- Elder, do the things one says while expiring have anything to do with their spiritual state?
- We must not jump to conclusions. It could be that someone is feeling so much pain at the time of their death that their face becomes distorted, making others think that they are not in a good spiritual state. However, a pained expression differs from a wild and horrified one. While the poor person suffers in their pain, the others may mistakenly think that they are struggling with the demons who have come to take their soul!
- Elder, does a well-prepared soul have to pass through the toll houses?
- When a soul is well prepared and ascending to Heaven, the demons can't assault it. If it isn't prepared, it is tormented by the demons. Sometimes, God may allow a soul with unpaid debts at the time of their death to see the toll houses, so that we, who will continue to live, struggle to repay our debts here. Do you remember reading about the event with Theodora? In other words, God provided that some people see certain things to help others repent. In the life of Saint Euphrosynos, for example, we read that after the vision he experienced, the Abbot found himself with the apples in his hand for the others to see and be helped in their spiritual life.
Sometimes God will provide for a soul to have dialogue at the time of death, so that the person themselves might repent even at the last minute, or for the benefit of those who are listening. You see, God has many ways to save people. Sometimes He helps with Angels, other times with trials and tribulations, and still at other times through various signs.
I once met a woman who treated her husband and mother-in-law horribly, beating them both. She wandered around the neighborhood to chat, while sending her elder mother-in-law to work in the field some two hours walk from there. Every single day, her mother-in-law dragged herself to the field and worked hard from morning to night without complaining. One day, upon returning home completely exhausted, she fell to the ground and kept telling her daughter-in-law: "Archangel Michael is taking my soul! Clean up the blood, my child, clean up the blood!" "What blood? What blood?" the daughter-in-law asked her anxiously because she could not see any blood on her. "Here, my child, the blood that is flowing here. Clean it up!" As the daughter-in-law turned to look again, the mother-in-law expired. After this incident, the daughter-in-law came to her senses and made a dramatic change in her life; the wild beast became a lamb. It was a providential act of God to have seen her mother-in-law dying with those words and to believe that the Archangel Michael takes souls supposedly with his sword, thus causing her to fear God and to repent. That is to say, God spoke to her in a language she could understand in order to bring her to her senses since, apparently, she had a good disposition.
- And when the dying, Elder, are calling their departed relatives, what is the meaning of that?
This, too, happens many times in order to provide an example for others who are standing by. I knew a wealthy lady who was a saintly woman. She had not married and lived with her sister to whom she had gifted all her property. At the time of his death, her brother-in-law, who died after her, was calling out to her, "Come, Despina, let us forgive each other. Forgive me... I have tormented you so much... please forgive me!" They asked him, "Where is Despina?" "There, don't you see her? She's right there!" And with that last word, he expired.
- Elder, can people be forgiven like that, even at the last moment of their life, by someone who is already dead?
- God permits people to be forgiven even in this manner, because people can repent at the hour of their death and feel the need to ask for forgiveness.
From Family Life, vol. 4 of Elder Paisios of Mount Athos: Spiritual Counsels.