The soul, after its departure from the body, undergoes testing in the air by evil spirits which encounter it and attempt to impede its ascent.
A. From the Life of St. Anthony the Great
1. St. Anthony the Great was once preparing to eat at his normal time; according to custom, he stood to pray. It was then the ninth hour. But at that very moment he felt himself somehow carried off spiritually. And this unusual thing took place: While he was standing there, he looked on himself, as though he had left his body, and his soul was taken into the air by several beings. After this, he saw a number of fearful and ugly creatures standing in front of him in the air, trying to keep him from passing.
Those who were guiding his soul began to wrangle with these frightening creatures, who were asking for an account of the soul which they were accompanying and whether it was responsible to them for some debt. While the latter wanted to begin their assessment from St. Anthony’s birth, those who were accompanying him stopped them, saying: “Whatever errors Anthony committed from his birth have been erased away by the Lord; however, all of his deeds from the time that he became a monk and dedicated himself to God you may examine.”
Though the demons accused Anthony, they could not prove their accusations; so his path remained free of impediments. Immediately, he saw himself return to his body, and he revived. And St. Anthony became as he had earlier been.
However, such was his agitation that he forgot to eat, and he passed the rest of the day and the whole night groaning and praying.
He was stunned when he reflected on how many temptations we must combat and what trials one must endure to pass by the air-borne demons. And he thought that this must be the meaning of the words of the Apostle Paul: “According to the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
For this power alone belongs to the Enemy of our souls, that is, to war against us and try to impede those souls ascending into Heaven. Thus St. Paul counsels us with even greater insistence, saying: “Take unto yourself the whole armor of God so that you can withstand the Devil on that wicked day, that the enemy might be brought to shame and thus have to say of you nothing dishonorable” (c.f. Ephesians 6:13).
2. After this vision, several people went to visit St. Anthony and began to discuss with him the soul and where it goes after its departure from the body. The very next night, he heard a voice call to him saying:
“Anthony, arise. Come out from your cell and look.”
Indeed, St. Anthony the Great went out (for he knew what voices he should heed) and, having lifted his gaze up to Heaven, saw the following vision.
A tall and fearful creature, horrible in form, was standing straight up. His height seemed to reach up to the clouds, while a multitude of creatures flew around him, as though they had wings. He would stretch out his hand and some of these he prevented from flying, while others succeeded in passing by and flying higher, continuing on their path without obstruction. This immensely tall demon would grit his teeth over those who escaped him; but, on the contrary, he would rejoice over those who drew near and were knocked down.
Forthwith St. Anthony heard a voice:
“Anthony, try to digest all that you have seen.” And thereupon he cleared his mind and reflected on what he had seen. It was the passage of souls into Heaven, and the immensely tall and frightening wild man, who was standing erect, was the Devil, who despises the faithful. He takes hold of those who have been guilty of sins and tries to prevent them from passing. Those who did not in their lives heed his counsel, however, he cannot hold, and for this reason such persons succeed in soaring above him and making their way to Heaven. When St. Anthony the Great saw this vision, it reminded him of the earlier one that he had seen, and he struggled daily, thereafter, to excel in the virtuous life.
B. From the Gerontikon
Two brothers once agreed both to become monks. After their tonsures, they rightly decided to build two cells, one some distance from the other. They departed from one another, therefore, and each was, for the sake of silence, cloistered in his cell. A number of years passed without one seeing the other, since neither of the two went out of his cell.
It happened, however, that one of the brothers fell ill and the Fathers went to visit him. They observed that the monk fell into ecstasy and, a bit later, came to. So, with some curiosity, they asked him: “What did you see, Father.” “The Angels of God,” the sick monk answered, “coming to fetch me and my brother and to lead us into Heaven. As we were going up, we were met by hostile powers, countless in number and of fearful form. Though they bothered us a great deal, they nonetheless had no success against us. Just as we were passing by these powers of Satan, they started saying: ‘Purity gives great boldness to a soul!’”
No sooner had he spoken these words than the monk reposed. When the Fathers who were there determined that he was dead, they sent a monk to announce this to his brother. But the monk found the brother also dead. And so the Fathers glorified God in wonderment.
C. From St. Isaiah
Beloved Brother: Those who occupy themselves with the ephemeral and vain world, if they advance and make gains, do not count the trials which they have endured, but rejoice at the progress which they have made. Can you imagine, then, my brother, what joy the soul of a man who undertakes spiritual work for God, and finishes it successfully experiences? It is natural for the soul to feel unfading joy for at the moment of its departure, the good works which it has done will precede it when it ascends into Heaven. At that time the Angels of God will rejoice together with it, as they see it delivered from the powers of darkness.
