Paradise and Hell According to the Orthodox Tradition

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Χριστός Ανέστη! Αληθώς Ανέστη! Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

RESURRECTION ODE

Let us who have beheld the Resurrection of Christ, worship our Holy Lord Jesus, Who is alone without sin. We worship Thy Cross, O Christ, and praise and glorify Thy Holy Resurrection. For Thou art our God, and we know none other beside Thee, and we call upon Thy Name. Come, all ye faithful, let us worship Christ's Holy Resurrection, for behold, through the Cross, joy has come to the whole world. We praise His Resurrection, and forever glorify the Lord. He endured the Cross for us, and by death destroyed Death. Jesus. having risen from the grave, as He foretold, has given to us Eternal Life and the Great Mercy.

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PARADISE AND HELL ACCORDING TO ORTHODOX TRADITION
By Father George Metallinos

The anthropological issue in Orthodoxy is [to provide] that man will eternally look upon Christ as Paradise and not as hell; that man will partake of His heavenly and eternal "kingdom". 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 teaches. Orthodox Christianity is an open hospital within history (a "spiritual infirmary" according to Saint John the Chrysostom), which offers healing (catharsis) of the heart, in order to finally attain theosis (deification)--the only desired destination of man. This is the course that has been so comprehensively described by Father 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). This is the Church's reason for existence. This is what Christ's whole redemptory work aspired to. Saint Gregory Palamas (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 (deification). That is the purpose of creation. And he continues: "But even His Divine and secret kenosis, His Theanthropic conduct, His redemptory passions, and every single mystery (in other words, all of Christ's work on earth) were all providentially and omnisciently pre-determined for this very and [purpose].

The important reality, 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 Lazarus (Luke, ch. 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, because 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 does not desire this. Saint 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 (fire) for you. This undying pyre (fire) 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 (demons) is voluntary" (4th Homily on the Second Coming). In other words, it is something freely chosen by man.

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 ma received "anguish". Christ's words for those still in this world, that they "have Moses and the Prophets," signifies that we are all without excuse. For, we have the Saints, who have experienced theosis (deification) and who call upon us to accede to their way of life so that we too might reach theosis as they have done. We therefore conclude that those who have chosen evil ways (like the rich man) are without an excuse.

Our orientation toward 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 (Matthew, ch. 25). This does not imply that faith, or man's faithfulness to Christ is disregarded. Faith is naturally a prerequisite, because our stance toward each other will show whether or not we have God within us. The first Sundays of the Triodion preceding Lent revolve around relationships with our fellow man. On the first of these Sundays, the outwardly pious Pharisee justifies himself and denigrates the Tax-collector. On the Second Sunday, the older brother (a repetition of the seemingly pious Pharisee) is sorrowed by the salvation of his brother. Likewise seemingly pious, he too had false piety, which did not produce love. On the third Sunday, this condition reaches Christ's seat of judgment, and is evidenced as the criterion for our eternal life.

The experience of Paradise or Hell is beyond words or the senses. It is an uncreated reality, and not a created one. The Latins (Roman Catholics) invented the myth that paradise and hell are both created realities. It is a myth that the damned will not be able to look upon God; just as the "absence of God" is equally a myth. The Latins have also perceived the fires of hell as something created. 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 Latin 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 cooperation (synergy) with Divine Grace, in order to reach the illuminating vision of God (which is paradise) and unselfish love (following 1 Corinthians 13:8): "Love…does not demand any reciprocation"). 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 Praises of Matins). It is an irrefutable reality, toward which Orthodoxy is permanently oriented (" I anticipate the resurrection of the dead..."-- Creed or Symbol of Faith.)

The damned--those who are hardened at heart, like the Pharisee (Mark 3:5: "in the callousness of their hearts")--eternally perceive the pyre (fire) 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 (sincerely pious) reach the end as redeemed persons. The others finish in a state of condemnation. "Salvation" to them is hell, since in their lifetime, they pursued only pleasure. The rich man of the parable had "enjoyed all his riches". The poor Lazarus uncomplainingly endured "every suffering." Apostle Paul expresses this (1 Corinthians 3:13-15): "Each person's work, whatever it is, will be tested by fire. If their work survives the test, then whatever they built, will be rewarded accordingly. If one's work is burnt by the fire, then he will suffer losses; he shall be saved, thus, as though 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 (12 century) observes in this respect: "God God as fire that illuminates and brightens the pure, and burns and obscures the unclean."

(To be continued)

Please note: "So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit" (St. John 19:30). The work of salvation for the redemption of sinful humanity is completed with the death of Christ on the Cross. Now, we await His Second Coming and the day of judgment of all humanity. He will come to "judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31) and to "reward every man according to his works" (St. Matthew 16:27).

"The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, 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" (St. John 5:28-29)

You see, beloved, there is an accountability for all of our actions. Knowing that all of us are sinful and transgressors of God's Commandments, we must repent and strive to be good and to live a virtuous life in Christ. Postponing it would be a horrible mistake.

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CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!

With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George