"I anticipate the Resurrection of the Dead...."
By His Beatitude Achbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos +
The common Resurrection of the dead comprises a dogma of our faith. We confirm it, in the Symbol of our Faith : “I anticipate the resurrection of the dead and the life of the aeon to come”. Our life has four stages. The first is our terrestrial life. It is the life that we live on Earth. The second stage is the one after our physical death, the so-called “interim-state”. The third stage is life after the resurrection of bodies and the fourth is the life of the aeon to come. That is when the mystery of the “eighth day” begins.
However, if someone does have doubts regarding the bodily resurrection, we need to mention that this resurrection will certainly take place, because it was uttered by the unerring mouth of our Lord. In John’s Gospel, these words of the Lord appear: “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hearken to it shall live”. The voice of Christ will be heard and everyone will live; everyone will be resurrected. Immediately after, the Lord Himself completed His phrase, saying: “Do not wonder at this; for a time will come when all those who are in graves shall hear His voice, and those who pursued good deeds shall proceed to a Resurrection of Life, while those who have pursued foul deeds (shall proceed) to a Resurrection of Judgment”. It is very clear, that these words of our Lord are referring to bodily resurrection, which will be taking place when the voice of Jesus Christ is heard. But even Paul the Apostle, when expressing the same truth, tells us: “…for he shall sound the trumpet, and the dead shall arise, incorruptible.” The Apostle was referring to the trumpet sounded by the Angel, thereby announcing the resurrection of the dead bodies, after which, the dead would arise, in incorruptible form. As for those who have doubts about those bodies coming alive – and especially all the deceased of the distant past – there is the vision of the Prophet Ezekiel, where the Prophet, having received the command by God to preach to the bared bones, he indeed proceeds to preach and immediately after, the bones re-acquire flesh and soul: they come alive and they stand upright.
Furthermore, it is only proper and fair for the bodily resurrection to take place before the Second Coming, inasmuch as the bodies –along with their souls– will appear together before the Throne of the unyielding Judge, in order to obtain His response to the way of life that they jointly lived. And that is why Man is not only a soul. The Apostle Paul clearly informs us that we shall present ourselves before the Judge, with our body, in order that each of us may receive the appropriate judgment for all the things we have done. Body and soul have lived together, and will therefore either enjoy Paradise together, or be together in “Hell”.
There are some who wonder how this resurrection can be possible when the physical body has disintegrated a long time ago? This body will also be resurrected, because Christ’s Body was resurrected. The Holy Bible refers to Him as “the firstborn of all creation” and as the One who “became the first among the reposed”. This means that whatever took place with Christ will also be taking place with us, because Christ is the recapitulation and the summation of our entire life. Our Lord is the Head of our body and we are the members. Subsequently, since the Head was resurrected, the entire body will be resurrected also. But we shall not be resurrected on our own as was the case with the Lord’s Resurrection; instead, we shall be resurrected, when the voice of the Lord is heard.
The blessed Chrysostom says the following: “If the body is not resurrected, then Man is not resurrected. Because Man is not just a soul. Man is body and soul. Therefore, if only the soul is resurrected, then Man is resurrected in half, and not in whole. Besides, we are not speaking literally when referring to the “resurrection of the soul”, because only the body is resurrected, since only the body is subject to deterioration.”
The bodily resurrection is a miracle. It will be the miracle of the Power of God. And just as a seed is sown in the earth unto deterioration and rises up undeteriorated, so is our body sown in a state of deterioration, it is buried and disintegrates in the earth, to be resurrected and risen in incorruptibility.
This resurrection, according to Clement of Rome, will take place, regardless where we may be scattered - either in the sea, or on land, or even if devoured by wild beasts or by vultures – God will resurrect us with His power, because the entire world is in His hand.
What the “new” bodies will be like
Justifiably, one may ask what our bodies will be like after our resurrection. Will they look like they did before death, or not? The answer is that our bodies will basically be the same as before, but with different characteristics. In reply to this question, the blessed Chrysostom says that the body will be the same one, but it will also not be the same.
The blessed Makarios says that our body will have preserved its nature after the resurrection in the same manner as iron, which, when subjected to heat will turn glowing red, but without ceasing to be iron.
