Part of the Seven Talks on the Creed
This is the seventh of the lectures on the Creed. on the Resurrection and the life of the world to come.
Translator: Colin Masica
I look for the resurrection of the dead...and the life of the world to come. Sometimes people think that the subject is the immortality of the soul. But that is not the case. Long before Christianity man had a notion that death was not the end of everything.
In ancient burial grounds of human beings, in the Stone Age, we find indications that man knew the truth -- that "not all of me will die." The ancient Egyptian who was vastly more sophisticated than people of the Stone Age, and already knew astronomy and the basis of mathematics, and architecture: this person who belonged to a great civilization, which had built the pyramids, temples and fantastic labyrinths, the secret of which is not fully solved down to this day, never, not for a moment, doubted there was an immortal part of man. You may think that we are talking about a kind of consolation that man aspires to. But in fact that is not the case. Sometimes the after-death existence was represented as something waning, dark, half-conscious, frightening. Probably the experience of people who had encountered mysterious phenomena of some kind, some sign of the presence of the spirit of a dead person, also gave birth to the terrifying tales that we read in the Odyssey of Homer or in the Gilgamesh Epic of the ancient Babylonians. The dismal world of phantoms dwells in these spheres.
The Greeks also thought in this way for a long time. But when philosophy made its appearance among them, the philosophers for the first time posed this question on the level of professional and serious discussion. They put the question thus: if the world consists of certain parts, as the ancient Greeks had said of 'atoms' , then is the soul of man, the thought of man, something that consists of atoms? This assumption was promoted by the ancient materialists in the person of Democritus and his followers. But their view was not adopted by the majority of the philosophers because they understood perfectly well that only an aggregate, which consists of parts of some sort , may disintegrate. Disintegration unavoidably involves movement. But can the spirit move? If this object before me moves, first in this part of space, then in that one and so forth. The consciousness of man is not located in any point in space, in space there can exist only the organs that thought makes use of. Thought itself has the quality of being non-spatial, non-physical, non-material. Accordingly if it is not located in space, it is without motion, and if it cannot move, then it cannot disintegrate. Its existence is completely sui-generis, unique. In the whole universe known to us, nothing similar to it exists. Modern man does already have extensive knowledge. Everything that has been discovered today by science shows that any natural phenomenon can be measured -- either weighed, or seen by the eyes of an instrument. It possesses qualities that allow it to be recorded. For example even if we do not see the flight of an elementary particle, we see the trail it leaves behind. On the other hand in the whole world only consciousness, only the Self, only the spirit leaves no trail, and is not detected by any instrument or apparatus. Sometimes it is said that the radiation, the discovery of biocurrents of the brain, is precisely that trail of our thought. But I must tell you that any tissue has biocurrents of one degree or another, and we can find them also in the leg of a frog. Bio-currents accompany the physical and physiological life of the cells of the brain, but they are not thought.
So thought is a wonder, if only in the sense that we may wonder at it, be amazed by it, insofar as it is of a completely different nature than everything else. And if everything in the world is subject to destruction and is transitory, thought , the spirit, self, personality, the center is indestructible and non-transient. This does not at all mean that the life of our "Self" is always homogeneous, that there is not growth in it, and deepening of possibilities. On the contrary if a plant is alive, it grows -- out of a tiny seed; if the spirit of a human being is sown, out of it something may grow, or it may not. So already in antiquity man arrived at the idea that the fate of our consciousness is directly dependent on what happened to it in the course of an earthly life. Our body is the organ of thought, the instrument of the spirit, the hands and eyes of the acting "Self."
Just as a locator picks up the vibration of the Universe, the subtle structure of the brain, still not understood, becomes the bearer of spirit. Just as the eye picks up light and gathers it in itself, our central nervous system accumulates the spiritual principle in itself.
Man has seen that a person who has died is silent, that his eyes are closed, that he is cut off from existence. But the logic of the ancients was sufficient for them to understand a simple thing: if entry to an adjoining room is blocked up, and we cannot communicate with anyone who is there, if the wall is thick enough so that even the sound of a thump does not penetrate, this does not at all mean that there is necessarily no-one and nothing there. If our contact with the dead has been broken off, if his body has ceased to serve him, and he is unable to transmit a signal concerning his "Self" with the help of his body, that does not mean that his soul has evaporated.
In this regard I always remember how in my youth I was struck by the expression of a French writer in a story about a woman who had committed suicide. There it was stated that after she had thrown herself into a well, her soul -- what was called her soul -- "went out". But even then (after all I was only a schoolboy when I was reading this novella of Maupassant) I understood that "going out" was not annihilation; it is a process of transition from one state to another, and if there was such a mighty phenomenon as the soul, as consciousness, as the "Self" in man, it could not be annihilated; it passed into another form of existence.
The highest of the creations of the Creator that we have in the world is personality. All the elements are impersonal. In animals the first rudiments of individuality appear. But the creating personality is only man. Pascal spoke about this in his immortal book Pensees. (You have to take a look at this book. It is easy to read, because it consists of aphorisms). Do we know the answer to the question, where does this wonder come from? One can understand where our capacity to breathe comes from. Ask a biologist and he will tell you how the power of utilization of oxygen to breathe began with the first animals, and we are their heirs. We know why we sustain our life with the help of food. The processes involved in the production of energy are completely clear to the chemist, the physicist, the physiologist, the biologist. We know where everything comes from with regard to the life of the body. The only thing we don't know is where the spiritual "Self" came from , creating, thinking, choosing between good and evil, changing the face of the planet.
