Orthodoxy and the Damnation of the Damned

Last night I was reading a tract titled Juridical Justification Theology by Dr Kharalambos Anstall and Fr Michael Azkoul. The authors express what has now become recognized as the Orthodox understanding of perdition:

It can be truly said that the God of love is eternally present to answer our knock on His door for help. We know that He forgives all–and that His mercy is boundless. He utterly respects our personhood and does not force Himself upon us. Thus He plays no part in the infliction of punishment, most especially not eternal punishment. In the final analysis of Orthodox theology, damnation consists entirely in the voluntary rejection of God by us. We have the Gospel, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Fathers, and the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church) with which we can choose to associate or from which we can elect to walk away. The choice of acceptance or rejection of His love (in all of its manifestations) is ours alone to make, purely by voluntary exercise of our God-given free will. Yet, despite our often contrary and wayward decisions, we are never rejected by the God of love; He merely awaits with infinite patience and mercy our remorse, contrition, eventual humility, repentance and, most importantly, our determination to return to His loving care.

Damnation, then, is seen by Orthodox Christians solely as the inevitable consequence of our expressed desire to renounce and reject God. Simply postulated, condemnation to hell is always self-inflicted. We do not consider the fires of hell to be material flames but rather a burning inversion of the radiant light of Divine love, once willfully spurned and rejected. Hatred of God and rejection of His love are entirely human choices. To think contrarily, thereby entering into negativism and inversion, is a particularly pernicious deceit of the devil–the father of lies. (pp. 25-26)

As noted in my earlier article “Hell and the Scourge of Divine Love,” this position represents the majority view of modern Orthodox theologians. What the authors do not acknowledge is that this free-will explanation of hell also represents the views of most modern Catholic and Protestant theologians. Given their fierce polemic against Western theology, I suggest that the authors are guilty of gross irresponsibility. One does not have to look very hard to find Western theologians who fundamentally agree with Anstall and Azkhoul. Their book was published in 1997. It’s not as if Catholic and Protestant theologians have been hiding their eschatological views under a bushel. Have Anstall and Azkhoul never read C. S. Lewis? If anyone wants to read more about modern presentations of the free-will doctrine of hell, I recommend Hell: The Logic of Damnation by Jerry Walls (Methodist) and Visions of a Future: A Study of Christian Eschatology by Zachary Hayes (Catholic). Orthodox theologians should be congratulating their Western counterparts for finally coming around to the proper Orthodox understanding.

But a caveat needs to be raised at this point. Western theologians are well aware that the free-will doctrine of hell that they now espouse is different in critical ways from the retributive doctrine taught for well over a millenia in the Western Church. But Orthodox theologians like Romanides, Metallinos, Anstall and Azkhoul, and many others apparently believe that their position is identical to that of the Eastern Fathers. Based on my limited research, I believe that the Eastern Fathers (excepting those who espoused some version of apocatastasis) taught a retributive doctrine of damnation: at the final judgment God rejects incorrigible sinners by abandoning them to their destiny—this is their deserved punishment (see “What is Orthodox Hell?” and “Hell and the Torturous Vision of Christ“).

The retributive nature of the final judgment, as classically taught by the Orthodox Church, appears to be confirmed in the hymnody of the Eastern Church. Consider the witness of the Sunday of the Last Judgment:

The books will be opened and the works of all men laid bare:
The vale of tears will echo with gnashing of teeth;
The sinners will mourn in vain, as they depart to eternal damnation.
Thy judgements are just, O Lord Almighty!
(Vespers, Tropar in Tone 6 on Lord, I Have Cried …)

When the thrones are set in place and the books are opened,
Then God will take His place on the judgment-seat.
 What a fearful sight! 
As the angels stand in awe and the river of fire flows by:
What shall we do, who are already condemned by our many sins,
As we hear Christ call the righteous to His Father’s Kingdom,
And send the wicked to eternal damnation?

