In the Scriptures
Amen. (Psalm 106:48)
Commentary from the Fathers
Man is created by the Lord for life, and human thought cannot reconcile itself to the thought of death. Death was a consequence of the first man’s sin, for as St. Paul says: sin came into the world through one man and death through sin (Rom. 5:12). As a consequence of his sinful disobedience to God, man deprived himself of paradise and knew death. The Fall deformed man’s inner, spiritual nature, as well as the entire visible world. The accord between human freedom and Divine Grace was destroyed, an accord through which man was directly called to deification. This break was so forceful that man could no longer return to this previous condition by his own power.
By His Resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ conquered Death by death, and revealed to man the path leading from death and corruption to eternal life (Acts 2:24, 27-28; 2 Tim. 1:10). Although man remains mortal as before, death has no power over him; for it was defeated by the Risen Christ the First-fruits from the dead and the Author and Finisher of our own resurrection. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep… [so that] all be made alive… at His coming (1 Cor. 15:20-23). For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53).
By the words of the 11th Article of the Creed, I look for the Resurrection of the dead, the Holy Church confesses that through the action of God’s omnipotence all the bodies of the dead shall reunite with their souls, come to life, and be both spiritual and immortal. The universal resurrection of the dead, as the Bible tells us, is linked with Christ’s second, glorious coming (1 Thess. 4:16).
Resurrection of the dead was known in Old Testament times, too. The Prophet Job said: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27). The holy Prophet Ezekiel also prophesied the universal resurrection of the dead (Ez. 37:12,14).
By His Resurrection, Christ the Savior affirmed the truth of the universal resurrection of the dead. All of Christianity is founded on Christ’s Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14). Brought into communion with Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, man becomes one whole with Him in the body of the Church, which is at once human and divine. As a result of this union of grace, the Christian partakes in both Christ’s Resurrection and in eternal life. While man’s spiritual link with Christ is established through Baptism, his physical unity with Him is accomplished through the Holy Eucharist (John 6:54-57). The Eucharist Christ’s Body and Blood is a guarantee of resurrection. Christ’s Resurrection is the beginning and guarantee not only of our resurrection, but of a universal renewal and transfiguration of all creation (Rom. 8:20-21).
The Orthodox Church’s prayers for the dead are based on faith in universal resurrection and on the unity of the Churches Militant and Triumphant. By His Resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ showed that death is not annihilation and non-existence, but the gate to life and immortality. The Christian looks on death as the transition to an eternal life.
The Creed ends with this confident hope on the part of the Christian: I look for…the life of the world to come. By the life of the world to come the Holy Church means the life that shall be after the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s last judgment.
A man is responsible to God for the life that he has been given. It is here on earth that, of his own free will, a man lays the beginning of that life which shall begin when his body dies. His fate after death depends on how he has lived his life on earth. If he has always been with Christ, joined closely to Him through the Holy Sacraments in His God-Man organism of the Church, then after his death he shall also be with God, ceaselessly experiencing the blessed and eternal joy of living communion with God which we who live on earth call in the words of Holy Scripture Paradise (Luke 23:43), the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3-10,8,11; Luke 13:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:50), the house or the mansions of our Heavenly Father (John 14:2).
This ineffable joy of life in Paradise cannot be expressed in human language (2 Cor. 12:2,4); it derives from the fullness of knowing God and from the nearness of God. That is why Christ our Savior says: And this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent (John 17:3).
This joy is immutable, but it affects the human soul in different ways. The depth of perception of this joy by man’s soul also differs. In My Father’s house are many mansions (John 14:2), says Christ the Savior. There are many mansions, and all of these mansions, prepared for the souls of those saved and redeemed by the Son of God’s death, are illumined by a light coming from God, the Source of Light, Life and Blessedness; and in each of these mansions the presence of our Savior the Lord can be felt, giving life and joy to those who dwell in it.
Only those who consciously and stubbornly disdain the call to repentance, the call to a life worthy of repentance, shall remain outside communion with God at death, deprived of Light and Grace (Luke 16:23; Matt. 5:22,29; 8:12; 22:13; Phil. 2:10).
We should not suppose that the attaining of eternal blessedness and the Kingdom of Heaven are goals in themselves for the Christian, the purpose for which he lives and towards which he strives. The blessed state in the life to come is a result of moral perfection, the deification of man, which he attains here on earth. The Savior says: Seek first [the kingdom of God] and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well (Matt. 6:33).