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The mystery of death: how is the soul separated from the body?


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#1 S. David

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 02:26 PM

Beloved in Christ,

We know that, when a man dies, it means that his soul is seperated from his body. Now, is this seperation done naturally as a result of falling, and God has nothing to do with this? or God orders an angel to take his soul? or an angel receives his soul when it comes out? ... I am confused regarding to this issue.

In Christ

#2 Michael Stickles

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 06:57 PM

If I am reading St. John Chrysostom correctly, he appears to take the first view in his fifth homily on the statues:

Although man should not put thee to death, will not the very law of nature, at length stealing upon thee, separate the body from the soul; and if this event which we fear does not happen now, it will happen shortly.


St. Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, puts it this way:

But when man afterwards by his fall had inclined to death, it was necessary that that form should be recreated anew to salvation by the same Artificer. For the form indeed lay rotting in the ground; but that inspiration which had been as the breath of life, was detained separate from the body in a dark place, which is called Hades. There was, therefore, a division of the soul from the body; it was banished ad inferos, whilst the latter was resolved into dust; and there was a great interval of separation between them; for the body, by the dissolution of the flesh, becomes corrupt; the soul being loosened from it, its action ceases. For as when the king is thrown into chains, the city falls to ruin; or as when the general is taken captive, the army is scattered abroad; or as when the helmsman is shaken off, the vessel is submerged; so when the soul is bound in chains, its body goes to pieces; as the city without its king, so its members are dissolved; as is the case with an army when its general is lost, they are drowned in death, even as happens to a vessel when deprived of its helmsman. The soul, therefore, governed the man, as long as the body survived; ... But after that the soul became bound, not with material fetters but with sins, and thus was rendered impotent to act, then it left its body in the ground, and being cast down to the lower regions, it was made the footstool of death, and despicable to all.


An interesting take appears in St. Gregory's On the Soul and the Resurrection, where he recounts his conversation with St. Macrina after the death of her brother St. Basil the Great. While there is discussion of the soul separating from the body, St. Macrina maintains that in another sense it does not wholly separate from the body even after the body's dissolution (perhaps having implications regarding the veneration of relics?):

That those atoms, I rejoined, should unite and again be separated, and that this constitutes the formation and dissolution of the body, no one would deny. ...

When, indeed, these atoms have all converged upon the given subject, it is reasonable that that intelligent and undimensional essence which we call the soul should cohere with that which is so united; but once these atoms are separated from each other, and have gone whither their nature impels them, what is to become of the soul when her vessel is thus scattered in many directions? As a sailor, when his ship has been wrecked and gone to pieces, cannot float upon all the pieces at once which have been scattered this way and that over the surface of the sea (for he seizes any bit that comes to hand, and lets all the rest drift away), in the same way the soul, being by nature incapable of dissolution along with the atoms, will, if she finds it hard to be parted from the body altogether, cling to some one of them; and if we take this view, consistency will no more allow us to regard her as immortal for living in one atom than as mortal for not living in a number of them.

But the intelligent and undimensional, she replied, is neither contracted nor diffused (contraction and diffusion being a property of body only); but by virtue of a nature which is formless and bodiless it is present with the body equally in the contraction and in the diffusion of its atoms, and is no more narrowed by the compression which attends the uniting of the atoms than it is abandoned by them when they wander off to their kindred, however wide the interval is held to be which we observe between alien atoms. ...

In locality, in peculiar qualities, these elemental atoms are held to be far removed from each other; but an undimensional nature finds it no labour to cling to what is locally divided, seeing that even now it is possible for the mind at once to contemplate the heavens above us and to extend its busy scrutiny beyond the horizon, nor is its contemplative power at all distracted by these excursions into distances so great. There is nothing, then, to hinder the soul’s presence in the body’s atoms, whether fused in union or decomposed in dissolution. Just as in the amalgam of gold and silver a certain methodical force is to be observed which has fused the metals, and if the one be afterwards smelted out of the other, the law of this method nevertheless continues to reside in each, so that while the amalgam is separated this method does not suffer division along with it (for you cannot make fractions out of the indivisible), in the same way this intelligent essence of the soul is observable in the concourse of the atoms, and does not undergo division when they are dissolved; but it remains with them, and even in their separation it is co-extensive with them, yet not itself dissevered nor discounted into sections to accord with the number of the atoms. Such a condition belongs to the material and spacial world, but that which is intelligent and undimensional is not liable to the circumstances of space. Therefore the soul exists in the actual atoms which she has once animated, and there is no force to tear her away from her cohesion with them.


Apologies for the length of the quote (I broke it up a bit for readability).

In Christ,
Michael

#3 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 07:24 PM

Interesting, particularly compared to current quantum mechanics theories, like "entanglement":

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Quantum entanglement, also called the quantum non-local connection, is a property of a quantum mechanical state of a system of two or more objects in which the quantum states of the constituting objects are linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart—even if the individual objects are spatially separated in a spacelike manner. The property of entanglement was understood in the early days of quantum theory, although not by that name. Quantum entanglement is at the heart of the EPR paradox developed in 1935. This interconnection leads to non-classical correlations between observable physical properties of remote systems, often referred to as nonlocal correlations.


In the unknown nooks and crannies of the microcosmos, science meets God (and doesn't know quite what to do about it).

Herman the microcomically amused Pooh

#4 Adrian

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 09:07 PM

Movie: An angel takes the soul of a man:


#5 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 11:46 PM

Movie: An angel takes the soul of a man:


You might be amazed at how easy that is to create using simple video editing and special effects tools. If it were real, one might think the camera person might have seemed a little more, oh I don't know, excited or something? Unless this is the sort of thing you see every day in Romania? Doesn't happen all that often around here that I am aware of. Our angels seem a bit more camera-shy or something.

Herman the skeptical Pooh

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 04 November 2009 - 02:23 PM.
typo correctoin (doh!)


#6 S. David

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 10:42 PM

So, can we say that, when the body is formed, the soul is created and united with it, and when it (the body) is dissolved the soul is seperated from it?

I don't know if I understand the view of St. Macrina, but it is implied in (Luke 16: 19-31) that the soul is seperated totally and carried away from the body.

In Christ

#7 Olga

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 11:23 PM

I don't have the texts in digital form at hand at the moment, but, if memory serves, the text of the Orthodox funeral service (and, particularly, the small service read, if possible, at the point of death, known as "the parting of the soul from the body") should provide answers to these questions.

#8 S. David

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 12:10 AM

I don't have the texts in digital form at hand at the moment, but, if memory serves, the text of the Orthodox funeral service (and, particularly, the small service read, if possible, at the point of death, known as "the parting of the soul from the body") should provide answers to these questions.


Can you provide us with some of them? Take your time.

#9 David Robles

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 04:59 AM

In Ecclesiastes 12:5-7 we read;
"5 Also they are afraid of height,
And of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms,
The grasshopper is a burden,
And desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home,
And the mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed ( The Septuagint here says "broken")
Or the golden bowl is broken,
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,
Or the wheel broken at the well.
7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it". New King James Version

In the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture,Old Testament IX, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon by J. Robert Wright and Thomas C. Oden page 280; Didymus the Blind says "the gold is thought and silver the spoken word", and the wheel our life. Jerome says "the silver cord indicates a pure life and the inspiration that is given to us from heaven"

In the Funeral Service we read " Truly most terrible is the mystery of death, how the soul is violently parted from the body, from its harmony, and the most natural bond of kinship is cut off by divine will" From Life After Death by Metr. Hierotheos Vlachos, p.52, Birth of the Thetokos Monastery.
In 'After Death' by Archim. Vasilios Bakogiannis p.38, Tertios Publications, we read "Because the soul is cloven by God's will . That is, cut in two. It comes unstuck from the flesh".
I also read somewhere that an angel severs the 'silver cord' at the moment of death, but I can't find the reference.

#10 S. David

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 01:54 PM

It is confusing: Does the death of the flesh cause the soul to be seperated, or the seperation of the soul cause the flesh to die? If the first, then it is the law of (fallen) nature. But if the second, then what does make the soul to seperate from the flesh?

In-Christ

#11 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 03:17 PM

It is confusing: Does the death of the flesh cause the soul to be seperated, or the seperation of the soul cause the flesh to die? If the first, then it is the law of (fallen) nature. But if the second, then what does make the soul to seperate from the flesh?

In-Christ


Death is the result of the soul's separation from the body or rather the separation of its life giving power to the body.

As to what makes this separation we can certainly say that this is by the will of God.

But then again this occurs it seems within a certain context where the force of death (ie sin) within overwhelms the soul's life sustaining ability. As this occurs it affects primarily the material aspect of the person although obviously the basic integrity of the whole person is affected.

