Course on Orthodoxy, Death, and Eternal Life

Orthodoxy and Eternal Life
Adult Education
St. Michael Ukrainian Orthodox Church
·   Introduction: What is Life?  Death?  Why do we die?
·   What happens next?  Orthodoxy (and the world) on the “Afterlife”
·   The Psalms and Songs of the Orthodox Funeral
·   “Buried Alive?”  Christ’s Burial and Descent into Hades (Seminarian James Guba)***
·   How then, should we live?  Preparing for Dying, Death, Burial and the Resurrection***
[*** The notes for these lectures are not included.]
Introduction:  What is Life?  Death?  Why do we die?
Opening Prayer:
 O Heavenly King, the Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things.  Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.
Scriptural Introduction to Human Life: 
·  Genesis 1:26-28.  Man is special: the Image of God and the highest of earthly creation.
·  Genesis 2:7.  The breath of God, put into ordinary creation. Created for Communion with God
·  Deuteronomy 8:3.  Our lives require both physical and spiritual nourishment.
·  God is the source of life.  Life exists only in Him.  Apart from Him?  Darkness and decay.
Scriptural Introduction to Human Death and Dying:
·  Genesis 3:22-24.  Death as a protection from living forever in sin.
·  Genesis 6: 3.  A shortened lifespan to decrease our wickedness.
·  Genesis 11:6.  Dispensation to decrease our wickedness.
·  Death – and separation – are both consequences of our sins and consolations to protect us.  What if we are able to overcome them via technology?
Scriptural Introduction to the Restoration of Life to Mankind:
·  St. John 1:10-13.  A new birth through Christ, allowing us a new life as “sons of God”.
·  St. John 3:16.  Belief in Christ brings us eternal life in Him.
·  St. John 5: 24-26.  God is the source of life.  Through His Son, we have access.
·  St. John 6:33.  Christ is better than manna (perfection of  Deut 8:3).
·  St. John 17.  Restored unity with one another and with God.
·  St. John 12:25.  Still a contrast between the fallen world and true life.
·  Romans 5 (esp. 12, 18, 19).  Adam brought death, Christ brings Life.
·  Psalm 8.  Now makes sense:  Hebrews 2.


Handout:  A Selection from the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great

