The Orthodox view of death refers to Christ’s victory over death on the Cross and the new life granted to us through His Resurrection.
Death is seen as an unnatural state. It was never part of God’s plan for His Creation to experience death. It is man’s transgression that caused our separation from God and its consequence – death.
Out of love and concern for His creation therefore, Christ came into the world, to die for us and through His Resurrection grant new life to us mortals.
Christ did this by taking on our human nature whilst fully retaining His Divine nature, and trampling on our death and restoring new life in us by His Holy Resurrection.
This gift of new life is gifted to us on the day of our Baptism.
But to earn this gift we have to value and strive for it by our own free will and with the right instruction and living a good Christian life we can progresses towards our union and communion with God. Simply put, we progress towards union with God by our love for God and by the keeping His Commandments; whilst we also continue to love others as we do our own selves.
Death is not seen as our end or our annihilation but as our ‘falling asleep.’
When a person ‘falls asleep,’ the soul is temporarily separated from the body. But the soul continues to live. In this state the soul of a departed person benefits from our prayers at the funeral service.
Our prayers are directed to God in the funeral service to forgive their sins and errors and to offer forgiveness and comfort to their soul. This is why in the Orthodox Christian Tradition we pray for the deceased on the day of their death and on the day of their funeral, but also at various other times during certain specific intervals as well long after their passing from this life.
At the end of the world with the second coming of Christ, all those who ever lived will be resurrected – this is referred to as the ‘general resurrection’ of the dead.
Then, each person will have to give account of their life and face judgement.
As is referred to in scripture “those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation.”
(Funeral Service Gospel reading John 5:29-30)
Death therefore is merely a transition from this life to the next. Our prayers for the departed offer comfort to the deceased whilst also praying for their deliverance.
The life of an Orthodox Christian person should focus on the memory of their own imminent death irrespective of their age- (because we are all mortal and will face death one day).
This remembrance is not viewed as the practice of some morbid state, but a state of preparation for the heavenly kingdom, the life prepared for us by Christ beyond the grave.
Fr Emmanuel Stamatiou