LIFE AFTER DEATH
by Saint Paisios of Mount Athos
--Geronda [Elder], when a person dies, does he become immediately aware of his spiritual condition?
--Yes, he does, and says to himself, "What have I done?" But the result in fayda yok, [An expression in the Turkish language, which means: "There is no benefit, there is no progress or success".) that is, this awareness is of no benefit. This can be likened to a drunk man who kills his mother and goes on singing and laughing, but who, upon becoming sober and realizing what he has done, will wail and lament and say, "What have I done?" In much the same way, those who commit wrongdoings in this life are like drunken men. They don't understand what they're doing; they don't have a sense of their guilt. But when they die, this "drunkenness" disappears and they become aware of their real condition. The eyes of their soul are opened and they realize their guilt, because the soul, when separated from the body, moves, sees and perceives with an inconceivable speed.
Some people ask when the Second Coming will take place. But for the person who dies, the Second Coming is, in a way, taking place, because he is judged on the basis of the state in which he is found at the time of death.
--Geronda [Elder], in what state are the souls of the tormented found at this time?
--They are indicted, imprisoned, and suffer in accordance with the sins they had committed; and they await the final trial, the future Judgment. There are those who have been indicted, facing heavy sentences, and those who have been indicted, facing lighter sentences.
--What about the Saints and the thief? (St. Luke 23:32-33 and 39-43)
--The Saints and the thief are in Paradise; but they have not received the final glory, just as those who have been indicted are in hell but have not received the final sentence. Even though God has taught us from centuries ago: "Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand?" (St. Matthew 3:2 and 4:17) He extends the time more and more, because He waits for us (with the pronoun "us", the Elder means all of humanity) to correct ourselves. But we, by remaining in our (unrepentant) misery, are unjust to the Saints because they cannot receive the final glory, which they are to receive after the future judgment.
St. Paisios the Athonite (source)
PRAYER AND MEMORIALS FOR THE DEPARTED
--Geronda [Elder], can the indicted souls who await trial pray?
--They are aware of their condition and seek help, but they cannot help themselves. Those who are in Hades desire only one thing from Christ: to live for five minutes in order to repent. We, who live, still have time for repentance, but those unfortunate ones who have fallen asleep cannot improve their condition on their own; they await help from us. This is the reason why we have an obligation to help them with our prayer.
--It is my belief that only about ten percent of the indicted dead awaiting trial are, as the demons do. They don't seek any help, and they also reject all help. For what can God do for them? It's like a child who has alienated himself from his father, squanders all of his property, and on top of that, curses him. What can his father do for him? But the other indicted ones, who still have a little philotimo, are aware of their guilt. They repent and are tormented because of their sins. They ask to be helped and are helped through the prayers of the faithful. [Saint Nectarios, in his study, A Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul and on the Sacred Memorials, ed. Basil Regopoulos, Thessaloniki 1973, p. 202, writes as a conclusion to what he developed on the basis of the witness of the Holy Fathers: "On the basis of all the above, it becomes clear that the soul after death is unable to do any solitary deed and be relieved from the indissoluble bonds of Hades. Only the Divine Liturgies, the prayers of family members, of the just, which are offered for them, including charity, become instrumental agents of deliverance and freedom from the bonds of Hades."] In other words, God provides an opportunity for them, now that they are awaiting trial, to be helped until the Second Coming takes place. And just as in this life when one who's a friend of the king can intercede and request help for someone awaiting trial, so, too, if one is "a friend" of God, he can intercede with prayer to God, and He can transfer the indicted souls of the dead from one "prison" to another, better one, from one "detention-cell" to another, better one. Or God may transfer them to a "room" or to an "apartment".
Just as we provide some comfort to the imprisoned with the refreshments and other material goods we bring to them, so are the dead refreshed by the prayers and the charity we execute for their souls. The prayers and the sacred memorial offered by the living for the dead are the final chance that God gives to the dead to be helped until the Final Judgment takes place. After the Judgment, there will no longer be any possibility for help.
God wants to help those who have fallen asleep because He cares about their ultimate salvation; but He does not help because He has a noble spirit. He does not want to give the devil the right to say: "How can you save him, since he did not labor to achieve it?" But when we pray for those who have fallen asleep, we give God the right to intervene. God is moved more by our prayers for the dead than by those for the living.
