Death in Orthodox Christianity is not viewed as the end of our existence. After death, the soul is only temporarily separated from the body. During the first 40 days, it goes through certain trials and meets its Creator. During this period, a soul’s posthumous fate is decided until it will be ultimately determined at the Final Judgement preceding the Universal Resurrection. The 3rd, 9th and 40th days after death are important for the posthumous existence of the deceased.
The meaning of days after death
What is the meaning of 3 days after death?
The Venerable Macarius of Alexandria was once given a revelation from an angel. It revealed to the Saint what happens to the soul after death. Although the Bible says nothing about any particular days after death and their meaning for a human soul, this revelation resonates with biblical events (Christ rose from the dead on the 3rd day after the crucifixion, and ascended on the 40th).
The angel revealed to St. Macarius that in the first two days after death, a person’s spirit remains on earth accompanied by angels and remaining free to travel wherever it wills. Many souls spend these days at their homes, next to their loved ones and their own coffin. On the third day, in parallel with the Resurrection of Christ, the angels ascend the soul to worship God.
After that, the spirit stays in heaven until the 9th day, dwelling among angels and saints. Seeing heavenly bliss makes the souls of the righteous rejoice, while the unrighteous lament their futile lives, realizing that heaven is beyond their reach.
Why are funerals held on the 3rd day after death?
In the first two days after death, a soul experiences separation from the body. Being able to stay with the body alleviates its suffering. After a spirit ascends to God on the third day, it will not return to earth until the Second Coming of Christ. Just as the spirit departs to God on the third day, so the body must be buried in the ground.
Significance of the 9th day after death
On the 9th day, the soul once again stands before God in worship. However, after the ninth day instead of contemplating the bliss of heaven, it goes to behold the torments of hell.
What happens to a soul on the 40th day after death?
On the 40th day, angels take a person to God once more, this time not for worship, but for a personal judgement. The Lord determines where each soul will dwell until the Second Coming, the General Resurrection and the Last Judgement.
During these 40 days, the prayers of the Church and loved ones are especially important for a deceased person’s soul. During this period, prayer intercedes for a person before God and may influence his or her posthumous fate.
That said, prayers after 40 days are no less important. We have no way of knowing the outcome of God’s judgement about a person’s posthumous fate. Perhaps the Lord does not allow this to be known so that our prayers for the deceased do not cease and our love for them does not fade.
Even if a soul is condemned to posthumous suffering, the prayers of believers can influence the outcome of the Last Judgement and change the wrath of God into mercy.
Counting 3, 9 and 40 days after death
The day of death is the first day. For example, if a person dies on the 23rd, the third day after death falls on the 25th. The ninth and fortieth days are calculated in a similar way.