Note though that death does not actually destroy this material aspect of the person. To our eyes it seems to be so since all that is familiar decomposes. However what actually occurs at death is that the material is no longer able to maintain its coherent force in relation to the person due to the force of death itself.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#12 S. David

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 05:31 PM

...
As to what makes this separation we can certainly say that this is by the will of God.
...


Bless father,

Can we say that, God causes the death? I am not talking about the origin of death, but the death as a result, i.e.: when a person dies. Let us take this from another point of view: suppose one has suicided, we can not say that this act is the will of God, right? So, how to put all of those items in a common framework to understand exactly where is the will of God, and where is the law of (fallen) nature?

By the way, is the will of God here meant to be an active act?

In-Christ

#13 Owen

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 06:18 PM

Orthodox theologians conventionally divide the will of God into two main categories: what God wills proactively, and what He permits. God proactively wills our freedom of will; therefore, He also permits all the evils that befall us when we exercise our wills in a manner not synergistic with His.

#14 S. David

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 06:45 PM

Orthodox theologians conventionally divide the will of God into two main categories: what God wills proactively, and what He permits. God proactively wills our freedom of will; therefore, He also permits all the evils that befall us when we exercise our wills in a manner not synergistic with His.


So, there is what God wants, and what God permits. Uder what category the death can be considered?

#15 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 06:58 PM

So, there is what God wants, and what God permits. Uder what category the death can be considered?


It is more like what God does and what He lets us do. God lets us die, rather than live miserably for all eternity.

In Christ, Dn. Patrick

#16 S. David

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:27 PM

It is more like what God does and what He lets us do. God lets us die, rather than live miserably for all eternity.

In Christ, Dn. Patrick


Bless father,

As a conclusion, can we say the following: the death of the man is natural in the fallen state, and God allows this death, and other consequences of falling as well, for our benefit, without actively act in them?

In-Christ

#17 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:53 PM

As a conclusion, can we say the following: the death of the man is natural in the fallen state, and God allows this death, and other consequences of falling as well, for our benefit, without actively act in them?


I might amend this to read: "The death of the man is a natural consequence of the fallen state, and God allows this death, and other consequences of falling as well, for our benefit." The understanding would be that, given the nature of man, death is what happens when man falls (God being the source of life and the fall being a turn away from God).

With that same understanding, we might also say that death is an "anti-natural consequence of the fallen state," in that the fall itself is an act against nature—against the way we were created—for we were created to partake of God.

In Christ, Dn. Patrick

#18 David Robles

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:58 PM

Bless father,

As a conclusion, can we say the following: the death of the man is natural in the fallen state, and God allows this death, and other consequences of falling as well, for our benefit, without actively act in them?

In-Christ

I don't think so. Death is unnatural. It is a consequence of sin. And even the saints fear. But it is fear tempered by hope and trust in the love of God. "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage". Hebrews 2:14-15

Satan had the power of death, but Christ took that power from him by the cross. The decision of out time to die is in the hands of God. God's providence governs all and everything. Perhaps is best not to try to analyze and 'explain' everything.

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 05 November 2009 - 09:04 PM.
Added blank line between paragraphs


#19 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 09:38 PM

Satan had the power of death, but Christ took that power from him by the cross.


This must be understood to mean that fear of death is the power Satan wields over us and that Christ destroys that power by the Resurrection.

As I've said, we could say that death is a natural consequence or an anti-natural consequence. It all depends on how we choose to understand "natural."

In Christ, Dn. Patrick

#20 S. David

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 10:03 PM

Yes father, death is natural if we consider the man in his fallen state, and it is unnatural if we consider the original state of man before falling.

..."Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage". Hebrews 2:14-15 ...


That is right. Imagine with me we have a closed-chain of three rings: the first is death, the second is fear of death, and the third is the sin. As the Apostle of nations says, there was a bondage to devil through sin, as fr. Brian said, which is made because the fear of death, and the sin leads to death, i.e.: the first ring leads to the second, the second leads to the third, and the third leads to the first. I don't know what is the exact passage, but it means that, if the deads are not ressurect, then let us eat and drink, said the people who do not believe in the resurrection. A closed loop. By the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he broke the second ring, and release the world from the Satan, by not fearing death, on the contrary, death opens the way to meet God.

Thank you fathers and brothers.

In Christ




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