On death and the future life
Excerpts from The Evergetinos
On Death and the Future Life
Regarding those who die and come to life again,
and how this happens by Divine Providence.
And how many times sinners while still
alive, beholding the torments of Hell
and the demons, shudder with
fear; and in this state of fear,
their souls depart
A. St. Gregory the Dialogist
Question from Peter
How can one explain the phenomenon which occurs with many who appear, by some delusion, to be separated from their bodies and are thought momentarily to be dead, as though without a soul, but who come back to life?
St. Gregory's Answer
This phenomenon, if one understands it well, is not a delusion, but a divine admonition to man: for this phenomenon God in His compassion renders by Providence, offering it forth as the greatest gift of mercy, so that many, after the departure of the soul from the body, come back into their dead bodies; having seen for themselves, with the eyes of their souls, the torments of Hell, in which they did not believe when they heard of them from others, they thus come to stand in fear thereof.
There once lived a monk named Peter. This monk was the disciple of an ascetic Elder, Evvasa, who lived the ascetic life in a secluded, wooded place. Elder Evvasa told a story to his disciple, Peter, about how, before settling in that secluded place, he fell ill and died. Immediately, however, his soul returned to his body and, when he had come to, he swore that he had seen the torments of Hell and its immeasurable burning chambers, and that indeed, he had seen suspended in that fire many of the rulers of this world. Moreover, just as he was being led away to be thrown into that place of torture and fire, a white-winged Angel had appeared and preventing him from being cast into the fire, said to him: "Go and take heed; and henceforth you must take great care in how you live."
After these words, the cold members of his dead body began to warm and, when he had completely awakened from the sleep of eternal death, he related to all those around him what had happened to him.Thereafter, he gave himself over to strict fasts and vigils, being reminded always of the torments which he had seen in Hell—indeed, fearing these torments so greatly that, even if he did not speak thereof with his tongue, he nonetheless preached them by his conduct.
In this way, thanks to the wondrous Providence of God, the Elder experienced a temporary death, so that he would not be condemned to the eternal death of Hell.Though the heart of man is possessed, at times, by such profound darkness, perhaps this demonstration before him of the torments of eternal Hell can bring him to repentance.
Then again, the manifestation of the torments of eternal Hell becomes a source of greater reproach for those indifferent or negligent, who, even after this ghastly vision, return to life, remaining the same as before, uncorrected; wherefore, there is no longer left for them any justification.
B. St. Gregory the Dialogist to his Deacon Peter
That souls often see, while yet in the body, various
of the torments of the unclean spirits in Hell,
sometimes for their own edification, at
other times for the edification of
those who hear of them.
There once lived a youth by the name of Theodore. He was very unruly and followed his brother, who was in fact a monk, to the monastery out of necessity and not out of any personal inclination or desire to do so. If anyone happened to tell him some good word about his salvation, the young man, since he was very disobedient, was not only little disposed to act on the advice, but would not even hear it; nor, moreover, would he agree to become a monk.
Now, it so happened that this young man developed a sore on his thigh from a deadly disease [this is a symptom of the bubonic plague—Trans.] and came near to the end of his life. All of the brothers of the monastery gathered near him. Just as they saw him slowly expire (his body had already become cold and there remained in his bosom only the slightest warmth of life), they began to pray for him persistently and to ask God, Who loves mankind, to have compassion on him at the hour of the departure of his soul from the body.
Suddenly, as the brothers were praying, Theodore began to cry out in a loud voice and interrupt the prayer of the monks, saying: "Get away from me, move away, for I have been handed over for a dragon to devour me. The dragon cannot consume me entirely because of your presence. He already had my head completely inside his mouth. So give way, that I will not be further tortured and so that what he must do, he can do even more quickly. Since this dragon is intent on eating me, why should I suffer a slow martyrdorn?"
When they heard these words, the brothers were struck with terror, and they said to the young man:
"Make the sign of the Cross over yourself."
Theodore answered in a heart-rending cry:
"I want to make the sign of the Cross, but I cannot, since the slime from this dragon is weighing down my hand."
After this response—though Theodore became inanimate—, the monks knelt down on the ground and began with fervent tears to pray intensely for the redemption of Theodore from the dreadful dragon.