Saint Theodore of Mopsuestia gives us another image – that of sand and glass. As we all know, glass is composed of sand. However, when it it is turned into glass, it is no longer sand. Therefore, between our pre-resurrection body and the one that we shall have after the resurrection, there will be a sameness as well as a difference.
One difference that we must state is that the old body is cloaked with deterioration, whereas the new one with incorruptibility. This body, after the common resurrection, will be immortal. The image used by the Apostle Paul is a very characteristic one. The seed is buried in the soil, it then deteriorates, and eventually a new plant will sprout from that seed, which comes alive and develops. Of course it is of the same nature as the seed that was sown. That is to say, if one sows a seed of wheat, wheat will sprout from it, however, it will be better than the one that was sown. Furthermore, one seed is sown, but multiple seeds will sprout from it. From all this, we can surmise the attributes that our post-resurrection body will have – the first one being incorruptibility.
In his attempt to approach this mystery, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem resorts to the example of water. Water, he says, has other characteristics when it is in a liquid state, other ones when it solidifies, and yet others when it is vaporous. We shall likewise undergo a change. Thus, since our body will possess the characteristic of incorruptibility, it means that it will not suffer illnesses or feel pain, nor will it grow old - we will all have the “same age”, according to the tradition of our Church, which we encounter in our hymnological texts. In other words, we will no longer have the handicaps that we had in this lifetime or the various illnesses, nor will we have the so-called “natural” passions such as hunger, thirst, becoming tired and needing to rest, hurting, etc.
The second characteristic of immortality indicates that we no longer die, and that we shall be eternal. Our model will be the Body of the Resurrected Christ. A third characteristic of ours will be the transformation of our body. The new body will be far better and superior to the previous one. It will not consist of matter, it will be weightless, it will mass-less and will not take up space, in the manner that our Lord had a body which His disciples had seen after the Resurrection, yet without that Body hindering Him from entering the room where His disciples were “sequestered”, nor hindering Him from being simultaneously in different places – as verified by His various post-Resurrection appearances.
The qualities that our new body will have will be new qualities. That body will partake of the glory of the Resurrected and Ascended Jesus Christ. The Lord was not resurrected only as the firstborn of all Creation; He also brought His resurrected Body into the heavens, on the day of His Ascension. And it is for this reason that the Feast of the Ascension is of such importance to us, because it signifies the eternal glorification of our body, next to the Body of the Resurrected Christ, in the glory of Heaven. Our body will be beautiful, with its former characteristics. Our physical remembrances will become spiritual ones. That is why yet another characteristic will be spirituality. We will no longer be preoccupied with material or sensual matters. Being spiritual, our body will no longer have any need for maintenance or sustenance.
On the basis of all that we said regarding our resurrected body, we must reach the conclusion that our “just reward” – that is, the inheritance of Paradise or our exclusion from it (aka Hell ), will be of a spiritual, not material character. There will be conditions that will fill us with joy, if we are together with God and savour His presence, otherwise, they will fill our souls with sorrow and sadness. We will be “justly rewarded” accordingly, if we are far away from God; we will not enjoy His presence within us. That would be the worst kind of torture, because our conscience –according to the dogmatic theologians of our Church- “then being extremely refined and sensitized, will check us in a tortuous and painful manner”; our conscience will have then be rid of the laziness with which it was burdened during the present lifetime. People –say the Fathers of the Church- will shine, according to the measure of their virtue. That is why the Lord had said “in the house of My Father there are many mansions”. This indicates that Paradise will also have certain gradations. Saints who have pleased God will be in a different state than certain other Christians. Nevertheless, everyone who will be in Paradise will feel the utmost joy. In fact, the Fathers use a charming parallel, in order to describe that everyone will feel satisfied: Each person will be holding a vessel in his hands. In some, the vessel will be a small one, while in others, the vessel will be larger. However, everyone’s vessel will be full to the brim.
Following the resurrection, a general judgment will take place. It will be the final judgment. We shall appear with our resurrected bodies and souls united, as they are now, before the Throne of the unyielding God.
Translation by A. N.