Who among us can bear that terrible verdict?
 Hasten to us, Lover of mankind and King of the universe:
 Grant us the grace of repentance before the end and have mercy on us!
(Doxasticon, Tone 8, at Lord, I Have Cried…)

Do not reject me from Thy presence, in anger, Lord;
Do not let me hear Thee sending me away accursed to the fire.
But let me then enter with Thy saints
Into the joy of Thine eternal bridal-chamber.
(Matins Canon, Tropar of Ode 9)

Then each man’s secrets will be openly brought before Thee,
And those who have never repented shall weep and lament,
Departing to the outer fire;
But with gladness and rejoicing
The company of the righteous shall enter the heavenly bridal chamber!
(Sticheron in Tone 6, at the Praises)

For the Judge is come to pass sentence on all of the inhabited earth!
And who shall bear to stand before His face in the presence of the angels,
Calling us to account for our actions and thoughts by night or by day?
(Sticheron in Tone 6, at the Praises)

Do not let me hear thee say: take what is thy due! Lord, As Thou sendest me from Thy presence;
Do not let me hear Thee say:
Depart from me into the fire of the accursed!
But may I hear Thy words of blessing to the righteous.
(Matins Canon, Tropar of Ode 6)

The day is upon us; the judgement is now at the door.
Be vigilant, my soul.
Kings and princes, the rich and poor are gathering,
And each shall receive the due reward for what he has done.
(Matins Canon, Tropar of Ode 4)

The Lord comes to punish sinners and to save the righteous.
Let us tremble and lament,
And call to mind that day when our hidden secrets will be disclosed
And He will pay us what is due.
(Matins Canon, Tropar of Ode 9)

(My thanks to Archimandrite Irenei Steenberg for bringing these texts to my attention.)

The image presented, as we should expect, is one of judgment. The divine Judge judges, condemns, and punishes the wicked and iniquitous. The damned may have brought their fate upon themselves by their own free will; but that fate is sealed and eternally confirmed by God Almighty. Of course, as one other Orthodox theologian has reminded me, the Church’s hymnody needs to be interpreted through the hermeneutic of Pascha and the unconditional love of the Savior.

Orthodox theologians and apologists need to be careful about declaring that the modern Orthodox construal of hell is nothing but a re-statement of the Fathers. It is not. It lacks the retributive dimension that we find in the patristic and liturgical testimony. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, at least not in my opinion. It just means that there’s been a development of doctrine.

A plea to my readers: if you know of any patristic or pre-modern evidence that supports the modern Orthodox doctrine of hell, please bring it to my attention.

And if you are wondering how I can still hope for universal salvation …

(Go to “Hell and the Solidarity of Love”)

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26 Responses to Orthodoxy and the Damnation of the Damned

  1. john burnett says:

    Well, for one thing, i don’t know where you got that translation. If Steenberg sent it to you, he ought to be ashamed of himself. But let me hope he just suggested you look them up, and you picked up whatever was at hand. Sigh. I don’t know if we can ever expect good translations from the Orthodox churches in America, because we are *all* positively *slovenly* when it comes to what’s really important, but we really need to discontinue most of them!

    So— There is no word for ‘damnation’ in those texts. I don’t have time to review every line, but i was surprised at the word ‘damned’. This had to be wrong on the face of it; the Church *never* talks that way! So I looked em up. Sure enough! Where your text has ‘damnation’, the Greek says ‘kolasis’. Kolasis means ‘chastisement’, and there is even a strong overtone of ‘correction’, as when we say a ‘correctional facility’. (See Liddell & Scott ad loc.)

    Secondly, the sinners are ‘conveyed’, ‘escorted’, or even ‘attended’ as they go to their chastisement, for that is the meaning of ‘parapempomenous’ (again, L&S ad loc.)— they are definitely not ‘damned’ to it.

    I don’t have time to compare every line of the verses you quoted, but a cursory glance shows that they’re very loose at best, and whoever did them didn’t really know Greek.

    I don’t have a copy of Mother Mary’s Lenten Triodion here, but i’ll venture to suspect it’s a lot more accurate than this one, wherever you got it from. Even she misses a few points, but she’s not *wildly* inaccurate or reckless, like the text above.

    This is a real problem in our liturgical life, but nobody wants to hear about it. How we ever expect people to learn Orthodox theology if we keep insisting that singing something else doesn’t matter, is just beyond my ken.

    But to address your general point, the troparia of the last judgment hardly depart from Matthew 25, which is the gospel of that day. The troparia hardly ever do that. They are extremely sober and precise. They dramatize the gospel, they meditate on each image, they take each word very seriously, but they seldom— if ever— go beyond what the Scriptures teach.

