Ioann Krestyankin, Archimandrite
From Holy Scripture we know that the life of our soul has three periods (with two transitional facets from one period to another).
1st period - the life of the soul in the human body.
2nd period - the life of the soul, freed from the body, the beginning of eternal life.
The soul, having renounced the body at the moment of its death, enters into a new form of its existence. It becomes capable of seeing everything no longer with the eyes, but with a new sensation and seeing itself. She now moves by willpower and overcomes vast spaces instantly (all-natural obstacles now do not hinder her). She contemplates the underworld. And in this wonderful spiritual afterlife, the soul finds her place. The place, which she spiritually grew to during her earthly life. And in this place she must remain until the universal Dread Judgment of God.
The soul, being outside the body, continues to develop with increased strength in itself those qualities that it acquired in earthly life.
As a result, the righteous will be established in the virtues and devotion to the holy will of God, and unrepentant sinners - in wickedness and irritation against God. Good will be revealed in all its fullness and strength: it will develop with all the freedom that it did not have here (on earth), it will reveal all its inner dignity, all its inner light. The soul will be forever firm in goodness, and no evil, either internal or external, will be able to shake it, change it, or damage its blissful state. She will not be idle. She will, with her enlightened mind, contemplate the secrets that she did not comprehend during her earthly life: the secrets of God, the universe, herself, and eternal life.
It will penetrate into the work of our redemption, accomplished by the Son of God, that great and wonderful work, into which angelic minds also desire to penetrate; by which our human nature is elevated, in the Person of the God-man, to the throne of the Divine.
With the death of the body, neither our consciousness nor all the feelings, with which we live here will die, and in the conditions of a new afterlife, all this will be revealed in all its depth and strength.
All those souls, who bring pure and holy feelings with them into eternity: love for God, good deeds, humility, purity of soul, and body, will find a source of sublime joy in these holy feelings for themselves.
And the souls of the saints, who have pleased God with their righteous and holy life on the earthly path, will receive after the death of the body not only predestination to bliss, but they will already experience it; at the same time, they will receive the boldness to pray for us and to render us heavenly help from God.
After the death of the body, the soul continues to live with that reserve of oil that it accumulated during earthly life and that gives it the opportunity to enter into a closer relationship with God with the whole complex of its aspirations, inclinations, feelings, and addictions. And the greater the supply of oil, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit, the closer and more joyful relationship with God the soul can count on.
That is why the Monk Serafim Sarovskiy spoke so insistently to everyone about the need to "acquire the Holy Spirit of God" - that oil, which the wise virgins had in sufficient quantity and the holy fools did not have enough.
This is the spiritual wealth that is acquired by the soul only during earthly life and cannot be replenished after the separation of the soul from the body.
This is the spiritual capital that the soul has accumulated while living intelligently on earth.
It is great among the saints, and therefore they have boldness in prayer even after bodily death, and the Lord listens to them as He did during life, and perhaps even more.
Elder Zosima from the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra said this to his spiritual children: "After death I will be much more alive than now." The Optina elder Varsanofiy believed that after the death of the body, prayer could be perfected.
But woe if there is no "oil" or there is not enough of it! After the exodus from earthly life, no one can succeed. Whoever is far from the Lord during earthly life will remain far from the Lord even after the death of the body.
And finally, the 3rd period - the new life of the soul in its body, in which it was during earthly life.
During the second coming of the Lord for the Last Judgment, a new life begins for a modified and transfigured soul, united again and now forever with its own, also transfigured body.
For the true followers of Christ, the 3rd period of the life of the soul will be the life of more uninterrupted communion with God on the "new earth", under the "new heaven", where instead of the sun there will be the Lord God Himself.
From the indicated periods of the life of the soul:
The 1st period is calculated in tens of years.
The 2nd extends until the general resurrection.
The 3rd period extends into eternity.
This is either a reward for a correctly spent 1st period, or a terrible punishment - eternal excommunication from God for a sinfully spent earthly life.
The shortest is the 1st period, but, at the same time, it is also the most responsible, since it completely determines the position of the soul both in the 2nd and in the 3rd periods.
But, unfortunately, the idea of the importance of this particular period is very often absent from many of us. But only during this period the soul has the opportunity to perform feats. To pray and work, despite the difficulties and fatigue of the body; to fast in spite of hunger; to abstain and deprive oneself often of the most necessary for the sake of works of mercy, and to endure illness, various sorrows, and hardships without grumbling.
All this is no longer available in the 2nd and even more so in the 3rd period. There life is based on the results of behavior in the 1st period.
It is interesting that in God's creation one can find a close analogy for the state of the soul in three states with two transitions.
The life of a butterfly begins as a rather unattractive caterpillar crawling along the ground. Then the caterpillar seems to die, and instead we see a chrysalis without any signs of life, wrapped in a cocoon - like a veil and a coffin. But here a miracle happens. The cocoon breaks, and a butterfly of amazing beauty is born, with wings shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow, and fluttering freely over the flowers and feeding on them.
