The Orthodox Pages



1st February 2007
























































































































































A great part of this talk was taken from Fr. Seraphim Rose' book "The Soul after Death"

As we said last week, today our talk will be on the subject of death. We will first look at Modern Near Death experiences which in recent years have been published in many books. We will then compare this with what Holy Scripture teaches us on death, and the teaching of the Orthodox Church which is based on Scripture. Death is a frightful thing and some of the things we are going to hear today will probably scare the living daylights out of you. Christians are afraid of death for three main reasons: 1) they do not have enough faith in Christ, 2) they do not live a holy, but rather a sinful life and are therefore afraid, and 3) they know that after death repentance for salvation no longer exists and so they are afraid of death and the uncertainty that it brings for them personally.
When the Church speaks of death, it is not in order to frighten the people and create panic, but to help them to overcome it. Obviously, the problem of death is not easy to face in any case, nor is death a simple event. We are born corruptible and mortal. At his birth, the particular person is born who is going to die. All human life is a succession of deaths. The illnesses and general corruptibility of the body indicate that we are bearing the burden of death. So when the Church speaks of these matters it is an effective help. In place of fear and panic it spreads hope and consolation and in this way tries to give joy to life.
Holy Scripture teachings us about death and tries to prepare us for that inescapable event. In spite of this, we do not know enough about life after death to reassure us that we should have nothing to fear. Death is not as many imagine it to be. All of us at the hour of our death will see and experience much to which we are not accustomed. Some people think death is a sleep without dreams. You close your eyes, fall asleep and there is nothing more, just darkness. Sleep ends in the morning, but death is eternal. Many are very frightened of the unknown and of the question, "what will happen to me?" So, instead, they choose not to think about death. However, deep within us there is always the knowledge of the inevitable and a sense of disquiet. Each one of us will have to cross that boundary. We should contemplate it and prepare ourselves. Some would say, "What is there to contemplate or prepare for? It's beyond our control. Our time will come and we will die, that’s it. While there is time, we must take everything we can from life. Eat, drink, love, achieve power and glory, earn money, etc. Don't dwell on anything unpleasant or upsetting and certainly don't think about dying." Yet at times, each of us may have more disturbing questions: "What if that's not the case? What if death is not the end? What if I find myself in a completely new place with my abilities to see hear and feel intact?" And most importantly, "what if our future beyond the threshold depends in part on the way in which we lived this life and what we were before we crossed the threshold of death?"
With the advance of medical science and technology in recent years, many people who would have otherwise died from an illness or on the operating table have been resuscitated and brought back to life. A great many of these people have on their return to this life spoken of another life beyond this one and their accounts have been compiled and published in many books. But how are these “near death experiences” to be interpreted and more important, how are they to be interpreted by the Church. Let us see an example of these accounts.
Dean, a sixteen year-old boy whose kidneys had stopped working recalls: "I was lying in a room in the intensive care unit of a Seattle children's hospital, Suddenly, I was standing upright and moving very quickly through dark space. I could not see any walls, but I thought that I was in a kind of tunnel. Although there was no wind, I felt that I was travelling with great speed. I did not understand where I was flying to or why, but I could feel that at the end of my flight something very important was waiting for me and I wanted to arrive at my destination as quickly as possible. At last I arrived at a place filled with light. It was here that I noticed someone next to me. He was tall with long golden hair dressed in white vestments girded with a belt in the middle. Even though He did not say anything, I was not afraid, because of the feelings of love and peace flowing from him. If it was not Christ, then it must have been one of His angels." After this, Dean felt himself return to his body and then he awoke. This brief and yet, very intense experience left a deep impression in Dean's soul. He became a very religious young man, which had a positive effect on his whole family.
