Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
A PRAYER FOR THE PEOPLE
(From the Prayer Book of Serapion)
O Loving God, we confess and bring before You our weaknesses, beseeching You to add strength to our efforts for correction and restoration. Forgive the sins we have committed until now and remit all our faults from the past, making each one of us into a new person in our soul. Help us to be Your authentic and pure servants. We entrust ourselves to You, Lord. Accept these Your people, Lord, and grant that we all become truly Your people. Make it possible for all to live without reproach and to be cleansed of sins. May they become such faithful people that they will be counted with the heavenly Angelic spirits and will all be with the elect and the Saints in heaven.
We pray for the Christians who have believed and have come to know You, our Lord Jesus Christ. May they all become steadfast in the faith, in the knowledge of the truth, and in the reception of the teaching. We beseech You, Lord, for all of these people. Remove from them every enmity of sin and establish friendly relations with all. May Your Holy Name be always known and glorified among them. Amen.
On December 10th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Hieromartyr Theoteknos; Saint John, king of Serbia, and his parents Stephen and Angelina Brancovich; Saint Gemellus of Paphlagonia; Holy Martyrs Menas the Melodos; Saints Hermogenes, and Evgraphos of Alexandria; Holy Martyrs Marianus and Evgenios; Saint Thomas of Bithynia; Saint Iosaph, bishop of Belgorod.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Hieromartyrs, Holy kings, Holy bishops, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
HOLY MARTYRS MENAS THE MELODOS, HERMOGENES, AND EVGRAPHOS OF ALEXANDRIA. Saint Menas was a renowned orator as well as a high officer with the government of the pagan Roman emperor Maximian. Saint Evgraphos was his secretary. Saint Menas was not a professed Christian but a believing one. He was sent by Maximian to quell an uprising and to disperse the Christian of Alexandria, the city that had been founded by Alexander the Great. During his mediations there, Menas also declared himself a Christian. Maximian sent Hermogenes to deal with the situation. He had St. Menas' tongue cut out as well as amputating his feet and blinding him. In prison, Jesus appeared to St. Menas and healed him. Hermogenes believed when he witnessed this miracle and was baptized. Maximian then came to Alexandria himself. He had the two tortured, but they endured courageously. Evgraphos confessed that he was a Christian and was beheaded along with Menas and Hermogenes. Their holy relics were thrown into the sea and later miraculously floated to Constantinople, where a bishop who had foreknowledge of their arrival received them. Maximian was blinded by God aboard ship and complained of being beaten by invisible hands. He soon died.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 1:10-12, 2:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 8:22-26
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"It is incumbent on one who expects to receive from God the seed of grace to first of all cleanse the earth of the heart, in order that the seed of the Spirit that falls on it would bear perfect and abundant fruits." (Saint Macarius the Great)
PARADISE AND HELL IN THE ORTHODOX TRADITION
by Father George Metallinos, Greek Orthodox theologian and a former Dean of the Athens University School of Theology
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 meet history. It is in this Orthodox perspective that the subject of Paradise and hell is approached.
In the Gospels (St. Matthew, Ch. 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 Paradise. Fire (eternal) is Hell (St. Matthew 5:22). 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.
(1) Mention of Paradise and Hell in the New Testament is frequent. In St. Luke 23:43, Christ says to the robber on the cross: "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." (St. Luke 23:43). However, the robber also refers to Paradise, when he says: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom". (St. Luke 23:42). According to Saint Theofylaktos of Bulgaria, "for the robber was in Paradise, in other words, the Kingdom." The Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:3-4) 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 Revelation 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 St. Arethas of Caesaria interprets: "Paradise is understood to be the blessed and eternal life." Thus, Paradise, eternal life, Kingdom of God, are all related.
(2) 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 5:28-29). 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" (Hebrews 2:29).
"PARADISE AND HELL ARE THE SAME REALITY".
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 St. Luke 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 (writings from the holy Fathers of the Church) testimonies: Saint John of the Ladder says that the Uncreated Light of Christ is "an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light." Saint 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 uniformity, but differently."
Consequently, 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 Holy Scripture does mention punishment. The more spiritual one becomes, the better he can comprehend the Holy Scripture and our Tradition. 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 Father John Romanides so patristically taught. Orthodoxy is an open hospital within history ("spiritual infirmary" according to Saint John Chrysostom) which offers the healing (catharsis) of the heart, in order to finally attain "theosis" (deification)-the only destination of man. This is the course that has been so comprehensively described by Father John Romanides and the Rev. Metropolitan, 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. Saint Gregory Palamas (in his 4th century 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 (deification). 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).
(To be continued)
Personal comment: I am sure that many of you are astonished with the above revelation on "Paradise and Hell in the Orthodox Tradition" by Fr. George Metallinos, one of the most prominent and contemporary Greek Orthodox theologians of our Church.
There are numerous "Christian" confessions today that reject completely the Christian belief of Heaven and Hell. They teach that it is a fable or a myth created by most clergy to frighten people to submission (something that communism taught). And yet there are other "Christian" groups that have completely distorted the theology and Holy Scripture of the correct belief on Heaven and Hell.
This is why it is important to inform as many of you as possible on the continuous and consistent Orthodox Christian belief on what is Heaven and what is Hell, etc. etc. Our teachings and beliefs do not reflect the opinions of a segment of Christianity as others but the fullness of truth of the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.
I, as your priest, am concerned about all of you and for your salvation. Many have fallen into complacency and take everything for granted. And there are those who simply don't care or worry about it at all. That is why I am deeply concerned for all of you. As your priest I am directly responsible before God for your souls and your salvation. I am concerned for no other reason but out of agape for all of you. This is why you are always in my prayers and petitions.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God