The Soul after Death
By Reader Herman Kincaid
The soul's journey after death has obsessed the minds of humans since their creation. From the Egyptians before the Incarnation of Christ to the New Age followers of our day, humans have and continue to contemplate life after death. All the average person seems to know about life after death is that the soul is separated from the body. But what happens to that soul? Do the righteous go straight to Paradise? Are we judged? These are all questions that play on the minds of humans at some point in their life, especially in the minds of the faithful, who pray for eternal Paradise within the bosom of our Lord. This article will attempt to answer some of the questions offered above. Also, we will examine the relationship between our memorial services and the journey of the soul after death.
To this very day there is no official Orthodox Christian dogma explaining the soul's journey after death. All that we are given is testimony from the Saints as they conversed with the Angels. One such encounter is considered the most authoritative of all Orthodox discussion on this subject and is the foundation for our schedule of memorial services celebrated in the Church. The encounter was between St. Macarius of Alexandria and the Angels. Isabel Florence Hapgood in her Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church gives a description of his encounter. This description is important because it reveals the why the Church celebrates a loved one's memory on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after a death. Here are the details of the Angel's testimony paraphrased (due to the difficult English presented in the original article) from Hapgood:
The journey of the Soul begins on the third day after death, when, according to the Angel, the body is to be brought to the Temple. At this point the Soul receives relief from the grief it felt from the time of its parting from the body. This relief comes only if the surviving members of the family pray for the soul in the Temple (this would be comparable to a wake period and funeral). We must note how important our prayer is for the peaceful journey of the soul. For a period of two days after death the Soul is allowed to wander all over the earth accompanied by the its Guardian Angel. Since the Soul feels a strong attachment to the body it has left, it usually desires to be near the body (hovering in the place where the death occurred or with the body during the time of waking and funeral). The Angel notes that if the soul belonged to a "beneficent" person, then it would desire (during these two days) to wander in the places where it may perform "deeds of righteousness." The Soul during these two days is compared to a bird searching for a place to nest.
"On the third day He who rose again from the dead commandeth that every Soul, in imitation of his own Resurrection, shall be brought to heaven, that it may do reverence to the God of all. Wherefore the Church hath the blessed custom of celebrating oblation and prayers on the third day for the Soul." After having done reverence to God, the Soul is shown the "fair abodes of the Saints and the beauty of Paradise." The Soul views these great marvels for a period of six days, during which it should do reverence to God. During this time the Soul forgets all sorrow it may have felt in life, overwhelmed by the joys of the Saints. If the Soul, however, is guilty of sins, then it begins to worry and moan at the sight of Paradise. The Soul grieves over how it wasted its time on Earth in vain pursuits and the pleasures of the flesh.
"After having viewed all the joys of the Just for the space of six days, the Angels lead the Soul again to do reverence to God. Therefore the Church doth well, in that she celebrateth service and oblation for the Soul on the ninth day." After doing a second reverence to God, Christ commands that the Soul be sent to Hell where it is shown the places of torment, the different divisions of Hell, the diverse torments of the ungodly, "which cause the souls of sinners that find themselves therein to groan continually, and to gnash their teeth." The Soul remains in Hell observing the torments of the ungodly for a period of thirty days. On the fortieth day after death the Soul is again taken to do reverence to God. After the final reverence, our Lord Jesus Christ determines the proper place of incarceration for the Soul, according to its deeds. "Thus the Church doth rightly in making mention, upon the fortieth day, of the baptized dead."
I hope that this information from Hapgood will help everyone, as it has helped me, to be more aware of the importants prayer for the dead and how prayer relates to the soul's journey after departing from the body. Also, these services for the third, ninth and fortieth days after death help to ease the sorrow of the departed's loved ones. When these services are celebrated, the departed one's memory is awakened in the hearts of the mourners so that their memories of the departed one may be of joy and focused around the Resurrection of our Lord.
Once again, this excerpt from Hapgood is not official Orthodox dogma.
It simply stresses the importance of immediate repentance by each and every one of us.
Our journey towards Christ must begin this very second so that we are not permanently
bound to the torments of hell but may delight with the Saints in Paradise.