What does the Orthodox Church teach about the General Resurrection of the dead?
When our Church refers to the “General Resurrection of the Dead” it is referring to the resurrection of all dead bodies, of everyone who has ever lived. In his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St John of Damascus points out that “Resurrection means the second raising up of that which has fallen, for how are the souls to be resurrected if they are immortal?… Death is defined as the separation of the soul from the body… Resurrection is the reunion of the soul and the body… Therefore, the same body which is destroyed and dissolved, will be raised again incorruptible”.
Death is not the end, we do not cease to exist after we die. We are not just a body, we also have a soul. When we think deeply, that inner feeling of being me, of being aware that I exist, surely this is not due only to my physical brain, to computer like networks in my brain. We have a soul: it is not physical, and it will never die. At the General Resurrection of the Dead, this soul will be reunited with our body, but not with the body we now have, but with an incorruptible body. We will still be who we are now, except that our body will be one that will never again die. Why should our bodies be resurrected?
The Christian message is that man is a unified psychosomatic being, and that both the soul and the body are needed. Justin Martyr (2nd century), wrote, “Can we say that the soul by itself is man? No. Can we then perhaps say that the body itself is man? No… Man is that which is made up of both”. Of course one may ask: since our body will one day be eaten by the worms, how can it then be given back to us, how can all those memories be ours again? We cannot come up with a scientific explanation. All we can do is remind ourselves that God is almighty, and in any case, to resurrect our body is not as difficult as bringing us into being out of nothingness.
There are references in the Bible that make it clear that the word of God has revealed to us that one day our bodies will be resurrected. For instance, the prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of bones in a valley, and reports: “There was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over…, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:7-10).
Moreover, the Apostle Paul uses the analogy of the seed that dies before it becomes a new plant: “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’ Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. So also is the resurrection of the dead… The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:35- 37,42-44). Only one thing is very important in this life, and that is to do our utmost, with God’s power, to make sure that when our turn comes, that we will be with Jesus and in His love forever.
Source: Lychnos April / May 2017