Δευτέρα, 21 Οκτωβρίου 2013
PARADISE AND HELL IN THE ORTHODOX TRADITION
On Meatfare Sunday, as we prepare for the commencement of the Holy and Great Lent, we commemorate the Second and Incorruptible Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The expression "we commemorate" confirms that our Church, as the Body of Christ, re-enacts in its worship the Second Coming of our Lord as an event and not just something that is historically expected. The reason is that through the Divine Eucharist, we are transported to the celestial kingdom, to meta-history. It is in this Orthodox perspective that the subject of
and hell is approached.
In the Gospels (
5), mention is made of kingdom
and eternal fire. In this excerpt, the kingdom is the divine
destination of mankind. The fire is "prepared" for the devil
and his "angels" (demons), not because God desired it, but because
they are impenitent. The kingdom is prepared for those who remain
faithful to the will of God. Kingdom (the uncreated glory) is Matthew, Ch. Paradise. Fire (eternal) is hell (Mt ). At the beginning of history,
God invites man into Paradise, into a
communion with His uncreated Grace. At the end of history, man has to face Paradise and hell. What this means, we shall see, is
further down. We do however stress that it is one of the central subjects of
our faith - it is Orthodox Christianity's philosophical cornerstone.
(I) Mention of
Paradise and hell in the New
Testament is frequent. In Luke 23:43, Christ says to the robber on the cross: Verily
I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.
(Lk 23:43). However, the robber also refers to Paradise,
when he says: Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. (Lk
23:42). According to St. Theofylaktos of , "for the robber was
in Bulgaria Paradise, in other words, the
kingdom." The Apostle Paul (2 Cor I2:3-4) confesses (of himself): And
I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell; God
knoweth.) How that he was caught up into Paradise,
and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. In
Revelations we read: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree
of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Rev 27). And Arethas
of Caesaria interprets: " Paradise is
understood to be the blessed and eternal life." Thus, Paradise,
eternal life, , are all related. Kingdom
Paradise and hell are not two different places. This
separation idea is an idolatrous concept. They instead signify two different
situations (ways), which originate from the same uncreated source, and are
perceived by man as two, different experiences. Or, more precisely, they are
the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man,
depending on man's internal state. This experience is the sight of Christ
inside the uncreated light of His divinity, of His glory. From the
moment of His Second Coming, through eternity, all people will be seeing Christ
in His uncreated light. That is ... the hour is coming, ... all that
are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have
done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto
the resurrection of damnation. On -29).
In the presence of Christ, mankind will be separated (sheep and goats,
to His right and His left). In other words, they will be discerned in two
separate groups: those who will be looking upon Christ as Paradise
and those who will be looking upon Christ as hell. For our
God is a consuming fire.(Heb r2:29).
This is what is depicted in the portrayal of the Second Coming. From Christ a river flows forth: it is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the saints are. At its lower end, the same river is fiery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant ("the never repentant" according to a hymn) are depicted. This is why in Lk 2:34 we read that Christ stands as the fall and the rising (resurrection) of many. Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life, for those who accepted Him and who followed the suggested means of healing the heart; and to those who rejected Him, He becomes their demise and their hell. There exist numerous patristic testimonies:
of the Ladder says that the uncreated light of
Christ is "an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light." St.
Gregory Palamas observes: "Thus, it is said, He will baptize you by the
Holy Spirit and by fire: in other words, by illumination and
punishment, depending on each person's predisposition, which will bring
upon him that which he deserves." Elsewhere, The light of Christ,
"albeit one and accessible to all, is not partaken of uniformly, but
John Paradise and hell are not a reward or a
punishment (condemnation), but the way that we individually experience the
sight of Christ, depending on the condition of our heart. God does not punish
in essence, although, for educative purposes, the Scripture does mention
punishment. The more spiritual one becomes, the better he can comprehend the
Scripture and our traditions. Man's condition (clean-unclean, repentant
unrepentant) is the factor that determines the acceptance of the Light as
" Paradise" or "hell."