Kollyva offered for memorial services on the Saturday of the Souls as a symbol of the Resurrection, and out of love and compassion for our departed brethren (source)
This is the reason why our Church has the sacred memorials with the kollyva. [Kollyva (κόλλυβα): boiled wheat kernels. The wheat kernels express belief in everlasting life, according to what Jesus said, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (St. John 12:24). It is a tradition among Orthodox Christians to bring a tray of boiled wheat kernels to church for the Memorial Service.] Memorials serve as the best attorney on behalf of the souls of those fallen asleep. They even have the power to bring a soul out of hell. At every Divine Liturgy, we should pray with kollyva for those who have fallen asleep. The wheat has a symbolic meaning: "It is sown in corruption; it is raided in incorruption" (1 Cor. 15:42) according to Sacred Scripture. Some people can't be bothered to boil some wheat and instead bring raisins, cookies or other pastries so that the priest may bless those things. Up on the Holy Mountain, there are some elderly monks who will prepare kollyva for every Divine Liturgy for those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection and for the Saint commemorated that day, in order to have his blessing.
THE FUTURE JUDGMENT
--Geronda [Elder], how is the soul purified?
--When a person observes the Commandments of God, working to be cleansed of one's own passions, then the mind is enlightened; it attains spiritual vision, and the soul becomes as resplendent as it was before the Fall of man. This is the condition he will be in after the resurrection of the dead. But one can see the resurrection of his soul before the General Resurrection only if he is cleansed entirely from the passions. Then, his body will be Angelic, incorporeal, and will not be concerned with material nourishment.
--Geronda [Elder], how will the future Judgment take place?
--In the future Judgment, the condition of each person will be revealed in an instant, and each person on his own will proceed to where he belongs. Each person will recognize, as if on a television screen, his own wretchedness, as well as the spiritual condition of others. He will reflect himself upon the other, and he will bow his head, and proceed to the place where he belongs. For example, a daughter-in-law who sat comfortably with her legs crossed in front of her mother-in-law, who with a broken leg took care of the grandchild, will not be able to say, "My Christ, why are you putting my mother-in-law into Paradise without including me?" because that scene will come before her to condemn her..." (Note: Saint of Damascus writes: "For no one should imagine that there will be no recognition of one person by another on that fearful Day of the Judgment. Yes, truly each person will recognize his neighbor, not through the shape of the body, but by means of the vision of the eye of the soul.")
The Good Thief in Paradise (source)
THE FUTURE LIFE
--Geronda [Elder], I have brought some sweets for you to offer to your guests.
--Look how happy they are with that! In the other life we will be saying to ourselves, "In what foolish things we found joy! What things inspired us then!" While now our heart flutters over such things.
--Geronda [Elder], how can we understand this at this point in time?
--If you understand this from now, you will not say it in the next life. In any case, those who are to be found up there will be faring well. Have you any idea what handicraft they do there in Heaven? They constantly glorify God. (Note: Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes: "On the fearful Day of Judgment each sinful person will simply see, standing opposite them in the eternal life and in that inexpressible light, their fellow human beings; and they will be judged by them." On Repentance, Logos 5)
--Geronda [Elder}, in the other life will those in Hell see those in Paradise?
--Look, just as those who are out at night in the dark can see those who are in a lit room, so will those who will be in Hell see those in Paradise. And this will be an even greater hell for them. So, too, just as those who are in a lit room at night can't see those who are out in the dark, so will those who are in Paradise not see those in Hell. For if the saved were to see those who are condemned in Hell, they would be pained and grieved over their suffering, and would not enjoy Paradise, where "there is no pain..." And not only will they not see them, but they won't even remember if they had a brother or a father or a mother, if they, too are not in Paradise". The Psalmist says, "On that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:4). For if they are to be remembered, how can it be Paradise? Moreover, those in Paradise will have no awareness of that existence of others, nor will they remember the sins they had committed. For, if they were to remember their sins, they would not be able to bear, out of philotimo, the thought of ever having grieved God. (Source: The Family Life by Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels IV)