Immortality of the Soul by St. Philaret of Moscow
THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL, AND THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Preached on a Sunday which was also the Feast of S. Alexis, Metropolitan of Russia, was born in the year 1293. He was chosen Metropolitan by the Grand Duke Simeon the Proud, and was ordained at Constantinople by the Patriarch Timotheus, 1354. Having occupied the Metropolitical throne of Russia during twenty-three years, and throughout this time proved himself the friend and the counsellor of her sovereigns, as well as the light of the Orthodox Church, he died on the 12th of February, in the year 1378. His relics repose in the monastery of Choudow in the Kremlin.
“He ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves."
– S. Luke xxiv. 12
The Gospel, narrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, among various details, draws our attention to the following particulars; that the stone of the sepulchre was rolled away by an angel, whose descent from heaven was accompanied by an earthquake; that the holy women found the sepulchre open; that Peter, and after him, John, having glanced into the sepulchre, saw the linen clothes of the Lord laid by themselves, that is, the shroud, in which His body was wrapped for burial, the napkin, that was about His head, and, probably, the girding also which was on Him during His Crucifixion. “Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves."
What does the Gospel narrative mean by so much occupying itself with the clothes, no longer necessary to the risen Lord? What does it mean, that our risen Lord leaves and preserves His clothes in the sepulchre so that they might be seen? It means that even the clothes of the Lord were to be among the witnesses of His resurrection. If the Jews should say, that the body of the Lord was stolen by His disciples; if the disciples themselves should think, as Magdalene for a time did think, that the body of the Lord had been removed by someone elsewhere; then His very clothes cry out against the slanderers and teach those who err. Would there have been any time for him who had stolen away the body, to unwind its shroud and the napkin, and then to refold them, and to lay them apart and in order? Why should he, who was removing a buried body, strip it naked, when on the contrary it was more fitting for him to cover the naked body, both for the purpose of its removal and in deference to the opinion of the Jews about touching the bodies of the dead? Thus, even the lifeless clothes of the Lord proclaimed His resurrection.
And we also, who are now assembled here, have come unto the sepulchre of a servant and follower of Christ. And this sepulchre also was opened by an event which it is difficult to suppose could have taken place without the aid of an angelic agency: for the wooden temple under which this sepulchre lay hidden for some tens of years, suddenly fell in during divine service, by its fall causing injury to no one, but only serving to disclose the sepulchre before us. And what do we behold in this open sepulchre? We shall not sin if we say, that we behold clothes lying by themselves, not the clothes of the body, but the very body itself, as clothes, as the covering of the immortal spirit, which he has abandoned here, when entering into the life of heaven; we see them lying in order, not thrown down in confusion, not rent in pieces, that is, we behold a body, which has undergone neither corruption nor decay, but reposes undefiled and peaceful.
What means it then, that the follower of Christ in life, imitates Him even after His death, by presenting to us His open sepulchre and the incorruptible garment of His body? As the silent clothes of the Lord proclaimed His resurrection, so also do the silent and uncorrupted remains of this follower of Christ, recall to our memory our future resurrection; not as something unknown to us, but which, in the vanity of present life, is often forgotten.
If it were necessary to converse on the immortality of the human soul, and the future resurrection of the human body itself, with an ignorant man; then, in order to give him an idea of immortality, one might direct his attention to the very substance and nature of that which lives in man and of that which dies in him. That which we see dying, is the visible, material body: and that, which lives in man, is the invisible, ethereal power, which we call the soul. The body itself reveals its own mortality, because it is evidently divisible and corruptible: whereas, the soul, not only shows no sign of divisibility or corruptibility, but manifests an entirely opposite property in the faculty of reasoning, which presents the varied notion of things, in one, indivisible and indissoluble unity, wholly incompatible with the properties of a divisible substance. The body dies while yet in the course of its life, and it certainly dies many times in its parts, daily separating some dead portion of its substance; whereas the soul, during the whole period of life, experiences but one continuous existence. The body participates in life, as if against its will, being brought into movement by the power of the soul, and always weighing it down more or less, by its sloth; whereas the soul even when the activity of the body is suspended by slumber or disease, continues its own life and activity, independent of the body.
We could call as witnesses of the immortality of the soul, the best and greatest part of mankind, whole nations, even from among the most enlightened to the least civilised, so that in this case even error itself may in some way testify to the truth. However sensual may be the ideas of a future life among the followers of Mahomet; however rude the notions concerning it current among the heathens; however striking the power of the spirit of darkness and evil over some of them who consider it a virtue to be buried alive for the sake of the dead; still even in this perversion and confusion of ideas and feelings, and in this predominance of the animal and bestial instincts over the human, truth, like the spark in a heap of ashes, is not wholly extinguished,—that truth, that after this present life there exists for man a life to come. If the ancient or modern Sadducees strive to reject that truth, it is only because it hinders them from listlessly enjoying sensual pleasures; for the idea of immortality requires this mortal life to be in conformity with the immortal life of the future.
