Protopresbyter Emmanuel Clapsis
Ph.D. (Union Theological Seminary)
Dean Emeritus and
Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology,
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
The topics of death and the state of the soul at death are difficult and challenging to think and write about in the modern world. Secular society would rather us forget about death and not consider our future lives; therefore, it is increasingly difficult to have serious and genuine conversations regarding death and the afterlife. What Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery has accomplished with The Departure of the Soul According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church will surely inspire more discussion and attention on these issues.
This is a wonderful compilation of sources and commentaries that should be taken into consideration when dealing with Orthodox views on death and the state of the soul immediately following death. One would be hard-pressed to find any other written project that has compiled as many Orthodox sources on these topics. The monastery has done a commendable job in bringing together scriptural, liturgical, patristic, and iconographic examples that together present a picture encompassing diverse periods of the Church’s history. The work is not restricted to examples stemming from a single geographic region but draws from sources originating throughout the Orthodox world. It is well-organized, flowing from Scriptural and other written passages to more visual and liturgical examples. The translation work within the anthology is, even by itself, worthy of accolade. The Departure of the Soul According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church is an invaluable resource for anyone studying Orthodox teachings on death, whether from a desire to deepen one’s understanding of our faith or from a purely academic or research-oriented perspective. It provokes serious reflection on a subject often ignored or deemed too uncomfortable or contentious to consider. The monastery has produced an indispensable publication.
Protopresbyter Vasile Raduca
Ph.D. Theology, Ph.D. Theology (University of Fribourg; University of Bucharest)
Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology and
Professor of Dogmatic Theology,
University of Bucharest
The Church has not formulated any dogmas regarding the soul’s departure for the afterlife, and what follows afterwards. On this issue, we have the categorical assertions made by the Saviour, as the Evangelists recorded them. The Church has confined herself to acknowledging the mystery of eternal life, and professing the belief in the resurrection of the dead, which she teaches to her members. This is not to say that the Holy Fathers and Church theologians failed to reflect on this matter, or that the great saints did not have various experiences attesting to the continued existence of the soul after it is separated from the body. On the contrary, theologians wrote about the life of souls following death, while hagiographers did not refrain from picturing the soul’s life after bodily death.
Hence a very rich amount of theological literature – monuments of theological thought, iconic representation, and highly impressive liturgical formulations. The Departure of the Soul, an encyclopedic work, contains the synthesis of the most important dogmatic formulations on the afterlife, based on the Holy Scripture teachings, the patristic writings, and the immediate experience of the saints, as recorded in their Lives. The doctrine on soul’s life after it has left the body, has been expressed in the Church worship as well as the sacred art. Without exhausting the topic – which is actually impossible – the authors of the present book provide a massive amount of study materials, both scriptural or patristic texts by older and more recent theologians, as well as bibliographic information and references concerning the subject-matter. The work is the result of thorough research. The authors take a stand against certain exaggerations, but also point out the unitary views of theologians in various areas of the yet-undivided Church, on the itinerary of the soul after it departs the body. The Departure of the Soul is a necessary book, beneficial for any theologian and any Christian. Its authors fully deserve our congratulations and gratitude.
Protopresbyter Theodore Stylianopoulos
Th.D. (Harvard University)
Archbishop Iakovos Professor Emeritus of Orthodox Theology,
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
Based on all the sacred sources from Scripture to iconography, this extraordinary work is an irrefutable demonstration of the historical continuity and coherence of the Orthodox vision of the departure of the soul. The given wealth of spiritual truths, images, and symbols, including that of the “toll-houses,” is properly interpreted here under the axiom that the soul’s judgment lies with the merciful God alone, and not with the misanthropic demons, who, nevertheless, by God’s permission, exercise their own sinister part as accusers. The underlying aim is not to frighten readers but encourage them to reflect on and prepare for the great mystery of death that, while beyond exacting human scrutiny, requires both spiritual discernment and theological assessment in the light of Christ’s gospel.
Archpriest Vassilios Georgopoulos
Ph.D. Theology (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)
Assistant Professor, School of Pastoral and Social Theology,
Faculty of Theology, Department of History and Doctrine,
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
I thank you very much for the honor of reviewing The Departure of the Soul. This is a volume full of virtues – I really welcome the book. Its subject, indeed quite difficult yet presented in many aspects and in an interesting and persuasive way, is truly a fine presentation of the theology of the Orthodox Church. I believe that this book will be a standard reference for anyone who wants to learn about the Orthodox Faith regarding the soul and its departure during the mystery of death.
Archpriest John A. McGuckin
FRHistSoc., FRSA, Ph.D. Patristics (University of Durham), DD, D.Litt.