Holy Scripture reveals this secret to us. It tells us that man in his spirituality was made in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity. This is where the answer to the riddle lies. This is why we are "different". This is why man who breathes, eats, drinks and reproduces like any other creature, is qualitatively different, spiritually distinct from all nature. Because he does reflect in himself everything made by the God of the Universe: the mineral kingdom, the elements of Mendelyev's Table, the plant kingdom. Every cell of our body repeats the model of the cell of any plant.
But our spirit is a guest in this world. Yes, and not simply a guest but a definite mission of growth is placed before it. The spirit is a student here. It is joined to material forces not do to any paradoxical caprice, but this is happening because for the sake of the transformation of objective reality -- material, elemental reality -- the spirit and matter have been joined through man, so that spiritual power might permeate all material existence. The spiritualization of the universe created by God -- this is the highest purpose that there is. Man was placed in the cosmos with this purpose. But he has so far realized this aim very meagerly, and has taken very little part in it. Here we have one of the answers to the riddle. why physicians, physiologists, and scientists tell you that man only utilizes a thousandth part of his potentialities. That's right, because infinitely more is stored up in us. But this failure of man in fact is not a failure, because when people die in their body, the work of humanity as a whole continues. Here is an image for you: rivers flow into seas, the morning vapor rises, and behold the water of the earth goes aloft in the form of vapor and white clouds circle the earth. What an enormous significance clouds have for life! They carry life-giving moisture. In those desert places over which only a cloudless blue sky is stretched there is so little life.
The history of the spirit has its own life giving clouds -- streams of souls ascending, i.e. not upward in space, but in a different dimension, creating an immortal treasury of human souls. We call this the highest dimension of life, others call it an otherworldly, after-death existence, in which there is also development, in which there is also movement, in which there is also life but life of a different order. What I am talking about now is an idea common to all humanity, a notion which is shared by people from one ocean to the other. Those who consciously try to convince themselves and others that only nothing, non-being, awaits the self-conscious personality, all the same in the depth of their being do not believe in their own complete extinction. Even such a profound observer of the human psyche as Sigmund Freud wrote that no one really believes in his own death, i.e. extinction, in the depths of his own being.
But Christianity speaks to us about something greater. It speaks to us about the life of the age to come. Not simply of the natural immortality of every human "Self" in another dimension, but of a new stage of cosmic evolution, of the life of the age to come. In the original Greek 'eon' means a kind of even expanse of time, almost passing beyond the bounds of history. The eon to come. Life of the coming eon. This is a view into the distant future of the universe. The view that penetrates the curtain of what may today seem the riddle of human limitation. This is not simply the natural immortality of the soul, or more correctly of the spirit. Here I must immediately make a stipulation. What we are talking about is always the spirit, because the soul is the psyche, which animals also have, and in their own way even plants -- the reaction of an organism to its environment. The spirit is that which creates, that which is unique, personal, and possesses freedom. All religions and philosophies, one way or another, talk about the immortality of the spirit, but Christianity reveals to us this supernatural truth "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come."
This hope and this faith were not born in a blank space , but were born in the mysteries of the Passover of the New Testament, when Jesus Christ vanquishes death.
We speak of people who have left us great works of art, literature, or science as immortal in their own right. Therefore Pushkin also says, "I will not die, the soul in my secret lyre lives on." But this is all temporary, mankind does not have an endless memory. Life is eternal, individual organisms perish. But for man, for his sphere, i.e. for the sphere of the spirit each person is important, each personality is important. When Christ appeared before his disciples, this was not a memory of Him.
There was such a memory of the prophet Isaiah, of great teachers of mankind, of great philosophers. Christ did not live at all in memory; he appeared to them alive. See what was important here. Moses had immortality in legends and memory, but no one ever said he had appeared to them alive. Finally our great Christian saints are immortal in memory, and many of us have seen them in dreams, have had inner contact with them, but all the same we know that they have died, and their tombs bear witness to this -- and their relics are patent evidence of this.
Christ did not 'revive'; he was transformed. Therefore the holy Apostle Paul says that "we shall all be changed." This is a transformation, a mutation, a new level of evolution, but not only for those who come after us, when we will no longer be needed, but for all the souls who have ever been created in the world. "We shall be changed" says the Apostle. Then existence in the body will be given back to us. The existence in the body which was revealed to the disciples in the appearance of the Risen One. The Apostle Paul says, "There is a natural body, and then there is a spiritual body." The spiritual body is a different kind of body which is not subject in such a degree, to the rigid implacable laws of dead and living nature. A body which is subject to the spirit, therefore, not knowing old age or fatigue. The experience of the disciples who saw the Risen One was unique. It was not a vague or confused vision, but he came to them and sat at the table and showed them the marks on his hands, and ate with them. But it didn't cross the mind of any of them that perhaps He had regained consciousness, that he had revived, that He had been reanimated. Because his face had changed, and they hadn't recognized him at once; because he hadn't come in to them by the doors, but had appeared suddenly in the room. For him the obstacles didn't exist that had existed for him previously. And therefore he said "Great power has been given to me in heaven and on earth." He had become different, and the Apostle Paul continues His thought. He teaches us that Christ in this respect has become the "first-born". The first-born ,not as the God-man, but as man. As man who has acquired new life. He was the first to acquire a spiritual body, the first to have entered eternity in the spiritual- psychic-corporal unity of personality. It is that which Christianity looks forward to.
I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Death is vanquished, non-being and sin are vanquished, our crumpled, pitiful little soul breaks loose into colossal freedom. Between it in its present condition and the enormous expansion that awaits it there is the same sort of gigantic distance as there is between a silent embryo in the womb of its mother and a genius, for example Leonardo da Vinci or Einstein who was born from this embryo.