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  2. That’s funny — as I read these I felt so outraged and wanted to discuss this with the writers! 😉 And now I see they’ve been horribly miss-quoted! Like so very much of scripture, alas. The thing is, the whole “sinners condemn themselves” idea is completely unreasonable. What happens if one of those sinners at the final judgment, on seeing our beautiful Lord, falls to his knees in tears of genuine repentance? Will He turn His back? And why are these brothers pleading with Him not to condemn them too? Do they think He WILL? That He would condemn someone who longed for Him and yearned for Him? What about the sinner who, say 100 years into kolasis, sees his life for what it was and Christ for what He is and genuinely repents? Will He not see it? How could He not know what passes within Himself (as He fills all in all)?

    If all things are summed up in Him, how could our holy Lord have the evils of an eternal hell as part of His being? Will He forever abandon the regions of hell as off-limits to Him? Nothing about hell makes sense to me except that it will one day be consumed by His love and its denizens set free just as we are being set free — as they (and we) are able to receive it.

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  3. Pingback: Hell | All Along the Watchtower

  4. Juan Carlos Torres says:

    Reblogged this on God of Promise.

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  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have heard back from an Orthodox priest who reads Russian, Slavonic, and Greek and knows his liturgical texts well. He confirms that the translations cited in my article are … perhaps less than optimal. I wonder where they are used in the English-speaking Orthodox world.

    It’s not clear to me how much weight to put on the Greek word kolasis. This discussion also comes up when discussing specific NT texts. I personally rejoice that the primary meaning of the word is chastisement; but this nuance may not mean a great deal in the context of the Last Judgment. We are, after all, talking about a divine chastisement that is everlasting–at least as traditionally understood. The burden of proof is on those who wish to assert that the majority of the Eastern Fathers did not believe in a retributive hell. With all my heart, I would like to see that case made.

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    • PJ says:

      Why just the eastern fathers? Ambrose. Augustine. Gregory. Leo. Hilary. Isidore. Cyprian. Jerome. Why are these towering intellects and holy souls any less important than Chrysostom, Basil, Maximus, Athanasius, John Damascene, and the like? The fact that various charismatic monastics — some of whom have not even endured the test of time (for instance, Elder Sophrony) — are held in greater esteem than the magisterial saint-popes of Rome, the primary see of Christendom, is unsettling. The greatest attraction of Orthodoxy is its supposed commitment to the authentic teaching of the fathers — all of them, east and west. When this wavers, when one half of the Church is put aside, and novelty is sought in place of tradition, then Orthodoxy risks descending into an exercise in aestheticism and sentimental spirituality, not so different than Anglo-Catholicism. I say this with the deepest admiration and affection for the eastern Church — and, of course, for our dear host. Father Kimel, I fear that you are too kind-hearted by half, and I wonder if you retain a streak of Catholic rationalism. Salvation should be a mystery. The reconciliation of divine justice and divine mystery should be an enigma. One which is lived out in fear and trembling, in thanksgiving and spiritual athleticism.

      Well, that’s just the two cents of this ornery Latin.

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      • William says:

        Probably the reason why just the eastern fathers, in this particular case, is because they’re eastern and we’re talking about the idea of hell as it has historically been expressed in the eastern church, which didn’t always follow the currents of what was going on in the Latin world.

        It might be worth adding as well, though, that the reference to the Latin church as “one half of the Church” is problematic from an eastern view. I’m not sure if the Latin side actually constituted one half of the pre-schism church. I doubt it. I don’t know if anyone has population figures or diocese numbers that could shed some light on this. One could look at it as one fifth of the church, dividing the church up along the lines of the ancient patriarchates, but I’m sure someone would point out that some patriarchates covered a much larger territory and populations than others. Dividing things linguistically — along the lines of Latin, Greek and Syriac, for instance (lumping Armenians, Georgians, Ethiopians and whatnot in there somewhere) — one might look at the Latin church as one third of the church. In any case, the thinking of the Latin church as one half or as one of “two lungs” of the church doesn’t really work well. It’s possible that this doesn’t matter, anyway.

        Fr. Kimel, I have a few patristic texts to share, but I’ll have to post them later.

