The MGOSCM youth of the DC-MD-VA area had conducted ‘The Road to Redemption Retreat-2012’ at St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church, Greater Washington (Silver Spring, MD) on Friday, December 30, 2011 from 12:00PM – 4:30PM. This retreat was a truly enlightening experience that instilled a newly found sense of faith in our orthodox youth.
Rev. Dn. Philip Mathew, the main speaker, began by speaking of how the orthodox faith views on departed souls. While the body and the soul are often used interchangeably; they are two separate entities, two separate beings that co-exist in the same space. What makes death so traumatic and so dauntingly final is that the body and the soul are separated, torn apart from each other forever. This is the physical separation, the physical death that the body and soul endure. There is, however, a more traumatic death that can be experienced: spiritual death, the soul being torn away from its Creator, God. As the soul sins, it is torn further and further from God. God offers physical death to humans as an act of mercy; it is his way of ensuring that the soul will not endure the trauma of being torn away from its Creator.
In addition to the teaching on death, Dn. Philip also discussed what happens to the soul, after death. The media portrays vivid pictures of the afterlife, including a fiery hell and an angelic heaven. According to the Orthodox faith, the souls of the dead in Sheol, an area where the souls wait for Jesus to return. Sheol contains two distinct areas: Paradise, which is the Garden of Eden, a land which offers a preview of what heaven will be like and Sheol, which is a dark, ominous area that reveals how torturous hell will be. Once the soul is placed in either Paradise or Sheol, nothing more can be done, the soul cannot redeem itself. However, God is the ultimate creator and if the church prays for a particular soul, God does have the power to move the soul from Sheol to Paradise. The journey of the soul from the world to Sheol is long and arduous. Each soul is judged for every sin and scrutinized for every deed; nothing goes unseen and ultimately, Christ is our judge. According to the early church fathers, this process takes 40 days which is why the church offers special prayers to the faithful departed 40 days after the death. God has also equipped each and every soul with a guardian angel. Angels were created as pure spirit; they lack the image and likeness of God, yet continue to serve God wholly for eternity. Not only does each soul have a guardian angel, every church, every altar and every family is given a guardian angel for protection, guidance and spiritual support.
Christ prophesized that the end of times will come like “a thief in the night”. The world will end when Christ returns, and it will be the final chapter of human history. Essentially, as the world began with God, it will also end with God. Contrary to popular belief, apocalypse is not the complete and utter destruction of the world; it is the revelation of something that was once hidden. It is also thought, that the book of Revelations, chronicles the fate of the human race, the complete demise and unfathomable horrors. This, however, was not the true purpose of Revelations; the book was written with careful caution. St. John wrote in unique symbols and codes that only the faithful would understand. His message was not to give up faith, despite what Christianity endures. Even if the world is trampled by a fiery beast or destroyed by a treacherous storm, we as Orthodox Christians must have faith that will remain ironclad, impermeable to the destruction that will ensue.
As our faith was revitalized and given new meaning and purpose, the retreat was closed with honest and clear-sighted advice regarding New Year’s Resolutions by Rev. Fr. Aju Mathew. Instead of making outlandish resolutions that we should make smaller attainable goals. This New Year should not be a year of distress or turmoil rather a year of newly found faith and growth.