Life after Death, The Death of Man, the Intermediate State of Souls


Prayer for the departed is essential, because there is some improvement and progress in the intermediate state of souls for those who have already at least entered the stage of repentance.


Life After Death

Man was brought by God from non-being into being, from non-existence into existence, and despite the Fall he does not return to non-existence, to non-being. He is eternal and it depends on him what type of existence, positive or negative, he will live in eternity.

What is called ‘eschatology’ is a part of dogmatics. By the term ‘eschatology’, however, we do not mean only those things that will take place after death and the Second Coming of Christ, but also the experience of the ‘last things’ starting from this life. Christ, Who is the ultimate end of history, entered history, and anyone who is united with Christ lives the ‘eschatological’ life from now on. The ‘last things’ are the life of the Saints in the uncreated glory and rule (vasileia) of God, which they enjoy starting from the present life. Consequently, both life after death and the eschatological life are a matter of experience and are enjoyed by the saints even from this life.

The Death of Man

After the sin of the first-formed human beings, death entered mankind. God told them “You may eat food from every tree in the garden; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat; for in whatever day you eat from it, you shall die by death” (Genesis 2:16-17).

Immediately after the Fall came spiritual death, the separation of man from God. Later bodily death, the separation of the soul from the body, followed.

“…The teaching of the Fathers of the Church is that God is not responsible for death, not is death man’s punishment from God. Instead, death is a consequence of sin and of man’s departure from God, who is true life.

“In contrast with the Augustinian tradition of the Franco-Latins, the Latins and the Protestants, the Orthodox Fathers stressed that God ‘did not make death,’ but permitted it out of love and mercy, ‘that evil and sin might not become eternal.’

Thus death is not a punishment from God but an illness originating from man’s departure from God, the source of life. This can be explained in biological terms, because corruptibility and mortality are connected with the cells of the human organism.

The Revelation of Saint John speaks of the second death. “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power” (Revelation 20:6). The first resurrection is the grace of rebirth, which is receivedthrough baptism, chrismation and life in the Church, and the second resurrection is the resurrection from the dead. In a broader sense, the first death is the loss of Divine grace and the second death is man’s complete departure from God or, as we shall see, the experience of God as fire.

“All who have a part in the first resurrection will also share in the second resurrection. All who have a share in the first death will also die the second death. The first death is the loss of God’s grace starting from this life, and the second death is the resurrection of the body at the end of the ages to be judged, when those who do not obey Christ unto death will see the glory of Christ as eternal fire and outer darkness.”

The Intermediate State of Souls

At biological death the soul is separated from the body. The time will come, however, when the bodies of all human beings will be resurrected, and they will be judged by Christ at His Second Coming. After death the souls live without bodies, and is called the intermediate state of souls.

“Between the first and second resurrection, and between the first and second death, there is the partial judgment. This includes, firstly, the saints, who have foretaste of Christ’s glory as light and, as Christ’s friends, have boldness before God on behalf of their brethren. Secondly, those believers who in this life have not reached glorification continue their spiritual preparation for the day of the Lord. They too have a foretaste of the future fruits of glorification so they rejoice. Thirdly, those who died the first death and know that the eternal life will be eternal fire for them, since their hearts have been hardened by self-love and they are no longer capable of becoming spiritually perfect as regards the love that ‘seeks not its own,’ which is the pre-condition for attaining to the diving glory of God as light.”

The glorified, after death, “share in the glory of God,” in the divine vision. They are interested in us and pray, and we entreat their intercessions.

“We call upon the saints as mediators, to intercede, as we know that God’s friends have the right and the courage, even the audacity, to argue with God, because they have boldness before God. We now that those who have boldness before God can help us. Here we have the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham disputed with God, asking whether, if there were such-and-such a number of righteous people, they would be destroyed; and if there were only such-and-such a number, and-I don’t know-if there were ten, and so on. We see him disputing confidently with God on behalf of his people. We see Moses boldly telling God, ‘If you blot this people out of Your book, blot me out as well.’ “Are You going to destroy them? Destroy me as well’ (cf. Exodus 32: 30-34). He argues with God.

A friend of God has this boldness. And who is a friend of God? Someone who has reached illumination, who departs to the Lord and becomes a holy relic; in other words, a saint of the Church. Such a one has boldness before God, and for that reason, as it is a fact that these saints share in the resurrection; we believe that they pray for us as we pray for them. In a different way, certainly, but in any event they pray for us, and we call upon their prayers and help. And we have example of saints appearing to people and helping them. All the lives of the saints are full of such examples. This is an empirical reality which does not originate from any sort of philosophy, but only from the communion of the Saints with us who are on this side of the grave.”

Of course there are also those who are not ready to see the glory of God.

There are those who “are not ready, because if they see the glory of God in the state they are in, they will see it as consuming fire and not as illuminating light. Since they are not ready, God does not reveal His glory to those people.”

The state of men’s souls after their departure from the body and before the resurrection of bodies at the Second Coming of Christ is referred to as the intermediate state of souls. The completion of repentance by those souls who had already entered the stage of repentance, but did not manage to complete it, is also understood as the intermediate state.

Christians pray for all the departed, but they pray in a different way for each one. They pray to the saints, whom they know, from their holy relics and the miracles they perform, to be God’s friends and they ask for their intercessions. And they pray to God for the others, that they may find mercy with the Lord.

“Prayer is the prayer of the Body of Christ, the prayer of the Church. When we become members of the Church we pray as a member of the Church. Therefore, when the priest is present, the priest prays. We don’t tell just anyone to say the prayer: the parish priest will say it, or the bishop will say it if he is present. Why? Because we pray all together. As what? As a body, because we are the Body of Christ. For that reason prayer has a pre-eminently collective significance.”

That is why every Saturday is dedicated to the souls of the departed, and the service on Saturday is for the departed. That is when memorial services used to take place, and there was a major dispute about whether there should be memorial services on Sunday. To be sure, they should not be on Sunday, because Saturday is the day for memorial services. As the Church as a collective body prays for the dead, it prays for the whole Body of Christ, which is the body of the departed. This part of the Body of Christ includes the departed who are called saints of the Church, even the All-Holy Virgin…

“…Prayer for the departed is essential, because there is some improvement and progress in the intermediate state of souls for those who have already at least entered the stage of repentance.

“After death there is no repentance, but after death there is perfecting of repentance. These are two different things.Repentance begins here and ends there. It continues up until glorification. That’s how it is. This is the experience of the Saints.

According to the Holy Fathers, there is no repentance for the unrepentant since they do not repent in this life. So repentance is here, but because someone repents here is does not mean that he jumps immediately from repentance to perfection. He does not make a jump, he does not leap to perfection, but there is improvement

“… Where God is light, He is also fire. As fire He purifies man, just like fire purifies gold. It melts the gold, so that it is cleansed from impurities and becomes bright, beautiful and pure. There are some similarities of this kind between gold (and various other materials) and the purification accomplished in man after death. As someone repents here, it does not mean that, by repenting, he has passed through the stage of purification, because to pass through the stage of purification there has to be purification of the nous.”

“The Franks (or Latins or Roman Catholics) took the patristic texts and were unable to discern things correctly. So they made the uncreated fire created, and they interpreted progress as being punishment and they perceived Christianity as a business: you get a reward for everything you do.

by fr.John Romanides (Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church. Author: Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios)