from me destroyer! You have nothing to do with the servants of Christ.’ When the soul says all this fearlessly, the devil turns his back, howling aloud and unable to withstand the name of Christ. Then the soul swoops down on the devil from above, attacking him like a hawk attacking a crow. After this it is brought rejoicing by the holy angels to the place appointed for it in accordance with its inward state. (Philokalia Vol I, pg. 304: Texts for the Monks of India 25)

On the King of Glory and the Angelic Gates

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

The Psalm of David is this:

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and all that dwell therein. He has rounded it upon the seas, and prepared it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that is clean of hands and pure of heart: who has not received his soul in vain, and has not sworn guilefully to his neighbour: he shall receive blessing from the Lord, and mercy from God his Saviour. This is the generation of them that seek the Lord, that seek the face of the God of Jacob. Lift up your gates, you rulers; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty in battle. Lift up your gates, you rulers; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.

Accordingly, it is shown that Solomon is not the Lord of hosts; but when our Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the rulers in heaven, under appointment of God, are commanded to open the gates of heaven, that He who is King of glory may enter in, and having ascended, may sit on the right hand of the Father until He make the enemies His footstool, as has been made manifest by another Psalm. For when the rulers of heaven saw Him of uncomely and dishonoured appearance, and inglorious, not recognising Him, they inquired, ‘Who is this King of glory?’ And the Holy Spirit, either from the person of His Father, or from His own person, answers them, ‘The Lord of hosts, He is this King of glory.’ (Dialogue with Trypho 36)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

And the same says David again: Lift up your gates, ye rulers; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting gates, and the King of glory shall come in. For the everlasting gates are the heavens. But because the Word descended invisible to created things, He was not made known in His descent to them. Because the Word was made flesh, He was visible in His ascension; and, when the powers saw Him, the angels below cried out to those who were on the firmament: Lift up your gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting gates, that the King of glory may come in. And when they marvelled and said: Who is this? those who had already seen Him testified a second time: The Lord strong and mighty, he is the King of glory. (Proof of Apostolic Preaching 84)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

He comes to the heavenly gates: angels accompany Him: and the gates of heaven were closed. For He has not yet ascended into heaven. Now first does He appear to the powers of heaven as flesh ascending. Therefore to these powers it is said by the angels, who are the couriers of the Saviour and Lord: <!––>Lift up your gates, you princes; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in. (On Psalm 23)

Eusebius of Caesarea ca. 263-339

The Virtues of Heaven, seeing Him begin to rise, surrounded Him to form His escort, proclaiming His Ascension as they cried, “Rise up, gates everlasting and the King of Glory will enter.” These things were accomplished in what the book of Acts record for us: ‘And when He had said these things He was lifted up before their eyes.’” (Comm. In Ps. 17)

It was fitting that the angels who had served Him during His life on earth should precede the Son of God in His Ascension into Heaven, fling wide the gates of Heaven and breaking forth into the angelic words that the psalmist calls jubilation and sound of triumph: ‘God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet.’” (Comm. In Ps. 23)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

The angels of the Lord who followed Him upon earth, seeing Him arise, announced His coming to the Virtues of Heaven, so that they might open their gates. The Powers were filled with amazement at seeing Him in the flesh. That is why they cried, ‘Who is this?’ – astounded by this mysterious order of salvation. And the angels rising with Christ answered them, ‘The Lord of Powers, He is the King of Glory who teaches the great mystery to those who are in heaven: that the King of Glory has won victory of the spiritual enemy.’ (Exp. In Ps. 23)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

The Mount of Olives bears witness, that holy mount from which He ascended to the Father: the rain-bearing clouds are His witnesses, having received their Lord: yea, and the gates of heaven bear witness [having received their Lord ], concerning which the Psalmist said, Lift up your doors, O you Princes, and be lifted up you everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. (Catechetical Lectures 10.19)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

And if He ascend up into Heaven, Lk. 24:51 ascend with Him. Be one of those angels who escort Him, or one of those who receive Him. Bid the gates be lifted up, or be made higher, that they may receive Him, exalted after His Passion. Answer to those who are in doubt because He bears up with Him His body and the tokens of His Passion, which He had not when He came down, and who therefore inquire, Who is this King of Glory? that it is the Lord strong and mighty, as in all things that He has done from time to time and does, so now in His battle and triumph for the sake of Mankind. And give to the doubting of the question the twofold answer. And if they marvel and say as in Isaiah’s drama Who is this that comes from Edom and from the things of earth? Or How are the garments red of Him that is without blood or body, as of one that treads in the full wine-press? Isa. 63:1 set forth the beauty of the array of the Body that suffered, adorned by the Passion, and made splendid by the Godhead, than which nothing can be more lovely or more beautiful. (Oration 45.25)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397

The angels, too, were in doubt when Christ arose; the powers of heaven were in doubt when they saw that flesh was ascending into heaven. Then they said: Who is this King of glory? And while some said Lift up your gates, O princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. In Isaiah, too, we find that the powers of heaven doubted and said: Who is this that comes up from Edom, the redness of His garments is from Bosor, He who is glorious in white apparel? Isa. 63:1 (On the Mysteries 7.36)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Take away your gates, you princes Psalm 23:7. All you, that seek rule among men, remove, that they hinder not, the entrances which you have made, of desire and fear. And be lifted up, you everlasting gates. And be lifted up, you entrances of eternal life, of renunciation of the world, and conversion to God. And the King of glory shall come in. And the King, in whom we may glory without pride, shall come in: who having overcome the gates of death, and having opened for Himself the heavenly places, fulfilled that which He said, Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. Jn. 16:33

Who is this King of glory? Mortal nature is awe-struck in wonder, and asks, Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty. He whom you deemed weak and overwhelmed. The Lord mighty in battle Ps. 23:8. Handle the scars, and you will find them made whole, and human weakness restored to immortality. The glorifying of the Lord, which was owing to earth, where It warred with death, has been paid.

Take away your gates, you princes. Let us go hence straightway into heaven. Again, let the Prophet’s trumpet cry aloud, Take away too, you princes of the air, the gates, which you have in the minds of men who ‘worship the host of heaven.’ 2 Kgs. 17:16 And be lifted up, you everlasting gates. And be lifted up, you doors of everlasting righteousness, of love, and chastity, through which the soul loves the One True God, and goes not a-whoring with the many that are called gods. And the King of glory shall come in Ps. 23:9. And the King of glory shall come in, that He may at the right hand of the Father intercede for us.

Who is this King of glory? What! Do you too, prince of the power of this air, Eph. 2:2 marvel and ask, Who is this King of glory? The Lord of powers, He is the King of glory Ps. 23:10. Yea, His Body now quickened, He who was tempted marches above you; He who was tempted by the angel, the deceiver, goes above all angels. Let none of you put himself before us and stop our way, that he may be worshipped as a god by us: neither principality, nor angel, nor power, separates us from the love of Christ. Rom. 8:39 It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in a prince; that he who glories, should glory in the Lord. 1 Cor. 1:31 These indeed are powers in the administration of this world, but the Lord of powers, He is the King of glory. (Exposition on Psalm 24)

St. Cyril of Alexandriaca. 376-444

[T]he Psalmist, though he speaks mysteries by the Spirit, says, Clap your hands, all ye people: then he explained the occasion of the festival, and introduced the Ascension of the Saviour into heaven, saying, God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trump: meaning by the shout and the trump the piercing and clear voice of the Spirit, when He bade the powers above open the gates, and named Him Lord of Hosts, as we said just now. On the same occasion moreover, we shall find the choir of the Saints rejoicing with great joy of heart. Then too he said in one place, The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice; and in another, The Lord reigneth: the Lord hath put on glorious apparel, the Lord hath put on and girded Himself with might. For He that was with us as a man before His resurrection from the dead, when He ascended to His Father in the heavens, then put on His own glorious apparel, and girded Himself with the might that was His from the beginning, for He sat and reigneth with the Father. (Commentary on the Gospel of John Bk. 10, Chap. 1)

On the Power of Repentance

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

One of the fathers said that in Thessalonica there was a monastery of virgins. One of them was coerced by the operation of the evil one into going out of the monastery. She went and fell into porneia by the machinations of the demon who scoffed at her until she left the monastery. Once she had fallen, she remained some time in sin then finally, undergoing a change of heart by the cooperation of God the good, she came to repentance. Re-entering her community in order to repent, she fell before the gateway of the monastery — and she died. Her death was revealed to one of the holy bishops. He saw holy angels coming to receive her soul and demons in attendance; he witnessed a dialogue taking place between them. The angels were saying: ‘She came in repentance’, but the demons said: ‘She served us so long a time she is ours’. Their altercation lasted some time and then the demons, those who obstruct the good, said: ‘She did not get as far as entering the monastery; how can you say she repented?” In answer to this the holy angles said: ‘Insofar as God saw her intention tending in that direction, He accepted her repentance. And she was a mistress of repentance by virtue of the goal she set for herself: the Lord the and Master of all.’ Put to shame by these words, the demons withdrew. (The Spiritual Meadow: Supplementary Tales. Cistercian Publications trans. by John Wortley, pg. 200)

Fr. Seraphim Rose on Eternal Perspective

Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose (1934 – 1982)

Our Christianity is a religion which tells us about what we are going to be doing in eternal life, that is, to prepare us for something eternal, not of this world. If we think only about this world, our horizon is very limited, and we don’t know what’s after death, where we came from, where w’re going, what’s the purpose of life. When we talk about the beginning of things, or the end of things, we find out what our whole life is about. Not of This World, p.823

St. Hesychios on Watchfulness

St. Hesychios the Priest ca. 8th-9th cent.?

Just as a man blind from birth does not see the sun’s light, so one who fails to pursue watchfulness does not see the radiance of divine grace. He cannot free himself from evil thoughts, words and actions, and because of these thoughts and actions he will not be able to freely pass the lords of hell when he dies. (Philokalia Vol. 1, pg. 163: On Watchfulness and Holiness 4)

The Incredible Vision of St. Fursey

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735
 
Whilst Sigebert still governed the kingdom, there came out of Ireland a holy man called Fursey renowned both for his words and actions, and remarkable for singular virtues, being desirous to live a stranger for our Lord, wherever an opportunity should offer. On coming into the province of the East Saxons, he was honorably received by the aforesaid king, and performing his usual employment of preaching the Gospel, by the example of his virtue and the efficacy of his discourse, converted many unbelievers to Christ, and confirmed in his faith and love those that already believed.
 
In short, he built himself the monastery, wherein he might with more freedom indulge his heavenly studies. There, falling sick, as the book about his life informs us, he fell into a trance, and quitting his body from the evening till the cock crew, he was found worthy to behold the choirs of angels, and to hear the praises which are sung in heaven. He was wont to declare, that among other things he distinctly heard this: “The saints shall advance from one virtue to another.” And again, “The God of gods shall be seen in Sion.” Being restored to his body at that time, and again taken from it three days after, he not only saw the greater joys of the blessed, but also extraordinary combats of evil spirits, who by frequent accusations wickedly endeavored to obstruct his journey to heaven; but the angels protecting him, all their endeavors were in vain. Concerning which particulars, if any one desires to be more fully informed, that is, with what subtle fraud the devils represented both his actions and superfluous words, and even his thoughts, as if they had been written down in a book; and what pleasing or disagreeable things he was informed of by the angels and saints, or just men who appeared to him among the angels; let him read the little book of his life which I have mentioned, and I believe he will thereby reap much spiritual profit.

But there is one thing among the rest, which we have thought may be beneficial to many if inserted in this history. When he had been lifted up on high, he was ordered by the angels that conducted him to look back upon the world. Upon which, casting his eyes downward, he saw, as it were, a dark and obscure valley underneath him. He also saw four fires in the air, not far distant from each other. Then asking the angels, what fires those were? he was told, they were the fires which would kindle and consume the world. One of them was of falsehood, when we do not fulfil that which we promised in baptism, to renounce the Devil and all his works. The next of covetousness, when we prefer the riches of the world to the love of heavenly things. The third of discord, when we make no difficulty to offend the minds of out neighbors even in needless things. The fourth of iniquity, when we look upon it as no crime to rob and to defraud the weak. These fires, increasing by degrees, extended so as to meet one another, and being joined, became an immense flame. When it drew near, fearing for himself, he said to the angel, “Lord, behold the fire draws near me.” The angel answered, “That which you did not kindle shall not burn you; for though this appears to be a terrible and great fire, yet it tries every man according to the merits of his works; for every man’s concupiscence shall burn in the fire; for as every one burns in the body through unlawful pleasure, so when discharged of the body, he shall burn in the punishment which he has deserved.”

Then he saw one of the three angels, who had been his conductors throughout both visions, go before and divide the flame of fire, whilst the other two, flying about on both sides, defended him from the danger of that fire. He also saw devils flying through the fire, raising conflagrations of wars against the just. Then followed accusations of the wicked spirits against him, the defense of the good angels in his favor, and a more extended view of the heavenly troops; as also of holy men of his own nation, who, as he had long since been informed, had been deservedly advanced to the degree of priesthood, from whom he heard many things that might be very salutary to himself, or to all others that would listen to them. When they had ended their discourse, and returned to heaven with the angelic spirits, the three angels remained with the blessed Fursey, of whom we have spoken before, and who were to bring him back to his body. And when they approached the aforesaid immense fire, the angel divided the flame, as he had done before; but when the man of God came to the passage so opened amidst the flames, the unclean spirits, laying hold of one of those whom they tormented in the fire, threw him at him, and, touching his shoulder and jaw, burned them. He knew the man, and called to mind that he had received his garment when he died; and the angel, immediately laying hold, threw him back into the fire, and the malignant enemy said, “Do not reject him whom you before received; for as you accepted the goods of him who was a sinner, so you must partake of his punishment.” The angel replying, said, “He did not receive the same through avarice, but in order to save his soul.” The fire ceased, and the angel, turning to him, added, “That which you kindled burned in you; for had you not received the money of this person that died in his sins, his punishment would not burn in you.” And proceeding in his discourse, he gave him wholesome advice for what ought to be done towards the salvation of such as repented.