Master and Lover of Mankind, with these Blessed Powers we sinners also cry out saying: Truly You are Holy and All-Holy, there is no measure to the magnificence of Your Holiness. And Holy are You in all Your works, for in righteousness and true judgment You have brought about all things for us. O God, when You had fashioned mankind, taking dust from the earth, and had honored them with Your Image, You set them in a paradise of plenty promising immortal life and the enjoyment of eternal good things in the observance of Your Commandments. But, when they disobeyed You, the True God Who had created them, and were led astray by the serpent being slain by their own trespasses, You banished them from paradise into this world in Your righteous judgment, O God, and turned them back to the earth from which they were taken, dispensing salvation for them through regeneration which is in Christ Himself.
Yet You did not turn away until the end from the creatures which You had made, Good One, and neither did You forget the work of your Hands, but You watched over them in many ways through Your tenderhearted mercy. You sent forth prophets. You performed mighty works through the saints who In every generation have been well-pleasing to You. You spoke to us through the mouths of  Your servants, the prophets who foretold to us the salvation which was to come. You gave the Law as an aid and You appointed angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through Your Son Himself through Whom You made the ages. Being the brightness of Your Glory, the express likeness of Your entity, and upholding everything by the Word of His Power, He deemed it not robbery to be equal to You, God and Father. But, although he was God before the ages, yet he appeared on earth and lived with humans. And He was Incarnate of a Holy Virgin, by emptying Himself and taking on the form of a servant, becoming conformed to the humility of our body that he might conform us to the image of His Glory. For since by humanity sin entered the world and by sin Death, so Your Only-Begotten Son, Who is In Your Bosom, God and Father, was well pleased to be born of a woman, the Holy Birth-Giver of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. He was born under the Law that He might condemn sin in His Flesh, that they who were dead in Adam might be made alive in Your Christ Himself.
And becoming a citizen in this world giving ordinances of salvation, He removed the delusion of idols bringing us to a knowledge of You, the true God and Father, having acquired us for Himself as His own People, a Royal Priesthood, and a Holy nation. And being purified with water and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as a ransom to Death, by which we were held captive being sold under sin. And having descended into the abyss through the Cross that He might fill all things with Himself, He loosed the pains of Death being raised again from the dead on the third day making a path for all flesh to resurrection from the dead – for it was not possible that the Originator of Life should be constrained by corruption –  that He might be the First-Fruits of those who have fallen asleep and the First-Born from the Dead, that He might be all, being first in all. And ascending into Heaven, He sat at the Right Hand of Your Majesty on High, and He shall return to render to everyone according to their works.
And He has left with us as remembrances of His saving Passion these things which we have set forth according to His command. For when He was about to go to His voluntary, celebrated, and life-creating death, on the night in which He gave Himself up for the Life of the world, He took bread into His Holy and Undefiled Hands, and when He had shown it to You, God and Father, given thanks, blessed, sanctified, and broken it He gave it to His Holy Disciples and Apostles, saying: Take, eat, this is My Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins (Amen).  Likewise, having also taken, mixed, given thanks, blessed, and sanctified the cup of the fruit of the vine: He gave it to His Holy Disciples and Apostles, saying: Drink of this, all of you: this is My Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins (Amen).  Do this in remembrance of Me, for as often as you shall eat this bread and drink of this Cup, you proclaim My Death and profess My Resurrection.
(Genesis 2:7; 3:19, 23; Baruch 3:27; Daniel 3:28; Job 38:14; Esther 9:27; Isaiah 8:20; Psalms 114: 5, 14; 137:8; Mark 14:22; Matthew 16:26; Luke 1: 70, 78; John 1:18; 17:3; Acts 2:24; 3:15; Romans 2:6; 5:12; 8:29; 7: 3, 6, 14; 15:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15: 4, 20, 22; Colossians 1:10, 18; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:6,7; 3:21; Ephesians 4:10; 5: 26; Hebrews 1:1-3; Titus 2:14, (24?); 1 Peter 2:9 )
What happens next?  Orthodoxy (and the world) on the “Afterlife”
Opening Prayer:  O Heavenly King, the Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things.  Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.
Opening Scripture:  Ecclesiastes 9: 3b-4; St. John 1:12-13; 3:16.  Truly the hearts of the children of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.  For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten …  But as many as received [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (through Baptism; St. John 3:5) … for God so loved the world that He gave His only-Begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him may have eternal life.

The Materialistic View. (see Life after Death:  the evidence by Dinesh D’Souza for a good review) 

·   When we die, our bodies decay, as do the brains that gave rise to our notion of “self”.
Ecclesiastes: 3:18-20.  
I said in my heart, “Concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.” For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.
·   At best we live on through the good (and evil) we have done.
Ecclesiastes: 2:15b-19.
  This also is vanity.”  For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come.  And how does a wise man die?  As the fool!  Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.  Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.
·   Remember that Ecclesiastes describes a worldview “under the sun”; as Christians, we live a life in the “Sun of Righteousness”(Malachi 4:2; Psalm 84:11; Luke 1:78; John 1:4; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46; Nativity Tropar).

The Spiritual View (summarized well in Life after Death:  the evidence by Dinesh D’Souza).

·   Ancient Greek.  The body decays and dies (then decays some more), but the soul is immortal.
·   Eastern Religions.  The soul goes on to the state that is most appropriate to its development.
·   Modern New Age Science.  The body dies, but the soul transcends the physical and temporal.
o   Supported by scientific and popular observations and ideas such as the conservation of energy and information; Quantum spirituality; the remembrance of “past lives”; the body as a “soul receptor”; Near Death Experiences.
o   Also supported by the decline in traditional scientific and Christian skepticism, training, and authority.   
·   Note:  many people mix these ideas. Christians tend to do this using religious words (dvoyeveriye).

