Life after Death | Orthodox | 11

“Take earthy things here as most weak reflection of celestial”

What happens with the soul after 3 days?

Orthodoxy reopens that world to a man from an extremely important side.

We speak about sufferings of souls after death (trying experience).

Patriarch Macarius of Moscow (19th cen.), speaking about the status of a soul after death, wrote:

However I should make it a point, that, generally speaking, while describing the objects of the spiritual world – for us, invested with flesh, there would come up inevitable features, more or less sensual, anthropomorphous,

so, in part, they are inevitably admitted in the similar teaching about trying experience, which the soul undergoes after its departure from the body.

That is why we should remember well the admonition, which Angel made to the venerable Macarius of Alexandria, as soon as he started speaking about after death suffering:

“Take earthy things here as most weak reflection of celestial”.

We must think of trying experience not in the rough, sensory sense, but in the spiritual sense as far as it is possible for us,

and not to be attached to minor particulars, which different writers and different tales within the Church itself are presented differently alongside the single basic idea about the after death sufferings”.

These words, pronounced by Angel, should not be forgotten when we get in touch with messages about that world and stories about trying experience.

We recall the last days before death of bishop Sergei of Smolensk and Dorogoburgsk (Smirnov, +1957) – the elderly, nice, pleasant person, though he could hardly be called a spiritual hermit:

His decease was very demonstrative – he, time and again, gazed around himself and kept repeating: “Everything is not what it is to be, all is not like it should be”.

His surprise could be understood.

Though we are sure, that there everything should not be in the way it is here, we inadvertently continue to imagine that life according to the image and likeness of this life.

Both hell and paradise – as per Dante or Milton, and we perceive after death sufferings turning our mind to those pictures which we gaze upon with curiosity in different brochures.

Whether we want it or not we cannot depart from our primitive earthy conceptions.

Well, how else it could be?

One of the approaches to understand realities of that world we can find in the present day science, which depicts, for one, the world of atom for a broad public with the help of earthy analogies.

So, physicists, studying elementary atomic particles assert, that in macrocosm – our world – there are no notions, capable to express adequately the realities of microcosm.

That is why in order to present them to the public, physics are forced to find and invent words, names, images, taken from our habitual experience.

True the picture that is taking shape, is sometimes fantastic, but nevertheless it is clear in its idea.

Let us see how the inventor of the first atomic bomb Oppenheimer describes the conduct of an electron:

If we ask whether the position of an electron is constant, we must answer “no”;

if we ask whether the location of an electron changes in the course of time, we must answer “no”;

if we ask, whether an electron is immovable, we must answer “no”,
if we ask whether an electron keeps on moving, we must say: “no”.

Or, if take the notion of “wave-particles”: If we think harder, it sounds absurd enough, as a wave cannot be a particle, and a particle cannot be a wave.

With the help of this paradoxical notion, which does not fit within the frames of our so called common sense, scientists try to express the dual character of the nature of the substance at the level of elementary particles of an atom ( which, depending on the very particular situation, become apparent either as a particle, or as a wave).

Science knows a lot of these paradoxes.
What are they useful for us for?

They show, if the potential of a man is so limited in cognizing and expressing the realities of this world in a “human language”, so it is obvious, these possibilities are even more limited in understanding of that world.

That is why all its descriptions bear conditional, symbolic nature.

The Bible is full of so-called anthropomorphisms, when God is depicted like a man.

And, unfortunately, we are very often inclined to take images and analogies in descriptions of that world for the reality itself,

and as a result, absolutely distorted conceptions are being created not only about paradise, hell, trying experience and etc., but about the spiritual life, about salvation, about God Himself.

These distortions can easily mislead a Christian, to lure him into the paganism.

And a Christian – pagan – what can be the worst?

St. John Cassian of Rome wrote on the subject:

“If these and similar passages of the Scripture are understood literally, in the rough perceptional sense,

it will turn out that God sleeps and wakes up, sits and walks, turns his face or back to someone, approaches and distances, - and the flesh parts have - head, eyes, hands, feet and etc.

- All this cannot give us the notion without the utmost sacrilege about Him,

Who as the Scripture states, is invisible, indescribable, omnipresent, in the same way we cannot ascribe to Him without blasphemy His indignation in anger and rage”.

All the descriptions of this kind are such that we seem to start understanding something, but… And this “but” is the main thing that should be born in mind in our attempt to realize what is the trying experience and the status of a soul after death.

Realities there are quite different there, everything is not in the same way as we have here.

So when angel told venerable Macarius about celestial and earthy things, so above all he meant after-death sufferings.

And it is clear why he warned him: with all the simplicity of their earthy notions, in reality they have quite different, deeper spiritual, celestial sense.

And there is no such similar sense in either of the religious teachings, including those of the non-Orthodox nature.

So, Catholicism, for one, deeply distorted the picture of the posthumous state of man by advancing its dogma on purgatory and the teaching of the so-called limbo.

Purgatory is the place of sufferings intended for reimbursement of shortage of so-called man’s merits to satisfy God’s justice.

Limbo is the location between paradise and purgatory, where souls of unbaptized babies are placed, they neither suffer, nor take delight.

(This is how we may fall into such theological absurdity when we ignore patristic teaching).

The church tradition says, that after the body’s death the soul goes through the paradise abodes first, then in the most cases it goes through so-called trying experience.

Both are so-called examination for a soul. And as any examinations they, naturally, can be passed differently.

When our soul is separated from our body, - says St. Cyril, archbishop of Alexandria, (V c.),

- on the one hand we’ll confront the heavenly hosts and virtues, on the other – the powers of darkness, evil-doers, heavenly chiefs of trying experience, torturers and exposers of our deeds…

Having seen them, the soul will express its indignation, shudder and in disarray will search for the safeguard from angels of the Lord,

but being received by saint angels, having passed through the air space under their protection and having risen to a height,

it will confront different trying experience (as if some frontier post or custom house, at which duties are exacted), which will bar it the way to the Kingdom, will block and hold its striving for it”.