Paradise and Hell According to the Orthodox Tradition (Part II)

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

KONTAKION HYMN

O Christ our God, though Thou didst descend into the grave, yet didst Thou overthrow the power of Hades, and rise as an Immortal Conqueror. Thou didst greet the Myrrh-bearing women, and to Thine Apostles give peace, and to the fallen bring Resurrection.

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OIKOS

The Myrrh-bearing maidens anticipated the dawn and sought, as those who seek the day, their Sun, Who was before the sun, and Who had once submitted to the Grave. And they cried to each other: O friends, come, let us anoint with spices His quickening and buried Body; the Flesh which raised up the fallen Adam, and which now lies in the tomb. Let us go, like the Magi; let us hasten and let us worship; and let us bring myrrh as a gift to Him, Who is wrapped, not now in swaddling bands, but in a winding-sheet. Let us weep and cry: O Master, raise Thyself up, and to the fallen bring Resurrection.

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The Synaxarion of the Day

On the Holy and Great Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Life-bearing Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and the power, from all Ages to All Ages. Amen.

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PARADISE AND HELL ACCORDING TO ORTHODOX TRADTION (Part II)
By Father George Metallinos

Consequently, the fire of hell has nothing in common with the Latin (Roman Catholic) "purgatory", nor it is created, nor is it punishment, or an intermediate stage. A viewpoint such as this is virtually a transferal of one's accountability to God. But the accountability is entirely our own, whether we choose to accept or reject the salvation, the healing, that is offered by God. "Spiritual death" is the viewing of the Uncreated Light, of Divine Glory, as a pyre, as fire. Saint John Chrysostom in his 9th homily on First Corinthians notes: "Hell is never-ending...sinners shall be brought 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. Paul) says, it meant this: that he shall not burn, like his works, into nothingness, but he shall continue to exist, but within that fire. He therefore considers this as his 'salvation.' For it is customary for us to say 'saved by the fire,' when referring to materials that are not totally burnt away."

Scholastic perceptions and interpretations which, through Dante's work (Inferno) have permeated our world, have consequences that amount to idolatrous concepts. 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. Equally erroneous is the denial of hell's eternity, with the idea of the "restoration" of all, or the concepts surrounding the idea of Bon Dieu. God is indeed "benevolent" (Matthew 8:17), since He offers salvation to everyone: ("He desires that all be saved..." 1 Timothy 2:4). However, the words of our Lord as heard during the funeral service are formidable: "I cannot do anything one my own; as I hear, thus I judge, and my judgment is just" (John 5:30).

Equally manufactured is the concept of theodicy, which applies in this case. Everything [all responsibility] is ultimately attributed to God alone, without taking into consideration man's cooperation (synergy) as a factor of redemption. Salvation is possible only within the framework of cooperation 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'…"! Also idolatrous is 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 [epitimia] as medications, as means of healing.

The mystery of Paradise-Hell is also experienced in the life of the Church in the world. During the Holy Mysteries/Sacraments, there is a participation of the faithful in Divine Grace, so that grace may be activated in our lives, by our course towards Christ. Especially during the Holy Eucharist, the Uncreated (Holy Communion) becomes either paradise or hell within us, depending on our condition. Primarily, our participation in Holy Communion is a participation in either paradise or hell, in our own time and place. That is why we beseech God, prior to receiving Holy Communion, to render the Precious Gifts "not as judgment or condemnation" within us, 'for the healing of soul and body," not as "condemnation."

This is why participation in Holy Communion is linked to the overall course of life 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" (see 1 Corinthians 11:30, etc.). 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 "the medicine of immortality" (Saint 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 can 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 Holy Mysteries/Sacraments as spiritual medication, then we are led to a "religionization" of Christianity; in other words, we "idolatrize" it. And unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence when we perceive Christianity as a "religion."

Besides, this lifetime is evaluated in the light of the twin criterion of Paradise-Hell. "Seek firth for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness," Christ teaches us (Matthew 6:33). Saint Basil the Great says in To The Youth (ch. 3) "Everything we do is in preparation of another life." Our life must be a continuous preparation for our participation in paradise--our communion with the Uncreated (John 17:3). Everything begins from this lifetime. That is why Apostle Paul says: "Behold, now is the opportune time. Behold, now is the day of redemption" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Every moment of our lives is of redemptive importance. Either we gain eternity, the eternal community of God, or we lose it. This is why oriental religions and cults that preach reincarnation are injuring mankind; they are virtually transferring the problem to other (nonexistent, of course) lifetimes.

The thing is, however, that only one life is available to each of us, whether we are saved or condemned. This is why Saint Basil the Great continues: "We must proclaim that those things therefore that lead us towards that life should be cherished and pursued with all our strength; and those that do not lead us to that destination, we should disregard, as something of no value." Such are the criteria of the Christian life. A Christian continuously chooses whatever favors his salvation. We gain Paradise or lose it and end up in hell, already during our lifetime. That is why Saint John the Evangelist says: "For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth in 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" (John 3:17-18).

Consequently, the work of the Church is not to "send" people to paradise 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 purpose of the therapy offered by the Church 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 and the true faithful, the saints...

However, this is also the way that our mission is directed: What are we inviting people to? To the Church as [spiritual] hospital/therapy center, or just an ideology that is labeled "Christian"? More often than not, we strive to secure a place in "paradise", instead of striving to be healed. That is why we focus on the rites and not on therapy. This of course does not signify a devaluating of worship. But, without ascesis (spiritual exercise, ascetic lifestyle, acts of therapy), worship cannot sanctify. The grace that pours forth from it remains inert inside us. Orthodoxy does not 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 [deification])--to prepare man, so that he may forever look upon the Uncreated Grace and the Kingdom of Christ as Paradise, and not as Hell.

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Please note: Some of our Orthodox Christians feel that no matter what the Church says, or their priest, they will receive Holy Communion anyway, and the Mysteries/Sacraments in defiance. Unfortunately, these individuals do not realize that they are literally playing with "fire", and that they are bringing upon themselves not salvation but condemnation.

No person can approach the Holy Gifts with arrogance, with no spiritual preparation, no faith, no repentance, no humility and no love. As Orthodox Christians, just before you are invited by the priest to receive, you hear the following words: "with the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near." You, who receive Holy Communion with your hearts filled with hatred, with vindictiveness, with rebelliousness, unrepentant, unbelieving, you bring damnation to your souls. (See 1 Corinthians 11:26-30): "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this Bread, and drink this Cup of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's Body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (dead). In the quoted words the Apostle Paul instructs us with what reverence and preparatory self-testing a Christian must approach the Holy Eucharist, and he states that this is not simple food and drink, but the reception of the true Body and Blood of Christ.

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ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!

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

+Father George