When a period of persistent prayer and supplication by the brothers had elapsed, suddenly the ill Theodore jolted up and yelled with all the power of his lungs:
"My brothers, give thanks to God, for the dragon which had taken hold of me to devour me has fled, and was unable to stay here at all. Now, therefore, I ask that you fervently pray to God that He will forgive me of my sins. After this fearful thing that has happened to me, I am completely ready to repent and to forsake the life of the world."
And, indeed, having come to and having recovered his strength, the young man turned with all of his heart to God and entirely changed his outlook, since he was effectively admonished by the corrective scourge which God had sent him. Having pleased God sufficiently, his soul then departed from his body.
2. Theodore saw the punishment that follows death and was benefited thereby. Others, however, as we noted previously, see the punishments inflicted by the evil spirits after death while they are still alive and recount these for the sake of our spiritual edification, then immediately die after the narration of the fearful things which they saw. As an illustration of this, I will tell a story.
There once lived a man named Chrysaorios, from among the most notable of this world. To the degree, however, that he added to his wealth, so much more he enriched his passions. Pumped up by vanity, he submitted without resistance to the passions of the flesh, endeavoring to amass many riches and inflamed by the passion of greed.
When, however, the Lord deigned to put an end to the many sins of this man, he allowed Chrysaorios to fall to a life-threatening illness.
Now, when he had come to the last moment of his life, and while his eyes were still wide open, he saw before him frightful and dark-faced spirits, who were there to help escort him to the gates of Hell. He began to tremble and turn pale and was drenched with perspiration; crying out in desperation, terrified, he pleaded for a little time (in order to repent).
He called with deep and agitated cries for his son Maximos, whom I later knew as a monk when I, too, was a monk, saying: "Maximos of mine, come to me. Never have I done you wrong. Save me now with the strength of your faith."
Thereupon, Maximos, upset and weeping, immediately went to him, along with all those who lived in Chrysaorios' house. Though none of them was able to see the evil spirits which had beset Chrysaorios, they could conclude that they were there from everything that the suffering man was saying and from his pallor and the fear which he showed, since he was turning here and there in his bed from fear of the vexatious spirits and their dark forms. One minute he would turn to the left, only to see in front of him those spirits which he dared not confront. Then he would look away toward the wall, only to see them again standing before him.
So, having despaired of any possibility of escaping from them, he began to cry out: "At least give me time until the morning—a little time until the morning." With these cries his soul departed from the body.
In all of this, it is obvious that Chrysaorios saw all of these things not for his own benefit, but for ours, that we might learn, come to fear, and correct our ways. For of what benefit to Chrysaorios was the appearance of evil spirits before his death or the reprieve which he sought, yet did not receive?
3. A similar instance was related to me by the Presbyter serving our brotherhood, Athanasios. In Iconium, from which he also hailed, there was a monastery: the monastery of the "Galatians," as it was called. In the monastery there lived a certain monk, whom all considered to have attained to a high degree of virtue and seemliness. As his death revealed, however, his life was far removed from the apparent virtues that he showed.
One day, foreseeing that his end was near, he called near him all the brothers of the monastery. The brothers gathered around him with great eagerness, waiting to hear from such a virtuous ascetic, as they reckoned him, something great and wondrous, now that he was dying. Thereupon, he, mourning and trembling from his fear, said:
"You thought that I was fasting with you, when in fact, hidden away from you, I was eating. And now behold: I am delivered to the frightful Dragon to be devoured. This frightful Dragon has wrapped his tail around my feet and my knees, putting my head in his mouth, while he sucks out and uproots my soul."
Having said this, he immediately died, without having been granted to live even a short time in order, through repentance, to be set free from that Dragon. From this incident it becomes wholly obvious that he saw this fearful vision solely for the spiritual benefit of those who were listening, since he, even though he made known to others the Enemy to whom he was delivered up, nonetheless could not escape it.
C. From the Gerontikon
An ascetic Elder related the following:
There once lived an aged nun who excelled in virtue and piety. When I asked her why she fled from the world, she told me this. "When I was still a young girl, reverend Father," she began, "I remember that my father was a very tender and good man. He was thin and sickly in body, so that the majority of his time he passed confined to his bed. He was marked by such simplicity that he spoke only when compelled. When he was well, he dedicated himself to tilling the land, thereby occupying himself and bringing to our home the produce which he cultivated. But he was so reticent to speak that those who did not know him thought him to be mute.