Being afterwards restored to his body, throughout the whole course of his life he bore the mark of the fire which he had felt in his soul, visible to all men on his shoulder and jaw; and the flesh publicly showed, in a wonderful manner, what the soul had suffered in private. He always took care, as he had done before, to persuade all men to the practice of virtue, as well by his example, as by preaching. But as for the matter of his visions, he would only relate them to those who, from holy zeal and desire of reformation, wished to learn the same. An ancient brother of our monastery is still living, who is wont to declare that a very sincere and religious man told him, that he had seen Fursey himself in the province of the East Angles, and heard those visions from his mouth; adding, that though it was in most sharp winter weather, and a hard frost, and the man was sitting in a thin garment when he related it, yet he sweated as if it had been in the greatest heat of summer, either through excessive fear, or spiritual consolation. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 3.19) 

On Gaining Love Through Confession

1 Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

St. Diadochos of Photiki ca. 5th cent.

If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover an ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we should be without fear at that time; for if we are afraid then, we will not be able to freely pass the rulers of the nether-world.  They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which experiences the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness. (Philokalia Vol. 1, pg. 295: On Spiritual Knowledge, 100)

On the Wings of Virginity

St. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311

Now it is not right that the wing of virginity should, by its own nature, be weighed down upon the earth, but that it should soar upwards to heaven, to a pure atmosphere, and to the life which is akin to that of angels. Whence also they, first of all, after their call and departure hence, who have rightly and faithfully contended as virgins for Christ, bear away the prize of victory, being crowned by Him with the flowers of immortality. For, as soon as their souls have left the world, it is said that the angels meet them with much rejoicing, and conduct them to the very pastures already spoken of, to which also they were longing to come, contemplating them in imagination from afar, when, while they were vet dwelling in their bodies, they appeared to them divine. (Banquet of the Ten Virgins 8.2)

The Books Will Be Opened

Rev. 20:12 and I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and scrolls were opened, and another scroll was opened, which is that of the life, and the dead were judged out of the things written in the scrolls — according to their works.

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

In the reign of Coenred, who succeeded Ethelred, there was a layman in a military employment, no less acceptable to the king for his worldly industry, than displeasing to him for his private neglect of himself. The king often admonished him to confess and amend, and to forsake his wicked courses, before he should lose all time for repentance and amendment by a sudden death. Though frequently warned, he despised the words of salvation, and promised he would do penance at some future time. In the meantime, falling sick he was confined to his bed, and began to feel very severe pains. The king coming to him (for he loved the man), earnestly exhorted him, even then, before death, to repent of his offences. He answered, “He would not then confess his sins, but would do it when he was recovered of his sickness, lest his companions should upbraid him of having done that for fear of death, which he had refused to do in health.” He thought he then spoke very bravely, but it afterwards appeared that he had been miserable deluded by the wiles of the Devil.

The distemper still increasing, when the king came again to visit and instruct him, he cried out with a lamentable voice, “What will you have now? What are ye come for? for you can no longer do me any good.” The king answered, “Do not talk so; behave yourself like a man in his right mind.” “I am not mad,” replied he, “but I have now all the guilt of my wicked conscience before my eyes.” – “What is the meaning of that? ” rejoined the king. “Not long since,” said he, “there came into this room two most beautiful youths, and sat down by me, the one at my head and the other at my feet. One of them produced a very small and most curious book, and gave it me to read; looking into it, I there found all the good actions I had ever done in my life written down, and they were very few and inconsiderable. They took back the book and said nothing to me. Then, on a sudden, appeared an army of wicked and deformed spirits, encompassing this house without, and filling it within. Then he, who, by the blackness of his dismal face, and his sitting above the rest, seemed to be the chief of them, taking out a book horrid to behold, of a prodigious size, and of almost insupportable weight, commanded one of his followers to bring it to me to read. Having read it, I found therein most plainly written in black characters, all the crimes I ever committed, not only in word and deed, but even in the least thought; and he said to those men in white, who sat by me, ‘Why do you sit here, since you most certainly know that this man is ours?’ They answered, ‘You are in the right; take and add him to the number of the damned.’ This said, they immediately vanished, and two most wicked spirits rising, with forks In their hands, one of them struck me on the head, and the other on the foot. These strokes are now with great torture penetrating through my bowels to the inward parts of my body, and as soon as they meet I shall die, and the devils being ready to snatch me away I shall be dragged into hell.”

Thus talked that wretch in despair, and dying soon after, he is now in vain suffering in eternal torments that penance which he refused to suffer during a short time, that he might obtain forgiveness. Of whom it is manifest, that (as the holy Pope Gregory writes of certain persons) he did not see these things for his own sake, since they availed him only for the instruction of others, who, knowing of his death, should be afraid to put off the time of repentance, whilst they have leisure, lest, being prevented by sudden death, they should depart impenitent. His having books laid before him by the good or evil spirits, was done by Divine dispensation, that we may keep in mind that our actions and thoughts are not lost in the wind, but are all kept to be examined by the Supreme Judge, and will in the end be shown us either by friendly or hostile angels. As to the angels first producing a white book, and then the devils a black one; the former a very small one, the latter one very large; it is to be observed, that in his first years he did some good actions, all which he nevertheless obscured by the evil actions of his youth. If, on the contrary, he had taken care in his youth to correct the errors of his more tender years, and to cancel them in God’s sight by doing well, he might have been associated to the number of those of whom the Psalm says, “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are hid.” This story, as I learned it of the venerable Bishop Pechthelm, I have thought proper to relate in a plain manner, for the salvation of my hearers. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 5.13)

Interestingly, these “books” in which the unrighteous deeds of man are inscribed are also present in pre-Christian Jewish tradition. Here are two instances from the Book of Enoch (ca. 300-100 b.c.?):

Chap. 81:4 And after that I said: ‘Blessed is the man who dies in righteousness and goodness, Concerning whom there is no book of unrighteousness written, and against whom no day of judgement shall be found.’

Chap. 98: 7-8 And do not think in your spirit nor say in your heart that ye do not know and that ye do not see that every sin is every day recorded in heaven in the presence of the Most High. From henceforth ye know that all your oppression wherewith ye oppress is written down every day till the day of your judgement.

On St. Scholastica

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

GREGORY. What man is there, Peter, in this world, that is in greater favour with God than St. Paul was: who yet three times desired our Lord to be delivered from the prick of the flesh, and obtained not his petition? Concerning which point also I must needs tell you, how there was one thing which the venerable father Benedict would have done, and yet he could not.

For his sister called Scholastica, dedicated from her infancy to our Lord, used once a year to come and visit her brother. To whom the man of God went not far from the gate, to a place that did belong to the Abbey, there to give her entertainment. And she coming thither on a time according to her custom, her venerable brother with his monks went to meet her, where they spent the whole day in the praises of God and spiritual talk: and when it was almost night they supped together, and as they were yet sitting at the table, talking of devout matters, and darkness came on, the holy Nun his sister entreated him to stay there all night, that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven. But by no persuasion would he agree unto that, saying that he might not by any means tarry all night out of his Abbey.

At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen. The Nun, receiving this denial of her brother, joining her hands together, laid them upon the table: and so, bowing down her head upon them, she made her prayers to almighty God: and lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their head out of door: for the holy Nun, resting her head upon her hands, poured forth such a flood of tears upon the table, that she drew the clear air to a watery sky, so that after the end of her devotions, that storm of rain followed: and her prayer and the rain did so meet together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder began, so that in one and the very same instant, she lifted up her head and brought down the rain. The man of God, seeing that he could not by reason of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain return back to his Abbey, began to be heavy and to complain of his sister, saying: “God forgive you, what have you done?” to whom she answered: “I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me, I have desired our good Lord, and he hath vouchsafed to grant my petition: wherefore if you can now depart, in God’s name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone.”

But the good father, being not able to go forth, tarried there against his will, where willingly before he would not stay. And so by that means they watched all night, and with spiritual and heavenly talk did mutually comfort one another: and therefore by this we see, as I said before, that he would have had that thing, which yet he could not: for if we respect the venerable man’s mind, no question but he would have had the same fair weather to have continued as it was, when he set forth, but he found that a miracle did prevent his desire, which, by the power of almighty God, a woman’s prayers had wrought. And it is not a thing to be marvelled at, that a woman which of long time had not seen her brother, might do more at that time than he could, seeing, according to the saying of St. John, God is charity and therefore of right she did more which loved more.

PETER. I confess that I am wonderfully pleased with that which you tell me.

GREGORY. The next day the venerable woman returned to her Nunnery, and the man of God to his Abbey: who three days after, standing in his cell, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, beheld the soul of his sister (which was departed from her body), in the likeness of a dove to ascend into heaven: who rejoicing much to see her great glory, with hymns and lauds gave thanks to Almighty God, and did impart the news of this her death to his monks, whom also he sent presently to bring her corpse to his Abbey, to have it buried in that grave which he had provided for himself: by means whereof it fell out that, as their souls were always one in God whiles they lived, so their bodies continued together after their death. (Dialogues Bk. 2.33-34)

St. Macarius on the Soul After Death

St. Macarius the Great ca. 300-391
 
When the soul of a man departs from the body, a certain great mystery is there enacted. If a person is under the guilt of sin, bands of demons and fallen angels approach along with the powers of darkness which capture the soul and drag it as a captive to their place. No one should be suprised by this fact. For if, while a man lived in this life, he was subject to them and was their obedient slave, how much more, when he leaves this world, is he captured and controlled by them? (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 22) 
 
Like the tax collectors who sit along the narrow streets and snatch at passers-by and extort from them, so also the demons watch carefully and grab hold of souls. And when they pass out of the body, if they are not completely purified, they are not permitted to go up into the mansions of Heaven there to meet their Master. For they are driven down by the demons of the air. But if, while they still live in the flesh, they shall, because of their hard toil and much struggle, obtain from the Lord on high grace, they, along with those who through virtuous living are at rest, shall go to the Lord, as He promised. “Where I am, there also shall My servant be.” (Jn. 12:26) (ibid., Homily 43)

The Prayer of St. Macrina

St. Macrina the Younger ca. 327-379

Thou, O Lord, hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning to us of true life. Thou for a season restest our bodies in sleep and awakest them again at the last trump. Thou givest our earth, which Thou hast fashioned with Thy hands, to the earth to keep in safety. One day Thou wilt take again what Thou hast given, transfiguring with immortality and grace our mortal and unsightly remains. Thou hast saved us from the curse and from sin, having become both for our sakes. Thou hast broken the heads of the dragon who had seized us with his jaws, in the yawning gulf of disobedience. Thou hast shown us the way of resurrection, having broken the gates of .hell, and brought to nought him who had the power of death—-the devil. Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross, to destroy the adversary and save our life. O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother’s womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now—-do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the Slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. O Thou Who hast power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me, that I may be refreshed and may be found before Thee when I put off my body, without defilement on my soul. But may my soul be received into Thy hands spotless and undefiled, as an offering before Thee. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of St. Macrina)

The Incredible Vision of St. Drythelm

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

At this time a memorable miracle, and like to those of former days, was wrought in Britain; for, to the end that the living might be saved from the death of the soul, a certain person, who had been some time dead, rose again to life, and related many remarkable things he had seen; some of which I have thought fit here briefly to take notice of. There was a master of a family in that district of the Northumbrians which is called Cuningham, who led a religious life, as did also all that belonged to him. This man fell sick, and his distemper daily increasing, being brought to extremity, he died in the beginning of the night; but in the morning early, he suddenly came to life again, and sat up, upon which all those that sat about the body weeping, fled away in a great fright, only his wife, who loved him best, though in a great consternation and trembling, remained with him. He, comforting her, said, “Fear not, for I am now truly risen from death, and permitted again to live among men; however, I am not to live hereafter as I was wont, but from henceforward after a very different manner.” Then rising immediately, be repaired to the oratory of the little town, and continuing in prayer till day, immediately divided all his substance into three parts; one whereof he gave to his wife, another to his children, and the third, belonging to himself, he instantly distributed among the poor. Not long after, he repaired to the monastery of Melrose, which is almost enclosed by the winding of the river Tweed, and having been shaven, went into a private dwelling, which the abbot had provided, where he continued till the day of his death, in such extraordinary contrition of mind and body, that though his tongue had been silent, his life declared that he had seen many things either to be dreaded or coveted, which others knew nothing of.

Thus he related what he had seen. “He that led me had a shining countenance and a bright garment, and we went on silently, as I thought, towards the north-east. Walking on, we came to a vale of great breadth and depth, but of infinite length; on the left it appeared full of dreadful flames, the other side was no less horrid for violent hail and cold snow flying in all directions; both places were full of men’s souls, which seemed by turns to be tossed from one side to the other, as it were by a violent storm; for when the wretches could no longer endure the excess of heat, they leaped into the middle of the cutting cold; and finding no rest there, they leaped back again into the middle of the unquenchable flames. Now whereas an innumerable multitude of deformed spirits were thus alternately tormented far and near, as far as could be seen, without any intermission, I began to think that this perhaps might be hell, of whose intolerable flames I had often heard talk. My guide, who went before me, answered to my thought, saying, ‘Do not believe so, for this is not the hell you imagine.’

“When he had conducted me, much frightened with that horrid spectacle, by degrees, to the farther end, on a sudden I saw the place begin to grow dusk and filled with darkness. When I came into it, the darkness, by degrees, grew so thick, that I could see nothing besides it and the shape and garment of him that led me. As we went on through the shades of night, on a sudden there appeared before us frequent globes of black flames, rising as it were out of a great pit, and falling back again into the same. When I had been conducted thither, my leader suddenly vanished, and left me alone in the midst of darkness and this horrid vision, whilst those same globes of fire, without intermission, at one time flew up and at another fell back into the bottom of the abyss; and I observed that all the flames, as they ascended, were full of human souls, which, like sparks flying up with smoke, were sometimes thrown on high, and again, when the vapor of the fire ceased, dropped down into the depth below. Moreover, an insufferable stench came forth with the vapors, and filled all those dark places.

