What Happens When We Die?

What Happens When We Die?

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There are many different answers to the question “What happens when we die?” Your doctor can describe in detail the physiological process of dying. A psychologist can tell you about the emotional aspects. Your lawyer would answer the question in terms of your will. And the local mortician has a quite different response.

The Orthodox Church also has a response, and since its perspective includes eternity, it is the most important answer.

Our death is inevitable. As the Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). That pretty well sums up the Church’s answer.

As Orthodox Christians, we were Baptized into the life in Christ and Chrismated with the gift of “the seal of the Holy Spirit.” As persons consecrated to God, we were given a calling to be faithful to God and to seek, in faith and life, to grow in a God-like way.

Eventually, our earthly life will end. We will all die. That means that we will “come to judgment.” Upon our death, we will experience “The Partial Judgment.” We will have a foretaste of our eternal destiny. If we have lived in communion with the Lord in this life, in the same measure, we will continue our communion with the Lord in the next life. If not, then we will experience the darkness and agony of separation from God forever.

Then, as the Creed says, “He (Jesus Christ) shall come again, to judge the living and the dead.” This is called “The General Judgment,” when all will be resurrected. Those who did not live in communion with God will experience that emptiness for eternity – Hell. Those who believed and sought to live a life reflecting God-likeness will be in the company of God and the saints forever – Heaven.

Our Savior Jesus Christ put it this way: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him” (John 3:36).

So you see, what will happen when we die depends on how we live our lives now. Seeking to grow toward God-likeness assures us of eternal life with God and His flock. Faithless living assures us of eternal separation from God and unending isolation from all that is good.

We can prepare for eternity. Saint Clement of Rome, writing in 97 A.D., instructs us: “Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts. But how, beloved, shall this be done? Only if our understanding be fixed by faith on God’s rewards; if we earnestly seek the things which are pleasing and acceptable to Him; if we do the things which are in harmony with His blameless will; and if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity” (Epistle to the Corinthians, ch. 35).

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Fr. Stanley Harakas

The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas 1932-2020. Fr. Stanley was well known to Orthodox Christians for his engaging and clear writing style in works such as Toward Transfigured Life: The "Theoria" of Eastern Orthodox Ethic, Living the Faith: The "Praxis" of Eastern Orthodox Ethics, Health and Medicine in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, among many others. Fr. Stanley received his undergraduate and theology degrees from Holy Cross, and his Doctor of Theology degree from Boston University in 1965 (which would honor him as a “Distinguished Alumnus” twenty-one years later).   In 1966, Fr. Stanley began to teach at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where he continued to have a life-long association with both Brookline campuses: as the first endowed chair of "Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology", as Dean of Hellenic College (1969-1975), and as Dean of Holy Cross for ten years (from 1970-1980). In the year 2000, Fr. Stanley received an Honorary Doctorate from our beloved school, which he saw through its accreditation, among many other milestones.   Additional Visiting Professorships included St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary (New York), Boston University School of Theology, Boston College Department of Theology, among many others. Memberships in professional societies were also numerous, including service President of the Orthodox Theological Society.   Fr. Stanley served as pastor of parishes in Lancaster, PA, Peabody, MA, Lexington, MA and Newburyport, MA. After retiring to what was then the Diocese of Atlanta in 1995, Fr. Stanley was called out of retirement to serve the then mission parish of Christ the Savior in Spring Hill, FL. As he had throughout his pastoral ministry, during his service to the parishioners of Christ the Savior, Fr. Stanley oversaw the expansion of a new sanctuary and parish hall.