Director of the Sophia Institute: International Center for Orthodox Thought and Culture;
Nielsen Professor in Ancient & Byzantine Church History,
Union Theological Seminary;
Professor Emeritus of Byzantine Christian Studies, Department of Religion,
Faculty of Church History
This beautifully produced book from St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery is a monumental treatment of the Orthodox teaching on the state of the soul after death. It brings together a most impressive and carefully selected range of authoritative sources: ancient Irish monastic writings, Byzantine hagiographies, testimonies from the great saints and theologians of the Greek, Slavic, and Romanian Orthodox traditions, ancient and modern. It will surely become the standard work of reference for the whole question of the soul’s post-death judgement as seen in Eastern Orthodoxy. The very concept of death is one that our modern society has turned away from: as if by ignoring it, it could make it go away.
Orthodox spiritual teaching, on the other hand, leads us to face death and welcome it as a life-giving mystery from the hand of a merciful Lord. Yet, as the teaching of our saints shows, the mercy of the Lord is not sweetly saccharine. It is a mercy precisely because it cleanses and restores us to life in the Kingdom, not life according to our mortal animality. Many people in our present society have ceased to believe there is any life after the collapse of our temporary bodily existence. Of those who have retained some concept of it, many have fallen prey to a myth that all will be automatically sweetness and light. The core aspect of the Kingdom of God coming as divine vindication seems to have escaped them, and they have closed their eyes to any sense of personal judgement or accountability.
This book reminds us of these key Orthodox dogmas. It also gives us the encouragement to understand how important it is to pray for the dead: another doctrine that has been abandoned in many parts of the Christian world today. From being initially composed in order to answer an internal Orthodox controversy (how central was the concept of the Toll Houses) it has risen up to become a magisterial collection of patristic resources: the testimonies of the great saints, the Vitae, the liturgical teachings, a superb collation of icon and fresco evidences from all over the Orthodox world: all presented to the reader and demonstrating that the doctrine of the individual soul’s immediate posthumous judgement is certainly a central doctrine of Orthodoxy that must be taken seriously; but should not alarm the prepared soul.
Even though the Lord’s judgement is a strict concern to affirm justice and banish evil, He will have great mercy on those who can cry out to him in faith and love, as once the repentant tax collector did in the Temple: Kyrie eleison me hamartolon.
Archpriest Josiah Trenham
Ph.D. Theology (University of Durham)
Secretariat of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops;
Professor of Theology,
St. Katherine College and
Sts. Cyril & Athanasius of Alexandria Institute for Orthodox Studies
The Christian lives each day well inasmuch as he has his whole being fixed upon the coming great day of his own death. It is his pious obsession to think no thought, speak no word, and do no deed without reference to this last day. The Departure of the Soul is a patristic tour de force on the all-important subject of death and the afterlife. It is worth more than its weight in gold. Friend – buy it, read it, and prepare yourself. … The book is outstanding.
Ph.D. Theology (University of Athens)
Chairman of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology and
Professor of Biblical Theology at the Institute of Orthodox Theology,
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
The Departure of the Soul is an impressive collection of testimonies from the entire life of the Orthodox Church about the serious topic of death. This Florilegium is especially to be welcomed because it very admirably succeeds by the numerous citations to explain to every believer the crucial issue of the “last hour” and beyond, including the Orthodox doctrine of the Last Judgment. The biblical, liturgical, hagiological, dogmatic, patristic and iconographic foundation of Orthodox eschatology exclusively serves the spiritual benefits and the promotion of healthy Orthodox faith of each reader without prejudices.
Charles Marshall Stang
Th.D. (Harvard University)
Professor of Early Christian Thought, Divinity School,
The Departure of the Soul is a monument of faithful scholarship which will educate and edify Orthodox readers, and others, for generations to come. It is meticulously researched and lavishly illustrated.
D.Phil. (University of Oxford)
Visiting Fellow, Cambridge University;
Associate Professor of History,
The Departure of the Soul constitutes a monumental undertaking. A key work of reference, it collects together, in carefully executed and vetted translations, over 400 sources concerned with the departure of the soul and its trial at the threshold of the afterlife. These are organized in chronological order so as to allow the reader to observe in detail Orthodox doctrine across the centuries. But of far greater importance than the book’s undoubted erudition is its aim to enlighten and reassure regarding a matter—that of our fate after death—that touches humanity more keenly than any other.
