Let us consider the parable Christ told of the poor man Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, while the sinful rich man was suffering in the abyss. We have here what can be considered the consciousnesses of those who are not alive conversing with one another as if they were nearby to each other, with one who is comforting Lazarus, and the other who is suffering for his unrighteousness. It does not seem like there is a chance for repentance for the rich man, and neither is Abraham able to go comfort the rich man because there is a “great chasm” between the both of them. A few things one can learn from this exchange:
1. You are still conscious despite your death.
2. No repentance is possible when you are dead. Neither is the action of sinning possible as well. Therefore, you cannot pass through this particular “chasm” that separates the righteous from the sinful.
3. What you did in your life when you are alive will determine how you experience your state of consciousness when you are dead.
4. Despite the chasm, a conversation can still occur.
Now, understandably, this is a parable. But when Christ talked about this parable, He presented Jewish ideas of the afterlife that is filled with rich meaning when considering the ideas held in them. For instance, it is very telling to note the importance of the righteous being comforted, not in the bosom of God, but in the bosom of Abraham! It is no wonder it is natural for the Church to have developed a veneration of the saints, and this can help explain why we pray for the departed and why we seek the departed to pray for us.
One can say this is some form of prejudgment before Judgment Day. Perhaps, but one can also argue that this is a logical outcome of how you lived your life, as if it was some sort of self-ontological cause, a self-imposed way of living your consciousness after death. In other words, the “chasm” Christ speaks about is an image that is easy to comprehend, while in reality, it is not a literal chasm, but a manner of Spiritual living.
Therefore, those who, as St. Paul mentioned, lived by the Spirit are in a state of ecstasy already, in the bosoms of those who are saints, like our father Abraham, whose righteousness far exceeds so many, he is able to even take some into his own comfort by the Spirit of God. But those who did not live according to the Spirit, but according to the vain glories of their own selves, as if they live only for themselves, will be in a position where they will feel lonely, only for themselves, devoid from the Spirit who is able to lift up and comfort, because of a persistent rejection of the Spirit in their own lifetime. Only God knows what will happen afterwards when the second coming happens (maybe because of the resurrection, there might be a slight chance of repentance then?), but in the meantime, the unrighteous, who refused to live by the Spirit, will live in a state of consciousness that is as good as their rotting flesh in their tomb, suffocating and burning with the desires of the lusts of their flesh, but unable to fulfill them because of their death. And woe to that person who in resurrection, will be reunited with a continued sense of this burning and suffering, rather than readiness of repentance. The burning therefore can be considered those passions which you were unable to repent from, not necessarily a direct punishment from an external source.
One can help understand this by making an analogy of good physical exercise. If we lift weights and run everyday, while we struggle, we will eventually build up stamina and strength. When the time comes that a dire issue requires a lot of our energy, we will be able to withstand, whereas the weak will suffer all the more from their laziness and lack of stamina. To live “according to the Spirit”, that is “according to God”, is to raise our bodies/souls, that is to raise ourselves to the stamina of divinity by the help of the Holy Spirit, who is fully divine. When we die, our stamina therefore is connected to how well conformed we are to the Holy Spirit, that is to God. In this sense, we are brought into a truly “Spiritual” state (capital S) of comfort and ecstasy, in the bosoms of those who achieved and even higher “Spiritual” state depending on their work on earth.
On the other hand, those who have not lived in a “Spiritual” state (capital S), but in a selfish state (i.e. carnal) are brought into a state of great chasm from those who are selfless, who gave their selves up to God, allowing God to be able to raise them up in Himself to His divine level. The chasm therefore is between a divine state and a selfish, divineless state. While the divineless is conscious, he will be unable to achieve this divine state, especially since now his self is not put together naturally and fully. Neither are those who are in the divine state are able to fully bring themselves to his divineless state since they too are not put together naturally and fully. It is as if they continued to live in light, and so they live as light, unable to choose darkness now, since choice is by their full humanity alive, and those who lived in darkness will now live as dark consciousness, unable to choose light, since choice is only by their full humanity alive.
But these “souls” can do one thing. They can still continue to pray, at the very least, the “Spiritual” (capital S) souls can pray since they always lived in a state of prayer all their lives, that is a state of always being united to and exuding the presence of God, they can still do so for others. Perhaps, this is where prayers of the departed are important. Those who are already departed can do no more to increase or decrease their “stamina”, even though they can pray. But those who are still alive can, not only pray, but increase their “stamina”! Perhaps, one’s stamina can be so strong, one can help a tortured soul through His prayers achieve some comfort, so that maybe in the second coming, Christ may take this person, purify him, and send him to the person who lived such a strongly righteous life. It is as if the person lived not only to have himself become united to God, but lived to such a great stamina, he is able to bring other persons united to God with him in the second coming. If you are alive, you can carry the burdens of some of those departed for the sake of their salvation if you are willing to work hard not only for yourself, but for them as well. This is after all considered one of the responsibilities in the life of a monk, feeling responsible for the souls of the whole world and those who in the past died.
But how come Abraham, even in his prayers, could not provide comfort to the rich man? Well, keep in mind, it was not just the rich man in the parable who did not receive comfort, but even those who were alive. The chasm already occurred when the rich man was alive. He already shut out all hope for paying attention to the Spirit of God. That could be a form of blasphemy to the Holy Spirit. So how can one pray for someone who committed spiritual suicide? Is it worth praying for someone who does not want to hear prayers? Is it worth pulling someone to the Spirit who does not want to give his hand to be pulled? This is essentially what Christ is teaching when He said that if they cannot even listen to Moses and the prophets, you cannot expect for them to be convinced from someone risen from the dead! Maybe if they truly were seekers of the truth in a humble manner or if the rich man died trying to repent and mend his ways and did not have the time, maybe Abraham would have been able to come down himself and pull him and his friends through, since this state of mind would not be as deep in the chasm as the parable would have it.
In one sense, we can say that people like Abraham is now in a position where his stamina has reached a certain limit and is unable to provide some comfort for the rich man. But in another sense, the rich man and his “friends” have all really joined the ranks of those who do not want help or prayers, thinking that all they have now is all they want. Nevertheless, those who are alive now can live to such an extent so as to make sacrifices not only of yourself to God for yourself, but also for others who you feel need an ever-growing state of prayers for their comfort. Perhaps, you can be this one person who can provide yourself as a sacrifice for that rich man, and give yourself as well for those rich man’s “friends” before it is too late, if it is not already “too late”.