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  6. Dana Ames says:

    The “modern” Orthodox view of “hell” was so much more hopeful and painted a picture of a God who was “more good” than anything I experienced as a Protestant (or a Catholic in my early years). I saw in it somewhat of a connection to Wright’s discussion of the 1st Century Jewish questions. It was one of the several reasons I came to Orthodoxy. Along the way I also found the corner of the table with St Isaac and St Gregory of Nyssa, and that’s where I am sitting, in the shadows of their robes.

    Dana

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  7. PJ says:

    I must say, the outsized influence Isaac exerts over modern Orthodox theology is astounding — and a bit frightening.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      The same might well be said about the influence of St Augustine on Western Christianity, PJ.

      I hope you’ll comment on the article on posted on Augustinian universalism. I wrote it with you in mind. 🙂

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      • PJ says:

        I was actually going to make that comparison, Father. You easterners have long (and correctly) pointed out the danger of over-emphasizing one man — especially if that man is peculiar in his intellectual and spiritual genius.

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  8. Maximus says:

    Fr.,

    Here are some quotes for the “modern” Orthodox view of hell:

    St. Ephrem the Syrian – [M]aybe it is that the Gehenna of the wicked consists in what they see, and it is their very separation that burns them, and their mind acts as the flame. The hidden judge who is seated in the discerning mind has spoken, and has become for them there the righteous judge, who beats them without mercy with the torments of contrition. Perhaps it is this which separates them out, sending each one to the appropriate place; perhaps it is this which grasps the good with its right hand stretched out [or, just right hand], sending them to that right hand of mercy; and it again which takes the wicked in its upright left hand, casting them into the place called “the left”; maybe it is this which silently accuses them, and quietly pronounces sentence upon them. (Epistle to Publios, 22)

    St. Ambrose of Milan – Before the resurrected lies a fire, which all of them must cross. This is the baptism of fire foretold by John the Baptist, in the Holy Ghost and the fire, it is the burning sword of the cherub who guards the gate of heaven, before which everyone must pass: all shall be subjected to examination by fire; for all who want to return to heaven must be tried by fire. (Jacques LeGoff, “Birth of Purgatory)

    St. Maximus the Confessor – How ought we to understand, in a pious way, the [passage] of the Gospel, “the Father judges no one but has given every judgment to the Son,” (Jn. 5:22) and how, in another place, does it say, “I judge no one” (Jn. 8:15) but “the word that I have spoken, that will judge him” (Jn. 12:48)?

    As God, neither the Father nor the Son “will judge anyone.” For neither does the human being become a judge of irrational beings but of human beings. And the Father “has given the judgment to the Son,” not because He is God but because He is human. And He [the Son] will judge all things, comparing His own conduct as a human being with ours. And again, His word will judge, that is, His teaching, which is revealed through His deeds according to that which has been written, “that which Jesus began to do as well as teach.” (Acts 1:1) (Questions and Doubts: Various Questions and Selections from Various Passages that are Perplexing. Question I, 25)

    I could also find various quotes with God actively condemning and departing (especially in Chrysostom and St. Gregory Palamas’ homilies). Perhaps it’s a synergistic affair, rather than an either/or. God is active in reprobation as are we.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, Maximus.

      St Ambrose is particularly interesting. Brian Daley devotes four pages to him in his book The Hope of the Early Church. Evidently, in several places in his writings Ambrose evidences a belief in a belief in universal salvation; in other places, on the other hand, he speaks of the wicked as consigned to “the place of fire and brimstone, where the fire is not quenched, lest the punishment ever end.” But his universalist sympathies are clear, states Daley. Perhaps it was from St Ambrose that St Augustine inherited his early universalist sympathies.

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  9. William says:

    Here are some passages from St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Maximos the Confessor that might be useful here. Each has plenty more to say on the topic of judgment than what’s below, and I wanted to add some more from St. Maximos (specifically his take on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s view of apocatastasis, discussed in Questions and Doubts No. 19), but maybe this is more than enough for the current discussion. I wouldn’t say these passages are exactly like what you hear from modern theologians (who seem to rely very much on St. Isaac, and who could fault them for that?), but these passages also seem fairly in sync with what I’ve read in modern theologians on these topics.