Ph.D. (University of Michigan–Ann Arbor)
Author of Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians;
Professor Emeritus of History,
University of Alberta;
Visiting Professor, Department of History,
This is an unparalleled compendium of traditional Eastern Orthodox teaching on death and judgment. It is a polyphonic book bringing together text and image — scripture, the writings of the fathers and holy men and women more generally, liturgical and other texts, and icons — to convey the teachings on the passage of the soul after death and on the Dread Judgment. It encompasses testimony extending from the early church, through the millennia, and up to the present day. Theologians, scholars in other disciplines, and Orthodox faithful will find it enlightening and useful.
David M. Goldfrank
Ph.D., MA (Harvard University)
President of Early Slavic Studies Association;
Director of Medieval Studies, Department of History,
Arguing cogently that the theology behind the assertions of the trials of the soul after death sits squarely within Eastern Orthodox traditions, The Departure of the Soul is an absolutely amazing collection of texts and iconography from the early days of Christianity to the present, which should be of great interest to Orthodox and kindred Christians, to scholars of various stamps, and, in general, to the curious concerning how humans grapple with one the greatest mysteries of life.
Ph.D., L.M.S., M.A.R., D.E.A.
Coleman Senior Fellowship, Metropolitan Museum of Art;
Professor of Christian Art and Architecture, Divinity School,
This is an astonishing and wide–ranging collection of primary sources, one that will be useful to scholars and faith practitioners for many years to come.
Ph.D., MTS (Harvard University)
Director of the Center for the Study of Religion,
University of California, Los Angeles;
Visiting Fellow, Department of Near Eastern Studies,
This voluminous work provides a comprehensive initiation into the teachings and writings of the Orthodox Church on death and dying. It is an especially useful resource for anyone interested in the writings of the Orthodox Church Fathers on the subject.
Nicholaos L. Moraitis
Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley)
International Relations–Comparative Politics,
IEAS, University of California, Berkeley
Characterized by the essentiality and comprehensiveness of its patristic empirical approach to the subject, this excellent work includes practically the whole mountain of knowledge understood in the spiritual sense. With incredible depth, achieving this enormous task across religious, theological, and cultural borders, the authors have accomplished a synthesis that is an antidote to those who attempt to interpret death based on philosophy, reason, speculation, and imagination.
Ph.D., MA (University of Oxford)
Associate Professor of Christology and Cultures,
School of Theology at Santa Clara University;
Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley;
Core Faculty, Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute
The publication of The Departure of the Soul According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church is an important milestone in the systematic rediscovery of the spiritual tradition of Eastern Christianity. In the pages of this volume, the English-speaking public will be introduced to a vast range of authors reflecting on the ultimate destiny of man and his encounter with God in the afterlife. This wisdom, which contemporary readers receive from an uninterrupted two millennia of tradition, is not the exclusive property of a particular Christian community, but is the patrimony of the universal church, and as such it ought to be cherished and transmitted to future generations. At a time when so many Western seekers look for spiritual solace outside the boundaries of their own religious tradition, the golden thread of Eastern Christian spirituality spun by the Church Fathers and their disciples continues to guide us in the labyrinth of this fallen world.
Donald M. Fairbairn, Jr.
Ph.D. in Patristics (University of Cambridge)
Dean of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary,
Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity,
Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
This massive volume concerns an issue of contention in modern Eastern Orthodoxy regarding the trial of the human soul at death and its passage through various “toll houses” on the way to its eternal rest with the Lord or separation from him. The idea of toll houses is virtually unknown to Roman Catholic or Protestant Christians, and we might be prone to write off the issue and the book as much ado about nothing. That would be a mistake, because the book marshals a breathtaking amount of evidence from the Church’s history and liturgical and iconographic life, demonstrating profound reflection on the spiritual realities that surround human death, the afterlife, and eternity. This reflection needs to be taken seriously by all stripes of Christians, whether they are familiar with the specific controversy that occasioned the volume or not. I commend the book for the consideration of all who care about the great mystery of death.
Ph.D. (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)
Executive Committee Member of the Ecclesiastical History Society;
Review Editor of the Irish Theological Quarterly;
Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical University, Maynooth, Ireland;
Professor of Ecclesiastical History, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland
The Departure of the Soul According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church arises out of a desire to comprehensively establish that the idea of the trials of the soul after death and its expression in the image of toll-houses of interrogation is to be found across the Orthodox Christian tradition from the earliest centuries.
This extraordinary compilation of texts relating to the experiences of the soul after death comprises a treasury of Orthodox Christian thought, mined from commentaries on the Scriptures, writings of the saints, liturgical service books, hagiography, the decrees of synods and councils, the writings of leading theologians, and 216 pages of color plates exhibiting often little-known examples of Orthodox iconography on the judgment of the soul. It is a collection which can be consulted with profit by students of theology and also more general readers who wish to know something more about ideas concerning the fate of the soul over some 2,000 years of Orthodox tradition.