Like this account there are hundreds more, some being good experiences and others bad and frightening. From many of these accounts we can glimpse at what the soul sees and experiences upon its separation from the body. During the process of dying, he can hear as the doctor pronounces him dead. Then he sees his double, a lifeless body, lying below him surrounded by doctors and nurses trying to revive him. This unexpected scene shocks the person, who for the first time looks upon himself from outside of his body. It is at this point that he begins to realize that all of his abilities — to see, to hear, to think, to feel, etc. — continue to function, but now completely independent of his outer membrane, the flesh. Finding himself floating above the people in the room the person instinctively tries to make them aware of his presence by touching or speaking to one of them. But to his dismay, he is completely cut off from everyone. No one hears his voice or notices his touch. At the same time, he is puzzled by his feelings of relief, peace and even happiness. Having experienced such ease, the soul usually does not want to return to its body.
In the majority of documented cases of temporary death, after a few moments of observation, the soul returns to the body and thus ends its knowledge of the afterlife. However, on occasion the soul continues to travel further into the spiritual world. Some liken this condition to travelling through a dark tunnel. After this the souls of some arrive in a world of great beauty where they sometimes meet deceased relatives. Others arrive in a realm of light and meet a being of light from whom feelings of great love and understanding radiate and warm the soul. Some insist that it is our Lord Jesus Christ while others say it is an angel, but all agree that it is someone full of good and compassion. Still others arrive in dark netherworlds where they describe seeing loathsome and cruel beings.
Certain Christians have questioned these accounts and suggested that many are imaginary stories or have raised the question “Could not these visions of light be the devils wicked trickery, sent to deceive the vigilance of Christians? — Live as you like, you'll still go to heaven." We must then now ask the question: what is their nature? Is the vision of heaven really so common among those who, while dying as Christians in the best way they know, are still outside the Church of Christ, the Orthodox Church?
In judging the nature and value of such experiences, let us examine the dying experiences of non-Christians in order to see if they are very different from those of professed Christians. If non-Christians also commonly see “heaven” while dying or after “death,” then we will have to understand this experience as something natural that may occur to anyone, and not as something specifically Christian.
Some people describe unbelievably beautiful meadows and gardens; others see gates opening up to a beautiful countryside or city; many hear other-worldly music. Often a rather worldly imagery is mixed in, as with the American woman who went to a beautiful garden in a taxi, or the Indian woman who rode a cow to her “heaven”, or the New Yorker who entered a lush green field, his soul full of “love and happiness” and could see the buildings of Manhattan and an amusement park in the distance. Significantly, Hindus see “heaven” as often as Christians and while the latter often see “Jesus” and “angels,” the former just as often see Hindu temples and gods. Even more significantly, the depth of the patients’ commitment to or involvement in religion seems to have no effect whatever on their ability to see other worldly visions; “deeply involved patients saw gardens, gates, and heaven no more often than those of lesser or no involvement”. Indeed, one member of the Indian Communist Party, an atheist and materialist, was transported while dying to “a beautiful place, not of this earth . . . He heard music and also some singing in the background. When he recognized that he was alive, he was sorry that he had to leave this beautiful place”. Another person attempted suicide, and while dying reported “I am in heaven. There are so many houses around me, so many streets with big trees bearing sweet fruit and small birds singing in the trees”. Most of those who have such experiences feel a great joy, peace, serenity, and acceptance of death; few wish to come back to this life.
Thus, it is clear that we must be extremely cautious in interpreting the “visions of heaven” that are seen by dying and “dead” people. We must clearly distinguish between genuine, grace-given visions of the other world, and a merely natural experience which, even though it may be outside the normal limits of human experience, is not in the least spiritual and tells us nothing about the actual reality of either the heaven or the hell of authentic Christian teaching. Nevertheless, it cannot be doubted that these experiences are extraordinary; many of them cannot be reduced to mere hallucinations, and they seem to occur outside the limits of earthly life as generally understood, in a realm somewhere between life and death, as it were.
From the writing of the Holy Fathers, we know that the devil's beguilement — is a genuine danger. Apostle Paul warns "…For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light". (2 Cor. 11:14) Even so, the devil does not have the power to beguile all, when and as he would like. God restricts his actions. If a man is proud and thirsts to see something supernatural, wonderful, something that others are not worthy to see, he is in great danger of mistaking a demon for an angel.
But from the accounts of those who had death experiences, there seems to be no indication that they thirsted to see something supernatural and wonderful. In most cases, these were ordinary citizens who by way of some physical ailment died, but thanks to the efforts of their doctors and the success of modern medicine were revived. They were not expecting supernatural visions and, to all appearances, what they saw was allowed by the grace of God so that they might approach their lives with greater thoughtfulness. It's hard to agree with the idea that the Lord allowed the devil to mislead these victims, uninitiated in the spiritual world. Moreover, this same Light was seen by many children who, considering their purity and innocence, are under the protection of the Almighty.
Regarding the contemporary descriptions of the Light, there exists the difficulty of accommodating them with traditional Christian accounts. In orthodox literature, the Kingdom of Light is described in relation to heavenly ascent, whereas in modern literature, people see the Light before crossing the mysterious boundary that separates the two worlds. We think that the people who have had these experience have not yet been to the actual heaven or hell, but have only had a foretaste of them. One thing they all have in common is that none of these journeys into the afterlife begin with the Christian teaching which is based on Scripture and the innumerable accounts in the lives of saints. In Christian literature, on death the soul is always immediately met by two angels, one of them being the persons own guardian angel. But there is also another thing that we must keep in mind as Christians. The time of death for each person is allocated by God. God knows that someone is going to be resuscitated so these experience of death, people have described is not actually the experience of true death, but maybe just an insight into the life after death. The fact that the soul is going to return to the body means it is not time for that person to die and so God does not send his angels to meet it.
So what does Holy Scripture tell us on life after death?
Christ gave us an insight into what to expect after death. He gave as the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man. But it is more than just a parable. He called the beggar by name, which signifies that he was a real person. On the other hand, he doesn’t recognize the Rich Man's name. This signifies that because Lazarus lived with God, he was a true person, a true hypostasis, whereas the Rich Man, although he was a man, wasn’t a complete person. This means that a real man is one who has a soul and a body but also the grace of God in his soul and body. Although a man who does not have the Holy Spirit is in theory a person, he is not a person in relation to God, for the very simple reason that he has become enslaved to things. Instead of turning to God, his heart and soul turns to matter and is enslaved by it.
So let us listen to the parable:
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16, 19-31)
As we see, the parable is not about life after the Second Coming of Christ, but about the life of the soul between a person's death, when his soul leaves his body, and the Second Coming of Christ. This interval is called the intermediate state of souls. After Lazarus' soul left his body, it was received by the angels and carried to Abraham's bosom. This means that there are angels at death and of course, each person's guardian angel as his personal protector, who receive the souls of the just and take them to God.
By contrast, another parable says that the demons receive the souls of unrepentant sinners. The foolish rich man who planned to build greater barns to store up his harvest, heard a voice from God saying: "You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded from you”. (Luke 12, 20) The verb `demand' suggests the demons, who claim the soul of the sinful person in order to control it forever.
Therefore, at the terrible hour of death, when the soul is forcibly separated from its harmony with the body, dreadful things happen. The angels receive the souls of the saints, and the demons receive the souls of sinners. The teaching of the Fathers of the Church speaks of the `Toll houses', which are the demons, the aerial spirits which desire and attempt to rule the souls of all people forever. Of course the souls of the saints, which have been united with Christ and bear the seal of the Holy Spirit, cannot be controlled by the demons.
Christ says in the parable that Lazarus’ soul went to Abraham's bosom and the Rich Man’s soul went to Hades. Then it says that the Rich Man "saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom". To be in Abraham’s bosom was a phrase that the Rabbis’ used to denote a close communion with God. So the person of Abraham can be understood as meaning God.
Lazarus does not seem to be troubled about the terrible hardship of the Rich Man. He does not see Hades, while the Rich Man does see the glory of Paradise. Actually a person who lives in the uncreated Light, in the great vision of God, as our Fathers say, forgets the world. The Light is so great, so dazzling that it does not even allow one to see anything else. This does not mean that the saints do not pray for the whole world. They pray and entreat God, for they do indeed have greater communion with Him. However, they are in a state which we cannot comprehend. Only if we look into the divine experiences of the saints can we grasp it.
While Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom, the Rich Man was burning in Hades. Indeed he would ask Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue, because, as he expressed himself, "I am tormented in this flame". Here Hades, not Hell, is being referred to. For Hell will begin after the Second Coming of Christ and the future judgement, while the souls of sinners experience Hades after their departure from the body. According to the teaching of the holy Fathers, Hades is an intelligible place, it is the foretaste of Hell, when a person receives the caustic energy of God.
It should also be observed that the Rich Man saw Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom. He saw the glory of Abraham, but he had no share in this glory. By contrast, Lazarus both saw it and participated in it. This is a very significant point, for it shows that in that other life everyone will see God, but the righteous will have communion, participation, while the sinners will not. A characteristic example is what Christ said about the coming judgement. All will see the Judge, all will converse with Him, but some will enjoy His glory and others will experience the caustic energy of divine grace.
The Rich Man was concerned about his brothers living in the world and asked Abraham to send Lazarus to preach repentance to them. Therefore, in spite of the separation of a man's soul from the present world, there is knowledge and social interest. It says in the parable that there was a "great gulf” between Hades, where the Rich Man was, and the place where Abraham was, and that it was not possible to pass from one to the other. Of course this is not a question of particular places, it refers to particular ways of life. There is a clear difference between Paradise and Hell as particular ways of life.
So based on this parable and on other scripture and from accounts from the lives of saints the Church teaches on what happens to the soul after death. What happens straight after death and how does the soul travel from earth to heaven? What does one encounter between the space from earth to heaven?
The particular place, which the demons inhabit in this fallen world, and the place where the newly-departing souls of men encounter them is the air. The space between heaven and earth, the whole expanse of the air, which is visible to us under the heavens, serves as the dwelling for the fallen angels who have been cast down from heaven. The holy Apostle Paul calls the fallen angels the spirits of wickedness under the heavens,
(Eph. 6:12) and their chief the prince of the powers of the air. (Eph. 2:2) The fallen angels are dispersed in a multitude throughout the entire transparent immensity, which we see above us. They do not cease to disturb all human societies and every person separately; there is no evil deed, no crime, of which they might not be instigators and participants; they incline and instruct men towards sin by all possible means. Your adversary the devil, says the Holy Apostle Peter, walketh about like a roaring lion, seeking whom be may devour (I Peter 5:8), both during our earthly life and after the separation of the soul from the body. When the soul of a Christian, leaving its earthly dwelling, begins to strive through the aerial spaces towards the homeland on high, the demons stop it, strive to find in it a kinship with themselves, their sinfulness, their fall, and to drag it down to the hell prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matth. 25:41)
After the fall of Adam, when paradise was closed to man and a cherubim with a flaming sword was set to guard it, (Gen. 3:24) the chief of the fallen angels, Satan, together with the hordes of spirits subject to him, “stood on the path from earth to paradise, and from that time to the saving suffering and life-giving death of Christ he did not allow on this path a single human soul when it departed from the body. The gates of heaven were closed to men forever. Both the righteous and sinners descended to Hades (after death). The eternal gates and the impassable way were opened (only) for our Lord Jesus Christ”. After our redemption by Jesus Christ, “all who have openly rejected the Redeemer comprise the inheritance of Satan: their souls, after the separation from the body, descend straight to Hades. But Christians who are inclined to sin are also unworthy of being immediately translated from earthly life to blessed eternity. Justice itself demands that these inclinations to sin, these betrayals of the Redeemer should be weighed and evaluated. A judging and distinguishing are required in order to define the degree of a Christian soul’s inclination to sin, in order to define what predominates in it — eternal life or eternal death. The un-hypocritical Judgment of God awaits every Christian soul after its departure from the body, as the holy Apostle Paul has said: It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment. (Heb. 9:27)
St. Gregory the Dialogist writes: “One must reflect deeply on how frightful the hour of death will be for us, what terror the soul will then experience, what remembrance of all the evils, what forgetfulness of past happiness, what fear, and what apprehension of the Judge. Then the evil spirits will seek out in the departing soul its deeds; then they will present before its view the sins towards which they themselves had disposed it, so as to draw their accomplice to torment. But they do not only come to the sinful soul, they also come to the chosen to see if in any way they have succeeded with them. That the demons come to the soul on dying is verified by Christ himself who before His suffering fearlessly said: "Hereafter 1 talk not much with you For the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me". (John 14:30) If Satan was to come to Christ who was without sin to test him, how much more will he come to us who are weighed down with innumerable sins from our birth to our dying day.