Having stood there a long time in much dread, not knowing what to do, which way to turn, or what end I might expect, on a sudden I heard behind me the noise of a most hideous and wretched lamentation, and at the same time a loud laughing, as of a rude multitude insulting captured enemies. When that noise, growing plainer, came up to me, I observed a gang of evil spirits dragging the howling and lamenting souls of men into the midst of the darkness, whilst they themselves laughed and rejoiced. Among those men, as I could discern, there was one shorn like a clergyman, a layman, and a woman. The evil spirits that dragged them went down into the midst of the burning pit; and as they went down deeper, I could no longer distinguish between the lamentation of the men and the laughing of the devils, yet I still had a confused sound in my ears. In the meantime, some of the dark spirits ascended from that flaming abyss, and running forward, beset me on all sides, and much perplexed me with their glaring eyes and the stinking fire which proceeded from their mouths and nostrils; and threatened to lay hold on me with burning tongs, which they had in their hands, yet they durst not touch me, though they frightened me. Being thus on all sides enclosed with enemies and darkness, and looking about on every side for assistance, there appeared behind me, on the way that I came, as it were, the brightness of a star shining amidst the darkness; which increased by degrees, and came rapidly towards me: when it drew near, all those evil spirits, that sought to carry me away with their tongs, dispersed and fled.

“He, whose approach put them to flight, was the same that led me before; who, then turning towards the right began to lead me, as it were, towards the south-east, and having soon brought me out of the darkness, conducted me into an atmosphere of clear light. While he thus led me in open light, I saw a vast wall before us, the length and height of which, in every direction, seemed to be altogether boundless. I began to wonder why we went to the wall, seeing no door, window, or path through it. When we came to the wall, we were presently, I know not by what means, on the top of it, and within it was a vast and delightful field, so full of fragrant flowers that the odor of its delightful sweetness immediately dispelled the stink of the dark furnace, which had pierced me through and through. So great was the light in this place, that it seemed to exceed the brightness of the day, or the sun in its meridian height. In this field were innumerable assemblies of men in white, and many companies seated together rejoicing. As he led me through the midst of those happy inhabitants, I began to think that this might, perhaps, be the kingdom of heaven, of which I had often heard so much. He answered to my thought, saying, This is not the kingdom of heaven, as you imagine.’

“When we had passed those mansions of blessed souls and gone farther on, I discovered before me a much more beautiful light, and therein heard sweet voices of persons singing, and so wonderful a fragrancy proceeded from the place, that the other which I had before thought most delicious, then seemed to me but very indifferent; even as that extraordinary brightness of the flowery field, compared with this, appeared mean and inconsiderable. When I began to hope we should enter that delightful place, my guide on a sudden stood still; and then turning back, led me back by the way we came.

“When we returned to those joyful mansions of the souls in white, he said to me, ‘Do you know what all these things are which you have seen?’ I answered. I did not; and then he replied, ‘That vale you saw so dreadful for consuming flames and cutting cold, is the place in which the souls of those are tried and punished, who, delaying to confess and amend their crimes, at length have recourse to repentance at the point of death, and so depart this life; but nevertheless because they, even at their death, confessed and repented, they shall all be received into the kingdom of heaven at the day of judgment; but many are relieved before the day of judgment, by the prayers, alms, and fasting, of the living, and more especially by masses. That fiery and stinking pit, which you saw, is the mouth of hell, into which whosoever falls shall never be delivered to all eternity. This flowery place, in which you see these most beautiful young people, so bright and merry, is that into which the souls of those are received who depart the body in good works, but who are not so perfect as to deserve to be immediately admitted into the kingdom of heaven; yet they shall all, at the day of judgment, see Christ, and partake of the joys of his kingdom; For whoever are perfect in thought, word and deed, as soon is they depart the body, immediately enter into the kingdom of heaven; in the neighborhood, whereof that place is, where you heard the sound of sweet singing, with the fragrant odor and bright light. As for you, who are now to return to your body, and live among men again, if you will endeavor nicely to examine your actions, and direct your speech and behavior in righteousness and simplicity, you shall, after death, have a place or residence among these joyful troops of blessed souls; for when I left you for a while, it was to know how you were to be disposed of.’ When he had said this to me, I much abhorred returning to my body, being delighted with the sweetness and beauty of the place I beheld, and with the company of those I saw in it. However, I durst not ask him any questions; but in the meantime, on a sudden, I found myself alive among men.”

Now these and other things which this man of God saw, he would not relate to slothful persons and such as lived negligently; but only to those who, being terrified with the dread of torments, or delighted with the hopes of heavenly joys, would make use of his words to advance in piety. In the neighborhood of his cell lived one Hemgils, a monk, eminent in the priesthood, which he honored by his good works: he is still living, and leading a solitary life in Ireland, supporting his declining age with coarse bread and cold water. He often went to that man, and asking several questions, heard of him all the particulars of what he had seen when separated from his body; by whose relation we also came to the knowledge of those few particulars which we have briefly set down. He also related his visions to King Alfrid, a man most learned in all respects, and was by him so willingly and attentively heard, that at his request he was admitted into the monastery above mentioned, and received the monastic tonsure; and the said king, when he happened to be in those parts, very often went to hear him. At that time the religious and humble abbot and priest, Ethelwald, presided over the monastery, and now with worthy conduct possesses the episcopal see of the church of Lindisfarne.

He had a more private place of residence assigned him in that monastery, where he might apply himself to the service of his Creator in continual prayer. And as that place lay on the bank of the river, he was wont often to go into the same to do penance in his body, and many times to dip quite under the water, and to continue saying psalms or prayers in the same as long as he could endure it, standing still sometimes up to the middle, and sometimes to the neck in water; and when he went out from thence ashore, he never took off his cold and frozen garments till they grew warm and dry on his body. And when in the winter the half-broken pieces of ice were swimming about him, which he had himself broken, to make room to stand or dip himself in the river, those who beheld it would say, “It is wonderful, brother Dritheim (for so he was called), that you are able to endure such violent cold; ” he simply answered, for he was a man of much simplicity and in different wit, “I have seen greater cold.” And when they said, “It is strange that you will endure such austerity;” he replied, “I have seen more austerity.” Thus he continued, through an indefatigable desire of heavenly bliss, to subdue his aged body with daily fasting, till the day of his being called away; and thus he forwarded the salvation of many by his words and example. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 5.12)

The Vision of Theophanes

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

There was an elder residing at the Lavra of Calamon on the holy Jordan whose name was Cyriacos. He was a great elder in the sight of God. A brother came to him, a stranger from the land of Dara, named Theophanes, to ask the elder about lewd thoughts. The elder began to encourage him by talking about self-control and purity. Having benefited greatly, the brother said to the elder: ‘Abba, in my country I am in communion with Nestorians, sir; which means I cannot stay with you, even though I would like to.’ When the elder heard the name of Nestorius he became very concerned about the destruction of the brother. He urged and besought him to seperate himself from that noxious heresy and to go to the catholic, apostolic church. He said to him: ‘There is no other way of salvation than rightly to discern and believe that the holy Virgin Mary is in truth the Mother of God.’ The brother said to the elder: ‘But truly, abba, all the sects speak like that sir: that if you are not in communion with us, you are not being saved. I am a simple person and really do not know what to do. Pray to the Lord that by a deed He will show me which is the true faith.’ The elder was delighted to grant the brother this request. He said to him: ‘Stay in my cell and put your trust in God that His goodness will reveal the truth to you’. He left the brother in the cave and went out to the Dead Sea, praying for him. About the ninth hour of the second day, the brother saw a person of awesome appearance standing before him and saying to him: ‘Come and see the truth.’ He took the brother and brought him to a dark and disagreeable place where there was fire — and showed him Nestorius, Theodore, Eutyches, Appollinarius, Evagrios and Didymus, Dioscorus and Severus, Arius and Origen and some others, there in that fire. The apparition said to the brother: ‘This place is prepared for heretics and for those who blaspheme against the Mother of God and for those who follow their teachings. If you find this place to your liking, then stay with the doctrine you now hold. If you have no wish to enter the pains of this chastisement, proceed to the holy catholic church in which the elder teaches. For I tell you that if a man practice every virtue and yet not glorify God correctly, to this place he will come.’ At that saying the brother returned to his senses. When the elder came back, he told him everything that had happened, exactly as he saw it. Then he went and entered into communion with the holy, catholic and apostolic church. He stayed with the elder at Calamon and, having passed several years in his company, he fell asleep in peace. (The Spiritual Meadow, 26.)

On the Celestial Gatekeepers

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-394

The doorkeepers of the [heavenly] kingdom are careful and they do not play games. They see the soul bearing the marks of her banishment…Then the miserable soul, accusing herself severely of her own thoughtlessness, and howling and wailing and lamenting, remains in that sullen place, cast away as if in a corner, while the incessant and inconsolable wailing takes vengeance forever. (Against Those Who Resent Correction. Migne PG 46: col. 312)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

And therefore [the angels] descrying the approach of the Lord of all, first and only Vanquisher of Death, bade their princes that the gates should be lifted up, saying inadoration, Lift up the gates, such as are princes among you, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.

Yet there were still, even among the hosts of heaven, some that were amazed, overcome with astonishment at such pomp and glory as they had never yet beheld, and therefore they asked: Who is the King of glory? Howbeit, seeing that the angels (as well as ourselves) acquire theirknowledge step by step, and are capable of advancement, they certainly must display differences of power and understanding, for God alone is above and beyond the limits imposed by gradual advance, possessing, as He does, every perfection from everlasting.

Others, again—those, to wit, who had been present at His rising again, those who had seen or who already recognized Him—made reply: It is the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Then, again, sang the multitude of angels, in triumphal chorus: Lift up the gates, O you that are their princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. And back again came the challenge of them that stood astonished: Who is that King of glory? For we saw Him having neither form nor comelines; Isa. 53:2 if then it be not He, who is that King of glory?

Whereto answer they which know: The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of glory. Therefore, the Lord of Hosts, He is the Son. How then do the Arians call Him fallible, Whom we believe to be Lord of Hosts, even as we believe of the Father?

What shall we do, then? How shall we ascend unto heaven? There, powers are stationed, principalities drawn up in order, who keep the doors of heaven, and challenge him who ascends. Who shall give me passage, unless I proclaim that Christ is Almighty? The gates are shut—they are not opened to any and every one; not every one who will shall enter, unless he also believes according to the true Faith. The Sovereign’s court is kept under guard. (De Fide Bk 4.9-15)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Those who keep the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, if they do not see in a Christian the likeness of Christ, as a son to his father, will by no means open to him and allow him to enter. (Homily 2.3-4 The Blessed State)

St. Nicholas Cabasilas ca. 1323-1391

Thus he comes forth, and when he reaches the temple and comes near to it he stands before the closed doors and commands those who stand within the doors to open them for the King of Glory (Ps. 24:7,9), as he utters the very words of David. When he has heard from those who are within the words which David represents the angels as saying to each other when the Saviour ascends into heaven, and when the doors are flung open, he enters the temple with the veiled vessel upon his head. (The Life in Christ, Fifith Book: 2. The Ceremonies of Consecration)

On Purgatory

Synod of Constantinople 1772

We the godly, following the truth and turning away from such innovations, confess and accept two places for the souls of the dead, Paradise and Hades, for the righteous and sinners, as the Holy Scripture teaches us. We do not accept a third place, a Purgatory, by any means, since neither Scripture nor the Holy Fathers have taught us any such thing. However, we believe these two places have many abodes…
None of the teachers of the Church have handed down or taught such a Purgatory, but they all speak of one single place of punishment, Hades, just as they teach about one luminous and bright place, Paradise. But both the souls of the holy and the righteous go indisputably to Paradise and those of the sinners go to Hades, of whom the profane and those who have sinned unforgivably are punished forever and those who have offended forgivably and moderately hope to gain freedom through the unspeakable mercy of God. For on behalf of such souls, that is of the moderately and forgivably sinful, there are in the Church prayers, supplications, liturgies, as well as memorial services and almsgiving, that those souls may receive favour and comfort. Thus when the Church prays for the souls of those who are lying asleep, we hope there will be comfort for them from God, but not through fire and Purgatory, but through divine love for mankind, whereby the infinite goodness of God is seen.

Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txw/orthcoun.htm

St. Macarius and the Skull

St. Macarius the Great ca. 300-391

Abba Macarius said, ‘Walking in the desert one day, I found the skull of a dead man, lying on the ground. As I was moving it with my stick, the skull spoke to me. I said to it, “Who are you?” The skull replied, “I was high priest of the idols and of the pagans who dwelt in this place; but you are Macarius, the Spirit-bearer. Whenever you take pity on those who are in torments, and pray for them, they feel a little respite.” The old man said to him, “What is this alleviation, and what is this torment?” He said to him, “As far as the sky is removed from the earth, so great is the fire beneath us; we are ourselves standing in the midst of the fire, from the feet up to the head. It is not possible to see anyone face to face, but the face of one is fixed to the back of another. Yet when you pray for us, each of us can see the other’s face a little. Such is our respite.” The old man in tears said, “Alas the day when that man was born!” He said to the skull, “Are there punishments which are more painful than this?” The skull said to him, “There is a more grievous punishment down below us.” The old man said, “Who are the people down there?” The skull said to him: “We have received a little mercy since we did not know God, but those who know God and denied Him are down below us.” Then, picking up the skull, the old man buried it. (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection:Macarius the Great, 38. )

St. Epiphanius on Prayers for the Dead

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 320-403

Furthermore, as to mentioning the names of the dead, how is there anything very useful in that? What is more timely or more excellent than that those who are still here should believe that the departed do live, and that they have not retreated into nothingness, but that they exist and are alive with the Master? And so that this most august proclamation might be told in full, how do they have hope, who are praying for the brethren as if they were but sojourning in a foreign land? Useful too is the prayer fashioned on their behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better. For we make commemoration of the just and of sinners: of sinners, begging God’s mercy for them; of the just and the Fathers and Patriarchs and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists and martyrs and confessors, and of bishops and solitaries, and of the whole list of them, so that we may set the Lord Jesus Christ apart from the ranks of men because of the honor due Him, and give reverence to Him, while keeping in mind that the Lord is not to be equated with any man, even if that man live in a justice that is boundless and limitless. (Panarion 75.8)

On the Intermediate State of the Blessed

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604 
 
GREGORY. This thing, speaking generally of all just men, can neither be affirmed nor denied: for the souls of some just men, remaining as yet in certain mansions, be deferred from heaven; by which stay of theirs, what else do we learn, but that they lacked somewhat of perfect justice? And yet is it more clear than day that the souls of them that be perfect, do, straight after death, possess the joys of heaven: the truth whereof Christ himself assureth us, when he saith: Wheresoever the body shall be, thither will the eagles be gathered together; for where our Saviour is present in body, thither, without all question, do the souls of just men assemble themselves; and St. Paul saith: I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ. He, therefore, that doubteth not Christ to be in heaven, how can he doubt that St. Paul’s soul is in the same place? which Apostle speaketh also of the dissolution of his body, and his dwelling in heaven in these words: We know that if our terrestrial house of this habitation be dissolved, that we have a building of God; an house not made with hands, but everlasting in heaven.

PETER. If just men’s souls be already in heaven: what then shall they receive for a reward of their virtuous and just life at the day of judgment?

GREGORY. Whereas now their souls be only in heaven, at the day of judgment this further increase of joy shall they have, that their bodies also shall be partakers of eternal bliss, and they shall in their flesh receive joy: in which, for Christ’s sake, they suffered grief and torments. In respect of this their double glory, the scripture saith: In their land, they shall possess double things; and it is written of the souls of the just, that, before the day of resurrection: To every one of them white stoles were given; and it was said to them: that they should rest yet a little time, until the number of their fellow-servants and brethren were complete. They, therefore, that now receive but one stole, in the day of judgment shall every one have two: because now they rejoice only for the felicity of their souls, but then shall they enjoy the endless glory of body and soul together. (Dialogues Bk. 4.25)

On the Mysteries of the Kingdom and Paradise

St. Nikitas Stithatos ca. 1000-1090

Is the kingdom of heaven already given in this life to all those advanced on the spiritual way, or is it given ot them after the dissolution of the body? If in this life, our victory is unassailable, our joy inexpressible, and our path to paradise unimpeded: we are directly present in the divine East (cf. Gen. 2:8). But if it is given only after death and dissolution, we should ask that our departure from this life may take place without fear; we should learn what the kingdom of heaven is, what the kingdom of God is, and what paradise is, and how the one differs from the other; also what the nature of time is in each of them, and whether we enter all three, and how and when and after how much time. If you enter the first while you are still alive and in the flesh you will not fail to enter the other two. (On Spiritual Knowledge, 97.)

On Heaven and Gehenna

St. Isaac the Syrian ca. 7th cent.

In the future separation there will be no middle realm between the state that is completely on high and the state that is absolutely below. A person will either belong entirely to those who dwell on high, or entirely to those below; but within both the one state and the other are diverse degrees of recompense. If this is true, which it most certainly is, what is more senseless and more foolish than those who say that ‘It is enough for me to escape Gehenna, I do not seek to enter the kingdom!’ For to escape Gehenna means precisely to enter the kingdom, even as falling away from the kingdom is entering Gehenna. Scripture has taught us nothing about the existence of three realms, but ‘When the Son of God will come in His glory, He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.’ (Mat. 25:31-33)…How have you not understood by these things that falling short of the order on high is, in fact, the Gehenna of torment? (The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev, pp. 278-279)

St. Benedict Beholds the Entire Cosmos

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604
 
The man of God, Benedict, being diligent in watching, rose early up before the time of matins (his monks being yet at rest) and came to the window of his chamber, where he offered up his prayers to almighty God. Standing there, all on a sudden in the dead of the night, as he looked forth, he saw a light, which banished away the darkness of the night, and glittered with such brightness, that the light which did shine in the midst of darkness was far more clear than the light of the day. Upon this sight a marvellous strange thing followed, for, as himself did afterward report, the whole world, gathered as it were together under one beam of the sun, was presented before his eyes, and whiles the venerable father stood attentively beholding the brightness of that glittering light, he saw the soul of Germanus, Bishop of Capua, in a fiery globe to be carried up by Angels into heaven.
 
Then, desirous to have some witness of this so notable a miracle, he called with a very loud voice Servandus the Deacon twice or thrice by his name, who, troubled at such an unusual crying out of the man of God, went up in all haste, and looking forth saw not anything else, but a little remnant of the light, but wondering at so great a miracle, the man of God told him all in order what he had seen, and sending by and by to the town of Cassino, he commanded the religious man Theoprobus to dispatch one that night to the city of Capua, to learn what was become of Germanus their Bishop: which being done, the messenger found that reverent Prelate departed this life, and enquiring curiously the time, he understood that he died at that very instant, in which the man of God beheld him ascending up to heaven.
 
PETER: A strange thing and very much to be admired. But whereas you say that the whole world, as it were under one sunbeam, was presented before his eyes, as I must needs confess that in myself I never had experience of any such thing, so neither can I conceive by what means the whole world can be seen of any one man.
 
GREGORY: Assure yourself, Peter, of that which I speak: to wit, that all creatures be as it were nothing to that soul which beholdeth the Creator: for though it see but a glimpse of that light which is in the Creator, yet very small do all things seem that be created: for by means of that supernatural light, the capacity of the inward soul is enlarged, and is in God so extended, that it is far above the world: yea and the soul of him that seeth in this manner, is also above itself; for being rapt up in the light of God, it is inwardly in itself enlarged above itself, and when it is so exalted and looketh downward, then doth it comprehend how little all that is, which before in former baseness it could not comprehend. The man of God, therefore, who saw the fiery globe, and the Angels returning to heaven, out of all doubt could not see those things but in the light of God: what marvel, then, is it, if he saw the world gathered together before him, who, rapt up in the light of his soul, was at that time out of the world? But albeit we say that the world was gathered together before his eyes, yet were not heaven and earth drawn into any lesser room than they be of themselves, but the soul of the beholder was more enlarged, which, rapt in God, might without difficulty see that which is under God, and therefore in that light which appeared to his outward eyes, the inward light which was in his soul ravished the mind of the beholder to supernal things, and shewed him how small all earthly things were. (St. Gregory the Diaologist: Dialogues, Second Dialogue [Life of St. Benedict]. Chap. 35)

Chrysostom on the Souls of the Wicked

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407
 
However, with your permission, let us return to the proposed subject. “It came to pass,” it is said, “that Lazarus died; and he was carried up by angels,” (Luke xvi. 22.) Here, before I proceed, I desire to remove a wrong impression from your minds. For it is a fact that many of the less instructed think that the souls of those who die a violent death become wandering spirits, (demons.)
 
But this is not so. I repeat it is not so. For not the souls of those who die a violent death become demons, but rather the souls of those who live in sin; not that their nature is changed, but that in their desires they imitate the evil nature of demons. Showing this very thing to the Jews, Christ said, “Ye are the children of the devil,” (John vii. 44.) He said that they were the children of the devil, not because they were changed into a nature like his, but because they performed actions like his. Wherefore also He adds:—- “For the lusts of your father ye will do.” Also John says: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do therefore works meet for repentance. And think not to say, We have Abraham for our father” (Matt. iii. 7-9.) The Scripture, therefore, is accustomed to base the laws of relationship, not on natural origin, but on good or evil disposition; and those to whom any one shows similarity of manners and actions, the Scripture declares him to be their son or their brother.
 
But for what object did the evil one introduce this wicked saying? It is because he would strive to undermine the glory of the martyrs. For since these also died a violent death, he did this with the intention of spreading a low estimation of them…
 
To show that it is not true that the soul, when it departs from the body, comes under the dominion of evil spirits, hear what St Paul says: “He that is dead is freed from sin,” (Rom. vi. 7,) that is, he no longer sins. For if while the soul dwells in the body, the devil can use no violence against it, it is clear that he cannot when the soul has departed. How is it then, say they, that men sin, if they do not suffer any violence? They sin voluntarily and intentionally, surrendering themselves without compulsion or coercion. And this all those prove who have overcome the evil one’s devices. Thus [Satan] was unable to persuade Job to utter any blasphemous word, though he tried a thousand plans. Hence it is manifest that it is in our power either to be influenced or not to be influenced by his counsels; and that we are under no necessity nor tyranny from him. And not only from that which has just been said, but from the parable, it is quite certain that souls when they leave the body do not still linger here, but are forthwith led away. And hear how it is shown: “It came to pass,” it is said, “that he died, and was carried away by the angels.” Not the souls of the just only, but also those of sinners are led away. This also is clear from the case of another rich man. For when his land brought forth abundantly, he said within himself, “What shall I do? I will pull down my barns and build greater,” (Luke xii. 18.) Than this state of mind nothing could be more wretched. He did in truth pull down his barns; for secure storehouses are not built with walls of stone; they are “the mouths of the poor.” But this man neglecting these, was busy about stone walls. What, however, did God say to him? “Thou fool, this night shall they require thy soul of thee.” Mark also: in one passage it is said that the soul is carried away by angels; in the other, that “they require it;” and in the latter case they lead it away as a prisoner; in the former, they guard and conduct it as a crowned victor. And like as in the arena a combatant, having received many wounds, is drenched with blood; his head being then encircled with a crown, those who stand ready by the spot take him up, and with great applause and praise they bear him home amid shouting and admiration. In this way the angels on that occasion led Lazarus also away. But in the other instance dreadful powers, probably sent for that purpose, required the soul. For it is not of its own accord that the soul departs this life; indeed, it is not able. For if when we travel from one city to another we need guides, much more does the soul stand in want of those who can conduct it, when it is separated from the flesh, and is entering upon the future state of existence. For this reason it often rises up and again sinks down into the depth below; it fears and shivers as it is about to put off the flesh. The consciousness of sin ever pierces us, and chiefly at that hour when we are about to be led hence to the account there to be rendered, and to the awful tribunal. Then, if a man has robbed, if he has been covetous, if he has been haughty, if he has unjustly been any one’s enemy, if he has committed any other sin whatsoever, all the load of guilt is brought fresh to light, and being placed before the eye causes mental compunction. And as those who live in prison are always in sorrow and pain, and especially on that day when they are to be led forth, and brought to the place where they are to be tried, and placed at the bar, and hear the voice of the judge within; as they then are full of fear, and seem no better than dead men, so the soul, though it is much pained at the very moment of the sinful act, is much more afflicted when about to be hurried away. (Four Discourses, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Discourse 2.1-2)

On Paradise

St. Gregory of Sinai ca. 1260-1346

Paradise is twofold – sensible and spiritual: there is the Paradise of Eden and the paradise of grace. The Paradise of Eden is so exalted that it is said to extend to the third heaven. It has been planted by God with every kind of sweet-scented plant. It is neither entirely free from corruption nor altogether subject to it. Created between corruption and incorruption, it is always rich in fruits, ripe and unripe, and continually full of flowers. When trees and ripe fruit rot and fall to he ground they turn into sweet-scented soil, free from the smell of decay exuded by the vegetable-matter of this world. That is because of the great richness and holiness of the grace ever abounding there. The river Ocean, appointed always to irrigate paradise with its waters, flows through the middle of it. On leaving paradise, it divides into four other rivers, and flowing down to the Indians and Ethiopians brings them soil and fallen leaves. (On Commandments and Doctrines, 10.)

St. Columba on the Soul After Death

St. Columba of Iona ca. 521-597

At another time while the holy man was tarrying in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), one of his monks called Brito, a person given to all good works, being seized with bodily illness, was reduced to the last extremity. When the venerable man went to visit him at the hour of his departure, he stood for a few moments at his bedside, and after giving him his blessing, retired quickly from the house, not wishing to see him die, and the very moment after the holy man left the house the monk closed this present life.

Then the eminent man walking in the little court of his monastery, with his eyes upraised to heaven, was for a long time lost in wonder and admiration. But a certain brother named Aidan, the son of Libir, a truly virtuous and religious man, who was the only one of the brethren present at the time, fell upon his knees and asked the saint to tell him the reason of so great astonishment. The saint said to him in reply: “I have this moment seen the holy angels contending in the air against the hostile powers; and I return thanks to Christ, the Judge, because the victorious angels have carried off to the joys of our heavenly country the soul of this stranger, who is the first person that hath died among us in this island. But I beseech thee not to reveal this secret to any one during my life.” (St. Adamnan, Life of St. Columba Bk. 3.7)

In like manner, on another occasion, whilst the holy man was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he one day suddenly raised his eyes to heaven and uttered the words, “O happy woman happy because of thy virtues; the angels of God are now carrying thy soul to paradise.” Now these words from the mouth of the saint were heard by a certain religious brother, a Saxon, by name Genere, who was at the moment working at his trade, which was that of a baker. And on the same day of the month, at the end of the same year, the saint addressed the same Genere the Saxon, and said, ” I see a wonderful thing; behold, the woman of whom I spake in thy presence last year, now meeteth in the air the soul of her husband, a poor and holy man, and together with the holy angels engageth in a contest for it against the adverse powers; by their united assistance, and by the aid of the virtuous character of the man himself, his soul is rescued from the assaults of the demons, and brought to the place of eternal refreshment. (ibid., Bk. 3.11)

AT another time, when the venerable man was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he became suddenly excited, and summoned the brethren together by the sound of the bell. “Now,” said he, “let us help by our prayers the monks of the Abbot Comgell, who are just now in danger of being drowned in the Lake of the Calf (Loch Laodh, now Belfast Lough); for, lo! at this moment they are fighting against the hostile powers in the air, and are striving to rescue the soul of some stranger who is also drowning along with them.” Then after having wept and prayed fervently, he hastily stood erect before the altar with a joyful countenance, whilst the brethren continued to lie prostrate in prayer. “Give thanks,” he said, “to Christ, for now the holy angels, coming to the aid of holy souls, have rescued this stranger from the attacks of the demons, and borne him off in triumph like victorious warriors.” (Ibid., Bk. 3.14)

On Many Mansions

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

And that both the elect and reprobate, whose life and conversation hath been alike, shall after death be carried to like places, the saying of our Saviour doth teach us, though we had no examples to prove the same; for of the elect himself saith in the Gospel: In the house of my Father there be many mansions. For if there were not inequality of rewards in the everlasting felicity of heaven, then were there not many mansions, but rather one: wherefore there be many mansions, in which divers orders and degrees of God’s saints be distinguished, who in common do all rejoice of the society and fellowship of their merits, and yet all they that laboured receive one penny, though they remain in distinct mansions: because the felicity and joy which there they possess is one, and the reward, which by divers and unequal good works they receive is not one but divers… (Dialogues Bk. 4.35)

St. Isaac the Syrian ca. 7th cent.