    Symeon the New Theologian

    Tenth Ethical Discourse:

    “It is not called Day of the Lord as being the last of these present days, nor because it is on this day that He is going to come again in the same way that we say for feast days of the present time. … Neither is it called Day of Judgment because it is on this day that judgment is going to take place, since the day when this occurs is not other than the Lord who will come on it, but it is called this because He Himself, the God and Master of all, will at that time shine with the glory of His own divinity. … And He alone will be at once “Day” and God. He Who is now invisible to all and dwells in light will then be revealed to all as He is, and will fill all things with His light, and will be without evening, without end, a day of everlasting joy, but absolutely unapproachable and unseen for those who, like me, are lazy and sinners. Because this did not happen while they yet lived, because they lacked zeal to see the light of His glory and, through purification, to have Him completely indwelling in themselves, He will also naturally be unapproachable for them in the future. …

    “The revelation of His divinity becomes in fact a judgment for those to whom it is revealed. No flesh could have endured the glory of His divinity as manifested naked of its joining and inexpressible union with the God-man. All creation would instead have been utterly destroyed both in body and soul, since at that time all were possessed by unbelief. For the divinity, which is to say the grace of the all-Holy Spirit, has never appeared to anyone who is without faith; and, if it were to appear by some paradox among men, it would show itself as fearful and dreadful, as not illumining but burning, not as giving life but as punishing dreadfully. And this is clear from the things which the blessed Paul, the vessel of election suffered. In the encounter with the radiance of the unapproachable light which flashed around him like lightning, his vision was wounded, and rather than being illumined he was darkened. He could not see, and lost even his natural faculty of sight. These things happened to him who would later become the great teacher of Christ’s Church! That man who was so great, the same man who later said: ‘The God Who said “Let light shine out of darkness” has shone in our hearts,’ and a little later: ‘We have this treasure’ — i.e., of illumination — ‘in our hearts’ could not at that time see even the least glimmer of the light.

    “From this lesson we therefore learn that grace, on the one hand, is unapproachable and invisible to those who are stilled possessed by unbelief and the passions, and is seen, on the other hand, and revealed to those who with faith and in fear and trembling do the commandments and give evidence of a worthy repentance. This same grace of itself incontestably brings the future judgment to pass in them. Rather, indeed, it becomes itself the day of divine judgment by which he who is purified is continually illumined, sees himself as he is in truth and in every detail, and all his works for what they are, whether done by the body or acted on by the soul. Nor this alone, but he is as well judged and examined by the divine fire, and, thus enriched by the water of his tears, his whole body is moistened and he is baptized entire, little by little, by the divine fire and Spirit, and becomes wholly purified, altogether immaculate, a son of the light and of the day, and from that point on no longer a child of mortal man. It is quite for this reason, too, that such a man is not judged at the judgment and justice to come, for he has already been judged. Neither is he reproved by that light, for he has been illumined beforehand. Nor is he put to the test and burned on entering this fore, for he has been tried already. Neither does he understand the Day of the Lord as appearing sometime “then,” because, by virtue of his converse and union with God, he has become wholly a bright and shining day. …

    “As many therefore as are children of the light also become sons of the Day which is to come, and are enabled to walk decently as in the day, The Day of the Lord will never come upend them, because they are already in it forever and continually. The Day of the Lord, in effect, is not going to be revealed suddenly to those who are ever illumined by the divine light, but for those who are in the darkness of the passions and spend their lives in the world hungering for the things of the world, for them it will be fearful and they will experience it as unbearable fire. However, this fire which is God will not appear in an entirely spiritual manner but, one might say, as bodilessly embodied, in the same way as, according to the Evangelist, Christ of old was seen by the Apostles after having risen from the dead. …”

    Catechetical Discourse 19:

    “… Yet the Lord our God, who is unlimited among the unlimited and infinite among the infinite, will show Himself only to those who are worthy according to the measure of their faith in Him. The sinners, however ail be as though they were enveloped with darkness in the midst of the light, disgraced in the midst of joy, wasted away in the midst of gladness, terribly burned and punished in various ways by their own passions, even as the righteous will be crowned by divers virtues.”