For the testing of souls as they pass through the spaces of the air, the dark powers have established separate judgment places and guards in a remarkable order. In the layers of the under-heaven, from earth to heaven itself, stand guarding legions of fallen spirits. Each division is in charge of a special form of sin and tests the soul when the soul reaches this division. The aerial demonic guards and judgment places are called in the Patristic writings the tollhouses, and the spirits who serve in them are called the tax collectors.
But how should we understand the Tollhouses?
Perhaps no aspect of Orthodox teaching has been so misunderstood as this phenomenon of the aerial tollhouses. Many graduates of today’s modernist Orthodox seminaries are inclined to dismiss the whole phenomenon as some kind of “later addition” to Orthodox teaching, or as some kind of “imaginary” realm without foundation in Scriptural or Patristic texts or in spiritual reality. No one aware of Orthodox teaching would say that the tollhouses are not “real,” or are not actually experienced by the soul after death. But we must keep in mind that these experiences occur not in our crudely material world; that both time and space, while obviously present, are quite different from our earthly concepts of time and space; and that accounts of these experiences in earthly language invariably fall short of the reality. We should be aware that the language we use to describe spiritual realities is symbolic or imaginative language. Thus, of course, there are no visible “houses” or “booths” in the air where “taxes” are collected, and where in the writings of the fathers there is mention of “scrolls” or writing implements whereby sins are recorded, or “scales” by which virtues are weighed, or “gold” by which “debts” are paid — in all such cases we may properly understand these images to be figurative or interpretive devices used to express the spiritual reality which the soul faces at that time. What is certain is that there is a testing by demons, who appear in a frightful, but human form, and accuse the newly-departed of sins and literally try to seize the soul, which is grasped firmly by angels; and all this occurs in the air above us and can be seen by those whose eyes are open to spiritual reality.
The teaching of the tollhouses is the teaching of the Church. There is no doubt whatever that the holy Apostle Paul is speaking of them when he declares that Christians must do battle with the spirits of wickedness under the heavens. (Eph. 6:12) We find this teaching in the most ancient Church tradition and in Church prayers. There are so many references to this teaching that we simple wouldn’t have the time to quote them. There is the well known account written by St. Athanasius the Great, in his famous Life of St. Anthony the Great, which describes how once St. Anthony, “at the approach of the ninth hour, after beginning to pray before eating food, was suddenly seized by the Spirit and raised up by angels into the heights. The aerial demons opposed his progress: the angels, disputing with them, demanded that the reasons of their opposition be set forth, because Anthony had no sins at all. The demons strove to set forth the sins committed by him from his very birth; but the angels closed the mouths of the slanderers, telling them that they should not count the sins from his birth which had already been blotted out by the grace of Christ; but let them present, if they have any, the sins he committed after he entered into monasticism and dedicated himself to God. In their accusation the demons uttered many brazen lies; but since their slanders were wanting in proof, a free path was opened for Anthony. Immediately he came to himself and saw that he was standing in the same place where he had stood up for prayer. Forgetting about food, he spent the whole night in tears and groanings, reflecting on the multitude of man’s enemies, on the battle against such an army, on the difficulty of the path to heaven through the air, and on the words of the Apostle, who said: Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of this air. (Eph. 6:12; Eph. 2:2) The apostle, knowing that the aerial powers are seeking only one thing, to deprive us of a free passage to heaven, says: "Take up the whole ‘armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, (Eph. 6:13) that the adversary may be put to shame, having no evil thing to say of us". (Titus 2:8)
Some saints, such as Macarius the Great, whose passage through the toll-houses was seen by several of his disciples, ascended through the demonic “tax-collectors” without opposition, because they have already fought them and won the battle in this life. Here is the incident from his Life: When the time came for the death of St. Macarius, the Cherubim who was his guardian angel, accompanied by a multitude of the heavenly host, came for his soul. With the ranks of angels there also descended choirs of apostles, prophets, martyrs, hierarchs, monks and righteous ones. The demons disposed themselves in ranks and crowds in their tollhouses in order to behold the passage of the God-bearing soul. It began to ascend. Standing far from it, the dark spirits shouted from their tollhouses: ‘O Macarius, what glory you have been vouchsafed!’ The humble man answered them: ‘No! I still fear, because I do not know whether I have done anything good.’ Meanwhile he swiftly ascended to heaven. From other higher tollhouses the aerial powers again cried out: ‘Just so! You have escaped us, Macarius.’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I still need to flee.’ When he already had come to the gates of heaven, lamenting out of malice and envy, they cried out: ‘Just so! You did escape us, Macarius!’ He replied: ‘Guarded by the power of my Christ, I have escaped your nets!’