The Saviour calls the ‘many mansions’ of His Father’s house the noetic levels of those who dwell in that land, that is, the distinctions of the gifts and the spiritual degrees which they noetically take delight in, as well as the diversity of the ranks of the gifts. But by this He did not mean that each person yonder will be confined in his existence by a seperate spatial dwelling and by the manifest, distinguishing mark of the diverse placement of each man’s abode. Rather, it resembles how each one of us derives a unique benefit from this visible sun though a single enjoyment of it common to all, each according to the clarity of his eyesight and the ability of his pupils to contain the sun’s constant effusion of light…In the same manner, those who at the appointed time will be deemed worthy of that realm will dwell in one abode which will not be divided into a multitude of seperate parts. And according to the rank of his discipline each man draws delight for himself from one noetic Sun in one air, one place, one dwelling, one vision, and one outward appearance. He whose measure is less will not see the great measure of his neighbor’s rank, lest he should think that this arises from the multitude of  his neighbor’s gifts and the fewness of his own, and this very thing should become for him a cause of sadness and mental anguish. Far be it that one should suppose such a thing to occur in that realm of delights! Each man inwardly takes delight in the gift and the lofty rank whereof he has been deemed worthy. (The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev, pp. 277-278)

 

On the Death of St. John Chrysostom

Palladius of Galatia ca. 364-430

They approached Comana, but passed through the town as men cross a river by a bridge, and lodged outside the wall in the shrine of a martyr, five or six miles from the town. The name of the martyr of the place was Basiliscus, who was Bishop of Comana, martyred under Maximian at Nicomedia, at the same time as Lucianus, priest of the Church of Antioch in Bithynia. That night the martyr stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, brother; to-morrow we shall be together.” It is said that he had first called to the priest who shared his abode, “Get ready the place for our brother John; he is coming.” John took this as a sure warning, and next day begged them to stay where they were till eleven o’clock. They refused, and pushed on; but when they had covered about thirty furlongs, he had such a sharp attack of illness, that they had to return to the shrine from which they had started. On his arrival, he asked for white clothes —-clothes befitting his life—-and taking off those he was wearing, he put these on, deliberately changing everything down to his shoes. All but these he distributed among those present. Then he partook of the symbols of the Lord’s appointment, and offered his last prayer, in the presence of those who stood by, using his customary formula, “Glory to God for all things;” and signing himself at the last “Amen”, he raised his feet, which were so beautiful as they sped for the salvation of those who chose repentance, and the reproof of those who persistently cultivate the fields of sin. If reproof did not benefit the wicked, it was not from the carelessness of him who had spoken out so fearlessly, but from the recklessness of those who would not accept them.

Thus was he gathered to his fathers, shaking off  the dust from his feet, and passing over to Christ, as it is written, “Thou shalt come to thy grave, as ripe corn gathered in its season; but the souls of the transgressors shall die before their time.” Such a concourse of virgins and ascetics and men renowned for their devout lives came together from Syria, and Cilicia, and Pontus, and Armenia, that many supposed that they had been summoned by signal. The rites of internment and the funeral gathering  took place; and so his poor body, like a victorious athlete’s, was buried in the same shrine as Basiliscus. (The Dialogue of Palladius concerning the Life of St. John Chrysostom)

St. Hippolytus on Hades

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

And this is the passage regarding demons. But now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hadesis a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine; and as the sun does not shine in this locality, there must necessarily be perpetual darkness there. This locality has been destined to be as it were a guard-house for souls, at which the angels are stationed as guards, distributing according to each one’s deeds the temporary punishments for (different) characters. And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has ever yet been cast; for it is prepared against the day determined by God, in which one sentence of righteous judgment shall be justly applied to all. And the unrighteous, and those who believed not God, who have honoured as God the vain works of the hands of men, idols fashioned (by themselves), shall be sentenced to this endless punishment. But the righteous shall obtain the incorruptible and un-fading kingdom, who indeed are at present detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous. For to this locality there is one descent, at the gate whereof we believe an archangel is stationed with a host. And when those who are conducted by the angels appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not proceed on one and the same way; but the righteous, being conducted in the light toward the right, and being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, are brought to a locality full of light. And there the righteous from the beginning dwell, not ruled by necessity, but enjoying always the contemplation of the blessings which are in their view, and delighting themselves with the expectation of others ever new, and deeming those ever better than these. And that place brings no toils to them. There, there is neither fierce heat, nor cold, nor thorn; but the face of the fathers and the righteous is seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven which succeed this location. And we call it by the name Abraham’s bosom. But the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment, and they go of their own accord no longer, but are dragged by force as prisoners. And the angels appointed over them send them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when they are brought there, those appointed to that service drag them on to the confines or hell. And those who are so near hear incessantly the agitation, and feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, (as if they were) already feeling the power of their punishment. And again, where they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they are also punished there. For a deep and vast abyss is set there in the midst, so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to pass it, nor any of the unrighteous dare to cross it. (Against Plato on the Cause of the Universe 1)

A Cautionary Tale

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

When we came to the Thebaid one of the elders told us that there was an elder of great repute living outside the city of Antinoe, one who had kept his cell for about seventy years. He had ten disciples but one of them was very careless so far as his own soul was concerned. The elder often besought and entreated him saying, ‘Brother, pay attention to your own soul, for death awaits you and the road to punishment’. The brother always disregarded the elder, refusing to accept what was said by him. Well, after a time, death carried the brother off and the elder was deeply troubled on his account, knowing that he had left this world sadly lacking in faith and devotion. The elder fell to his prayers and said: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, reveal to me the state of the brother’s soul’. He went into a trance and saw a river of fire with a multitude of people in the fire itself. Right in the middle was the brother, submerged up to his neck. The elder said to him: ‘Was it not because of this retribution that I called on you to look after your own soul my child?’ The brother answered and said to the elder: ‘I thank God, father, that there is relief for my head. Thanks to your prayers I am standing on the head of a bishop.’ (The Spiritual Meadow, 44.)

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)

 

St. Boniface on the Soul After Death

St. Boniface, Apostle to the Germans ca. 680-755
 
I thank God that now I can the more fully meet thy wishes, because but lately I spoke with this brother myself, when he came back here from abroad; he set forth to me in his own words the marvellous spectacle which he beheld when rapt in spirit beyond the body.He said that, amidst the pain of a sharp sickness he had been freed from the weight of the flesh. It was much as though one seeing and awake had his eyes veiled by a thick covering; this being suddenly taken away, everything would be clear which before had been invisible, hidden and unknown. In like fashion when the covering of this mortal flesh had been thrown aside, before his gaze lay gathered the universe, so that in a single view he beheld all lands and peoples and seas. As he quitted the body, angels of such dazzling brightness that he could scarcely look upon them for their splendour, bore him up. With sweet and harmonious voices they were singing, “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.” “They raised me,” said he, “high into the air, and circling the world I beheld a blazing fire, the mighty flame soaring terribly aloft, as though to grasp the whole mechanism of the world in its embrace, had not the holy angel calmed it with the sign of Christ’s holy cross. When he had made the sign of the cross before the threatening flame, it gradually retired. By its terrible heat I was sorely tried, while my eyes were burned, and my sight was shattered by the brightness of the gleaming spirits until an angel, splendid to behold, touched my head with a protecting hand, and brought me safe from harm in the flames.

He added that during the time while he was out of the body, such a multitude of souls leaving the body had gathered where he was as to exceed what he had thought before to be the numbers of the whole human race. An innumerable band of evil spirits and a bright choir of heavenly angles had also assembled; and there was the greatest dispute between the demons and the angels over the souls leaving the body, for the demons were accusing the dead and making heavy the burden of their sins, while the angels were excusing them and lightening their load.

He had himself heard all his own sins, which he had committed since his youth, and had neglected to confess or forgotten, and some acts which he had scarcely thought sinful, cry out against him, each with its own voice, and make the most dreadful accusations. Each vice came forwards in its own person to speak; “I am thy cupidity, wherewith thou didst often desire what was unlawful and contrary to the commandments of God.” And another: “I am thy vainglory, wherewith thou didst boastfully exalt thyself above thy fellows.” And another: “I am falsehood, wherewith thou didst sin through lying.” And another: “I am the idle word, which thou spakest to no purpose.” And another: “I am the sight, which thou didst abuse in looking at unlawful things.” And another: “I am the contumacy and disobedience, wherewith thou wert disobedient to thy spiritual superiors.” And another: “I am the torpor and laziness shown in neglect of holy studies.” And another: “I am the wandering thought and useless care with which thou didst concern thyself overmuch, either within the church or without it.” And another: “I am the sleepiness oppressed by which thou didst arise late to confess thyself to God.” And another: “I am the unprofitable journey.” And another: “I am neglect and carelessness, which made thee indifferent to the study of the divine word.” And the rest were like to these.

Everything which he did during the days of his life in the flesh and neglected to confess, and much which he had not known to be sinful, cried out bitterly against him. And the wicked spirits, joining in the accusations and bearing hard testimony, kept calling up the places and occasions of his wicked deeds, and confirmed with their cries what his sins said. He saw there too a man whom he had wounded before he had become a monk, and who was still in this life, brought to give testimony of his guilt. The bloody and open wound and the blood itself cried out with its own voice, and imputed to him the crime of shedding blood. When his sins were thus reckoned and heaped up, the old enemies declared, that as a guilty sinner he should come beyond a doubt under their sway and jurisdiction.

“Against them in excuse for me,” said he, “cried out the poor virtues of the soul, such as I, wretched one, had unworthily and imperfectly practised. One of them said: ‘I am the obedience which he showed to his spiritual superiors.’ Another: ‘I am the fasting with which he chastised his body when warring against carnal desires.’ Another: ‘I am the sincere prayer which he poured out in the sight of God.’ ‘I am the kindly aid which he mercifully rendered to the sick.’ ‘I am the psalm which he sang to God in satisfaction for an idle speech.’ And so each virtue, excusing me, cried out against the rival sin in my defence. And the bright angelic spirits magnified and confirmed the virtues, and spoke in my behalf. Indeed, all these virtues were much increased and seemed much greater and more excellent than could have been practised worthily by any strength of mine.”

He told, too, how he had seen, as it were, in the depths of this earth many fiery pits, belching forth terrible flames, and as the awful blaze burst forth, the souls of miserable men, under the form of birds, flew through the flames lamenting and bemoaning, with human cries, their deserts and their present punishment. They rested, hanging for a little time on the edges of the pits, and then screaming, fell into the depths. One of the angels said, “This moment of rest shows that the Almighty God means to grant these souls on the Day of Judgment to come, relief from punishment and eternal rest.”

But under these pits in the lowest depths, in deepest hell, he heard the awful weeping and wailing of sorrowful souls, terrible, beyond the power of words to describe. And the angel said, “The lamentations and weeping which you hear in the depths come from those souls to whom the mercy of God will never come. But everlasting flame will torture them without end.” He saw, too, a place of marvellous beauty, in which a glorious multitude of beauteous men rejoiced with exceeding joy; and they invited him to come and share their happiness, if it were permitted him. There came thence a fragrance of surpassing sweetness, because it was the gathering of the blessed in their bliss. And this place, the holy angels told him, was the renowned paradise of God. He beheld also a river of fiery pitch, boiling and blazing, wonderful and terrible to behold. Across it a beam was set for a bridge, to which the holy and glorious souls hastened as they left the assembly, eager to cross to the other bank. And some crossed with certain step. But others slipped from the beam and fell into the hellish stream. Of these some were entirely immersed, while others were only partially covered, it might be to the knees, or to the waist, or merely to the ankles. And yet each one of those who fell climbed from the river upon the other bank brighter and more beautiful than he was before he had fallen into the river of pitch. And one of the blessed angels said of the souls who fell: “These are the souls who, after the end of their mortal lives, had a few trivial faults not entirely washed away, and needed bountiful castigation from a merciful God, that they might be worthily offered unto Him.” Beyond the river he saw, shining with a great splendour, walls of astounding length and height immeasurable. And the holy angels said; “This is the holy and renowned city, the heavenly Jerusalem, in which these holy souls will find joy for ever.” He said that these souls and the walls of the glorious city to which they hurried after crossing the river, were resplendent with such a flood of dazzling light, that the pupils of his eyes were shaken by the exceeding splendour, and he could no longer look upon them. (Letter XIII, To the holy virgin and dear lady Eadburga)

Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

The same Athanasios also told us this concerning the same Bishop Adelphios, which he heard from Amma Joanna, his sister:

When John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, was exiled to Coucouson, he stayed at our house; from which we drew much boldness and love towards God. My brother, Adelphios, said that when the blessed John died in exile, it was an unbearable pain to him that such a man, the universal teacher of christendom who made glad the church of God with his words, should have fallen asleep away from his [episcopal] seat. I prayed to God with many tears to show me his present state of existence and whether he was ranged among the patriarchs. I prayed like that for a long time and then, one day, I fell into a trance and saw a very fine-looking man. Taking me by the right hand, he led me into a bright and glorious place where he showed me the proclaimers of piety and the doctors of the church. For my part, I looked around for him whom I so greatly desired to see, the great John, my beloved. He showed me them all and spoke the name of each one of them; then he took my hand again, and led me out. I followed, lamenting that I had not seen the saintly John among the fathers. As we were coming out, he who stood at the door said to me: ‘Nobody who comes here goes forth sorrowing.’ Then I said to him: ‘This grief is upon me because I have not seen my most dear John, Bishop of Constantinople, among the doctors.’ Again he spoke to me: ‘Do you mean John [the prince] of repentance? A man in the flesh cannot see him, for he stands in the presence of the Lord’s throne.’ (The Spiritual Meadow, 128.)