The Orthodox Truth.

·   1 Corinthians 15 summarizes the Orthodox understanding of “what comes next” (op.cit. Anaphora. of St. Basil).
·   There is some truth in both the materialist and spiritual views.
·   There is no person apart from the body; there is no person apart from the soul.  We are composite.  Nor is there a “person” apart from others.  Christ is the “new Adam”.
·   There is no lasting life separate from the Source of Life (God).  All things decay apart from Him.  This is one of the great powers of being in “The Church”.  Life in the Church (i.e. as part of the “new Adam”) is full and eternal.
·   So what happens when we die?  It seems that when we “die”, the souls of the righteous are brought into the “Bosom of Abraham”; the souls of the wicked rest (alone) in Hades.  The “repose” that most of us will enjoin (and the activity that the saints will enjoy) is sustained by the grace of God.  In the Great Remaking, all souls will be rejoined to their perfected bodies and given new life in a new paradise that is spiritually filled with the “fire” God’s energies.  This will be the source of unending joy for the saints and a source of great (and cleansing?) discomfort for the wicked.

The Songs and Psalms of the Orthodox Funeral – helping the grieving, helping the departed and trusting God.  Main Sources: Mark Bailey & Paul Meyendorff (SVS Lecture, 2006)

We do not live in a death denying Church.  Liturgy deals multi-dimensionally with the image of death through the poems and structure of the service. 
·   According to Prof. Bailey, there is a Macro-problem:  some themes seem to be missing (Baptism and Resurrection).  An exception is Bright Week.  Why are these subdued/missing?
·   Micro-problem: How can we arrange and perform it so that it serves people best?
·   Micro-problem: there is very little planning for funerals.  Often very little advanced notice.  Chanters (or choir directors) and priest MUST plan ahead to avoid stress and pressure and ensure that the services are done well.  What does that mean?   What is a “good service”?

Worship is a mystery: good liturgy should change the worshippers.  They should be different – stronger, less anxious, more trusting – after the service than before.
·   The funeral service should take the worshipers through the occasion of death into a living appreciation of the resurrection, with all the peace, hope, and repentance that this entails.
·   We face the reality of the loss – often with very difficult images (e.g. “Why are you silent, my friend?”), but place that within the context of God’s mercy and joy.  Note the physicality of it.
·   We can either serve the funeral so that it helps or hinders the process of transition.
o   Don’t turn it into a choral concert where the music overshadows the service.  Must understand the purpose in order to perform it well
o   Don’t sing it mundanely or matter of factly.  The singers are not detached from the occasion.  They are participants.  The funeral is for all the living, exerting them to prepare.  It is as much for the living as the dead. 
o   Don’t infuse the service with contrived “sad-sounding music”.  Sadness is one of the emotions that is right, but solemnity, progression, and repentance are also appropriate.
o   Don’t abbreviate the service so much that it keeps the Psalms and hymns from serving their designed purpose.  They balance themes and work with the Gospel and Epistle to address the necessary questions and provide the useful context and understanding.  They go from difficult to comforting; from confrontational to reassuring; and we need it all! 
o   Here are some themes prominent in the funeral service:
·      Those who trust God are under His protection
·      The life that comes from following God’s commandments
·      The necessity of remission/forgiveness of sins
·      Eternal rest and tranquility (e.g. green pastures)
·      Final Judgment, and a request for mercy from a just sentence
·      Achieving a place of refreshment
·      The soul continues though the body does not (for now)
·      The sacrifice of the martyrs and their place in the Heavenly Choir
·      Grief of death – and it pointing to repentance and God’s mercy
·      Christ as Savior; Conqueror of Death
·   The service is not a one-time shot.  Not only is it part of a life-time (eternity!) of individual and communal worship, there are other services that radiate out from the moment of death.
o   Before death: prayers for wellness, prayers to prepare the soul to separate from the body (i.e. for a good death).
o   After death:  Prayer at the departure of the soul from the body.  Psalms.  Panakhida at the wake.  Funeral.  3, 9, 40 day and yearly memorials.  Memorial Liturgies. 

