My beloved spiritual children 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.
PARADISE AND HELL ACCORDING TO THE HOLY ORTHODOX TRADITION
By Father George Metallinos, Dean of the Athens University School of Theology
On the Last Sunday of Lent "we commemorate the Second and Incorruptible Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The expression in the Synaxarion, "we commemorate" confirms that our Church, as the Body of Christ, re-enacts in its worship the Second Coming of Christ as an "event" and not just something that is historically expected. The reason is that, through the Holy Eucharist, we are transported to the celestial Kingdom, to meta-history. It is in this Orthodox perspective, that the subject of paradise and hell is approached.
In the Gospel of (St. Matthew, ch. 5), mention is made of "kingdom" and "eternal fire." In this excerpt, which is cited during the Liturgy of this Sunday, the "kingdom" is the divine destination of mankind. The "fire" is "prepared" for the devil and his angels (demons), not because God desires it, but because they are without repentance [i.e., unwilling to turn, to re-think, and participate in redemption]. The "kingdom" is "prepared" for those who remain faithful to the Will of God. The uncreated glory is Paradise (the "Kingdom"). "Eternal fire" is Hell (v.46). 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 both paradise and hell. We shall see further down what this means. We do however stress that it is one of the central subjects of our faith--it is Orthodox Christianity's "philosopher's stone."
Mention of paradise and hell in the New Testament is frequent. In St. Luke 23:43, Christ says to the robber on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise." However, the robber also refers to paradise, when he says: "Remember me, Lord...in Your Kingdom." 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 that, while still in this lifetime, he was "swept up to paradise and heard unspoken words, which are impossible for man to repeat." In Revelation, we read: "To the victor, I shall give him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God" (2:7). And Saint Arethas of Caesaria interprets: "paradise is understood to be the blessed and eternal life." Paradise, eternal life, kingdom of God, are all related.
References on hell: St. Matthew 25:46 ("to everlasting torment"), 25:41 ("everlasting fire"), 25:30 ("the outermost darkness"), 5:22 ("the place of fire"). 1 John 4:18 ("...for fear contains torment"). These are ways that express what we mean by "hell".
Paradise and hell are not two different places. Such an idea is an idolatrous concept. Rather they signify two different conditions [ways or states of being], which originate from the same uncreated source, and perceived by man as two, differing experiences. More precisely, they are the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man, depending on his internal state.
This experience is the sight of Christ in the uncreated Light of His Divinity, of His "glory." From the moment of His Second Coming, through to all eternity, all people will be seeing Christ in His Uncreated Light. That is when "those who worked good deeds in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of life, while those who worked evil in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of judgment" (St. John 5:29). In the presence of Christ, mankind will be separated (like "sheep" and "kidgoats", to His right and His left). In other words, they will be discerning in two separate groups: those who will behold Christ as paradise (the "exceeding good, the radiant") and those who will be looking upon Christ as hell ("the all-consuming fire" of Hebrews 12:29).
Paradise and hell are the same reality. This is what is depicted in the portrayal of the Second Coming. From Christ, a river of fire 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 resurrection of many." Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life for those who accepted Him and who followed the means given for the healing the heart. To those who rejected Him, however, He becomes their separation and their hell.
Among the Patristic testimonies, Saint John of Sinai (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 judgment, depending on each person's predisposition, vol. 2, page 145): The Light of Christ, "albeit one and accessible to all, is not partaken of uniformly, 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 doesn't punish in essence, although for educative purposes, the Holy Scripture does mention punishment. The more spiritual that one becomes, the better he can comprehend the language of the Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Man's condition (clean-unclean, repentant-unrepentant) is the factor that determines the acceptance of the light as "paradise" or "hell."
(To be continued)
ON THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
By Elder and Saint Cleopa of Romania
Inquirer: Father, what can you tell us about the exact date of the Second Coming of Christ?
Saint Cleopa: Christ's True Church provides us with a number of apt testimonies which show that God did not entrust this date to anyone, neither to Angels, nor to men, nor even to His own Son as man.
Listen to the divine words of Holy Scripture on the subject:
"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, not the Angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be...Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh..." (St. Matthew 24:36-51)
If neither the Angels in heaven nor the Son of Man Himself as man know the appointed time, how is it possible for it to be known among men? From the words of the Savior it is understood only that we must be ever vigilant and mindful of our salvation, every ready for the Coming of the Lord, for we know neither the day nor the hour of His Coming, nor even the hour of our own end in this life. His appearance will be unexpected, as the Lord forewarned us when He said, "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh" (St. Matthew 25:13).
THE GLORIOUS COMING OF CHRIST
Throughout all the Biblical-Patristic Tradition, it is stated that Christ will come once again to this world, this time to judge mankind. This is a fact that cannot be doubted by Christians. Christ Himself-in the excerpt referring to the coming Judgment Day-speaks of His new and glorious Arrival. He says: "...when the Son of Man comes, in all His glory..." (St. Matthew 25:31). The word "when" is not a hypothetical term, it is a temporal one, which implies that there is a time when Christ will come to this world once again, and in fact with immense glory. And elsewhere, Christ said, "...and then they shall behold the son of man, arriving in clouds..." (St. Mark 13:26).
In the Acts of the Apostles, where Christ's Ascension is recorded, it is said that the Angels had remarked to the astonished disciples: "...men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing towards the heavens? This Jesus, who was swept away from you up to the heavens, will come in the same manner that you had seen Him heading towards the heavens…" (Acts 1:11). The manner in which He rose to the heavens will therefore be the same one, when He returns to earth.
The Holy Apostle Paul teaches us that those who will be alive at the time of arrival of the Son of Man-and in fact those who are righteous-will be seized "within the clouds, to encounter the Lord in the air..." (1 Thess. 4:17). And it is also written in the Book of Revelation that "...behold, He comes with the clouds, and every eye shall behold Him..." (Rev. 1:7).
These passages, which are all very representative, declare that the faithful unshakably believe that Christ will come to earth to judge mankind, when the end of this world comes, along with the beginning of the new life. That is the reason the Creed ("Symbol of Faith") includes the confession: "...and coming once again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom is never-ending..."
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Nativity,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God