My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
PARADISE AND HELL ACCORDING TO ORTHODOX HOLY TRADITION
by Father George Metallinos
On the last Sunday of Great and Holy 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 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 (Matthew, ch. 5), mention is made of "kingdom" and "eternal fire". In this excerpt, which is cited during the Divine 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 this 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 St. Theofylaktos of Bulgaria, "for the robber was in Paradise, in other words, the kingdom". The Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 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 Arethas of Caesaria interprets: "Paradise is understood to be the blessed and eternal life." Paradise, eternal life and Kingdom of God are all related.
References on Hell: St. Matthew 25:46) ('to everlasting torment'), 25:4 ("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 are 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 "kid goats", to His right and His left). In other words, they will be discerning in two separate groups: those who will be hold 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 and 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 resurrection of many". Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life for those who accepted Him and who followed the message 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, which will in itself bring upon him that which he deserves". Elsewhere, 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 Holy 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)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Resurrection,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God