An excerpt from a very interesting post by Fr Aidan at Eclectic Orthodoxy. One of my favorite prayers, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful and most powerful, is the third prayer at Pentecost Vespers, mentioned in the full version of this post. Full post here.
“….May the sinner repent of his sins in the afterlife? Absolutely, answers Bulgakov. The departed soul does not lose his freedom and creative energy. He has acquired a new kind of existence that involves an expansion and deepening of spiritual knowledge. Repentance in the afterlife must be different from repentance in our earthly life. The departed soul no longer acts in the world as he once did. Hence he no longer has available to him the kind of penitence made possible by historical existence. But still the person may repent and change his orientation toward God:
“Of course, here too, the fullness of the life of the living is different from that of the dead, and the measure of their repentance is not the same. Clearly, the repentance of the deceased, as a complex inner process of awakening to spiritual life, differs from what takes place in the living. Earthly life is a foundation for the future life, but it is not the only foundation. Earthly life and the afterlife are connected as different aspects of the one life of one and the same spirit. One usually prefers to conceive the afterlife state of “sinners” (but who is free of sin and therefore does not need to repent?) in the juridical and penitentiary form of a sentence served in an afterlife prison, without possibility of pardon or parole. However, it is completely impossible to allow that the spirit could be in a state so static, so frozen in an unchanging spasm or so immersed in passive contemplation of its past actions and deprived of the capacity for future life. … From all this we conclude that the afterlife state is not death, and not even a stupor of the spirit, but a continuation of the life of the spirit begun on earth. Thus, despite the reduced condition for this life which passes outside the body and despite a certain passivity resulting from this, the afterlife state cannot be considered as given once and for all and unchanging, with the total absence of creative freedom. Rather, it is a continuation of spiritual life, which does not end on the other side of death’s threshold. The afterlife state is a stage of the path leading to resurrection.” (pp. 365-366)