Being a report of a conversation of St. Macarius the Alexandrian with Angels.
Translated from the Greek Migne, P. G. Tome 34, Page 385.
Once, as we were making a journey in the desert, we saw two angels following St. Macarius closely, one on his right and the other on his left. And when we were traveling all in company we came upon a corpse lying on the ground and smelling. St. Macarius smelt the stench and closed his nostrils with his hand until he had passed by. The angels did likewise; and when the Elder noticed it, he said to them:
“Do you also smell the stench of the world?”
“No, but when we saw you, we did the same, because we do not perceive the stench of the world, but we perceive only the vile smell of the souls of sinners, just in the same way as you are repelled by the stench of this corpse.”
The Elder says to them:
“Let me know this, I beseech you! Do you perceive the stench of the souls of sinners in this life or after death? And how do you distinguish the souls of sinners, those who believe in the Lord, the impious and non-believers? Tell me, if I have found favour in your sight.”
And the angels said:
“Listen, chosen of God, Macarius! The sinful soul, even when it is in the body, smells the stench of its bad deeds; and after death it smells much more, because its deeds are on itself and are seen clearly and they darken and blacken its condemnation. For the soul in itself is luminous and pure as a breath of the immortal light; but when it is in the body and when it is not governed well, it is partially defiled by sin, one (soul) more, another less. As to how the souls are taken from the bodies of believers and unbelievers, listen, Macarius, and consider that the earthly and vulgar are inferior to the heavenly. For when soldiers are sent by an earthly king to arrest someone, and they come and force him even against his will, he crouches in fear and trembles from the presence of those who cruelly drag him to the journey. In the same way, when the angels are sent to take the soul either of a just man or of a sinner, it crouches in fear and trembles at the presence of the severe and terrible angels. For then the soul sees that it is resourceless and weak, utterly unaided by its riches, and by the presence of its relations and friends, and it feels the tears and lamentations of those standing round. It is unable either to speak or to cry, having never before been tested by such a call; it fears too the infinitude of the journey and the upheaval of the course of life. It is distressed by the unsympathy of the angels who are seen, but it suffers above all on account of its union with the body. And it laments the uncoupling of the body, for it is its intimate companion that it is leaving. Unable to have the one and only consolation from its own conscience, unless it is conscious of the action of good deeds, a soul is judged continually by the condemnation of its own conscience as a judge.”
And Abba Macarius says again:
“What then, my lords? I beseech you, explain this too, for it has come down as a tradition from the fathers to offer an oblation for the departed on the third and ninth and fortieth day. What is the use of this to the soul in its passing over?”
And the angel said:
“Nothing inopportune and nothing useless does God ordain to exist in His Church, but He ordained His heavenly and earthly mysteries to exist in His Church and ordered the performance of them. For the offering of the oblation (prosphora) in the Church on the third day is a consolation for the soul’s affliction on account of its separation from the body. The departed soul receives this consolation from the angel accompanying it, when blessing and oblation (prosphora) is offered for the soul in the Church of God, and thereby it becomes hopeful. For during the space of two days the soul is permitted to roam on the earth wherever it wishes, with the angels who accompany it. And as the soul is body-loving, it sometimes hovers round the house where it was uncoupled, sometimes round the grave where its body has been buried. And so it passes those days like a bird seeking a nest. But the virtuous soul wanders through those places where it was in the habit of doing righteousness. On the third day Christ, the God of all, Who rose from the dead on the third day, commands that every Christian soul, in imitation of His own resurrection, shall be brought to Heaven to worship the God of all. Therefore the Church does well to offer oblation (prosphora) and prayer for the soul on the third day. After the adoration of God, there takes place a supplication for him so that he may be shown the various and delightful abodes of the Saints and the beauty of Paradise. All these things the soul learns during six days, marveling and glorifying God, the Preparer of these things. And when the soul has seen all these things, it is transformed and forgets all the sorrow it had in the body. But if it is guilty of sins, then, at the sight of the delight of the Saints, it begins to wail and to reproach itself, saying:
‘Woe to me! How vainly I passed my time in that world! Engrossed in the pleasures of life, I spent most of my time in Carelessness, and did not serve God as I ought to have done, that I too might be granted their grace and glory. Woe to my wretchedness! The cares and undue distractions which I had in the world are laid upon me. What is the use of my vineyards which I have planted, and the olive trees? What profit will the field which I owned yield me? What avails the gold which I had there? What profit does my fortune bring me? What good does every pleasure of that life and world do me? Woe to me, who laboured in vain! Woe to me, who lived imprudently! Woe to me, who for a short space loved glory, and gained eternal poverty! Woe to me! What have I suffered? Woe to me! How was I darkened? I do not know. Woe to me! None will be able to help me, so that my wretchedness may attain to the vision of the glory of the Lord)’
After having seen all the joy of the righteous during six days, the soul is brought up by the angels for the adoration of God. It is well, therefore, to offer liturgies and oblations (prosphora) on behalf of the departed on the ninth day.
After the second adoration, there again takes place supplication to the Lord of all, when the soul is led down to hades, and shown the places of torture there, the different compartments of hades, and the various punishments of the wicked, being placed into which the souls of sinners continually groan and gnash their teeth. In such different kinds of punishments the Soul wanders round for thirty days, trembling lest it also be condemned to be kept in such a place.
On the fortieth day the soul is again brought up to adore the Lord, and then the judge determines the place of the incarceration of the soul according to its deeds. Therefore it is right to hold memorial services in the Church for the enlightened departed.
for souls that have not known Holy Baptism, it is not so. But the relentless and severe angels take the unenlightened souls from the body, beating them and saying:
‘Come, impious soul, who is your Master and Lord of ail, Whom you did not wish to know when you lived in license in the world? Know now that you are punished for ever!’
Leading the soul up to the first heaven, they show it from afar the glory of the angels and of all the heavenly hosts, saying:
‘The Lord of all these is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, Whom you did not wish to acknowledge and adore. But you are brought to the wicked of your class and. to their leader, the devil, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, whom you adored as gods during your life.’ ”
Having said such things, and saluting the servant of God, Macarius, they vanished from our sight. But let us send up glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Source: Orthodox Life Magazine, 1950 Vol 4, Jordanville, New York, USA