On Degrees of Bliss and Torment

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392

[S]ome speak of one kingdom and one hell. We, however, speak of many degrees and differences and measures, both in the kingdom and in hell itself. Just as the soul “ensouls” all the members and yet operates in the brain and still moves the feet below it, so also the Godhead contains all creatures, the heavenly and those under the abyss, and is everywhere being filled up in creation, even though it is most transcendent above creatures because it is infinite and beyond any comprehension. Therefore, this Godhead is concerned with men, and it providentially guides all things according to reason. And when some pray, not knowing what they seek, others fast, while others perservere in service, God being a just judge, gives the reward to each one according to the measure of his faith. For what things they do, they do out of fear of God. But not all these are sons or kings or heirs. In the world there are murderers, others are fornicators and others robbers. On the other hand, there are those who distribute their goods to the poor. For both of these groups the Lord has a concern and to those doing good He gives rest and a reward. For there are superior and inferior degrees. And in the very light itself and the glory there is a difference. And in hell itself and punishment there appear poisoners and robbers and others who have committed lesser sins. Those who say that there is only one kigdom and one hell and that there are not degrees, speak wrongly. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 40)

St. Gregory of Sinai ca. 1265-1346

Chastisements differ, as do the rewards of the righteous. Chastisements are inflicted in hell, in what Scripture describes as ‘a dark and gloomy land, a land of eternal darkness’ (Job 10:21-22 LXX), where sinners dwell before the judgment and whither they return after judgment is given. For can the phrases, ‘Let sinners be returned to hell’ (Ps. 9:17 LXX), and ‘death will rule over them’ (Ps. 49:14 LXX), refer to anything other than the final judgment visited upon sinners, and their eternal condemnation? (On Commandments and Doctrines, 33)

By ‘many dwelling-places’ (Jn. 14:2) the Saviour meant the differing stages of spiritual ascent and states of development in the other world; for although the Kingdom of Heaven is one, there are many different levels within it. That is to say, there is place for both heavenly and earthy men (cf. 1 Cor. 15:48) according to their virtue, their knowledge and the degree of deification that they have attained. ‘For there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory’ (1 Cor. 15:41); and yet all of them shine in a single divine firmament. (ibid., 44)

That is Hell…

Fr. Thomas Hopko: ‘There is a story about St. Innocent, in Alaska. I may have said this on the radio before, but it is a great story. He was talking to one of the Siberian or Alaskan priests one day, and the priest was saying to him, as he was a bishop already, “Your Grace, Bishop, I do not understand this hell business. I do not understand how God can punish people. I do not understand the torment and all that kind of stuff; it just does not make sense, and it is a scandal to people.”

…[W]hen they were having this conversation, it was in the middle of an ice-covered field, like a glacier, where everything was bright, sparkling white, and the sun was shining. St. Innocent said to this priest, “Before I answer you, Father, why are you squinting? Why are you covering your eyes? What is the matter with you?”

“Your Grace,” he said, “I am sitting by the window here and the light is shining on the snow and the ice, and it is sparkling, and it is shining into my eyes.”

St. Innocent asked, “Why don’t you pull the shade down over the window?”

The priest said, “Oh, forgive me, Your Grace, but I do not have a shade. There is no way that I can block out that light.”

“St. Innocent said, “There is your answer, Father. That is hell.”

Hell is when the light is shining, and you do not love it, and you do not want to become all light yourself, and you resist that light, and it tortures you. It torments you.’ (The Names of Jesus podcast: “The Light of the World”)

H/T to my brother Athanasy Brown

St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Great Gulf

Luk 16:26 And besides all this, between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, so that those who desire to cross over from here to you are not able, nor may those from there cross over to us.

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-395
 
Those, then, whose reasoning powers have never been exercised and who have never had a glimpse of the better way soon use up on gluttony in this fleshly life the dividend of good which their constitution can claim, and they reserve none of it for the after life; but those who by a discreet and sober-minded calculation economize the powers of living are afflicted by things painful to sense here, but they reserve their good for the succeeding life, and so their happier lot is lengthened out to last as long as that eternal life. This, in my opinion, is the gulf; which is not made by the parting of the earth, but by those decisions in this life which result in a separation into opposite characters. The man who has once chosen pleasure in this life, and has not cured his inconsiderateness by repentance, places the land of the good beyond his own reach; for he has dug against himself the yawning impassable abyss of a necessity that nothing can break through. (On the Soul and Resurrection) 

Church Fathers on Universalism

Mat 12:31-32 Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. 

Mat 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

2Th 1:7-9 And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of his power: In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his power… 

Rev 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

St. Polycarp of Smryna ca. 69-155

The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast you, unless you repent.”

But he answered, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.”

But again the proconsul said to him, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.”

But Polycarp said, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.” (The Martyrdom of Polycarp)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

For among us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings. And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration, Christ foretold. (First Apology 28)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

Inasmuch, then, as in both Testaments there is the same righteousness of God [displayed] when God takes vengeance, in the one case indeed typically, temporarily, and more moderately; but in the other, really, enduringly, and more rigidly: for the fire is eternal, and the wrath of God which shall be revealed from heaven from the face of our Lord (as David also says, “But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” ), entails a heavier punishment on those who incur it—the elders pointed out that those men are devoid of sense, who, [arguing] from what happened to those who formerly did not obey God, do endeavour to bring in another Father, setting over against [these punishments] what great things the Lord had done at His coming to save those who received Him, taking compassion upon them; while they keep silence with regard to His judgment; and all those things which shall come upon such as have heard His words, but done them not, and that it were better for them if they had not been born, Matthew 26:24 and that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the judgment than for that city which did not receive the word of His disciples. Matthew 10:15

For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire,” Matthew 25:41 these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity,” Matthew 25:34 these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word. (Against Heresies Bk. 4:28:1-2)

Mathetes ca. 150

[H]e who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. Then you shall see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe]; then you shall begin to speak the mysteries of God; then shall you both love and admire those that suffer punishment because they will not deny God; then shall you condemn the deceit and error of the world when you shall know what it is to live truly in heaven, when you shall despise that which is here esteemed to be death, when you shall fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it. Then shall you admire those who for righteousness’ sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and shall count them happy when you shall know [the nature of] that fire. (Letter to Diognetus 10)

2nd Clement ca. 150

This world and the next are two enemies. The one urges to adultery and corruption, avarice and deceit; the other bids farewell to these things. We cannot, therefore, be the friends of both; and it behoves us, by renouncing the one, to make sure of the other. Let us reckon that it is better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, and transient, and corruptible; and to love those [which are to come,] as being good and incorruptible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. For thus also saith the Scripture in Ezekiel, “If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity.” Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness? (2nd Epistle of Clement 6)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just if your judgment!’ And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which doesnot die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appealof interceding friends will profit them. (Against the Greeks 3)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

When the day of judgment shall come, what joy of believers, what sorrow of unbelievers; that they should have been unwilling to believe here, and now that they should be unable to return that they might believe! An ever-burning Gehenna will burn up the condemned, and a punishment devouring with living flames; nor will there be any source whence at any time they may have either respite or end to their torments. Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering. Thus the man will be for ever seen by us who here gazed upon us for a season; and the short joy of those cruel eyes in the persecutions that they made for us will be compensated by a perpetual spectacle, according to the truth of Holy Scripture, which says, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be for a vision to all flesh.” Isaiah 66:24 And again: “Then shall the righteous men stand in great constancy before the face of those who have afflicted them, and have taken away their labours. When they see it, they shall be troubled with horrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation; and they, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, shall say within themselves, These are they whom we had some time in derision, and a proverb of reproach; we fools counted their life madness, and their end to be without honour. How are they numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints! Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness has not shined upon us, and the sun rose not on us. We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction; we have gone through deserts where there lay no way; but we have not known the way of the Lord. What has pride profited us, or what good has the boasting of riches done us? All those things are passed away like a shadow.” Wisdom 5:1-9 The pain of punishment will then be without the fruit of penitence; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late they will believe in eternal punishment who would not believe in eternal life.(Treatise V: To Demetrianus 24)

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus ca. 213-270

Aforetime did the devil deride the nature of man with great laughter, and he has had his joy over the times of our calamity as his festal-days. But the laughter is only a three days’ pleasure, while the wailing is eternal; and his great laughter has prepared for him a greater wailing and ceaseless tears, and inconsolable weeping, and a sword in his heart. This sword did our Leader forge against the enemy with fire in the virgin furnace, in such wise and after such fashion as He willed, and gave it its point by the energy of His invincible divinity, and dipped it in the water of an undefiled baptism, and sharpened it by sufferings without passion in them, and made it bright by the mystical resurrection; and herewith by Himself He put to death the vengeful adversary, together with his whole host. What manner of word, therefore, will express our joy or his misery? (On All Saints)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 297-373

But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn. And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory—no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence—He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness. (On the Incarnation 56)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

Thus there will be given no rest to the pagans nor will the onset of death bring the peace they desire. Instead, their bodies are destined to suffer eternally because their punishment of eternal fire will be physical. What they endure, along with everything else destined for eternity, will have no end. If pagans are given a body destined for eternity in order to suffer the fire of judgment, how great is the impiety of those saints who doubt the glory of eternity since eternal punishment is certain for sinners! (On Matthew 5.12)

St. Ephrem of Syria ca. 306-373

The children of light

dwell on the heights of Paradise,

and beyond the Abyss

they espy the rich man;

he too, as he raises his eyes,

beholds Lazarus,

and calls out to Abrhaham

to have pity on him.

But Abraham, that man so full of pity,

who even had pity on Sodom,

has no pity yonder

for him who showed no pity.

The Abyss severs any love

which might act as a mediary,

thus preventing the love of the just

from being bound to the wicked,

so that the good should not be tortured

by the sight, in Gehenna,

of their children or brothers

or family –

a mother, who denied Christ,

imploring mercy from her son

or her maid or her daughter,

who had all suffered affliction for the sake of

Christ’s teaching.

…The children of light reside

in their lofty abode

and, as they gaze on the wicked

they are amazed to what extent these people

have cut off all hope by committing such iniquity.

(The Hymns on Paradise 1.12-14)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with Angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past. (Catechetical Lectures 18:19)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

I know the glittering sword, Ezekiel 21:9 and the blade made drunk in heaven, bidden to slay, to bring to naught, to make childless, and to spare neither flesh, nor marrow, nor bones. I know Him, Who, though free from passion, meets us like a bear robbed of her whelps, like a leopard in the way of the Assyrians, Hosea 13:7-8 not only those of that day, but if anyone now is an Assyrian in wickedness: nor is it possible to escape the might and speed of His wrath when He watches over our impieties, and His jealousy, which knows to devour His adversaries, pursues His enemies to the death. Hosea 8:3 I know the emptying, the making void, the making waste, the melting of the heart, and knocking of the knees together, Nahum 2:10 such are the punishments of the ungodly. I do not dwell on the judgments to come, to which indulgence in this world delivers us, as it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be transmitted to the torment to come, when it is the time of chastisement, not of cleansing. (Oration 16:7)

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379

In one place the Lord declares that “these shall go to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46), and in another place He sends some “to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); and speaks elsewhere of the fire of gehenna, specifying that it is a place “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mk. 9:44-49) and even of old and through the Prophet it was foretold of some that “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be extinguished” (Isa. 66:24). Although these and the like declarations are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly. If, however, there were going to be and end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be and end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be and end to eternal punishment? The qualification of “eternal” is ascribed equally to both of them. “For these are going,” He says, “into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life.” (Mt. 25:46) If we profess these things we must recognize that the “he shall be flogged with many stripes” and the “he shall be flogged with few stripes” refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment. (Rules Briefly Treated 267)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 337-397

[H]ow can they dare to reckon the Holy Spirit among all things, since the Lord Himself said: “He who shall blaspheme against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven, either here or hereafter.” Matthew 12:32 How, then, can any one dare to reckon the Holy Spirit among creatures? Or who will so blind himself as to think that if he have injured any creature he cannot be forgiven in any wise? For if the Jews because they worshipped the host of heaven were deprived of divine protection, while he who worships and confesses the Holy Spirit is accepted of God, but he who confesses Him not is convicted of sacrilege without forgiveness: certainly it follows from this that the Holy Spirit cannot be reckoned among all things, but that He is above all things, an offense against Whom is avenged by eternal punishment. (On the Holy Spirit Bk. 1:53)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

If all rational creatures are equal, and by their own free will are, in view of their virtues or of their vices, either raised up to the heights or plunged down to the depths, and after the lengthy passage of infinite ages there will be a restitution of all things and but a single destiny for all soldiers, how far apart will a virgin be from a whore? What difference between the Mother of the Lord – and it impious even to say it – the victims of public licentiousness? Will Gabriel and the devil be the same? The Apostles and the demons the same? The Prophets and the pseudo-prophets the same? Martyrs and their persecutors the same? (Commentaries on Jonas 3,6)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance. (Homily 3 on 2nd Thessalonians)

Blessed Augustine ca. 354-430

It is in vain, then, that some, indeed very many, make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; not, indeed, that they directly oppose themselves to Holy Scripture, but, at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, and give a milder turn to statements which they think are rather designed to terrify than to be received as literally true. For “Hath God” they say, forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Now, they read this in one of the holy psalms. But without doubt we are to understand it as spoken of those who are elsewhere called “vessels of mercy,” because even they are freed from misery not on account of any merit of their own, but solely through the pity of God. Or, if the men we speak of insist that this passage applies to all mankind, there is no reason why they should therefore suppose that there will be an end to the punishment of those of whom it is said, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment;” for this shall end in the same manner and at the same time as the happiness of those of whom it is said, “but the righteous unto life eternal.” But let them suppose, if the thought gives them pleasure, that the pains of the damned are, at certain intervals, in some degree assuaged. For even in this case the wrath of God, that is, their condemnation (for it is this, and not any disturbed feeling in the mind of God that is called His wrath), abides upon them; that is, His wrath, though it still remains, does not shut up His tender mercies; though His tender mercies are exhibited, not in putting an end to their eternal punishment, but in mitigating, or in granting them a respite from, their torments; for the psalm does not say, “to put an end to His anger,” or, “when His anger is passed by,” but “in His anger.” Now, if this anger stood alone, or if it existed in the smallest conceivable degree, yet to be lost out of the kingdom of God, to be an exile from the city of God, to be alienated from the life of God, to have no share in that great goodness which God has laid up for them that fear Him, and has wrought out for them that trust in Him, would be a punishment so great, that, supposing it to be eternal, no torments that we know of, continued through as many ages as man’s imagination can conceive, could be compared with it.