"Wholly the opposite of my father was my mother. She was such a busy-body and so idle that she was anxious to learn about things even outside our village. She talked so much that nobody ever saw her silent, even for a little: rather, one time she would be seen arguing and quarreling, and another time saying obscene and indecent words in jest. Most of the years of her life she wasted in drunkenness and in the company of profligate men. She was often away and was immoral, and, like a prostitute, badly looked after our household, so that we could no longer get by—despite the fact that our assets were not few—, since it was to her that my father had entrusted the administration of the household. Though she lived in this way, she nonetheless never became sick and never felt the slightest pain; for all of the wretched life that she lived, she maintained her bodily health.
"It happened, anyway, that my father died, ravaged by many years of illness. Now, what happened at his death? Immediately a fearful wind came up and almost razed the area. There was continual thunder, and the rain poured so violently that no one dared poke his nose out of his house even for a moment. This foul weather lasted three days, and out of necessity we kept my father inside the house, unburied.
"Our fellow villagers, seeing all of these obstacles, greatly condemned my dead father, saying: 'My, my, what evil was living in our midst, and we did not know it! It seems that this dead man must have been an enemy of God, and for this reason God has not even allowed him to be buried yet.'
"We however, so that the corpse would not start decomposing in the house and make it uninhabitable because of the stench, risked, despite the violent rain, transporting the body to the cemetery, and buried it.
"From that time on my mother had even greater freedom to devote herself with great brazenness to orgies and debauchery. Indeed, she became so audacious that she transformed our home into a house of immorality and, indulging her unceasing sensual pleasures, squandered away all of our holdings; so, in a short time we had nothing left. Some years after the death of my father, my mother died. She had such a splendorous and magnificent funeral that one could say that nature itself cooperated in conducting it.
Since my mother had died and I had passed the age of childhood, the flames of youth being kindled and tempting me, one evening the thought came to me: Which path shall I follow in my life? Occupied with this thought, I said off the top of my head, talking to myself: 'Should I choose, I wonder, my father's way of life, and live with kindness, modesty, and judiciousness?
"'But my father, even if he did live virtuously, nonetheless never enjoyed even one good thing, but was always devoured by illness and misfortunes. He was so unfortunate that he was not even allowed in his torments to be buried like other people. If my father's conduct and behavior were pleasing to God, why was he tested by so many disasters? And what was my mother's life like? Did she not live a healthy life, even though she was plunged into a life of pleasures and desires? I will also, therefore, live the life that my mother did, for I prefer to believe in what I can see than in promises about what is to come.'
"By the time that I had decided to follow in the steps of my mother, night had fallen. And when I went to sleep, there appeared before me a man of enormous dimensions and with a savage face. Staring at me with rage and a wild look, he asked me in a dreadful voice: 'Tell me what is in your heart.' I was so frightened that I dared not even look at his face.
"This fearful man, with the same sternness, asked me again:
"'Tell me, then. What have you decided?'
"When he saw that I was paralyzed by fear and was in danger of losing my senses, he himself reminded me in detail of all that I had just been thinking of myself.
"Recovering from my fear and astonishment and being unable to deny anything that the man had said, I began begging and imploring him to forgive me.
"Then, as though he had become calmer, he took me by the hand and said:
"'Come and see where your father and mother are. On the basis of this you can choose which way of life you want for yourself.'
"Taking me from where I was, he guided me to a vast garden, which was planted with various beautiful trees, beyond description in their charm and filled with different kinds of fruits. And there, as I was walking with this fearful man, my father came up to me, embracing me and covering me with tender kisses, saying, 'My beloved child.'
"I embraced my father with joy, asking if I might remain with him. My father sweetly replied:
"'Now, my child, this is not possible; if, however, you will follow my own way of life, not much time will pass and you will be here, too.'
"Just as I was to about to continue in my requests to remain with my father, the Angel who was accompanying me pulled me by the hand and said:
"'Come, now, to see your mother, too, so that you can determine firsthand which way of life you want to lead.'
