The Holy Spirit of God, working through the Church and its sacramental life, leads the plan of salvation in Christ to completion and final fulfillment. The final battle with evil that operates in the world will occur just before the coming again of the Lord. In the meantime, the struggle against evil and dark forces in the world continues, with some victories on behalf of the Church, and with some failures on behalf of some of its members. This is the normal condition of the life of the Church, which is the inaugurated Kingdom of God, and which, however, has not yet come fully. Two distinct stages are to be recognized, in terms of Christian Orthodox eschatology: that of a “partial judgment,” of a “partial” or “realized” eschatology, and that of a “final judgment,” at the coming again of the Lord, which will come at the end of time.
a) Partial judgment – the hour of our death
Our physical death, a consequence of the first man’s sin that we still suffer, can be seen in two ways:
- negatively, as a kind of catastrophe, especially for those who do not believe in Christ and life everlasting in Him; and
- positively, as the end of a maturation process, which leads us to the encounter with our Maker. Christ has destroyed the power of the “last enemy,” death (1 Cor. 18:26).
A Christian worthy of the name is not afraid of this physical death insofar as it is not accompanied by a spiritual or eternal (eschatological) death.
A partial judgment is instituted immediately after our physical death, which places us in an intermediate condition of partial blessedness (for the righteous), or partial suffering (for the unrighteous).
Disavowing a belief in the Western “Purgatory,” our Church believes that a change is possible during this intermediate state and stage. The Church, militant and triumphant, is still one, which means that we can still influence one another with our prayers and our saintly (or ungodly) life. This is the reason why we pray for our dead. Also, almsgiving on behalf of the dead may be of some help to them, without implying, of course, that those who provide the alms are in some fashion “buying” anybody’s salvation.
b) General Judgment – the Coming Again of Christ
The early Church lived in expectation of the “day of the Lord,” the day of His coming again. The Church later realized that its time is known but to God; still, some signs of Christ’s second coming were expected:
- The Gospel will be preached everywhere in the world (Matt. 24: 14; Luke 18:8; John 10: 16);
- The Jews will be converted to Christ (Rom. 11:25-26; cf. Hosea 3:5);
- Elijah, or even Enoch, will return (Mark 9:11);
- The Antichrist will appear with numerous false prophets accompanying him (1 John 2:10; 2 Thes. 2:3; Matt. 24:5);
- Physical phenomena, upheavals, wars, sufferings will occur (Matt. 24:6; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:25); and,
- The world will be destroyed by fire (ekpyrosis; see 2 Peter 3:5).
All these signs are expected to be given in due time; without them, the end-time will not come.
The resurrection of the dead is a miracle that will happen at the second coming of the Lord. According to the Creed: “I await the resurrection of the dead.” This resurrection will be a new creation. However, our physical bodies as we know them now will be restored, in a spiritualized existence like that of the Lord after His Resurrection.
The final judgment will follow the resurrection of all. Some will rise to the resurrection of life, and some to the resurrection of judgment and condemnation. Christ will be our Judge on the basis of our deeds, our works of love or our acts of wickedness.
The end-time will follow, with a permanent separation between good and evil, between those who will be awarded etemal life of happiness and bliss in heaven, and those who will be condemned to the fire of eternal damnation, to the eternal remorse of their conscience for having rejected God and authentic life in Him and having joined the inauthentic life invented by the devil and his servants.
A new heaven and new earth will be established, inhabited by righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). The Kingdom of God will be fully established; the Church will cease to exist. Finally, the Son of God will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, “that God may be everything to everyone” (1 Cor. 15:28).
May 27, 2016