This perpetual death of the wicked, then, that is, their alienation from the life of God, shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever men, prompted by their human affections, may conjecture as to a variety of punishments, or as to a mitigation or intermission of their woes; just as the eternal life of the saints shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever grades of rank and honor there may be among those who shine with an harmonious effulgence. (Enchiridion 112-113)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

And this too we must bear in mind, that the crowns are to be won by labour. It is strong exertion united with skill that perfects those mighty athletes in the games. It is courage and a brave mind that are most serviceable to those who are skilled in battles: while the man who throws away his shield is ridiculed even by the foe: and if the runaway live, he leads a life of disgrace. But he who was steadfast in the battle, and stood stoutly and courageously with all his might against the enemy, is honoured if he win the victory; and if he fall, is looked upon with admiration. And so ought we to reckon for ourselves; for to endure patiently, and maintain the conflict with courage, brings with it great reward, and is highly desirable, and wins for us the blessings bestowed by God: while to refuse to suffer death in the flesh for the love of Christ, brings upon us lasting, or rather never-ending punishment. For the wrath of man reaches at most to the body, and the death of the flesh is the utmost that they can contrive against us: but when God punishes, the loss reaches not to the flesh alone;—-how could it?—-but the wretched soul also is cast alone; with it into torments. (Sermon 87, On Luke)

 

St. Patrick of Ireland ca. 387-493

Far from the love of God is a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots. Ravening wolves have devoured the flock of the Lord, which in Ireland was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care; and the sons and daughters of kings were monks and virgins of Christ — I cannot count their number. Wherefore, be not pleased with the wrong done to the just; even to hell it shall not please (Sirach 9:3). Who of the saints would not shudder to be merry with such persons or to enjoy a meal with them? They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder. They do not know, the wretches, that what they offer their friends and sons as food is deadly poison, just as Eve did not understand that it was death she gave to her husband. So are all that do evil: they work death as their eternal punishment. (Letter to Coroticus)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

GREGORY. Certain it is, and without all doubt most true, that as the good shall have no end of their joys, so the wicked never any release of their torments: for our Saviour himself saith: The wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, and the just into everlasting life. Seeing, then, true it is, that which He hath promised to His friends: out of all question false it cannot be, that which He hath threatened to His enemies.

PETER. What if it be said that He did threaten eternal pain to wicked livers, that He might thereby restrain them from committing of sins?

GREGORY. If that which He did threaten be false, because His intent was by that means to keep men from wicked life: then likewise must we say that those things are false which He did promise: and that His mind was thereby to provoke us to virtue. But what man, though mad, dare presume so to say? For if He threatened that which he meant not to put into execution: whiles we are desirous to make Him merciful, enforced we are likewise (which is horrible to speak) to affirm Him to be deceitful.

PETER. Willing I am to know how that sin can justly be punished without end, which had an end when it was committed.

GREGORY. This which you say might have some reason, if the just judge did only consider the sins committed, and not the minds with which they were committed: for the reason why wicked men made an end of sinning was, because they also made an end of their life: for willingly they would, had it been in their power, have lived without end, that they might in like manner have sinned without end. For they do plainly declare that they desired always to live in sin, who never, so long as they were in this world, gave over their wicked life: and therefore it belongeth to the great justice of the supreme judge, that they should never want torments and punishment in the next world, who in this would never give over their wicked and sinful life.

PETER. But no judge that loveth justice taketh pleasure in cruelty: and the end why the just master commandeth his wicked servant to be punished is, that he may give over his lewd life. If, then, the wicked that are tormented in hell fire never come to amend themselves, to what end shall they always burn in those flames?

GREGORY. Almighty God, because He is merciful and full of pity, taketh no pleasure in the torments of wretched men: but because He is also just, therefore doth He never give over to punish the wicked. All which being condemned to perpetual pains, punished they are for their own wickedness: and yet shall they always there burn in fire for some end, and that is, that all those which be just and God’s servants may in God behold the joys which they possess, and in them see the torments which they have escaped: to the end that they may thereby always acknowledge themselves grateful to God for His grace, in that they perceive through His divine assistance, what sins they have overcome, which they behold in others to be punished everlastingly.

PETER. And how, I pray you, can they be holy and saints, if they pray not for their enemies, whom they see to lie in such torments? when it is said to them: Pray for your enemies.

GREGORY. They pray for their enemies at such time as their hearts may be turned to fruitful penance, and so be saved: for what purpose else do we pray for our enemies, but, as the Apostle saith, that God may give them repentance to know the truth, and recover themselves from the devil, of whom they are held captive at his will?

PETER. I like very well of your saying: for how shall they pray for them, who by no means can be converted from their wickedness, and brought to do the works of justice?

GREGORY. You see, then, that the reason is all one, why, in the next life, none shall pray for men condemned for ever to hell fire: that there is now of not praying for the devil and his angels, sentenced to everlasting torments: and this also is the very reason why holy men do not now pray for them that die in their infidelity and known wicked life: for seeing certain it is that they be condemned to endless pains, to what purpose should they pray for them, when they know that no petition will be admitted of God, their just judge? And therefore, if now holy men living upon earth take no compassion of those that be dead and damned for their sins, when as yet they know that themselves do some thing through the frailty of the flesh, which is also to be judged: how much more straightly and severely do they behold the torments of the damned, when they be themselves delivered from all vice of corruption, and be more nearly united to true justice itself: for the force of justice doth so possess their souls, in that they be so intrinsical with the most just judge, that they list not by any means to do that which they know is not conformable to his divine pleasure. (Dialogues Bk. 4:44)

Mat 25:11-12 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

The door of the kingdom will close forever to those left outside, who will then weep; that door is now open to all penitents. There will be repentance then, but it will be fruitless. The Lord does not hear virgins call Him, because once the door of the kingdom is closed they can no longer approach Him, Who was so formerly approachable. (The Ten Virgins, Orthodox New Testament: Endnotes-Matthew pg. 121)

5th Ecumenical Council: Second Council of Constantinople 553

The Anathemas Against Origen

If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema. (Anathema 1)

The Anathemas of the Emperor Justinian Against OrigenIf anyone says or thinks that Christ the Lord in a future time will be crucified for demons as he was for men, let him be anathema. (Anathema 7)

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema. (Anathema 9)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Indeed there exists but one happiness, a communion of life with the Word, the loss of which is an endless punishment which goes on for all eternity. And that is why abandoning his body and whatever is the body’s he strives intensely toward that communion of life with God, thinking that the only loss – even he were master of everything on earth – would be in the failure of the deification by grace which he pursues. (Commentary on the Our Father)

St. Andrew of Caesarea ca. 6th cent.

Rev 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.

This smoke must imply either the labored breath that cornes out along with the groaning of those being punished emanating up from below, or the smoke coming forth from the fire punishing those who have fallen. It is to ascend forever and ever, it says, that we might learn that it is endless, just as the bliss of the righteous (will be endless), in like manner also, the torment of the sinners. (Commentary on the Apocalypse)

Rev 19:3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the smoke rises forever and ever from the city signifies either the uninterrupted never-to-be-forgotten (nature) of the punishments coming upon her into perpetuity, or the judgments partly rendered to her, to be tormented more fittingly but nevertheless eternally in the future. (ibid.)

Rev. 19:21 And the rest were slain by the sword of Him Who sits upon the horse, the sword which cornes from his mouth, and ail the birds were gorged with their flesh.

There are two deaths; the first is the separation of the soul and the body, the second is being cast into Gehenna. If (this is applied to) those (who are) together with the Antichrist, it is said they will be led to the first death in the flesh by the sword of God, that is, by his command, and thus afterward the second will follow, if this is correct. If it is not thus, they will (only) participate in the second death, the eternal torment with the ones who had deceived them.  (ibid.)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

For the fire which once punished the people of Sodom also plainly shows what the wicked are going to suffer without end. And the fact that their smoke-producing land remains, that its most admirable fruits have ashes and a bad smell within, clearly signifies to all ages that although bodily pleasure delights the minds of the foolish for the present, nevertheless in what concerns that which cannot be seen restains for itelf nothing except that the smoke of its torments rise up for ever and ever. (Commentary on 2nd Peter)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

All wickedness, then, and all impure passions are the work of their mind. But while the liberty to attack man has been granted to them, they have not the strength to over-master any one: for we have it in our power to receive or not to receive the attack. Wherefore there has been prepared for the devil and his demons, and those who follow him, fire unquenchable and everlasting punishment Matthew 25:41 .

Note, further, that what in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance. (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Book II. 4)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

So let us see, if you are willing, who is he “who hates to be reformed” and who it is who “casts His words behind him.” He who does not obey God’s laws hates the instruction that comes from the words of the Lord. He “stops his ears” (Ps. 58:5) so that he may not hear the word about the final retribution for sinners or about that eternal fire and the punishments of hell and that everlasting condemnation, from which retribution he who has fallen into cannot escape. (The Discourses, Discourse 7.1)

St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107

A conclusion to be drawn against the Origenists who say that there will be a time when there is an end to hell, that the sinners will be united with the righteous and with God, and thus God will be all in all. Let us hear what Abraham says, that they who would pass from hence to you, or from thence to us, cannot. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to go from the place apportioned to the righteous to the place of sinners, and likewise, Abraham teaches us, it is impossible to go from the place of punishment to the place of the righteous. And Abraham, I presume, is more trustworthy than Origen. (Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 16)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Although in the future restoration, when the bodies of the righteous shall be raised, the bodies of the lawless and sinners will also be raised, they will be raised only so as to be subjected to the ‘second death’, that is, to eternal torment, the unsleeping worm (Mk. 9:48), the gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12), the outer and inpenetrable darkness (Mt. 8:12), to dark and inextinguishable Gehenna (Mt. 5:22). The prophet says, ‘The lawless and the sinners shall be burnt together, and there shall be none to quench (Is. 1:31; cf. Jer. 4:4)’. For this is the ‘second death’, as John teaches us in his Apocalypse. (To the Nun Xenia, P.G. 150:1043-1088)

St. Basil on Universalism

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379

In one place the Lord declares that “these shall go to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46), and in another place He sends some “to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); and speaks elsewhere of the fire of gehenna, specifying that it is a place “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mk. 9:44-49) and even of old and through the Prophet it was foretold of some that “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be extinguished” (Isa. 66:24). Although these and the like declarations are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly. If, however, there were going to be and end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be and end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be and end to eternal punishment? The qualification of “eternal” is ascribed equally to both of them. “For these are going,” He says, “into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life.” (Mt. 25:46) If we profess these things we must recognize that the “he shall be flogged with many stripes” and the “he shall be flogged with few stripes” refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment. (Rules Briefly Treated 267)

On Prayers for the Dead

Apostolic Constitutions compiled 3rd-4th cent.

Let us pray for our brethren that are at rest in Christ, that God, the lover of mankind, who has received his soul, may forgive him every sin, voluntary and involuntary, and may be merciful and gracious to him, and give him his lot in the land of the pious that are sent into the bosom of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, with all those that have pleased Him and done His will from the beginning of the world, whence all sorrow, grief, and lamentation are banished. Let us arise, let us dedicate ourselves and one another to the eternal God, through that Word which was in the beginning. And let the bishop say: O You who is by nature immortal, and has no end of Your being, from whom every creature, whether immortal or mortal, is derived; who made man a rational creature, the citizen of this world, in his constitution mortal, and added the promise of a resurrection; who did not suffer Enoch and Elijah to taste of death: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, who art the God of them, not as of dead, but as of living persons: for the souls of all men live with You, and the spirits of the righteous are in Your hand, which no torment can touch; Matthew 22:32; Wisdom 3:1 for they are all sanctified under Your hand: do Thou now also look upon this Your servant, whom You have selected and received into another state, and forgive him if voluntarily or involuntarily he has sinned, and afford him merciful angels, and place him in the bosom of the patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, and of all those that have pleased You from the beginning of the world, where there is no grief, sorrow, nor lamentation; but the peaceable region of the godly, and the undisturbed land of the upright, and of those that therein see, the glory of Your Christ; by whom glory, honour, and worship, thanksgiving, and adoration be to You, in the Holy Spirit, for ever. Amen. And let the deacon say: Bow down, and receive the blessing. And let the bishop give thanks for them, saying as follows: O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance, which You have purchased with the precious blood of Your Christ. Feed them under Your right hand, and cover them under Your wings, and grant that they may fight the good fight, and finish their course, and keep the faith 2 Timothy 4:7 immutably, unblameably, and unreprovably, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom glory, honour, and worship be to You and to the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.

Let the third day of the departed be celebrated with psalms, and lessons, and prayers, on account of Him who arose within the space of three days; and let the ninth day be celebrated in remembrance of the living, and of the departed; and the fortieth day according to the ancient pattern: for so did the people lament Moses, and the anniversary day in memory of him. And let alms be given to the poor out of his goods for a memorial of him.

These things we say concerning the pious; for as to the ungodly, if you give all the world to the poor, you will not benefit him at all. For to whom the Deity was an enemy while he was alive, it is certain it will be so also when he is departed; for there is no unrighteousness with Him. For the Lord is righteous, and has loved righteousness. And, Behold the man and his work. Isaiah 62:11 (Apostolic Constitutions 8.4. 41-43)

Chrysostom on Being Saved Through Fire

1 Cor. 3:12-15 If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

Now his meaning is this: If any man have an ill life with a right faith, his faith shall not shelter him from punishment, his work being burnt up. The phrase, shall be burned up, means, shall not endure the violence of the fire. But just as if a man having golden armor on were to pass through a river of fire, he comes from crossing it all the brighter; but if he were to pass through it with hay, so far from profiting, he destroys himself besides; so also is the case in regard of men’s works. For he does not say this as if he were discoursing of material things being burnt up, but with a view of making their fear more intense, and of showing how naked of all defence he is who abides in wickedness. Wherefore he said, He shall suffer loss: lo, here is one punishment: but he himself shall be saved, but so as by fire; lo, again, here is a second. And his meaning is, He himself shall not perish in the same way as his works, passing into nought, but he shall abide in the fire.

He calls it, however, “salvation”, you will say; why, that is the cause of his adding, so as by fire: since we also used to say, It is preserved in the fire, when we speak of those substances which do not immediately burn up and become ashes. For do not at sound of the word fire imagine that those who are burning pass into annihilation. And though he call such punishment “salvation”, be not astonished. For his custom is in things which have an ill sound to use fair expressions, and in good things the contrary. For example, the word “captivity” seems to be the name of an evil thing, but Paul has applied it in a good sense, when he says, Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 And again, to an evil thing he has applied a good word, saying, Sin reigned, Romans 5:21 here surely the term reigning is rather of auspicious sound. And so here in saying, he shall be saved, he has but darkly hinted at the intensity of the penalty: as if he had said, “But himself shall remain forever in punishment”. (Homily 9 on First Corinthians)

St. Symeon Defines “Abraham’s Bosom”

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

As we depart from this present life we shall find God as the great “bosom of Abraham” (cf. Lk. 16:22), receiving us and cherishing us in the kingdom of heaven. To this may we all attain by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (The Discourses IX, On Works of Mercy 10)

St. Aphrahat on the Abolition of Death

St. Aphrahat the Persian ca. 270-345

The upright and righteous and good and wise fear not nor tremble at death, because of the great hope that is before them. And they at every time are mindful of death, their exodus, and of the last day in which the children of Adam shall be judged. They know that by the sentence of judgment death has held sway, because Adam transgressed the commandment; as the Apostle said:— Death ruled from Adam unto Moses even over those who sinned not, so that also upon all the children of Adam it passed, even as it passed upon Adam. And how did death rule from Adam unto Moses? Clearly, when God laid down the commandment for Adam, He warned him, and said:— On the day that you shall eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall die the death. Genesis 2:17 So when he transgressed the commandment and ate of the tree, death ruled over him and over all his progeny. Even over those who had not sinned, even over them did death rule through Adam’s transgression of the commandment.

And why did he say:— From Adam unto Moses did Death rule? And who is so ill-furnished with knowledge as to imagine that only from Adam to Moses has death had dominion? Yet let him understand from this that he said:— Upon all men it passed. Thus, upon all men it passed from Moses until the world shall end. Yet Moses preached that its kingdom is made void. For when Adam transgressed the commandment whereby the sentence of death was passed upon his progeny, Death hoped that he would bind fast all the sons of man and would be king over them for ever. But when Moses came, he proclaimed the resurrection, and Death knew that his kingdom is to be made void. For Moses said:— Reuben shall live and not die, and shall be in number. Deuteronomy 33:6 And when the Holy One called Moses from the bush he said thus to him:— I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Exodus 3:6 When Death heard this utterance, he trembled and feared and was terrified and was perturbed, and knew that he had not become king for ever over the children of Adam. From the hour that he heard God saying to Moses:— I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, Death smote his hands together, for he learned that God is King of the dead and of the living, and that it is appointed to the children of Adam to come forth from his darkness, and arise with their bodies. And observe that our Redeemer Jesus also, when He repeated this utterance to the Sadducees, when they were disputing with Him about the Resurrection of the dead, thus said:— God is not (God) of the dead, for all are alive unto Him. Luke 20:38

And that God might make known to Death that his authority is not for ever over all the progeny of the world, He translated Enoch to Himself, because he was well-pleasing, and made him deathless. And again He took up Elijah to heaven, and Death had no dominion over him. And Hannah said:— The Lord makes to die and causes to live; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. 1 Samuel 2:6 Furthermore Moses said as from the mouth of God:I make to die and I cause to live. Deuteronomy 32:39 Again the Prophet Isaiah also said:— Your dead shall live, and their dead bodies shall rise again; and the sleepers of the dust shall be awakened, and shall glorify You. Isaiah 26:19 When Death heard all these things, amazement seized him, and he sat him down in mourning.

And when Jesus, the slayer of Death, came, and clothed Himself in a Body from the seed of Adam, and was crucified in His Body, and tasted death; and when (Death) perceived thereby that He had come down unto him, he was shaken from his place and was agitated when he saw Jesus; and he closed his gates and was not willing to receive Him. Then He burst his gates, and entered into him, and began to despoil all his possessions. But when the dead saw light in the darkness, they lifted up their heads from the bondage of death, and looked forth, and saw the splendour of the King Messiah. Then the powers of the darkness of Death sat in mourning, for he was degraded from his authority. Death tasted the medicine that was deadly to him, and his hands dropped down, and he learned that the dead shall live and escape from his sway. And when He had afflicted Death by the despoiling of his possessions, he wailed and cried aloud in bitterness and said, Go forth from my realm and enter it not. Who then is this that comes in alive into my realm? And while Death was crying out in terror (for he saw that his darkness was beginning to be done away, and some of the righteous who were sleeping arose to ascend with Him), then He made known to him that when He shall come in the fullness of time, He will bring forth all the prisoners from his power, and they shall go forth to see the light. Then when Jesus had fulfilled His ministry among the dead, Death sent Him forth from his realm, and suffered Him not to remain there. And to devour Him like all the dead, he counted it not pleasure. He had no power over the Holy One, nor was He given over to corruption.

And when he had eagerly sent Him forth and He had come forth from his realm, He left with him, as a poison, the promise of life; that little by little his power should be done away. Even as when a man has taken a poison in the food which is given for (the support of) life, when he perceives in himself that he has received poison in the food, then he casts up again from his belly the food in which poison was mingled; but the drug leaves its power in his limbs, so that little by little the structure of his body is dissolved and corrupted. So Jesus dead was the bringer to nought of Death; for through Him life is made to reign, and through Him Death is abolished, to whom it is said:— O Death, where is your victory? 1 Corinthians 15:55  (Demonstration 22 Death and the Latter Times)

On the Dread Judgment

St. John Maximovitch 1896–1966

The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Dread Judgment, relates how the Ancient of Days, the judge, is on His throne, and before Him is a river of fire. Fire is a purifying element. Fire scorches sin, it burns it up, and woe also burns it up; if sin has become natural to a man, then it burns up the man himself as well.

That fire will flare up inside a man: on seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, while others will fall into despair, confusion, terror. In this way, men will immediately be separated. In the Gospel narrative, some stand to the right of the Judge, some to the left — their inner consciousness separated them. The very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other, to the right or to the left.

The more consciously and persistently a man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears the words: “Come unto Me, ye blessed”; and conversely, those same words will call forth the fire of horror and torment on those who did not want Him, who fled or fought or blasphemed Him during their life.

The Dread Judgment knows no witnesses or charge-sheets. Everything is recorded in men’s souls, and these records, these “books” are open. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself, and the state of a man’s soul assigns him to the right or to the left.

Some go to joy, others to horror.

When the “books” are open, it will become clear to all that the roots of all vices are in man’s soul. Here is a drunkard, a fornicator; some may think that when the body dies the sin dies as well. No; the inclination was in the soul, and to the soul the sin was sweet.

And if [the soul] has not repented of that sin and has not become free of it, it will come to the Dread Judgment with the same desire for the sweetness of sin and will never satisfy its desire. In it will be the suffering of hatred and malice. This is the state of hell.

The “fiery Gehenna” is the inner fire; this is the flame of vice, the flame of weakness and malice; and

there will be [the] wailing and gnashing of teeth

of impotent malice.

The Vision of St. Carpos

 
St. Dionysius the Areopagite ca. 1st cent.    
 
I was in Crete once and I enjoyed the hospitality of Carpos (2 Tim. 4:13), a holy man. If there was ever a man with a mind so purified as to be receptive to the sight of God it was he. He never began the holy sacraments of the mysteries without having a propitious vision first appear to him in the preliminary sacred prayers. He described how he had been grieved once by the infidelities of someone. The reason for this sadness was that this man had turned someone toward godlessness and away form the Church, and had done so amidst the joyful days marking his baptism. Carpos was supposed to pray generously for both of them and he called upon the saving help of God to return one of the men and to overcome the other man with goodness. For the rest of his life there could be no faltering in the exhortation directed to them to return to the knowledge of God. Everything doubtful or obscure would have to be clarified for them until genuine justice would compel them to have the good sense to give up their stupid audacity.
     
 But instead of all this he somehow felt within himself something he had not experienced previously (I do not know how), a great hostility and bitterness. In this bad frame of mind he went to bed and to sleep, for it was evening. In the middle of the night, at the hour when he usually woke to sing the praises of God, he got up. He had little rest from a series of brief, interrupted, and disturbed bouts of sleep. He stood for prayer, but in no seemly manner. He was angry. He said that it was not just for impious men, men who had turned from the straight paths of the Lord, to be allowed to live. Having said this he prayed God to hurl His pitiless thunderbolt and to finish at once the lives of those two. As he described it, himself, the place where he was seemed to be shaken completely and then split into two halves in the middle from the roof down. A shining flame appeared coming down to him from heaven, for the place now seemed to be in open air. The sky itself seemed to be unfolding and in the vault of heaven Jesus appeared amid and endless throng of angels in human form. Carpos looked up and was amazed by what he saw. As he told me himself, he glanced down and the ground seemed to open into a yawning, shadowy chasm. The two men whom he had cursed were at the edge. They were trembling and pitiful; bit by bit they were starting to fall in because of their slippery perch. From the bottom of the pit came serpents which wound themselves around the feet of the two men. They began to flay them as they pulled and dragged them. They tore and lashed at them with their teeth and their tails and in fact did everything to make them tumble into the pit. In among the serpents there were men. They grabbed the two unfortunates, shoving them, pushing them, beating them until they were on the point of collapse, unwillingly and yet willingly as they were gradually ravaged by evil at the same time persuaded by its charms.
     
Carpos told me that from where he saw it below the spectacle delighted him. He forgot the sight to be seen above in the sky. He was impatient, hostile because the evil pair had not yet fallen in. He tried repeatedly to help the serpents in their efforts but was powerless, and became angry and he cursed. Finally he looked up and saw again the same spectacle as earlier. But at this time Jesus had risen from His heavenly throne. Moved by compassion He came down to the unfaithful two. He reached a rescuing hand out to them. The angels helped Him. He held on to the two men, one on either side of Him.
 
Then Jesus said to Carpos:
So your hand is raised up and I now am the One you must hit. Here I am, ready once again to suffer for the salvation of man and I would very gladly endure it if in this way I could keep men from sin. Look to yourself. Maybe you should be living with the serpents in the pit rather than with God and with the good angels who are friends of man.
 
These things, which I heard myself, I believe to be true. (The Letters, Letter Eight: To the Monk Demophilus. Concerning one’s proper work, and kindness.)
 

On Sin, Gehenna and Death

St. Isaac the Syrian ca. 7th cent.

Sin, Gehenna and Death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist. Gehenna is the fruit of sin. At some point in time it had a beginning, but its end is not known. Death, however, is a dispensation of the wisdom of the Creator. It will rule only a short time over nature; then it will be totally abolished. Satan’s name derives from voluntary turning aside from the truth; it is not an indication that he exists as such naturally. (The Ascetical Homilies: Homily Twenty-Seven, Against Those Who Say: If God is Good, For What Reason Has He Made These Things?)

On Divine Fire

Tertullian ca. 160-220
  
When, therefore, the boundary and limit, that millennial interspace, has been passed, when even the outward fashion of the world itself— which has been spread like a veil over the eternal economy, equally a thing of time— passes away, then the whole human race shall be raised again, to have its dues meted out according as it has merited in the period of good or evil, and thereafter to have these paid out through the immeasurable ages of eternity. Therefore after this there is neither death nor repeated resurrections, but we shall be the same that we are now, and still unchanged— the servants of God, ever with God, clothed upon with the proper substance of eternity; but the profane, and all who are not true worshippers of God, in like manner shall be consigned to the punishment of everlasting fire— that fire which, from its very nature indeed, directly ministers to their incorruptibility. (Apology 48)
  
St. Ephrem of Syrian ca. 306-373