(3) The anthropological issue in Orthodoxy is that man will eternally look upon Christ as
Paradise and not as hell; that man
will partake of His heavenly and eternal Kingdom. And this is where we
see the difference between Christianity as Orthodoxy and the various other
religions. The other religions promise a certain "blissful" state,
even after death. Orthodoxy however is not a quest for bliss, but a cure from
the illness of religion, as the late Fr. John Romanides so patristically
is an open hospital within history ("spiritual infirmary" according to
St. John the
Chrysostom), which offers the healing (catharsis) of the heart, in order to
finally attain "theosis"-the only destination of man. This is the
course that has been so comprehensively described by Fr. John Romanides and the
Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos (Vlachos); it is the healing of
mankind, as experienced by all of our Saints. This
is the meaning of life in the body of Christ (the Church) and the Church's
reason for existence. St. Gregory Palamas (in his 4th Homily on the Second Coming)
says that the pre-eternal will of God for man is "to find a place in the
majesty of the divine kingdom" -to reach theosis. That was the purpose of
creation. And he continues: "But even His divine and secret kenosis, His
god-human conduct, His redemptory passions, and every single mystery (in other
words, all of Christ's opus on earth) were all providentially and omnisciently
pre-determined for this very end (purpose).
(4) The important thing, however, is that not all people respond to this invitation of Christ, and that is why not everyone partakes in the same way of His uncreated glory. This is taught by Christ, in the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus (
16). Man refuses Christ's
offer, he becomes God's enemy and rejects the redemption offered by Christ
(which is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit-it is within the Holy Spirit that
we accept the calling of Christ). This is the "never repentant"
person referred to in the hymn. God "never bears enmity," the blessed
Chrysostom observes; it is we who become His enemies; we are the ones who reject
Him. The unrepentant man becomes demonized, because he has chosen to. God
doesn't want this. St. Gregory Palamas says: "...for this was not My
pre-existing will; I did not create you for this purpose; I did not prepare
the pyre for you. This undying pyre was pre-fired for the demons who bear the
unchanging trait of evil, to whom your own unrepentant opinion attracted
you." "The co-habitation with mischievous angels is arbitrary
(voluntary)." In other words, it is something that is freely chosen by man. Luke, Ch.
Both the rich man and Lazarus were looking upon the same reality, i.e., God in His uncreated light. The rich man reached the Truth, the sight of Christ, but could not partake of it, as Lazarus did. The poor Lazarus received "consolation," whereas the rich man received "anguish." Christ's words, that they: "have Moses and the prophets" - for those still in the world - signifies that we are all inexcusable. Because we have the Saints, who have experienced theosis and who call upon us to accede to their way of life so that we too might reach theosis like they did. We therefore conclude that those who have chosen evil ways-like the rich man-are inexcusable. Our stance towards our fellow man is indicative of our inner state, and that is why this will be the criterion of Judgment Day, during Christ's Second Coming. This doesn't imply that faith, or man's faithfulness to Christ is disregarded; faith is naturally a prerequisite, because our stance towards each other will show whether or not we have God within us. The first Sundays of the Triodion preceding Lent revolve around fellow man. On the first of these Sundays, the (seemingly pious) Pharisee justifies (sanctifies) himself and rejects (derogates) the Tax-collector. On the second Sunday, the "elder" brother (a repetition of the seemingly pious Pharisee) is sorrowed by the return (salvation) of his brother. Likewise seemingly pious, he too had false piety, which did not produce love. On the third (carnival) Sunday, this stance reaches Christ's seat of judgment, and is evidenced as the criterion for our eternal life.
(5) The experience of
Paradise or hell is beyond
words or senses. It is an uncreated reality, not a created one. The Franks
created the myth that Paradise and hell are
both created realities. It is a myth that the damned will not be looking upon
God; just as the "absence of God" is equally a myth. The Franks had
also perceived the fires of hell as something created (e.g. Dante's Inferno).