"Then, taking me to a place that was all dark, in which one could hear great disorder and groans, he showed me a furnace, the fires of which would spill over every time it surged up. And outside the furnace a number of ghastly and frightening individuals gazed on the sight.
"As I was looking at this frightening and terrible place of torture, I saw my mother, submerged to her neck in the flaming furnace, numberless worms gnawing on her all over. From my pain and fear, I was trembling, while my teeth began to chatter and to gnash.
"When my mother raised her eyes to look at me, she began to cry harrowingly and said to me:
"'Alas, my child. My pains are unbearable. My torments are unceasing. For a few years of delight and sinful pleasure, I brought all of this terrible punishment on myself. Woe to me, such an unfortunate one! Woe to me, wretch that I am! Because of the ephemeral pleasures of temporary life, I am now tormented eternally. But, my child, take pity on your mother, who, as you see, is in flames and is being devoured by fire. Remember, my child, how I gave you suckle and reared you, and take pity on me. Give me your hand and pull me out of here.'
"I, however, did nothing, and could not even approach my mother, who, out of shame before those who were around her, cried out even more strongly and with tears:
"'My child, help me and do not scorn your mother and her lamentations. Do not close your eyes to this unfortunate mother, who is tortured in the Gehenna of fire and continually consumed by unsleeping worms.'
"Moved by sympathy for my mother, I stretched out my hand, so that I could pull her out of that frightful Hell. No sooner had the flames of the fire only slightly touched my hand, than I felt great pain and began to cry in moans. From my lamentations and moans, I awoke everyone in the house. They got up, turned on the lights, and ran to my bed, asking with incessant questions to learn why I was crying in my sleep and groaning.
"So, having come to a bit, I began to relate to them everything that I saw in my vision.
"From that day I most decisively resolved to live as did my father, whose way of life I longed for. I pray that God will deem me worthy to succeed therein and to see my father again and live with him, for, by the Grace of God, with my own eyes I saw the glory and honor which awaits those who ready themselves by living reverently and virtuously; and, on the other hand, again, what fearful punishment and Hell awaits those who squander their lives on pleasures and passions."
E. From the Gerontikon
Abba Macarios the Egyptian related the following incident to his disciples.
Once, while I was walking in the desert, I found a lifeless skull on the ground. I pushed it lightly with my staff and, to my amazement, I heard a voice from this skull. So bravely and without fear I asked the skull:
"You, who are you?''
The skull answered me, as though it were a living person:
"I was a high priest of the pagan gods and Greeks who once lived near this place. And you are Macarios, a man of the spirit. Take note, then, that any time that you take pity on those in Hell and pray for them, they receive some comfort."
Abba Macarios once more questioned the skull:
"What is the nature of this comfort? And what is Hell like?"
"As far as Heaven is from the earth, such is the depth of the fire below us. In that fire we stand upright, entirely buried in it. We are so situated that one of the damned cannot see the other, but only his back. But when you pray for us, we are able to see one another's face for a moment. This, then, is the comfort which we experience."
Abba Macarios, on hearing this, sighed deeply and said: "Alas, such misfortune the day of his birth brings upon a sinner that it is better, as the Lord said of Judas His betrayer, had he not been born." After speaking to himself in this way, the Elder once again posed a question to the skull:
"Are there in Hell other torments that are worse than those which you have described?"
"Below us there are even more frightfully hellish things," the skull replied.
"And who is punished there?" the Elder asked.
"We, in the end," the skull said, "enjoy to some extent the mercy of God, since we did not know Him; those, however, who knew God and, despite this, denied Him are below us and suffer far more hellish torments."
This exchange having come to an end, the Elder took the skull, buried it beneath the soil, and went on his way.
Let us heed and fear all that this story tells us. For, if those who deny God suffer more greatly in Hell than unbelievers, we must take care not to deny God by works of darkness, that we might flee this fearful punishment. A denier of God is not just one who rejects Him in word and deed, but anyone who commits sinful acts, even if, with his words, he seems to confess faith in God. And a witness to the fact that what I say is true is the Apostle [Paul], when he proclaims: "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him" (Titus 1:16).
2. Likewise, the brother of the Lord, St. James, says: "If any man should think himself religious, that is, devout, and does not bridle his tongue, but misleads his heart into placing confidence in such faith, he is not thinking correctly and thereby fails to be benefited by religion; for 'faith, if it hath not works, is dead' (St. James 2:17)."
These words contain an obvious truth. For God, through the mouth of the Prophet, said: "Woe to those who blaspheme my name among the Gentiles." If we the people of God, the holy clergy, we who are called by yet other such honored names, insult God by our sins and therefore become the reason for unbelievers to blaspheme the good name of Christ, by whose name the world knows us, how is it not just that we should be relegated to a deeper part of Hell than the unbelievers, we who are the reason for their blasphemy and insults before God? Furthermore, as the Savior, the just Judge, Who is not a respecter of persons, says: "He who knows his Lord's will, and does not prepare himself, shall be beaten with many stripes (that is, shall be more greatly punished); but he that knows not the Lord's will shall be beaten with few stripes (that is, shall receive the least punishment)" (St. Luke 12:47-48).
For this reason, my brethren, taking into account the fearful punishments of Hell, let us tremble and struggle, within the measure given to us by Divine strength, to appear faithful in every way by virtue of our good and virtuous works, and to work in all things for the glory of God, that the name of God might be glorified by all who see our good deeds.
3. Abba Silouan was once siting among a number of brothers when, suddenly, he was taken by ecstasy and fell down with his head to the ground. After a short time, he rose up with tears. The brothers insistently pleaded with him and persuaded him to speak with them:
"Tell us, Father, what it is."
So, Abba Silouan, with emotion, told them:
"I was taken to the fearful Judgment of God and saw monks being led to Hell, as many lay people were being escorted into Paradise."
For this reason Abba Silouan always mourned and never desired to leave his cell. If he was obliged to leave his cell, being forced by some matter of necessity, he would cover his face with his koukoulion [monastic veil].
The Testing of a Soul as It Passes From Earth to Heaven: Hypothesis X
The soul, after its departure from the body,
undergoes testing in the air by evil
spirits which encounter it
and attempt to impede
A. From the Life of St. Anthony the Great
St. Anthony the Great was once preparing to eat at his normal time; according to custom, he stood to pray. It was then the ninth hour. But at that very moment he felt himself somehow carried off spiritually. And this unusual thing took place: While he was standing there, he looked on himself, as though he had left his body, and his soul was taken into the air by several beings. After this, he saw a number of fearful and ugly creatures standing in front of him in the air, trying to keep him from passing.
Those who were guiding his soul began to wrangle with these frightening creatures, who were asking for an account of the soul which they were accompanying and whether it was responsible to them for some debt. While the latter wanted to begin their assessment from St. Anthony's birth, those who were accompanying him stopped them, saying:'Whatever errors Anthony committed from his birth have been erased away by the Lord; however, all of his deeds from the time that he became a monk and dedicated himself to God you may examine."
Though the demons accused Anthony, they could not prove their accusations; so his path remained free of impediments. Immediately he saw himself return to his body, and he revived. And St. Anthony became as he had earlier been.
However, such was his agitation that he forgot to eat, and he passed the rest of the day and the whole night groaning and praying.
He was stunned when he reflected on how many temptations we must combat and what trials one must endure to pass by the air-borne demons. And he thought that this must be the meaning of the words of the Apostle Paul: "According to the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2).
For this power alone belongs to the enemy of our souls, that is, to war against us and try to impede those souls ascending into Heaven. Thus St. Paul counsels us with even greater insistence, saying: "Take unto yourself the whole armor of God so that you can withstand the devil on that wicked day, that the enemy might be brought to shame and thus have to say of you nothing dishonorable" (Ephesians 6:13).
2. After this vision, several people went to visit St. Anthony and began to discuss with him the soul and where it goes after its departure from the body. The very next night, he heard a voice call to him saying:
"Anthony, arise. Come out from your cell and look"
Indeed, St. Anthony the Great went out (for he knew what voices he should heed) and, having lifted his gaze up to Heaven, saw the following vision.