This happens because, when the soul of man departs from the body the Angels go along with it. However, all of the powers of darkness then hasten to meet it and seek to take hold of it, thereby to examine it carefully and learn whether or not it was engaged i.e. any of their own works. It is not now the Angels who struggle with the demons to protect the soul; but the deeds of the soul surround and defend it, so that the demons cannot touch it. And if the good deeds of the soul defeat the demons, then the holy Angels sing on its behalf, until the soul, with joy and gladness, meets God. At that time, the soul completely forgets all of its good deeds in this vain world, as well as the labors it knew.
Blessed, indeed, is he against whom the leaders of darkness can find nothing. He will find joy, honor, and rest beyond all measure. Let us thus weep with the whole power of our soul before God, that in His goodness He will take pity on us and send aid from on high, by which we might do all to conquer the leaders of evil, who obstruct our path [towards Paradise-Trans.]. Let us thus, disengaged from the many other pursuits of life, take care with resoluteness of heart to fulfill the Will of God, which will save us from the hands of the demons when they shall come to meet us there above.
Let us remember love for the poor, that this love might save us from greed, when the sin of greed shall come to meet us.
Let us acquire peace with all, the humble and the great, that this might guard us against hate, when it shall come to meet us.
Let us acquire patience before all and in all things, that this might guard us against carelessness, when it shall come to meet us. Let us love all of our brothers and sisters, without hating anyone or repaying anyone any ill done against us; for this shall guard us against envy, when this demon too shall come to meet us.
Let us love the endurance in humility of our neighbor’s word, even if this word should bring upon us hurt and derision; for humility will guard us against pride, when it too shall come to meet us.
Let us seek to honor our neighbor and not to condemn or hurt anyone; for this shall protect us from gossip, when it shall come to meet us.
Let us despise the cares of the world and its honors, that we might be saved from its bewitching evil, when it shall come to meet us.
Let us teach our tongues to be unceasingly occupied with the commandments of God, righteousness, and prayer, that we might be protected from falsehood, when it too shall come to meet us.
All of these foregoing evils impede the soul, while the virtues to which we have attained help it to confront these evils successfully. Now, what prudent man would commit his soul to eternal death, just to be relieved from the labors required to gain these virtues?
Let us do all that is within our power and the power of our Lord Christ, which is great, to help humble ourselves; for our Lord Jesus Christ knows that man is hapless, and thus He has granted him repentance, as long as the soul is in this corruptible body, that he might, until his very last breath, correct himself and flee from sin.
D. From the Gerontikon
The esteemed Archbishop Theophilos said: Indeed what fear and terror and what need the soul experiences when it departs from the body or, afterwards, when it has been completely separated from it. For then all of the principalities and powers of darkness come upon it and make manifest all of the sins which it has committed, whether in knowledge or ignorance, from the time of a man’s birth until his last hours, when the soul is separated from the body. These powers brazenly draw near it and furiously accuse it.
Confronting these hostile powers of darkness are the holy powers—Angels—putting forth and calling attention to the good deeds that soul occasioned to perform.
Think what agony and terror the soul will experience when it stands before such a tribunal and faces such a fearful and impartial judgment.
It is impossible for anyone to express in words or to conceive in his mind the fear that overtakes the soul up to the moment that the decision of the Judge is given, and it is released from those who hold it. That moment precisely is the moment of the soul’s greatest torment, until it hears the verdict of the Righteous judge.
If, then, by the verdict of the Righteous Judge, the soul is given its freedom, immediately the enemies scatter and the bright Angels seize the soul from them and, with no more obstructions, it is led by the Angels to that inexpressible joy and glory to which it will finally be restored.
If, however, the soul lived in carelessness, and is thus found unworthy of being freed, then it shall hear that most dreadful voice: “Let the ungodly be taken away that he see not the glory of the Lord” (Isaiah 26:10).
Henceforth begins for that soul the day of wrath, sorrow, and unceasing grief; it is given over to the outer darkness, hurled into Hell, and condemned to the eternal fire, in which it will remain damned unto the unfading ages.
What, then, do the luxuries and fanfare of this world benefit the soul? Where are the vainglory and the delights and the enjoyments of this vain and fleeting world? Where is the money? Of what benefit a high birth? Where are your father, mother, brothers and sisters, and friends?
What from all of this can free your wretched soul, as it is burned by the fire of Hell and tormented by indescribable punishment?
Archbishop Chrysostomos, et al. The Evergetinos: A Complete Text. Book I. Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2008, pp. 85-89.
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