Doing the Funeral Service(s) Well: Redundancy vs. Reiteration: 
Challenge: the service is repetitive, but is it all repetition to be avoided?
·   Some repetition is useful, but some is not (and was unintentional – the example of the Vigil Service).  The latter should be avoided, when possible to avoid wasted energy/effort.
·   Psychologically, reiteration is probably useful for grieving people.  The themes of the funeral can eventually penetrate their hearts and bring them joy.
·   But there is a lot of pressures to cut the service down.  This must be done prayerfully so that the service is not a wasteful mockery.  Lots of variation.  Abbreviate thoughtfully.
Highlights from the Order of Service (there is MUCH variation).  Based on Matins, and especially the Matins of Holy Saturday (Lamentations/Praises).
·   Psalm 90: He who dwells in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven.  A Psalm of protection against all enemies (to include death).
·   Psalm 118 (aka 18th Kathisma, w/ three stases) and Eulogiteria.  A meditation about the life that comes from following the law (and separation that comes from transgressing it).  VERY LONG.
o   We take verses 1 & 2; 72, 92, & 93; 174, 175, & 176).  I consider this is the absolute minimum (although some use even fewer – or skip it altogether).  The refrains go from v. 12, to Have mercy on Your servant, to Alleluia (changing w/ the Stasis).
o   Look at the words that we are singing for the departed (who has lost the use of his/hers) during Stasis 2 & 3.
o   The Eulogitera continues these themes (then goes to intercession):  The Choir of the Saints have found the Fountain of Life and the Door of Paradise.  May I also find the way through repentance.  I am a lost sheep; call me, O Savior, and save me…. Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Your servant…
·   Psalm 50.  Psalm of Repentance.  Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me…
·   The Canon.   This is often heavily cut, leaving only the framework.  We put in at least one verse for each of the Odes that we sing, e.g. (taken from Ode Three):  Having at first instructed me, the prodigal, with many signs and wonders, finally, as You are compassionate, You emptied Yourself.  And then having found me whom you sought, You saved me.
·   The Kondak (sung as part of Ode 6): With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Your servant, where sickness and sorrow are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.  You only are immortal,  Who has created and fashioned man. For out of the earth were we mortals made, and unto the same earth shall we return again, as You commanded when You made me, saying unto me: “For dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.”   Whither we mortals all shall go, making our lamentation into the song: Alleluia.  Alleluia.  Alleluia.
·   The Hymns of St. John Damascus (one for each Tone; we do 1, 3, 5, & 8).  These are poetic hymns that go straight to the heart, forcing us to confront the reality of death.  E.g. 
(Tone 8) I weep and I wail when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, created in the likeness of God, lying in the tomb, disfigured, bereft of glory and form.  O Marvel!  What is this mystery concerning us?  Why have we been given over unto corruption?  And why have we been wedded unto death?  Truly as it is written by the command of God, who giveth the departed rest.
·   The Beatitudes.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  
·   Epistle (Thes 4:13-17) , Gospel (St. John 5: 24-30 (et al)) , associated verses, and homily.
·   The Hymns of the Last Kiss (we add Psalm 22 (23)- why?).  Like Hymns of St. John, these provide brutal honesty.  E.g. : Tell us now brother/sister, where do you go from us silently and without a word.  Look back and console your weeping relatives and comfort your friends.  Behold the grief and the tears shed for you.  Where now are your relatives and friends?  Behold, we part!  Indeed, all human endeavor is vanity.
·   The Tropars for the Departed, Absolution, Memory Eternal.
Question:  How does this differ from other funerals?  Is the brutality of the service useful?