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Question 266

As Greek Orthodox can we believe in reincarnation?


Answer to Question 266


Reincarnation is the belief that a soul of a man lives more than once on the earth, and can return to this life again and again. It is a belief that a person’s soul can leave one body in order to then enter a new one—the tiny body of an embryo within its mother’s womb. In this manner, the person can be born again, and that is why he forgets about all his former incarnations. And so he comes and goes from this earth many, many different times, supposedly ever perfecting himself and finally attaining Nirvana, that is, complete merging with the Absolute, and more exactly, with complete non-being.


This is incompatible with the teachings of the Orthodox Church, which believes that the soul is created at the same time as the body at conception. The theory of reincarnation suggests that the souls pre-exist and therefore are eternal like God. If the souls are eternal then who created and determined the quantity of souls that have existed from the beginning? Where do the new souls come from that are needed to fill the new human bodies that have come about as a result of demographic growth of the earth’s population? After all, if we were to follow this teaching’s logic, the earth’s population should be static: as many souls as have been freed from their bodies due to death, so many should there be new bodies (and no more) ready to receive a soul and become a human.


According to the Christian faith, man is not uncreated and eternal, but a creation: not a result of God's substance, but the fruit of divine will and love. The dogma of karma and reincarnation nullifies the mystery of salvation in Christ. The incarnation of the Son and Word of God constitutes the foundation of the Church and is linked with the mystery of man's salvation (Math. 16:17-18, 1 Tim. 3:16). His 'taking on' the whole person, not only the soul but also the body, constitutes the manifestation of God's glory (John 1:14, Hebrews 1:1-3). It cannot be considered negative. But these grounds for salvation are cancelled when we accept the beliefs of karma and reincarnation. 


Christ conquered death, not through the liberation from the body, but through the resurrection and incorruptibility of the body. This change in a person's life does not come through continuous births and deaths, but 'in a moment', during Christ's second coming. For the Christian, there are no repeated judgements, which define the 'quality' of a new life each time, but only one biological life and only one judgement, which will take place in front of Christ's judgement seat. In front of the eternal Judge man will stand not only as a soul but also as a body, to answer for his deeds, which occurred by way of this body. 


This state of 'new creation', of incorruptibility, is lived by the Christian already in this life during the Holy Eucharist. The teaching of reincarnation, which regards the body negatively, not only nullifies the Christian's hope in Christ but also the meaning of divine worship, the primary purpose of the Holy Eucharist.