DEATH IS A GREAT MYSTERY
DEATH IN REFERENCE TO THE REBIRTH OF MAN
FROM A TEMPORARY EARTHLY LIFE TO ETERNAL LIFE
By Saint Ignatius Bryanchaninov
The Saint tells us in his commentary about death: “Remember throughout your lives your departure from Egypt.”
“Death is a great mystery. It refers to the rebirth of man from this temporary earthly life to eternal life. In the mystery of death we humans put off and shed our carnal bodies. Our spirit, the soul, the ethereal part of our being enters the other world, the dwelling place where the souls exist. That world is not visible to us through the senses of our bodies. It is not visible through our fleshly bodies. It should be known that throughout our earthly lives, the organs of our bodies function through our senses. And these senses are not so much a part of the body as they are of the soul.
When the soul leaves the body, it is invisible to us just like all the other aspects of the invisible world. During the celebration of the burial service for a deceased fellow Christian, we see only the physical body of the deceased that is without breath and life. After death this body begins to disintegrate and we rush to bury it in the ground. We surrender the body to the elements and to its corruption. We then forget about it. This is the way many generations of human beings have died and have been forgotten throughout the centuries.
What happens to the souls when they leave their bodies? That aspect of our existence in spite of all the knowledge that we possess is unknown to us. Death is an unknown mystery to us. Before mankind was enlightened with the Light of Christianity, virtually all human beings expressed all kinds of theories about the immortality of the soul. The greatest of the wise men in the world of idolatry put forth all kinds of conjectures and hypotheses about immortality. As much as the heart of fallen humanity existed in darkness, it always felt that the soul was immortal. This is proven to us in the idolatrous religions which promised that there was life beyond the grave. People were promised a life beyond the grave of joy or unhappiness according to the way they lived their lives on earth.
Since we are transient and temporary inhabitants of this world, we should be aware what our spiritual condition is now and what our understanding is for eternity. If we spend too much time during our limited time on earth seeking out the joys of life and avoiding its sorrows, we should be more concerned about eternity. What happens after death? Is there a reward for the good and evil things we did in life? Is it possible that we are rewarded for these acts in the other world? Are we rewarded in eternity since we see that in this world evil people enjoy the good things in life while the good people often are persecuted and suffer? It is imperative; yes it is very imperative, that we discover the mystery of death. It is imperative for us to see with our own eyes the invisible future of mankind.
The mystery of death is understood through the Word of God and through the moving of the Holy Spirit. Eternity can be made known to us through our senses and this can happen only when our senses have become purified and sensitive to the Grace of God. “For the Spirit knows all things and even the most hidden secrets of God” –how much more is this so with humans!
Death is the separation of the soul from the body. The soul and the body were joined together by the will of God. They again are separated by the will of God. This separation of soul and body is a result of mankind’s spiritual fall from the Grace of God. Because we have fallen spiritually, our bodies are no longer imperishable as when they were first created by God. The death of mankind, which was at one time immortal, is the result of our disobeying the commandments of God.
At the death of man, he is dissolved into the elements from which he was created. When this takes place, man no longer exists as a psychosomatic being. The soul and the body are now separated. We should know that the body continues to exist even though it has been dissolved into the elements and is returned to the earth from which it came. The body continues to exist even after it is completely dissolved into the earth. It continues to exist like a seed which rots in the ground awaiting its reunion with the soul for then it becomes immune to death.
It is well known that the bodies of the chosen ones of God do not disintegrate into the elements of the earth. They remain incorrupt. These bodies have been infused by the Grace of God. These incorrupt bodies, instead of the stench of death, their bodies give off a sweet-smelling fragrance. These incorrupt bodies, instead of being a health hazard to human beings heal the sick and give life. These bodies are equally dead and alive at the same time. They are dead according to our human nature but alive in the presence of the Holy Spirit. These unique bodies are true witnesses to what the greatness and holiness was like for the first created human beings. They are the true witnesses of what the greatness and holiness of what their deliverance will be like in eternity.
During the time when the body sleeps in death what happens to the soul? The Word of God reveals to us that when our souls are separated from our bodies they go to those areas of good or evil that they had lived in life. They either live with the Angels of Light or with the darkness of demons. You must know that both angels and demons were created by God from the same substance. Their nature is immaterial and bodiless. But they are different in what they do. Angels remain guileless and good as they were first created. On the other hand, demons fall from God’s Grace and become completely identified with evil which they have freely chosen. We find in Holy Scripture and in the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church many references to the condition of the souls after death.
At the crucifixion of Jesus he promised the repentant crucified thief that he would inherit eternal life. Jesus said to him: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43.) Poor Lazarus, that Jesus speaks about in the Parable from Scripture, after his death he was taken by the Angels to dwell with Abraham in Paradise. On the other hand, the unmerciful rich man, who lived sumptuously every day, went to hell when he died. The souls of the martyrs, when separated from their bodies rest in the blessedness of Heaven awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. This is revealed to us by St. John the Theologian in the Book of Revelation. The souls of the sinful people are also awaiting the resurrection of dead but in the anguish of hell.
Translated from the Greek by:
+Fr. Constantine J. Simones, Waterford, CT, USA, November 16, 2016,firstname.lastname@example.org