    Maximus the Confessor:

    Questions and Doubts:

    99: “And the fire ‘which proceeds before the face of the Lord’ burning ‘his enemies’ is the energies of God. For they characterize the face of God, that is, his goodness, love of humankind, meekness, and things similar to these. These energies enlighten those who are like them and burn up those who oppose and have been alienated from the likeness. …”

    From the same passage, referring possibly to a different kind of fire (referred to in distinction from the fire “which proceeds before the face of the Lord”):

    “And he [Gregory the Theologian] called that the ‘more feared’ fire, that ‘which is fused eternally into one mass with worms, not able to be quenched but existing perpetually for the wicked. For this reason, when the divinity appears and is offered to the worthy for their enjoyment, the who do not, through good works, illumine themselves, like a little worm which always uproots one’s memory, are devoured, evaluated up by their failure and endless deprivation of the good, and are continually put to the test by a more violent fire.”

    Philokalia, Fourth Century of Various Texts (which seems to contain elements from “To Thalassios, 59”)

    “52. If a person refuses to allow God, the abode of all who are saved and source of their well-being, to sustain his life and to assure his well-being, what will become of him? And if the righteous man will be saved only with much difficulty, what will become of the man who has not attained any principle of devotion and virtue in this present life?

    “53. By a single infinitely powerful act of will God in his goodness will gather all together, angels and men, the good and the evil. But, although God pervades all things absolutely, not all will participate in him equally: they will participate in him according to what they are.

    “54. All, whether angels or men, who in everything have maintained a natural justice in their disposition, and have made themselves actively receptive to the inner principles of nature in a way that accords with the universal principle of well-being, will participate totally in the divine life that irradiates them; for they have submitted their will to God’s will. Those who in all things have failed to maintain a natural justice in their disposition, and have been actively disruptive of the inner principles of nature in a way that conflicts with the universal principle of well-being, will lapse completely from divine life, in accordance with their dedication to what lacks being; for they have opposed their will to God’s will. It is this that separates them from God, for the principle of well-being, vivified by good actions and illumined by divine life, is not operative in their will.

    “55. The scales on which the disposition of each being, whether angel or man, will be weighed at the last judgment is the principle of nature, which shows clearly whether that angel or man inclines towards well-being or its opposite. It is in accordance with this inclination that each being participates or fails to participate in divine life. For God will gather together into his presence all angels and men according to their being and their eternal being. But he will gather together in a special way according to their eternal well-being only those who are holy, leaving to those who are not holy eternal lack of well-being as the mixed fruit of their disposition.

    From “To Thalassios, 59” (forgive the translation — corrections welcome)

    “For nature does not possess the logoi of what is above nature, nor does it possess the laws of what is against nature. What is above nature, I say, is the ineffable and inconceivable delight of belonging to God which comes as he unites himself by grace to those who are worthy of it. What is against nature, the unspeakable pain which comes from his privation and which God brings about by uniting himself to the unworthy, but against grace. For God unites with all according to the quality and the disposition in the depths of each one, being experienced in accordance with the way each has formed himself interiorly to receive the One who will unite himself completely with all at the end of the ages.”

    Ambigua 42 (forgive the translation — corrections welcome)

    “… By essence the logoi of all beings that existentially are, have been or will be, both manifested or to be manifested, pre-existent [the logoi, that is] firmly anchored in God, according to which also everything is, appears or continues always according to the logos that preceded it and makes it advance by a natural impulse so as to be added to existence according to the quantity and quality of the motion and impulse of its own will, conducting itself happily via the good path of virtue and the logos of its being, conducting itself unhappily through evil and movement opposed to this logos, in short according to the attraction to and the withdrawal from participation in the One who by nature is imparticible, who through grace in his infinite goodness offers himself simply to all, the worthy and the unworthy, and who engenders in them eternal well-being inasmuch as each disposes himself to this. The participation or the non participation in eternal being is the chastisement of those who cannot participate and the ever-increasing joy of those who can.”

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  10. David says:

    I’m sorry, but Our Lord says quite plainly that there will be those in Hellfire. And He will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed…” etc. The idea of universalism is a vain hope at best and heresy at worst. And I’m Orthodox.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I’m sure St Isaac the Syrian will be distressed to hear that he is a heretic.

      Are you sure, David, that when Jesus spoke of eonion punishment he meant eternal and everlasting punishment?

