Source: Jerusalem in Seattle – Holy Protection of the Theotokos Orthodox Church
An inevitable and vital question that concerns all of us is the question of what lies beyond the grave. This important question concerns us whether we are religious or not. But for those who have some belief in immortality, this question inevitably has to be considered at some time or another.
As believers, we know there is a future life and yet we do not know what it will be like. The future life remains hidden from us. However, although we are ignorant of the details, Holy Scripture assures us nevertheless that there is life beyond the grave. The Lord correcting the false teaching of the unbelieving Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, says to them: “God is not the God of the dead but of the living”.
Our earthly life is precarious, unstable and transient. At any moment our life can be cut off by death. And when we look at our life and realize that it is not permanent but transitory, we feel the pangs of despair, for our so-called stability is suddenly overshadowed by the dark storm clouds of this life. And it is even worse if we are unable to find any satisfaction or consolation in our lives. All that remains is disappointment terminated eventually by death.
Yet we are created not for death but for eternal life and so we always have an inner desire for eternity. Christ’s Resurrection overcomes death. For those who not see or understand this, who reject the immortality of the soul, such seek comfort and fulfillment now in this world. But as we know from bitter experience, you can never find complete satisfaction here.
Despite this fact, people continue to seek satisfaction in this life. And when they fail in their endeavours and desires, they are often driven, in extreme cases, to suicide. They consider that this terrible act is the only means of deliverance from tribulation and their current unhappiness. Forgetting eternity, they wander in darkness, not knowing where they are going and often become drunkards and end their days living a life that is a lie. For such, this life is indeed a useless gift. Life is purely chance, an illusion.
For those who believe, the opposite is true. We place our hope on the future life. We hope that life beyond the grave will be a source of consolation and peace. We believe, without any doubt, in the future life. The Church confirms this as it has from very early times. This confirmation is made manifest through the memorial services and prayers for the departed. The Church calls us to lift up our prayers for the departed and share with them the joy of the Risen Saviour. This time or day of remembrance is called Radonitsa. The Lord Himself descended to those in Hades and proclaimed His victory over death, filling the departed with great joy.
There is a miraculous story in the chronicles of the Kiev Cave Monastery. A certain elder with his deacon went to pray in the catacombs where the saints and monks are buried. The elder suddenly exclaimed: “Christ is Risen, Fathers and Brethren!” Like the roar of thunder, voices were heard: “He is Risen Indeed!”
Adapted from a sermon by Father Kyrill of the St Sergius Lavra in Moscow