Orthodox tradition has remained faithful to the Scriptural claim that the
damned shall see God (like the rich man of the parable), but will perceive Him
only as "an all-consuming fire." The Frankish scholastics accepted
hell as punishment and the deprivation of a tangible vision of the divine
essence. Biblically and patristically however, "hell" is understood
as man's failure to collaborate with Divine Grace, in order to reach the
"illuminating" view of God ( Paradise)
and selfless love. Consequently, there is no such thing as "God's
absence," only His presence. That is why His Second Coming is dire
("O, what an hour it will be then," we chant in the Laudatory hymns).
It is an irrefutable reality, toward which Orthodoxy is permanently oriented: I
anticipate resurrection of the dead ….
The damned - those who are depraved at heart, just like the Pharisees - eternally perceive the pyre of hell as their salvation! It is because their condition is not susceptible to any other form of salvation. They too are "finalized" - they reach the end of their road - but only the righteous reach the end of the road as saved persons. The others finish as damned. "Salvation" to them is hell, since in their lifetime, they pursued only pleasure. The rich man of the parable had "enjoyed all of his riches." The poor Lazarus uncomplainingly endured "every suffering."
The Apostle Paul expresses this (1 Cor -15): Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. The righteous and the unrepentant shall both pass through the uncreated "fire" of divine presence, however, the one shall pass through unscathed, while the other shall be burnt. He too is "saved," but only in the way that one passes through a fire. Efthimios Zigavinos (a 12th century theologian) indicates: "God is fire that illuminates and brightens the pure, and burns and obscures the unclean." And Theodoritos Kyrou (regarding this "saving") writes: "One is also saved by fire, being tested by it," just as when one passes through fire. If he has an appropriate protective cover, he will not be burnt? otherwise, he may be "saved," but he will be charred!
Consequently, the fire of hell has nothing in common with the Frankish "purgatory," nor is it created, nor is it punishment, or an intermediate stage. A viewpoint such as this is virtually a transferal of one's accountability to God. The accountability is entirely our own, whether we choose to accept or reject the salvation (healing) that is offered by God. "Spiritual death" is the viewing of the uncreated light, of divine glory, as a pyre, as fire.
in his 9th homily on Corinthians I, notes: "Hell is never-ending...
sinners shall be judged into a never-ending suffering. As for the 'being burnt
altogether,' it means this: that he does not withstand the strength of the
fire." And he continues: "And he ( St. John ) says, it means this: that he shall
not be thus burnt also-like his works-into nothingness, but he shall continue
to exist, only inside that fire. He therefore considers this as his
'salvation.' For it is customary for us to say 'saved in the fire,' when
referring to materials that are not totally burnt away." St. Paul
Scholastic perceptions-interpretations, which, through Dante's work (Inferno) have permeated our world, have consequences that amount to idolatrous views. An example is the separation of
Paradise and hell as two
different places. This has happened, because they did not distinguish between
the created and the uncreated. Also, the denial of hell's eternity, with their
idea of the "restoration" of everything, or the concept of a
"good God" (Bon Dieu). God is indeed benevolent (Mt ), since He offers salvation to
everyone. (He wants all to be saved. .. per I Tim 2:4) However, the
words of our Lord, as heard during the funeral service, are formidable: I
can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just. On
Equally manufactured is the concept of "theodicy," which applies in this case. Everything is finally attributed to God alone (i.e., if He intends to redeem or condemn), without taking into consideration man's "collaboration" as a factor of redemption. Salvation is possible, only within the framework of collaboration between man and Divine Grace. According to the blessed Chrysostom, "the utmost, almost everything, is God's; He did however leave something little to us." That "little something" is our acceptance of God's invitation. The robber on the cross was saved, "by using the key request of remember me Finally, idolatrous is also the perception of a God becoming outraged against a sinner, whereas we mentioned earlier that God "never shows enmity." This is a juridical perception of God, which also leads to the prospect of "penances" in confessions as forms of punishment, and not as medications (means of healing).
