Remember Thy Mortality and Rejoice in the Resurrection

Feast of St Stachys and Companions of the 70

Monk_with_Athonite_Skulls_Square.jpgTODAY IS All Hallows Eve, a liturgical remembrance of mortality in the historic Western Church, and the commencement of Allhallowtide (including All Souls Day and All Saints Day). In Classical Judaism and Christianity, the human person is understood as a composite of different parts—the main two of which are breath or spirit and body or flesh—which come together to form a living creature (in Hebrew, a nephesh, which we generally translate as “soul”). Death, then, is the fragmentation of a person as the various parts that make them up are dispersed to their points of origin. In the Old Testament, the thing that is left of the person is the shade, the repha, which goes down to Sheol (the underworld) and takes its place in the dim, shadowy existence that goes on there, devoid of earthly blessings, future hope, and above all, worship of God. By at least the time of the Prophet Ezekiel (if not earlier; Isaiah seems to make a reference to this idea), the national restoration of Israel came to be pictured as resurrection from the dead, and by the time the book of Daniel was written, physical resurrection—restoration to a glorified, reintegrated, bodily existence—was a key part of that national hope. In the Second Temple period, the belief also arose in a variegated afterlife: Sheol had different compartments or places where the dead were held in anticipation of the resurrection, on the basis of the sort of life they had lived. In early Christianity, the only people who waited out the interim period between death and resurrection in the heavens with God were the martyrs (Rev 6).

Allhallowtide is a time to remember the transience of our existence and the Lord’s gracious preservation of us after our dissolution in death, to pray for the dead who have gone on ahead of us, and to remember the saints who surround God in heaven in the company of the godlike angels. Allhallowtide also impresses upon us the truth that death does not divide the communion of the Church, which is established by the Holy Spirit who gives us membership in the Body of Christ, who has overcome Death and holds the keys to Death and the Underworld (Rev 1:18). As such, when we gather together to pray and to worship God, we gather together not just with the physical human persons that we can see together with us in the Lord's house, but also together with all the choirs of divine beings in the heavens, the Seraphim, the Cherubim, the Thrones, the Dominions, the Virtues, the Powers, the Principalities, the Archangels, and the Angels, and with all the righteous dead and with the Saints: fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith, especially the most holy Mother of our God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, historical Christianity teaches, is the only person other than her Son to have received the fullness of eschatological life, by His gracious gift.

Halloween, in our culture, has become a time to indulge in horror, and in wanton pleasure. The fascination with the occult that Halloween inculcates, I would wager, comes originally from the deeply cosmological meditations on death that the holiday originally insisted to Christians. Christianity does not deny the existence of the things the occult focuses on—ghosts, monsters, demons, the paranormal, and the like. Nor is its condemnation of participation in the occult straightforwardly a blanket statement that all things in which the occult has interest are automatically evil. Occultists share in common with God, for example, a positive evaluation of strange and fantastic beasts (think of God’s elongated bragging about Behemoth and Leviathan at the end of the Book of Job). But the Christian is called further up and further in—to deification, to enthronement together with Yeshua the Messiah over Israel, the Nations, and the whole cosmos. The Christian is given the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s own uncreated, hypostatic Breath, Life, and Power, and is always in the process of transformation by grace into all that Christ is by nature. God forbade Israel’s interest in the occult not because it was not real or sat beyond the reach of his scepter, but because he desired that Israel should look to Him, and not to the dark places of the earth, for wisdom, guidance, and strength; so, too, with us who have been grafted into Israel’s tree and call upon Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as our fathers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah as our mothers. Halloween is certainly a time to reflect on the darker mysteries of human life and the world, but we must also guard our hearts and minds, and remember that while God desires to give us all knowledge at the proper time, the hunger for knowledge that exceeds the obedience to the Lord is what caused our first parents to fall.

Happy All Hallows Eve!

David Armstrong is an Orthodox Christian who enjoys a shameless love affair with Jews, Judaism, and other Christians. He graduated with a BA in Religious Studies (minor in Classical Greek) at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO, where he is now working on an MA in Biblical Studies. He has an avid interest in far too many things, and would do well to specialize.

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