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September 18, 2022

Homily for the Sunday After the Elevation of the Honorable Cross - Salvation and the Death of the Soul (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Homily for the Sunday After the Elevation of the Honorable Cross

Salvation and the Death of the Soul

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?" (Mark 8:36)

Beloved brethren,

In Holy Scripture, there are two meanings of the word "soul". Sometimes with the word "soul" it is characterized as "the spiritual element of our existence" and sometimes it is used with the biblical meaning of "life". This double meaning of the soul is seen in the following text: "Whoever would save his soul will lose it; and whoever loses his soul for my sake and the gospel's will save it. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?" (Mark 8:35-36). This double meaning of the word "soul" indicates an inner connection between soul and life.

According to the Holy Fathers, the image of God in man refers to the soul, which is "rational and intelligent" or it also refers to the powers of the soul, especially the mind and speech, which are more related to the image of God in man. However, the soul is closely connected with the body. As God is omnipresent in all creation, so the soul with its energies is present in the whole body. And just as God through His energy sustains and animates the world, so the soul of man sustains and animates the attached body. Saint Gregory Palamas teaches that the image of God in man is stronger than the image of God in angels, because it animates the attached body.

That is why Saint John the Damascene, seeing the dead man, chants at the funeral service: "Weep, and with tears lament when with understanding I think on death, and see how in the graves there sleeps the beauty which once for us was fashioned in the image of God, but now is shapeless, ignoble, and bare of all the graces."

Thus the soul, since it is connected to the body, which is part of the senses, is connected to human life and to the entire creation. Therefore, the Grace of God that comes to the soul is then transferred to the body, and transforms the body, human life and creation.

The Grace of God is also transferred to irrational creation. Materialists accuse Christianity of being concerned with the soul and the afterlife and not caring about the present life. This is a false accusation, according to what I mentioned. Christianity, and I mean mainly Orthodoxy, sees man in his entirety, as consisting of soul and body. Also, it does not completely separate the present life from the future. In Orthodox teaching, there is constant talk about the close connection that exists between history and eternity. The Christian experiences in the transformed present the salvation of the past and the gladness of the future. It transcends time, since it is colored and transformed by eternity.

This means that the salvation of man does not consist in the liberation of the soul from the body. The opinion according to which, during the course of salvation, the soul must leave the body, as Saint Gregory Palamas writes, "has as its source the demons and the teaching of the Greeks (pagans)." The salvation of man furthermore does not consist in a metaphysical ecstasy and in an intellectual reflection, but in the transformation of the whole human nature in the present by the energy of divine Grace.

Salvation of the soul is the release of man from the tyranny of the devil, sin and death. It is the path from the image to the likeness, this will be the path to deification, since according to the holy Fathers, likeness is identified with deification. Therefore, when we say the salvation of man, we do not mean an abstract redemption that all philosophical and religious human systems seek, but we mean the deification of the whole person, his union with God, the acquisition of God's divine energy.

Salvation, therefore, is the release of man from sin and at the same time his rebirth, transformation and union with God. However, man cannot achieve this alone, except with the power and energy of God. And the incarnation of the Son and Word of God has this profound meaning. The Son and Word of God became man to make man God. Through the God-man Christ, the mind, body and life are sanctified. Everything takes on another soteriological meaning and another significance.

Many times the "death of the immortal soul" is spoken of, not in the sense that the soul ceases to exist, but with three other meanings.

First, sin is damage to the soul. Sin, according to the patristic teaching, does not have a simple legal and ethical meaning, but is the alienation of man from God, the loss of divine Grace, "sin is the death of the immortal."

Secondly, the consequence of sin is the absence of the Holy Spirit. "What the rational soul is for the body, the Holy Spirit is for the rational soul," according to Saint Maximus the Confessor. As the body remains dead without the soul, so the soul remains spiritually dead without the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit departs from man, then the soul loses the blessed life, "even in not being dissolved, they live a life worse than death", as Saint Isidore of Pelusium writes.

Thirdly, a consequence of the preceding is that ignorance of God is a real damage to the soul. "Ignorance of God is death to the soul," according to Basil the Great. And this ignorance exists in the unbaptized, in the uneducated and in the unrepentant sinners. The death of the soul (sin, absence of the Holy Spirit, ignorance of God) has consequences in the body and in the whole life of man. That is why the sinner lives with anxiety, insecurity, fear and nervousness, because he has no reference to God, he lacks Life.

The Church is the spiritual mercy for all humanity, because it offers health to the soul, to the body and to life, it transforms the soul and the body, it fills the present with the glorious future. Unbelievers cannot understand it. Believers, however, experience it. With Christ everything is full of life and light.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.