Reader: As a flower withers and a dream fades, so is each man’s flesh dissolved by death. But at the sound of the trumpet like a mighty earthquake, all the dead shall rise again to meet you, O Christ, our God. On that day, O Master, receive all Your departed servants in the mansions of the saints.
– from the Orthodox Funeral Service
Some people think of the universe like it’s a two story house. They see the main living areas as the downstairs, here on earth. They think of heaven as an upstairs bedroom where people go to sleep or just be quiet. This is what Fr. Stephen Freeman calls the “two story universe.” The Orthodox perspective is that “Christ is in our midst” now. Christ is on the main floor and there is no second story. There is no “other” place. The sacraments are now. Eternity is now. Heaven is not some “place” that we go to, but a state of communion with God that can be tasted now. The reason we call some saints is that they surrendered all during their lives and were living in obvious communion with God while on earth and were partaking of heaven on earth. The kingdom of heaven is a present reality here on earth. Christ is life, He is the Life and we only have life in us when we have Christ.
When people who are close to Christ die, it’s more like they left the room but are in the room next to us. When a person dies, their life continues, we just can’t be with them in the same way. Their life continues, but they are more alive than we are and that separates them from us.
The week before Mary Evelyn died we looked through an icon book together. I read some short stories of the saints to her. We talked about how all the people in the icons were real people who lived, died and are in heaven. She’s with them now in heaven, but they are with us too in the communion of saints.
- Draw a picture of the two houses: the two story universe and the one story universe. Which one shows the Orthodox view of eternal life? How does the idea of eternity beginning here change the way we live now? Where is Jesus in your house? Where are the people you love who’ve departed this life? Where are you?
- Mary Evelyn had a beautiful brown eyed Susan that she played with and then left lying out. It dried up and died. The next day, she felt sorry for it and put it in water. The flower revived in a way that seemed miraculous. It became bigger and more beautiful than before. Father Jacob kept the flower. It’s in his office and still a beautiful yellow color. What does the flower make you think of? Look at the icon Joy of All Who Sorrow, see the heavenly flowers in the icon.
Our God “is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living”. (Mk. 12:27) Our greatest joy is our belief in Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of all in Him. And the Church’s constant prayer for the departed members is thus the affirmation that they are still alive in Christ, that we are all united in God’s love, that, in the words of St Paul- “neither death, nor life…shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38)
– Alexander Schmemann
You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.
– Psalm 104 :29-30
When we die, our spirit is separated from our body. Heaven and hell are not so much a “place” or geographic location as a state of being: eternally with God basking in His presence (heaven) or eternally being without God having rejected Him while living on earth, such that His constant love feels like fire (hell). God does not seek to punish us. God does not hate those who do harm to others. God loves the worst, the lowest, the meanest. For those who have rejected God, God’s love is like a consuming fire. For those who love Him, this same love is like a wonderful comforting warm embrace by your mother or father. Hell is not a physical place where some mean god throws the bad people. Hell is state of being without that warm embrace. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, they choose their own way and end up isolated and alone, not able to experience the joy of God’s love – only feeling it as fire.
After Jesus returns to the Earth, when the trumpets sound and Judgment day begins, there will be the General Resurrection. At that time, our souls will be reunited with heavenly bodies, like the body Jesus had.
All the dead without exception who ever lived, both the righteous and the sinners, the saved and the condemned, all will come to life, will rise…The risen bodies will once again become the garment of their souls and they will not be parted for all eternity…
Our bodies will be flesh and blood, but like Christ after His resurrection, we will be able to move through walls, float, and ascend into heaven. Our bodies will reflect our lives on earth- like seed planted in the ground, our life now will cause us to grow into whatever fruit it brings forth..
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
– I Corinthians 15:35-45
Discussion and activities:
- What age will we be? Gregory of Nyssa writes that: when the resurrection restores our body again to life, the one man will have to become a whole people. In this way no aspect of the one raised will be missing: the infant, the toddler, the child, the youth, the husband, the father, the old man and all the intermediate stages.
– From: The Soul and Resurrection
- The Ascension gives us a little preview of heaven. Look at an icon of the Ascension and discuss it.
- What are the parts of your life that are helping your seed grow into something beautiful? Read the story of The Monk who Grew Prayer by Claire Brandeburg. How can you grow prayer in your life?
During the transfiguration, St. Peter said to Christ when He was in His heavenly glory, “Master, it is good to be here.” Christ likened heaven to a wedding, where those who seek after and follow Christ are the bride and Christ is the groom. In the book of the Song of Solomon, the church tells God, “My beloved is mine, and I am His” (2:16). St. Augustine said, “We will need nothing, we will want nothing, and our richness would be God Himself.” How beautiful it is to know that Christ will be everything we will ever need or want in heaven, He will truly be our fulfillment.
Remember what we learned about heaven starting right here? In the same way, we are resurrected with Christ, even now. Our heavenly experience begins here, now today. Like peeling an onion, layer upon little layer of your icky old self gets peeled away and you are daily renewed by your life with Christ.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.
– John 11:25