The great saints of God pass through the aerial guards of the dark powers with such great freedom because during earthly life they enter into uncompromising battle with them and, gaining the victory over them, acquire in the depths of their heart complete freedom from sin and become the temple and sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, making their rational dwelling- place inaccessible for the fallen angels.
But for most who haven’t acquired sainthood, what exactly happens when they die?

First of all they are met by two angels, one of them being the persons own guardian angel. For the course of the two days the soul is permitted to roam the earth, wherever it wills, in the company of the angels that are with it. Therefore the soul, loving the body, sometimes wanders about the house in which his body had been laid out, and thus spends two days like a bird seeking its nest. In other words for two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. On the third day, He Who Himself rose from the dead on the third day commands the Christian soul, in imitation of His resurrection, to ascend to the Heavens to worship the God of all. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. When an offering is made in church on the third day, the soul of the departed receives from its guardian angel relief from the sorrow it feels as a result of the separation from the body. According to various revelations there are twenty so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that the Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, begged Her Son to deliver Her soul from these demons and, answering Her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven.
Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself. Then having successfully passed through the toll-houses, and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitation, and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day its place is appointed until the resurrection of the dead.
It is certainly not strange that the soul, having passed through the toll-houses and finished for good with earthly things, should then be introduced to the truly other world, in one part of which it will spend eternity. According to the revelation of the angel to St. Macarius of Alexandria, the Church’s special commemoration of the departed on the ninth day after death (apart from the general symbolism of the nine ranks of angels) occurs because up to then the soul is shown the beauties of Paradise, and only after this for the remainder of the forty days, is it shown the torments and horrors of hell, before being assigned on the fortieth day to the place where it will await the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment. These numbers, once again, constitute a general rule, or “model” of after-death reality, and undoubtedly not all the departed complete their course precisely according to the “rule.” Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal tortures which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then changes are still possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers.
We have seen what happens to the soul after death it will either enjoy paradise or it will suffer its fate in hell. But what are Paradise and Hell?
Of course this is not a question of particular places, but as we said before, it refers to particular ways of life. The general teaching of the holy Fathers of the Church is that Paradise and Hell do not exist from God's point of view, but from man's. It is true that Paradise and Hell exist as two ways of life, but it is not God who created them. In the patristic tradition it is clear that there are not two ways, but God Himself is Paradise for the saints and God Himself is Hell for the sinners. God sends His grace to all men, since "He makes His sun rise on the just and the unjust and sends His rain on the evil and the good". If God gives us a command to love all people, even our enemies, He does the same Himself. It is impossible not to love sinners as well. But each person feels God's love differently, according to his spiritual condition.
Light has two properties, illuminating and caustic. If one person has good vision, he benefits from the illuminating property of the sun, the light, and he enjoys the whole creation. But if another person is deprived of his eye, if he is without sight, then he feels the caustic property of light. This is how it will be also for the life of the soul after it leaves the body. God will also love the sinners, but they will be unable to perceive this love as light. They will perceive it as fire, since they will not have a spiritual eye and spiritual vision. Therefore the same love of God, the same energy will fall upon all men, but it will work differently. Something similar applies to Holy Communion. All can take part, but for those who are prepared and worthy it is light and life, for those who approach unworthily it is judgement and condemnation.
Therefore Paradise and Hell exist not in the form of a threat and a punishment on the part of God but in the form of an illness and a cure. Those who are cured and those who are purified experience the illuminating energy of divine grace, while the uncured and ill experience the caustic energy of God.