Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos and Ayios Vlasios
There’s much to be learned from Christ’s wonderful parable. We can look at its social dimension and also draw a great many ethical and moral conclusions. But I’d like to dwell more on issues which have to do with life after death, that is to analyze the parable in terms of the last days.
First. It’s clear from the parable that life after Christ’s Second Coming is not what is being addressed, but what happens to the soul after death, that is, between the departure of the soul from the body and the Second Coming. This is the period which is called the intermediate state of our souls. Christ speaks of the Second Coming on other occasions, when He will come to judge people after the resurrection of the bodies, and the souls will be re-united with them so that we can enjoy the fruits of our actions in this life.
Second. It’s also made clear that there’s death in our life. Both Dives [‘the rich man’ in Latin] and Lazarus died. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. This state is also known as sleep, because death itself was abolished with the Resurrection of Christ. With His Passion, Cross and Resurrection, Christ did away with death as a reality and gave us the opportunity to transcend it by living in the Church. The fact that death is now a sleep, a temporary state, is clear from the manner in which the saints die, since they all hope in Christ and leave us their uncorrupted and wonder-working relics.
God didn’t create death, but death is an intrusion into nature, because it’s the result of our sin and our separation from God. There’s death of the body and death of the soul. Death of the soul is the removal of God’s Grace from the soul, and death of the body is the separation of the soul from the body.
Everyone tastes the dread mystery of death, because we’re all heirs to decay and mortality; in other words, we were born to die. Death is the most certain and sure fact of our life. Even modern existentialist philosophers say the truest event is ‘living to die’.
But although death is the most certain event, the day and hour of its occurrence is not known. Nobody knows when they’ll die. The thing is that we should live well, so that how we die will bring us to eternal life. The parable says that the poor man died and that the rich man died and was buried. Death is therefore the greatest democrat, since it makes no exceptions.
Third. On its separation from his body, Lazarus’ soul was taken by the angels and brought to the bosom of Abraham. This means that angels exist- including each person’s guardian angel- and they receive the souls of the righteous and take them to God.
According to another parable, however, the souls of unrepentant sinners are taken by the demons. The foolish rich man heard a voice from God: ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And to whom will the things you prepared belong?’ (Luke 12, 20). The verb ‘demand’ refers to the demons who claim the souls of sinful people in order to constrain them eternally.
At the dread hour of death, when the soul is parted violently from its harmony with the body, terrible things occur. The souls of the holy are received by the angels, and those of sinners by the demons. In the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, there’s mention of what are called ‘toll-gates’, which are the demons, the wraithlike spirits that desire and seek to keep people’s souls for all eternity. Naturally, the demons can have no hold over the souls of holy people who’ve become united to Christ and have the seal of the Holy Spirit.
By ‘toll-gates’, the Fathers of the Church mean both the hatred and the hostile mania of the demons, as well as the existence of the passions, which demand satisfaction but can’t be satisfied, because the body no longer exists. It’s precisely this state that chokes people’s soul, which experiences the most terrible desolation. This torturing of the soul is like someone being held in solitary confinement in prison, with no opportunity to sleep, eat, meet other people and so on. The passions then become truly inflamed, as does that person’s whole existence.
The fact that people’s souls will be received either by angels or demons is related to the state they’re in. As the Fathers says, angels and souls are spiritual beings in relation to the body, though in relation to God they are also somewhat material. This is why angels are called ethereal beings and aren’t entirely immaterial. The soul, meanwhile is created, which means it’s made by God. It’s immortal by Grace, since this immortality is a gift from God. Everything created has a beginning and an end. The soul is created and has a specific beginning, but has no end, because God so decided.
(to be continued)