Sacred-Texts Christianity Index Previous Next
OF DEATH AND THE DEPARTURE OF THE SOUL FROM THE BODY.
THE foundation of all good and precious things, of all the greatness of God's gifts, of His true love, and of our arriving in His presence, is Death. Men die in five ways. Naturally; as David said, 'Unless his day come and he die,' alluding to Saul2. Voluntarily; as when Saul killed himself in the battle with the Philistines. By accident; such as a fall from a roof, and other fatal accidents. By violence, from devils and men and wild beasts and venomous reptiles. By (divine) chastisement; as the flood in the days of Noah, and the fire which fell upon the Sodomites, and other such like things. But (side by side) with all these kinds of fatalities runs the providence of God's government, which cannot be comprehended by the creatures, restraining (them) where it is meet (to restrain), and letting (them) loose where it is fitting (to let loose). This government is not comprehended in this world, neither by angels nor by men; but in the world which is to come all rational beings will know it. When the soul goes forth from the body, as Abbâ Isaiah says, the angels go with it: then the hosts of darkness go forth to meet it, seeking to seize it and examine it, if there be anything of theirs in it. Then the angels do not fight with them, but those deeds which the soul has wrought protect it and guard it, that they come not near it. If its deeds be victorious, then the angels sing praises before it until it meets God with joy. In that hour the soul forgets every deed of this world. Consequently, no one who does not obtain remission (of sins) in this world can be free from the penalty of examination in that day. Not that there is torture or pleasure or recompense before the p. 132 resurrection; but the soul knows everything that it has done whether of good or evil.
As to where the souls abide from the time they leave their bodies until the resurrection, some say that they are taken up to heaven, that is, to the region of spirit, where the celestial hosts dwell. Others say that they go to Paradise, that is, to the place which is abundantly supplied with the good things of the mystery of the revelations of God; and that the souls of sinners lie in darkness in the abyss of Eden outside Paradise. Others say that they are buried with their bodies; that is to say, as the two were buried in God at baptism, so also will they now dwell in Him until the day of the resurrection. Others say that they stand at the mouth of the graves and await their Redeemer; that is to say, they possess the knowledge of the resurrection of their bodies. Others say that they are as it were in a slumber, because of the shortness of the time; for they point out in regard to them that what seems to us a very long time is to them as a momentary nod (or wink) in its shortness1. And just as he that is sunk in slumber departs from the life of this world, and yet does not arrive at absolute mortality, so also are they in an intermediate knowledge which is higher than that of this world, and yet attain not to that which is after the resurrection. Those who say that they are like an infant which has no knowledge, shew that they call even the knowledge of the truth ignorance in comparison with that knowledge of the truth which shall be bestowed upon them after the resurrection.
That the souls of the righteous pray, and that their prayers assist those who take refuge with them, may be learned from many, especially from Mâr Theodore in his account of the blessed Thecla. Therefore it is right for those who have a holy man for a friend, to rejoice when he goes to our Lord in Paradise, because their friend has the power to help them by his prayers. Like the blind disciple of one of the saints mentioned in the Book of the Paradise, who, when his master was dying, wept bitterly and said, 'To whose care dost thou leave the poor blind man?' And his master encouraged him, and said to him, 'I believe in God that, if I find mercy in His sight, at the end of a week thou wilt see;' and p. 133 after some days he did see. The souls of the righteous also hold spiritual conversation with each other, according to the Divine permission and command which moves them to this by necessary causes. Neither those who have departed this life in the flesh are hindered from this (intercourse), nor those who are still clad in their fleshly garments, if they live their life in them holily.
1 In the Oxford MS. chap; lvii, fol. 200 a.
2 1 Sam. xxvi. 10.
1 See Assemânî, Bibl. Orient., t. iii, pt. i, pp. 322-323.