Life after Death | Orthodox | 4

Understanding of death by ancient people

So what is death?

All people thought about it. All religions speak about it.

Actually they speak differently. If we turn to pre-Christian history, we see numerous versions of descriptions of the after-death period.

It is worth noting however that all of them speak, in real fact, about a certain form of the continued life.

What did our distant ancestors think about death?
This is quite a voluminous question, and we’ll just speak about it in short.

Conceptions of the Egyptian religion are especially interesting.

In the Egyptian “Book of the dead” (Its title is literally translated as “Coming from the day”), which was written about 2000 years B.C., we find different reflections about how a soul will appeal to gods, to spirits,

- to appeal - in order not to be subjected to some heavy blows, sufferings, flagellations, not to find oneself in a situation which is even worse than death itself.

For here lies a terrible sentence that the god Gor announces to the breakers of the gods’ will:

“Terrible swords will chastise your bodies, your souls will be exterminated, your shadows will be trampled, and your heads will be chopped.

You will not rise! You will walk on your heads! You will not stand up as you’ve got into your pits! You will not run away! You will not get off!

Against you is the fire of a snake, that one that burns down millions!...They, gods with knives will cut you off, will put an end to you! No one will ever see you, those who live on Earth!”

But according to the same book the soul may save itself and become like a small god.

Moreover, a striking concern about preservation of a body (mummification) and separate pieces of poetic texts in pyramids give cause to some researches for a supposition about the presence of belief among the ancient Egyptians in the future resurrection.

Something of this kind we see in the Tibetan “Book of the dead”, though it has a much more later origin, it was written about the VIII century.

In it we find different motives, specific for Hindu consciousness.

Death is viewed here as a step in the evolution or on the contrary, in the degradation of a soul, it is expressed in certain forms of reincarnation.

Though according to Tibetan conceptions some people may achieve the condition of Liberation, release, when the process of reincarnation will stop, however very few people will reach the final end.

The teaching about the reincarnation is contained in almost all religious and philosophical Hindu systems of thought.

A lot of exotic things may be found in Buddhist tales.

According to one of them Buddha reincarnated 215 times and whom hasn’t he only been (except female), before at last he became an illuminated.

True, the initial form of Buddhism is different, it orients a person at achieving so-called Nirvana.

But what it is really – different schools say about it differently.

But that is not so important, the main thing is that something is happening there.

So, the spiritual and moral perfection is the heroic deed of the struggle with yourself.

And as known:

A battle with yourself
Is the most difficult battle.
Victory out of victories
Is the victory over yourself.

(F. Logau).

We come across interesting ideas both in ancient Greek mythology and religion.

The ancient Greeks (by the way like many other people, having no direct Divine Revelation) imagined a posthumous state of a person either as a certain illusory quality or something immeasurably worse, than any earthly life.

So in Odyssey, by Homer, for example, there are quite eloquent characteristics of the person’s state in the kingdom of Hades.

Here is how Achilles, who is equal to God, complains to Odysseus:

Oh, Odysseus, don’t hope to give me comfort in death,
Rather I would prefer to work in the field as a day-labourer, alive,
To earn my daily bread by serving as a poor ploughman,
Than to reign over the soulless here, being dead

Even more remarkable is the posthumous state of Heracles - this giant hero of ancient Greek mythology.

He himself is staying at Olympus, at the feast of gods and at the same time his trembling shadow with a strained bow is in Hades. Simultaneously he is in two poles.

This unusual idea of Homer became one of the sources of the original eschatological concept for father Pavel Florensky.

What do these surprising tales speak about?

On the one hand ancient Greeks felt the reality of that very world and undestroyability of the human soul, they believed, that it existed, that very posthumous condition.

On the other hand, not knowing what it was like, they were full of fear before this inevitable unknown after-death state and made all possible conjectures; they created, as we see, bright myths in their attempts of attaching some meaning to this mystery.

And we must do them credit – some of these myths are not only interesting but they deeply express the idea of posthumous reward.

Suffice it to remember the ancient intuitions about Blessed Islands and Elysium fields for the righteous and later myths, expressing hopelessness of the destiny of those condemned: torments of Tantalus, Sisyphean stone (toil), Danaides’ barrels and etc.

A similar picture can be seen in other pre-Christian religions.

Intuitive feeling of immortality and direct facts confirming it (appearance of the dead, their accurate prophecy, warnings and etc.), are dissolved in the thick fog of ignorance about that world.

And this is all along through the pre-Christian history of the mankind.

If we turn to the Scripture of the Old Testament, here again we’ll find something similar.

Prior to the books of the prophets we find assertions in it that the soul goes into sleep after death, and probably it dies away.

That is the whole of the man is turned into ashes after death, not only his body.

And prophets only, especially the great ones, started speaking definitely that after death the soul does not escape, does not die and even does not fall asleep, but it experiences suffering or joy depending on the nature of the moral life of the human being;

prophets even speak about universal resurrection.

And this is the limit, what was revealed to pre-Christian mankind.