What a close analogy with the human soul, disfigured at the beginning, after the birth of the body, the deposit of original sin, with the development of passions and addictions in it.
The body dies. The soul does not manifest itself, it obviously transforms in a mysterious way, if love for God and neighbors was born in it during life.
The last day of the world is coming - the appearance of Christ for the second time, and the transfigured souls, shining with the beauty of virtues, are clothed in new bodies and go towards Christ.
When does the first period expire - from the life of the soul in the body to life outside the body? This is a mystery that the Holy One only partly reveals to us. Scripture. For Christians, this should normally happen when the Kingdom of God reigns in their souls.
In this case, death is not only natural, but also necessary for those, who are prepared for it.
He who has reached a certain measure of spiritual age, can no longer live earthly life dedicated to earthly interests. The brighter the love for God flared up, the harder it is for the soul from separation from God, the more it weighs on life on earth. Therefore, such souls wished for the death of the body, wished to cast off its bonds as soon as possible in order to unite with the Lord in soul.
About the death of one ascetic, which seemed premature to those around him, a certain elder said: “Having reached such a measure, he could no longer take care of earthly things, and equally, being among people, he could not get rid of this, and therefore God took him.”
Death to the body is sent no earlier than the fruit ripens, that is, when the soul of a Christian will be prepared for the transition to another world.
In other words, death is sent at the most favorable moment in the life of a soul, according to its readiness for the Kingdom of Heaven. For if life had not been interrupted, then the soul would have lost more spiritual wealth through sin than regained it. This explains the deaths that seem "premature". The omniscient and merciful Lord always cuts off a person's earthly life at the moment that is best for his salvation.
Sometimes, on the contrary, the period of life is extended in the event of a spiritual rebirth of the human soul through prayer and repentance.
According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, a person creates for himself here on earth a direction of the soul, which will be a continuation of his life beyond the grave. Therefore, God gives every soul the opportunity to acquire everything necessary during earthly life.
And in the history of the Church (and even in mundane everyday life) there are a large number of cases, when the Lord returned to earth the souls of people, who had already died, who for some reason were not prepared for the beyond world.
Those, who returned from the afterlife, spoke about their experiences after being separated from the body.
Throughout the stories, the following points are invariably repeated:
1) The soul that has left the body continues to think, and feel, and experience events in the same way as being in the body.
2) After the death of the body, the soul enters into communion with angels or demons.
3) The soul is judged for all her actions.
4) The experiences of the soul after the death of the body (in their temporary separation) are stored in memory after the return of the soul back to the body and make a strong impression on the soul.
Usually these experiences make a spiritual upheaval in a person; negligent souls begin to live pleasing to God, sometimes they become monks, and sometimes they go into seclusion.
For all, earthly life usually loses its appeal, and they begin to think mainly about preparing for a future life, the reality of which they have known from their personal experience.
For people, who do not believe in God and the existence of eternal life, there comes a period of deep reflection and in most cases leads to firm faith. And sometimes faith comes at once and becomes unshakable.
From medical practice we learn from people, who are by no means religious (both doctors and those, who have experienced a state of temporary death themselves), that many of them now reliably know from experience that there is life after death.
Psychiatrists, who were interested in the stories of people "returned from the other world", made notes of the people they interviewed (moreover, about 150-200 people were interviewed at different times in different places and countries). The stories of those interviewed or people, who sent letters to doctors with a desire to share their experience of an unusual condition, are very similar. Everyone says that they felt some kind of split in themselves, that they saw their body, watched it as if from beside; met their previously deceased acquaintances and relatives almost immediately after their separation from the body; felt the presence of a certain light, etc.
And the deepest impression leaves on all those, who have survived the state of death - a meeting with the "Being of Light", which is spoken of in all descriptions.
It is about the light, sometimes soft, and sometimes shining. But even if its brilliance becomes maximum, it does neither blind nor interfere with observing the surrounding events. People, who have seen this light, are sure that we are talking about a "Being", from which comes warmth, love, an attraction that cannot be expressed in words.
Although the descriptions of this luminous Being largely coincide, different people define it in different ways. Christians call him God and Christ, Jews - "angel", and unbelievers limit themselves to the name of his "luminous Being". And with this "luminous Being" it is as if there is a conversation without uttering words. The question is: is a person ready to die? Before a person, his whole life passes as in a lightning-fast cinema. According to the stories, one gets the impression that all moments of life rise before one's eyes instantly and simultaneously. And at the same time, the details of all moments of life are clearly distinguished. The experience of all past and already forgotten events is experienced so strongly that those, who have returned to life, are under their impression within a few days.
People, who came back to life and told about everything they had experienced, were apparently not prepared for death for one reason or another, and therefore returned to continue their earthly life.
