Resurrection of the dead
By Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy
The eleventh article of the Creed speaks about the general resurrection of the dead, which will come at the end of the world.
The resurrection of the dead that we look for will occur at the same time as the second and glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. At that time all the bodies of the dead will be united with their souls, and they will come to life.
Faith in the resurrection of the dead was expressed as early as Abraham, at the time of the sacrifice of his son Isaac (cf. Heb. 11:17); by Job in the midst of his extreme suffering, For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God (Job 19:25-26); the Prophet Isaiah, Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead (Isaiah 26:19).
The Prophet Ezekiel contemplated the resurrection of the dead in a vision of a field strewn with dry bones. By the will of the Holy Spirit the bones came together, bone to bone, became covered with flesh, and the breath of the Spirit came into them (Ezekiel 37).
Jesus Christ speaks about the resurrection of the dead more than once, Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live (John 5:25). Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28-29). Whosoever eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:54).
In answering the questions of the unbelieving Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ said, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither many, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in Heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22:29-32).
The Apostle Paul says, But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (I Cor. 15:20-22).
At the moment of the general resurrection the bodies of dead people shall be changed. In essence, the bodies will be the same as we now have, but in quality they will excel our present bodies. They will be spiritual, incorruptible and immortal. Changed also will be the bodies of those people who are alive at the time of the second coming of the Saviour. The Apostle Paul says: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body … we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (I Cor. 15:44, 51-52).
Corresponding to the change in man himself, all the visible world will change. From the corruptible it will turn into the incorruptible.
The souls of people who died before the general resurrection exist under differing conditions. The souls of the righteous will experience a foretaste of eternal blessedness, and the souls of sinners a foretaste of eternal torment. The state of the souls of the dead is determined at the particular judgment, which takes place after the death of each person. This is clearly evident from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ about the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Luke 16:19-31). The Apostle Paul also points this out when he says, Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better (Philip. 1:23,24).
Death has great significance in the life of every man. It is the demarcation point by which the time of preparation is ended and the time of reward is begun. But as this particular judgment is not final, the souls of sinful people who died with faith in Christ and repentance are able, to receive relief from suffering beyond the grave and even be completely delivered from it by the prayers of the Church, augmented by works of charity done for them by the living, and especially by commemorating them in the bloodless sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. For this purpose the Orthodox Church established commemoration of the dead, which has been performed regularly since Apostolic times. Commemoration of the dead comprises one of the main parts of the Divine Liturgy. This is evident from the first Christian Liturgy of the Apostle James.
The Apostle John says, If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He (God) shall give him life (I John 5:16).
The Apostle Paul in his epistle to Bishop Timothy writes, I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:1-4).
The Apostle James says, Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).
If we should pray for the living, then we should also pray for the dead, because to God there are no dead. To God all are living. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him (Luke 20:38).
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians, For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s (Rom. 14:8).
Even in the Old Testament it was the custom to pray for the dead. Thus, for example, the Prophet Baruch prayed for the dead saying, Lord Almighty, God of Israel! Hear the prayer of the dead of Israel and of their sons who sinned before Thee… Do not bring to remembrance the unrighteousness of our fathers (Baruch 3:4-5). Judas Maccabaeus prayed and brought offerings for dead soldiers (II Mace. 12:39-45). Thus, teachings about prayer for the dead are founded upon Holy Scriptures as well as Holy Tradition.
Discussion of the General Resurrection of the Dead.
The truth of the general resurrection of the dead is clearly and definitively revealed in the Holy Scriptures. It also flows from the fundamental powers of our immortal souls, and from our understanding of an Eternal, Omnipresent and All-righteous God.
As early as the Old Testament, the righteous had faith in the general resurrection of the dead on the basis of Divine Revelation (Job 19:25-26; Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:2; Mace. 7:9 and others).
In general, all of the righteous people in the Old testament considered themselves strangers and pilgrims on this earth and sought the Heavenly Fatherland (Heb. 11:13-20).
Through the Prophet Hosea the Lord said, I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, Where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? repentance shall be hid from Mine eyes (Hosea 13:14).
In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ preaches about the resurrection of the dead clearly and definitely: Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live… they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:25,29).
The Saviour affirms the teaching of the resurrection by the Mystery of Holy Communion. Whosoever eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:54).
When the Saviour speaks about the purpose of His advent on earth, He points out eternal life specifically. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:15-16).
During His stay on earth the Saviour raised the dead, and He Himself rose from the dead, becoming, according to the words of the Apostle Paul, the firstfruits of them that slept (I Cor. 15:20).
The Apostle placed the truth of the resurrection of the dead above all doubt and contended that it is intimately connected with the resurrection of Christ and with all the teaching in the Gospels. Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain… If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (I Cor. 15:12-20).
Besides that, the Apostle Paul points out the natural phenomenon in nature which convinces us of the truth of the resurrection. But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain; it may of chance be wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body… So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (I Cor. 15:35-44).
The Lord Himself said, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (John 12:24). Nature itself shows us this marvelous, authentic phenomenon. A kernel, thrown on the ground decomposes, decays, rots — and then what? Is that all that occurs? No, not at all! From it begins growth. It grows into ears with new grains, despite the fact that it appeared to be reduced to dust. Is not this marvel worthy of our attention? Is it not obvious that this witnesses to the fact that the Omniscient Creator through death lays the beginning of life, and out of ruin creates new being?
Thus, the mystery of the resurrection of the dead is always before our eyes. It is evident to us in nature, and strengthens our faith, and denounces our skepticism.
But, in spite of this, the question may occur in our soul, “How can the dead be raised, when the body of the dead turns into dust and is destroyed?” If Almighty God gave us existence once from a handful of earth, then obviously He can take the handful of earth a second time and reanimate it. If God brought forth the whole world from chaos; if He created it from nothing, then is it possible that He is unable to form our bodies anew from a handful of earth, and give us the same bodies as before, only in a renewed form?
Figuratively, the Lord already showed the Prophet the mystery of our resurrection from the dead. He was shown a vision of a field strewn with the dry bones of men. From these bones, by the word of God uttered by the Son of man, the figures of men were formed and, perhaps by the same capability as existed at the primeval creation of man, the Spirit reanimated them. By the word of the Lord, as dictated to the Prophet, first movement occurred in the bones, bone became joined to bone, each according to its place; then the bones became bound with tendons, clothed with flesh, and covered with skin. Finally, upon the second sound of the voice of God, pronounced by the Son of man, the spirit of life came forth in them. They all began to live, stood on their feet, and they constituted a great multitude of people (Ezek. 37:1-10). Will not the future resurrection of the dead follow likewise? Wonderful indeed are the works of God! Marvelous is the holy faith that we profess!
Thus, by the righteous determination of God, our frail body, like a seed, is condemned to die at first. It decays to dust, and then rises again. The place where the dead are interred is in essence a cornfield, in which our bodies are sown by the hand of death, like seeds. The earth, our mother, is a stronghold, where in the midst of decay, our immortality is kept. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (I Cor. 15:44).
God did not condemn us to death in order to obliterate His creation, but in order to recreate it, to make it capable of future imperishable life.
It remains for us people to reverently submit to the wise judgment of God, to accept with faith Divine Revelation about our fate, and to look with Christian hope for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.
(Taken from the book Lessons and Examples of Christian Faith, and other books by Archpriest Gregory Diachenko.)