A tall and fearful creature, horrible in form, was standing straight up. His height seemed to reach up to the clouds, while a multitude of creatures flew around him, as though they had feathers. He would stretch out his hand and some of these he prevented from flying, while others succeeded in passing by and flying higher, continuing on their path without obstruction. This immensely tall demon would grit his teeth over those who escaped him; but, on the contrary, he would rejoice over those who drew near and were knocked down.
Forthwith St. Anthony heard a voice:
"Anthony, try to digest all that you have seen. And thereupon he cleansed his mind and reflected on what he had seen. It was the passage of souls into Heaven, and the immensely tall and frightening wild man, who was standing erect, was the Devil, who despises the Faithful. He takes hold of those who were guilty of sins and tries to prevent them from passing. Those who did not in their lives heed his counsel, however, he cannot hold, and for this reason such persons succeed in soaring above him and making their way to Heaven. When St. Anthony the Great saw this vision, it reminded him of the earlier one that he had seen, and he struggled daily, thereafter, to excel in the virtuous life.
The Death of Two Brothers
B. From the Gerontikon
Two brothers once agreed both to become monks. After their tonsures, they rightly decided to build two cells, one some distance from the other. They departed from one another, therefore, and each was, for the sake of silence, cloistered in his cell. A number of years passed without one seeing the other, since neither of the two went out of his cell.
It happened, however, that one of the brothers fell ill and the Fathers went to visit him. They observed that the monk fell into ecstasy and, a bit later, came to. So, with some curiosity, they asked him: "What did you see, Father." "The Angels of God," the sick monk answered, "coming to fetch me and my brother and to lead us into Heaven. As we were going up, we were met by hostile powers, countless in number and of fearful form. Though they bothered us a great deal, they nonetheless had no success against us. just as we were passing by these powers of Satan, they started saying: 'Purity gives great boldness to a soul."'
No sooner had he spoken these words than the monk reposed. When the Fathers who were there determined that he was dead, they sent a monk to announce this to his brother. But the monk found the brother also dead. And so the Fathers glorified God in wonderment.
An Admonition to Prepare for Death
C. From Saint Isaiah
Beloved Brother: Those who occupy themselves with the ephemeral and vain world, if they advance and make gains, do not count the trials which they have endured, but rejoice at the progress which they have made. Can you imagine, then, my brother, what joy the soul of a man who undertakes spiritual work for God and finishes it successfully experiences? It is natural for the soul to feel unfading joy, for at the moment of its departure, the good works which it has done will precede it when it ascends into Heaven. At that time the Angels of God will rejoice together with it, as they see it delivered from the powers of darkness.
This happens because, when the soul of man departs from the body, the Angels go along with it. However, all of the powers of darkness then hasten to meet it and seek to take hold of it, thereby to examine it carefully and learn whether or not it was engaged in any of their own works. It is not now the Angels who struggle with the demons to protect the soul; but the deeds of the soul surround and defend it, so that the demons cannot touch it. And if the good deeds of the soul defeat the demons, then the holy Angels sing on its behalf, until the soul, with joy and gladness, meets God. At that time, the soul completely forgets all of its good deeds in this vain world, as well as the labors it knew.
Blessed, indeed, is he against whom the leaders of darkness can find nothing. He will find joy, honor, and rest beyond all measure. Let us thus weep with the whole power of our soul before God, that in His goodness he will take pity on us and send aid from on high by which we might do all to conquer the leaders of evil, who obstruct our path [towards Paradise]. Let us, thus, disengaged from the many other pursuits of life, take care with resoluteness of heart to fulfill the Will of God, which will save us from the hands of the demons when they shall come to meet us there above.
Let us remember love for the poor, that this love might save us from greed, when the sin of greed shall come to meet us.
Let us acquire peace with all, the humble and the great, that this might guard us against hate, when it shall come to meet us.
Let us acquire patience before all and in all things, that this might guard us against carelessness, when it shall come to meet us.
Let us love all of our brothers and sisters, without hating anyone or repaying anyone any ill done against us; for this shall guard us against envy, when this demon too shall come to meet us.
Let us love the endurance in humility of our neighbor's word, even if this word should bring upon us hurt and derision; for humility will guard us against pride, when it too shall come to meet us.
Let us seek to honor our neighbor and not to condemn or hurt anyone; for this shall protect us from gossip, when it shall come to meet us.