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      • Maximus says:

        St. Basil of Caesarea:

        In one place the Lord declares that “these shall go to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46), and in another place He sends some “to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); and speaks elsewhere of the fire of gehenna, specifying that it is a place “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mk. 9:44-49) and even of old and through the Prophet it was foretold of some that “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be extinguished” (Isa. 66:24). Although these and the like declarations are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly. If, however, there were going to be and end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be and end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be and end to eternal punishment? The qualification of “eternal” is ascribed equally to both of them. “For these are going,” He says, “into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life.” (Mt. 25:46) If we profess these things we must recognize that the “he shall be flogged with many stripes” and the “he shall be flogged with few stripes” refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment. (Rules Briefly Treated 267)

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      • Maximus says:

        St. Andrew of Caesarea ca. 6th cent.

        Rev 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.

        This smoke must imply either the labored breath that cornes out along with the groaning of those being punished emanating up from below, or the smoke coming forth from the fire punishing those who have fallen. It is to ascend forever and ever, it says, that we might learn that it is endless, just as the bliss of the righteous (will be endless), in like manner also, the torment of the sinners. (Commentary on the Apocalypse)

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      • Maximus says:

        St. John Chrysostom:

        There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction. How then is that temporary which is everlasting? (Homily 3 on 2nd Thessalonians)

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Maximus, thank you for your citations. They confirm that belief in an eternal hell is the majority opinion in the Church. I do not say otherwise. I’m sure that many other quotations might also be invoked. I also fairly that an examination of the patristic writings will reveal that the majority of the Fathers also taught that the eternal sufferings of the damned are their just and deserved punishment.

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        • Maximus says:

          Fr.,

          This quote from St. Ephrem the Syrian is powerful. I was suprised since he is one of “milder” Saints.

          The Abyss severs any love
          which might act as a mediary,
          thus preventing the love of the just
          from being bound to the wicked,
          so that the good should not be tortured
          by the sight, in Gehenna,
          of their children or brothers
          or family – a mother, who denied Christ,
          imploring mercy from her son
          or her maid or her daughter,
          who had all suffered affliction for the sake of Christ’s teaching.

          …The children of light reside
          in their lofty abode
          and, as they gaze on the wicked
          they are amazed to what extent these people have cut off all hope by committing such iniquity.
          (The Hymns on Paradise 1.12-14)

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        • Maximus says:

          Fr.

          Here is a quote you’ll appreciate from a pillar among the early Western Fathers:

          Sulpicius Severus “Life of St. Martin of Tours”:

          some of the brethren bore witness that they had heard a demon reproaching Martin in abusive terms, and asking why he had taken back, on their subsequent repentance, certain of the brethren who had, some time previously, lost their baptism by falling into various errors. The demon set forth the crimes of each of them; but they added that Martin, resisting the devil firmly, answered him, that by-past sins are cleansed away by the leading of a better life, and that through the mercy of God, those are to be absolved from their sins who have given up their evil ways. The devil saying in opposition to this that such guilty men as those referred to did not come within the pale of pardon, and that no mercy was extended by the Lord to those who had once fallen away, Martin is said to have cried out in words to the following effect: “If thou, thyself, wretched being, wouldst but desist from attacking mankind, and even, at this period, when the day of judgment is at hand, wouldst only repent of your deeds, I, with a true confidence in the Lord, would promise you the mercy of Christ.” O what a holy boldness with respect to the loving-kindness of the Lord, in which, although he could not assert authority, he nevertheless showed the feelings dwelling within him! (Chap. 22)

          I like the quote because he states that St. Martin didn’t speak from authority but from his inner hope.

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  11. Marc says:

    Fr. Aidan, I believe that you are correct regarding what the majority of Orthodox Fathers have taught regarding judgment, punishment, and eternal hell. However, I also believe that much of this teaching comes from the imperial period of the Church. The earliest Church Fathers were more evenly divided between universalism, annihilationism, and what has become the traditional view. I believe that the traditional view became prevalent due to the pagan concepts of the Greco-Roman world regarding the natural immortality of the soul. I also believe that the so called symphony between the Church and state fostered this view to coerce people into compliance. The revelation of the Holy Scriptures weighs very heavily on the immortality of the soul being a gift given in either the First or General Resurrection. If we were created immortal why would God have wanted to keep us from eating of the tree of life after the fall?

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