And in the descriptions of the moment of the soul separation from the body, there is also a lot in common. All of them speak of strong sensations of almost lightning speed passing through some kind of corridor or dark long space, like a pipe, something like a tunnel.
“My being,” writes one young man, “spirit or soul, whatever you want to call it, came out of the body. It had some kind of density, not in the physical sense of the word; let’s say in the form of a cloud.”
Or in another letter: "It was a different body and not even a body. I felt as if in a transparent shell or in a clot of energy"...
Everyone says that the part that has separated from the body (the soul) sees everything, hears everything, observes the actions of doctors (who try to bring the body back to life), but cannot detect itself, cannot manifest itself in anything, tell people that they should not try to restore life to a person, because a person feels very good in a new state. A person, who has left that life, feels better than in the body. And lots of people told about how they did not want to return to their body.
Religious people believe in the immortality of the soul. And for people who have gone through an out-of-body experience, it is no longer about faith, but about confidence. And they, continuing their earthly life, are no longer afraid of death.
As we can see from the above, the medical practice and experience of people, who differ in their religious mood, but who have experienced their out-of-body state, are somewhat similar to the experience of the holy fathers and ascetics of the faith.
We also know about the afterlife of souls from other sources. These are the manifestations of the souls of the dead, which happen according to the Providence of God for a certain purpose. These phenomena happen either to people sleeping or in reality. And from the Holy Gospel (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus) we know not only about the ongoing life after the death of the body, but also about the various destinies of people.
If you think about the question of the expediency of the body death, then for many reasons you can understand its benefit and even necessity for fallen humanity.
Therefore, the death of the body is not "absurd", as the people of this world say about it, but is necessary and expedient. For many, the death of the body is a means of salvation from spiritual death.
We now clearly understand that what in everyday life we call "death" refers only to a part of a person (consisting of body, soul, and spirit) - to his body, which became mortal after the Fall. And the main part of man - the image and likeness of God - the soul is always alive.
Separated from the body for some period of time (before the Judgment of God), she continues to live in the afterlife, however, in a slightly different form, under different conditions. But at the same time, she retains the individual qualities of a given person, his personality, self-consciousness... This is how she will appear on the Judgment of God, because she will have to give an account of her actions during her earthly life.
Character and attributes belong to the soul, not to the body.
Each soul has its own natural properties that belong to it personally and distinguish it from other souls (from another person). And with these natural (personal) properties, the soul passes into the afterlife, so it will enter eternal life, again uniting with the body, in which it lived during earthly life (only the body will already be modified).
Thus, with the onset of death (of body), neither our consciousness nor all those feelings, with which we live, die, and in the conditions of a new afterlife, all this will be revealed in all its depth and strength.
All those souls, who bring pure and holy feelings with them into eternal life: love for God, good deeds, humility, purity of soul and body - will find in these holy feelings for themselves a source of sublime joy.
The souls of the saints, who have pleased God with their righteous holy life on the earthly path, will receive not only predestination to bliss after death, but also the happiness of experiencing it; and at the same time they will receive the boldness to pray for us from God and to render heavenly help to us.
We see that the immortality of man consists in the fact that his soul, after the death of the body, continues to live separately from the body. Death does not interrupt the existence of man, but only changes him.
The body, created by God from dead matter, "the dust of the earth", is subject to various changes and destruction. It is spiritualized by the "life principle" - the soul. And when this "life principle" leaves a person, then his body dies - the body without a soul is dead.
The Lord takes care of our soul. For the sake of her salvation, He admonishes us by giving us (at the right moment) to feel and experience for ourselves that the soul is immortal and destined for a better than earthly life.
The second transition is the union of the transformed soul with the body in which it resided while spending its earthly life. This transition will take place at the second coming of the Lord. When, at the sound of the trumpet, the dead will be resurrected, and the living will instantly change.
How this will happen, is hidden from us. Thereafter, the Last Judgment and the 3rd period of the life of the soul will come (again in the human body). Not only the soul, but the whole person will receive God's determination either to eternal bliss or to eternal torment.
One can judge what eternal life will be like for the righteous souls, if only from the fact that God put in man the desire to live forever, the desire for happiness, and the desire for improvement, in addition to all other desires of human nature.
The desire to live always points to the immortality of our soul (otherwise, why would a person have it, if it would never be fulfilled).
And the desire for happiness and improvement is not satisfied here in earthly life, although a person strives for this with all the strength of his soul.
Beautiful is the image of a soul perfecting itself in truth and virtue!... But we often see that a person's life is interrupted in the prime of his creative powers. Does this mean that his labors were in vain?! Of course, it does not.
God determined this boundless development and perfection in eternal life to those, who laid the foundation for it in their souls while still on earth. Virtuous souls are stones destined to enter the construction of a great building. In earthly life, the soul passes, in a way, only its childhood period of that long future age, which will last for eternity, and in which the soul will receive the opportunity for the full development of its abilities and perfection.