Let us despise the cares of the world and its honors, that we might be saved from its bewitching evil, when it shall come to meet us.
Let us teach our tongues to be unceasingly occupied with the commandments of God, righteousness, and prayer, that we might be protected from falsehood, when it too shall come to meet us.
All of these foregoing evils impede the soul, while the virtues to which we have attained help it to confront these evils successfully. Now, what prudent man would commit his soul to eternal death just to be relieved from the labors required to gain these virtues?
Let us do all that is within our power and the power of our Lord Christ, which is great, to help humble ourselves; for our Lord Jesus Christ knows that man is hapless, and thus he has granted him repentance, as long as the soul is in this corruptible body, that he might, until his very last breath, correct himself and flee from sin.
Confronting the Judgement After Death
D. From the Gerontikon
The Blessed Archbishop Theophilos said: Indeed what fear and terror and what need the soul experiences when it departs from the body or, afterwards, when it has been completely separated from it. For then all of the principalities and powers of darkness come upon it and make manifest all of the sins which it has committed, whether in knowledge or ignorance, from the time of a man's birth until his last hours, when the soul is separated from the body. These powers brazenly draw near it and furiously accuse it.
Confronting these hostile powers of darkness are the holy powers, Angels, putting forth and calling attention to the good deeds that soul occasioned to perform.
Think what agony and terror the soul will experience when it stands before such a tribunal and faces such a fearful and impartial judgment.
It is impossible for anyone to express in words or to conceive in his mind the fear that overtakes the soul up to the moment that the decision of the Judge is given and it is released from those who hold it. That moment precisely is the moment of the soul's greatest torment, until it hears the verdict of the Righteous Judge.
If, then, by the verdict of the Righteous Judge, the soul is given its freedom, immediately the enemies scatter and the bright Angels seize the soul from them and, with no more obstructions, it is led by the Angels to that inexpressible joy and glory in which it will finally be restored.
If, however, the soul lived in carelessness, and is thus found unworthy of being freed, then it shall hear that most dreadful voice: "Let the ungodly be taken away, that he see not the glory of the Lord" (Isaiah 26:10).
Henceforth begins for that soul the day of wrath, sorrow, and unceasing grief; it is given over to the outer darkness, hurled into Hell, and condemned to the eternal fire, in which it will remain damned unto the unfading ages.
What then do the luxuries and fanfare of this world benefit the soul? Where are the vainglory and the delights and the enjoyments of this vain and fleeting world? Where is the money? Of what benefit a high birth? Where are your father, mother, brothers and sisters, and friends?
What from all of this can free your wretched soul, as it is burned by the fire of Hell and tormented by indescribable punishment?
How Souls Are Assigned Immediately After Death: Hypothesis XI
How, after death, souls are assigned to
the same place as those souls which
lived in a similar way on earth.
A. St. Gregory the Dialogist
The Holy Gospel says of the elect: "In my Father's house there are many mansions." Now, if the righteous in that eternal blessedness enjoyed its good things in the same way, then there would be reason to believe that there is but one mansion, not many. However, there are many mansions in which the elect will be distributed, according to their worthiness, that they might together rejoice and be glad.
The fact that all of the chosen who are distributed among the different mansions receive only one coin shows that there is but one blessedness, enjoyed by all of those who are saved; the amount returned to each of the elect, however, differs according to the various works of virtue that they performed.
As for sinners, the Lord, referring to the Day of Judgment, says: "I will say to the reapers, gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to bum them." The reapers, that is, the Angels, bind up those sinners who have committed the same sins, so that they can be sent to Hell together, and thus the proud are tortured together with the proud, the immoral with the immoral, the greedy with the greedy, liars with those who he, murderers together with murderers, and unbelievers together with unbelievers. All of these, joined together according to their types of sins, will burn in the various places of torture into which the Angels throw them.
I would like to ask this, in order to learn from you. How is it that in these recent years so much has been revealed about the soul which earlier escaped our attention? Perhaps this has come about so that we might see the future world presented to us in observable revelations?
It is exactly as you have said; for, as the end of this world approaches, so the presence of the future world is bit by bit revealed by clear signs. In this world we cannot even discern one another's thoughts, whereas in the future life we will be able to see that all that we have in our hearts is also in the hearts of others. Thus, this limited world resembles the night, while the future life is like the day.