(6) The mystery of Paradise-hell is also experienced in the life of the Church in the world. During the sacraments, there is a participation of the faithful in Grace, so that Grace may be activated in our lives, by our course towards Christ. Especially during the Divine Eucharist, the uncreated-Holy Communion-becomes inside us either
Paradise or hell, depending
on our condition. But mostly, our participation in Holy Communion is a
participation in Paradise or hell, throughout
history. That is why we beseech God, prior to receiving Holy Communion, to
render the Precious Gifts inside us not as judgment or condemnation, or
as eternal damnation. Participation
in Holy Communion is thus linked to the overall spiritual course of the
faithful. When we approach Holy Communion uncleansed and unrepentant, we are
condemned (burnt). Holy Communion inside us becomes the "inferno"
and "spiritual death." Not because it is transformed into those
things of course, but because our own uncleanliness cannot accept Holy Communion
as " Paradise." Given that Holy
Communion is called "medication for immortality" (St. Ignatius the
God-bearer, 2nd century), the same thing exactly occurs as with any medication.
If our organism does not have the prerequisites to absorb the medication, then
the medication will produce side-effects and will kill instead of heal. It is
not the medication that is responsible, but the condition of our organism. It
must be stressed, that if we do not accept Christianity as a therapeutic
process, and its sacraments as spiritual medication, then we are led to a
"religionizing" of Christianity; in other words, we "idolatrize"
it. And unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence, when we perceive
Christianity as a "religion."
St. Basil the Great tells us: "Everything we do is in preparation of another life." Our life must be a continuous preparation for our participation in "
Paradise" -our community with the
Uncreated. And everything begins from this lifetime. That is why the Apostle
Paul says: "Behold, now is the opportune time. Behold, now is the day
of redemption." (2 Cor 6:2).
Every moment of our lives is of redemptive importance. Either we gain eternity, the eternal community with God, or we lose it. Consequently, we can now understand why oriental religions and cults that preach reincarnations are injuring mankind; they are virtually transferring the problem to other, (nonexistent of course) lifetimes. The truth is, however, that only one life corresponds to each of us, whether we are saved or condemned. This is why St. Basil the Great continues: "Those things therefore that lead us towards that life, we need to say should be cherished and pursued with all our might; and those that do not lead us there, we should disregard, as something of no value." This is the criterion of Christian living.
A Christian continuously chooses whatever favors his salvation. We gain
Paradise or lose it and end up in hell, in this lifetime.
Evangelist says: He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that
believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of
the only begotten Son of God. (Jn 3:18) St. John
Consequently, the work of the church is not to "send" people to
or to hell, but to prepare them for the final judgment. The work of the Clergy
is therapeutic and not moralistic or character-shaping, in the temporal sense
of the word. The essence of life in Christ is preserved in monasteries - naturally
wherever they are Orthodox and of course patristic. The purpose of the Church's
offered therapy is not to create "useful" citizens and essentially
"usable" ones, but citizens of the celestial (uncreated) kingdom.
Such citizens are the Confessors and the Martyrs, the true faithful, the
However, this is also the way that our mission is supervised: What are we inviting people to? To the Church as a Hospital and a
or just an ideology that is labelled "Christian?" More often than not,
we strive to secure a place in " Therapy Center Paradise,"
instead of striving to be healed. That is why we focus on rituals and not on
therapy. This of course does not signify a rejection of worship. But, without ascesis
(spiritual exercise, ascetic lifestyle, act of therapy), worship cannot
hallow us. The Grace that pours forth from it remains inert inside us.
Orthodoxy doesn't make any promises to send mankind to any sort of Paradise or
hell; but it does have the power-as evidenced by the incorruptible and
miracle-working relics of our saints (incorruptibility=theosis)-to prepare
man, so that he may forever look upon the Uncreated Grace and the Kingdom of
Christ as Paradise, and not as Hell.
By Fr. George Metallinos, Dean of the
of Theology. Athens
source : www.pigizois