It would be possible, in order to convince man of a life to come, to force even mute and inanimate nature to speak. For throughout the whole world: it is impossible to find any instance, any sign, any evidence of the total annihilation of however insignificant an object; there is no past which does not prepare for a future; there is no end which does not lead to a beginning; every individual life, when it descends into its own particular grave, leaves therein only its former decayed bodily covering, and itself rises into the vast and invisible realm of life, in order to reappear in new, and sometimes a better and more perfect garment. The sun sets, to rise again; the stars fade in the morning from the sight of the earthly spectator, and rise again in the evening; seasons end and begin; dying sounds arise again in echoes; rivers are entombed in the sea, and rise again in springs; the whole universe of earthly vegetation dies in autumn, and revives in spring; the seed dies in the ground, and therefrom arises the herb or the tree; the creeping worm dies, and the winged butterﬂy rises; the life of the bird is buried in the inanimate egg, and again rises from it. If creatures of inferior degree are destroyed but to be created anew, and die but to a new life: is it for man, the crown of creation, the mirror of heaven, to drop into his grave, only to crumble into dust, with less hope than the worm, worse than the grain of mustard-seed?
One might also turn man's attention from outward things to the depth of his heart, and then let him hearken there to the presage of a life beyond the grave. Everything living upon earth, except man, following the instinct of nature, cares only for present life; except in the case when the presentiment of a future life works as in the worm, which prepares for itself a silken or spidery tomb, hoping to rise in the form of a butterﬂy; whence arises that man even when forgetful of his own future life, strives so much for a so-called immortality in posterity? Is not this bent of the human heart a sprout from the root of true immortality,—an irregular sprout, but one which shows the strength of the root? Again, every human heart acknowledges, and the nobler it is the stronger does it love goodness and truth, notwithstanding that in the present life goodness and truth often suffer from malice and injustice: where then in human nature is the origin of this deep recognition of the worth of goodness and truth, or of conscience, if not in the deepest most intimate consciousness of that kingdom of goodness and truth which borders upon this present life by means of the grave?
But perhaps I am wrong to speak of this though even in a passing manner to Christians, for whom the future resurrection needs no investigation or proofs whatever, as a fact of certain, confirmed and acknowledged experience. “For if we believe,” says the Apostle Paul, “that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” (I Thess. iv. 14) “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” (I Cor. xv. 20) If any one having this proof of the resurrection should choose to perplex himself with doubts as to how it can be accomplished, when the manner of destruction of many dead bodies seemingly leaves no room for the hope of their restoration; then the same Apostle not only empowers me to solve this difficulty by a consideration, grounded on the nature of known things, but moreover empowers me to express indignation against a doubt, which is an offence against faith, and does no credit to the intellect which has devised it. “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 chance of wheat or of some other grain; but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.” (I Cor. xv. 36-38)
Methinks that it is not necessary to explain, or to prove immortality, resurrection, and the life to come, but only to remind you of these important subjects, which, as may be observed, are for a long time of less interest to many than the veriest trifles.
The Apostles call themselves “witnesses of the resurrection” (Acts ii. 32) of Christ, though their ministry was to bear witness not of His resurrection alone, but also of His whole doctrine. So important do they deem the truth of the resurrection to be. And indeed as soon as this truth is confirmed, so soon is also confirmed thereby the truth of all that which our Lord did and taught. But inasmuch as the truth of Christ's resurrection is important to faith, the truth of our resurrection is important to our life. When this truth is confirmed, all the rules of a holy and godly life become firmly established in us.
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (I Cor. xv. 32) This precept which the Apostle pronounced in derision of those who either know not, or would not know of the resurrection of the dead, and which seems worthy of the moral philosophy of irrational beings, if they had the privilege of philosophising, this same precept would indeed have become the whole wisdom, morality, and law of mankind, if the thought of a future life had been taken away from them. In such a case be not angered, my neighbour and brother, if thou also wouldst have become the prey of those who love to eat and drink, for if it is not worth while to reform one’s own life, since “tomorrow we die,” still less is it also not worthwhile to spare another’s life, which tomorrow the grave shall swallow. Thus a forgetfulness of a life to come leads to an oblivion of all virtues and duties, and transforms man into a brute or beast.
O man, inevitably immortal, though thou thinkest not of this, and even desirest it not. Be careful not to forget thine immortality, lest forgetfulness of immortality become a deadly poison even for this thy mortal life, and lest that immortality forgotten by thee, slay thee to all eternity, should it suddenly come upon thee, unawares and unprepared.
Say not in despair, “tomorrow we die," to rush the more headstrong in search of the pleasures of this mortal life; but say with hope and fear, “tomorrow we die” upon earth, and shall be born either in heaven or in hell; and so must we hasten to plant, and strive to nourish and strengthen in ourselves the germ of a birth unto heaven, and not of a birth unto hell.
What is the beginning and germ of a heavenly birth? The Word, and the Spirit, and the Power of the risen Christ, Who is both our resurrection and life. Receive this divine seed of eternal life through faith, plant it in thy heart with love, deepen it by humility, keep it warm by prayer and divine meditation, feed it or water it with tears of contrition, and strengthen it by virtuous deeds.
In order to destroy in thyself the seeds of the tares of an unholy life, and to live at length with the pure and full life of the risen Lord, thou must die to everything which is not His life, that is, thou must do nothing contrary to His will, thou must not live to the world and the flesh, to thy desires and lusts; thou must not set thy heart on wealth, nor be puffed up by worldly pride. With Paul, “count all things but dung, that thou mayest win Christ, that is, the righteousness which is of God by faith,” or the righteousness “by faith, that thou mayest know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death", that thou “mightest attain unto the resurrection of the Lord." (Phil. iii. 8-11). If thus thou wilt live and thus die, then shalt thou also, leaving in the grave thine earthly, corruptible garments, receive in heaven new ones, washed white in the blood of the Lamb, and on His marriage-day thou also shalt “be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (Rev. xix. 8). Amen.