Now, as when the night is ending the day begins to shine with light before the sun fully rises, the darkness somehow mingling with the light, just before the darkness of night completely fades and is overcome by the light of the coming day, so exactly are things here. The end of this world is being mingled with the dawn of the future life, so that certain obscure things of this world are made known by reason of their intermingling with spiritual things. For this reason precisely, we are learning about things of that other world.
Certainly, however, we do not know all of those things of the other world, or know them clearly, but see them only dimly, as though our minds were illuminated in some way—in the same way that we perceive objects of the material world just prior to the rise of the sun.
B. From the Life of St. Evthymios
When our holy Father Evthymios reposed and his body, much tormented by ascetic exercises, was, with the chanting of the appointed hymns, placed in his richly decorated tomb, Dometianos, the disciple of this Father, a true disciple indeed, who had imitated the life of St. Evthymios with great exactitude, serving the Saint more than fifty years, would not leave the tomb, but remained at the grave for six days, believing that, after St. Evthymios' death, he could no longer live or even see the light of day without him. However, when the seventh day had passed, that night St. Evthymios, with a joyful countenance, appeared to Dometianos and said to him:
"Come, enjoy the glory that has been prepared for you. For God has granted us the privilege to live together here in this place."
Immediately, Dometianos ran and revealed all of this to the council of the Brothers. And then he, too, joyful in the hope for future good things, departed this life.
C. From Abba Isaac
Our Savior calls the mental levels of those who dwell in that other realm the "mansions" of his Father. I mean by mental levels the diverse ways in which the mind of each of the saved takes pleasure in and enjoys the blessedness of Paradise. For the Lord did not characterize the mansions of Paradise as various places, but called the various ranks of the gifts of Grace "many mansions."
That is, just as each of us enjoys the sensible sun according to the acuity of his vision, without this single sun being divided into many different gleams of light, but remaining a single light for all men, so it is exactly with the righteous in the next life., All of the righteous dwell in one place; each of them, however, each one, will draw to himself the light and joy of the spiritual Sun according to the level of his own purity. Each of the righteous, that is, will enjoy as much light and joy as he is able to receive and to assimilate.
D. St. Gregory the Dialogist
I am of the opinion, honored Master, that since the human race is subject to many and incalculable passions, the greatest part of the heavenly Jerusalem must be filled with babies.
Let us not doubt that baptized babies who die in their infant years will enter into the heavenly Kingdom. We should not, however, believe that all those infants who have begun to speak will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven will be closed to many babies because of their parents' bad rearing. In this city, there lives a certain man who is known to all; three years ago, this man had a son who, if I recall, would then have been about five years old, for whom he had such human love that he did not even try to discipline him.
For this reason, the boy, when someone prevented him from getting his way, used to blaspheme the magnificence of God—and let me emphasize that this is something dangerous.
When, three years ago, a deadly plague fell upon the region where he lived, this young boy succumbed to it and was near death. As eyewitnesses recounted, while the father took the child into his arms, the boy himself saw evil spirits coming for him. The boy began to tremble, to blink his eyes in fear, and to cry out in despair to his father: "Father, save me, protect me." Simultaneously, as he cried, he turned his face towards his father's chest, as though wanting to be hidden.
When the father saw his son trembling, in agony he asked him what he had seen. The son answered: "Black creatures came to me and wanted to take me away with them." No sooner had he finished this phrase, than he immediately blasphemed the name of the Divine Magnificence and, with this blasphemy, expired.
Thus, God, the All-Powerful, in order to show by what sin the boy was given over to these evil servants, allowed him to die with this sin which his father, while the boy was alive, did nothing to prevent. And this boy whom God allowed, by His mercy, to live as a blasphemer, by His righteous judgment was also permitted to blaspheme at his death, so that his careless father might know well his sin. For this father, being indifferent to the soul of his young son, reared for the Gehenna of fire not an insignificant sinner, but a great sinner.
E. From the Gerontikon
The Elders say: "Brethren, chastise children, that they be not a chastisement for you."
From The Evergetinos, Book I, Vol. II (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1991). There are now (October, 1998) three volumes available of this classic work. These are the only editions available in English.