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Solitary Confinement

Secured away, beyond all danger of community, Ostracized, a cast off, broken piece of pottery. Loneliness is just a word but does not start to reach Into this suffocation and defilement of the soul. Take life away, and answer that I merely should impeach All memory of normalcy; the person masked, my toll, Requried to sign this contract with our friends and family. Ye weak and weary, fear not, just trade health for life, and see.

Language, Mission, and Hymnography

I noticed this beautiful hymn last week during the service for St. Innocent, Enlightener of the peoples of America: "Peoples of two continents of diverse languages and customs, through thee rejoice today in the mystery of the fiery tongues: The fall of the cursèd Babel of human pride which had kept in enmity all nations of the earth until they were swept into the net of faith, worshiping the consubstantial Trinity." I do not remember much hymnography making a comment on language itself, but then again, St. Innocent of Alaska is quite a unique character. If ever there was a Renaissance man, a jack of all trades, and one full of a true missionary spirit, completely focused on living out an incarnated Gospel, it is St. Innocent. This hymn seems to speak of language and customs as keeping nations at enmity, and then, the mystery of the fiery tongues bringing all into worship of the Trinity. That just strikes me; I had not thought of language and culture as a division quite in tha

Lenten Reading with the Family

Finding some good lenten reading is always a good idea. It is always during Clean Week, that the kids start asking what we are going to read this year. So, here we are, dinner on the first day of Clean Week, and they started asking. Our trouble this year was that two of the books we love reading and seem perfectly fitted for reading with the family, we have already used twice each for other lenten seasons. We cannot recommend them highly enough, especially because they are so well written and clearly convey Orthodox life lived out. Everyday Saints and Other Stories is one of our favorites. The children enjoyed this so much that the two older ones have read through it a time or two on their own. In it, you will gain a much broader view of what "Orthodox life" looks like, which is helpful both for the convert that just has not lived a long life within Orthodoxy yet, and also for the cradle Orthodox who needs to see Orthodoxy outside of their own particular context. In other wo

Do Your Own Reading on the Soul after Death

In the last several articles, I have written about the soul after death. Please do not just read what I have written. These are the sources I used, many of which you can read online. I can all but assure you that you will receive spiritual edification by reading any of these. Life of Venerable Theodora of Constantinople  - This is probably the best source, the most edifying, eye-opening, and likely to bring about the good fruit of repentance and prayer. Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation  - Read sections XII, XIII, and XIV. St. Gregory of Tours's History of the Franks  - Look for "Death of the holy bishop Salvius" (which is book 7, chapter 1). You will save time if you search the page for that phrase or maybe just "Salvius". On Earth We're Just Learning How to Live  by Archpriest Valentin Biryukov. Our family loves this book. We have used it as our lenten reading at least twice. Easy read, yet packed full of stories that will b

"Pray, Remember Us, Repent!"

Not too many years ago a book, Heaven Is for Real, came out about a three-year-old boy dying, going to heaven, and coming back to life. It certainly generated quite a lot of interest and has been widely read (and viewed, after being adapted into a movie). The story, retold by the boy’s father from what he gathered in conversations with his son, has received mixed reception. From my own perspective, it seems most folks are ready to receive it as a genuine experience, especially with some excellent proofs, like the boy seeing his mother and father in separate hospital rooms as he was dying on the surgical table, talking to a miscarried sister that his parents had never told him about, and recognizing a mid-life photo of his grandfather. (The soul looking on the situation of its own body immediately after death, is a very common thread...even in the story of a friend of my own.) A few folks, however, are quite vocal about their denouncements of the boy’s experience in heaven, mainly based

“Do the People on Earth Know What Awaits Them?”

Now...finally...we make it to one of the best examples to help bring clarity to our questions about what happens after we die. I have shared several warnings: warnings about those who were not dead for long and have limited knowledge of life after death, warnings that our preconceptions can cloud our reasoning in these matters, and warnings that we should not try to over-simplify such matters. All of those warnings still apply. We must be careful not to over-analyze any of these experiences. With that said, the experience related in the Life of Venerable Theodora of Constantinople is particularly useful to us. For one, she died (and stayed dead), her soul left her body, she traversed everything between here and place of her soul’s repose till the last day. The obvious question is how we know this story: she appeared to another spiritual child of her own spiritual father, who recorded it for our benefit. The second reason her particular experience is so useful, and why the Lord would

What Happens after Death? No Tidy Answer.

One of the first aspects of these after-death experiences that jumps out to the reader is how different they are from each other. How could they all be true, if they are so different? I am going to assume that all of those experiences passed down to us by saints are trustworthy, and yet, even among those, there are many differences. I find one point enlightening when it comes to these differences: St. Bede passes down three such stories to us , and those three are far from identical experiences. Bede is ok with the differences, and I would think that means we, too, can be ok with these differences. The validity of these experiences does not lie in their similarity, nor were they passed down with such an intention. The differences in St. Bede’s stories seem to be the main reason he recorded them. We need to keep something in mind, something similar to the angel’s response to one of the individuals in St. Bede’s accounts: “I began to think that this perhaps might be hell, of whose intol

The Problem of Coming back to Life

The fundamental problem with the experiences of those who have come back from the dead is just that, they came back. They did not die and stay dead, which is important because their experience of death is limited to the time immediately after death. Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), in his book The Soul after Death , carefully and definitively shows how almost all of these stories we have heard of “near-death experiences” do fit into a true, full, and traditional Christian understanding of the soul after death, though not always how we might have imagined. If you want to understand more fully (than I have space to write here) how the accounts of Christians and non-Christians, heavenly and hellish, angelic and pagan-god-filled experiences could all confirm one truth, you would have to read his book...and I highly recommend it. Here, however, I will mention one small point of the Christian teaching which will highlight why we need more than just experiences of immediately-after-death experience

That We Might Be Saved from the Death of the Soul

  God has graciously allowed these events for our benefit. That is, he has allowed, somewhat outside of the natural order of things, for a few individuals to come back from a temporary death, like Lazarus did, or in some other way to help relate to us who are still among the living, what awaits us when we die. Some were “sent back”; some spoke of what they saw as they were dying; and in one account—the most helpful—we have a much more complete account, continuing far beyond the few hours after death. That being said, it is hard to even know what to call these experiences. Near-death experiences? “Near death” does not seem to fit so well, when some of these experiences not only neared death, but passed well beyond it. And I also will try to avoid the word “story”, since that might give it the feel of something fictional, something told around a campfire with a flashlight pointed up at my face. And indeed, many will be tempted to discount these stories, especially for the ways in which t

Do We “Go to Be with Jesus” or Not?

Growing up, I gained a lot of experience with death, or at least, with funerals; my mother took me to every funeral we had in our church. Also, when I was not yet two years old, my younger brother died prematurely, only hours after his birth. I remember many times in my elementary school years: sharing with other children on the playground, or wherever else we had our serious conversations, about my younger brother who had died. How much my brother's death and all those funerals impacted me, I cannot say, but death was always a topic of great significance to me personally. What happens after death was also one of the nagging questions that went unanswered year after year in my Protestant surroundings, and which ultimately paved the way to the Orthodox Church. For, as I reasoned (and from time to time questioned the pastors around me), if the dead will rise with Christ at the second coming as St. Paul clearly states in 1 Thessalonians 4, how do we also have Christ telling the thief