“Let Every Mortal Leap for Joy”: Apocatastatic Hymnody in Orthodox Worship

 by Brad (Reader Irenaeus) Jersak, Ph.D.

“The primary means of theological education
in the Orthodox Church is through worship.”
~ Archbishop (ret.) Lazar Puhalo

Hymnody as Theology

I began my decade-long journey toward Orthodoxy in 2003 under the tutelage of Vladika Lazar, the abbot of All Saints of NA Orthodox Monastery (OCA) and my spiritual father. By the time he chrismated me in 2012, this living library of patristic thought had immersed me in key works of the church fathers, rarely without citing their words verbatim and in context. And yet my theological re-education was nevertheless deficient. How so?

Both he and my friend Fr. Michael Gillis (Antiochian Orthodox) insisted that I could study the works of the fathers, the councils and canons forever and still miss the tone and texture of Orthodoxy. Ethos matters. The great saints are essential to our interpretation of “the faith once delivered” but the heart of the church must be experienced in worship—in the hymns and choreography, the symbols and cycles of church fasts and feasts. The faith is not studied into our hearts, but prayed in, for Orthodox worship is the drama of redemption absorbed through the interactive prayers of the people.

After my chrismation, I was soon tonsured as a “reader” in the church and began to chant the church’s hymns through Vespers, Matins and the Divine Liturgy week after week. The effect of the 8-week cycle of repetition over the first year was like augering a hole through my icy heart until living water gushed up from within. What my mind could not conceive, my nous began to perceive. Not that I’ve arrived but I can say that one year in the courts of the Lord outpaced the previous ten in patristic studies and 50 years of modern Bible studies, colleges and seminary.

What I share below may seem irrelevant to those of other Christian traditions, but I would encourage them to think of them as “our hymns” in that many of them predate the great schism or Protestant Reformation. In other words, if what the church historically professed as gospel during worship matters, they belong to the whole church—to you.

Apocatastatic Hymnody

When we come to discussions concerning apocatastasis—the “restoration of all things” or ultimate redemption—I understand how Catholics and Protestants must work out that debate on their own terms and with their own tools. The biblicist descendants of sola scriptura are, of course, concerned only with what the Bible says or doesn’t say. But “evangelical universalists” from George MacDonald to my friend Robin Parry think more broadly, historically and theologically, while maintaining a firm footing in Scripture. Roman Catholics must also work within their tradition, councils and catechisms—and through the ressourcement movement (Rahner, de Lubac, Balthasar, Ratzinger et al), attend seriously to the patristic tradition.

But in the Orthodox world, there can be no excuse for ignoring or displacing the centrality of worship to our theological education with reductionist debates about the fifth council or proof-texting the Fathers. And this is especially true when it comes to the question of apocatastasis. I am utterly bewildered by the apparent ignorance among Orthodox voices who overlook the universal implications of our hymnody. They cannot possibly be participating in our worship or if they are, must zone out as we sing or chant the ancient hymns week after week. Hundreds of these songs permeate our liturgy.

Fr. Aidan Kimel asked if I would write an article for Eclectic Orthodoxy detailing the “universal suggestiveness of Orthodox hymnody.” I regret that I cannot. There is nothing suggestive about it. Rather, our kontakia and troparia, our typika and canons, are a continuous bold declaration that what Christ accomplished through the Cross, his conquest into hades and his glorious resurrection, was for all humanity, affects all humanity and calls all humanity. They comprise the gospel announcement that Christ is victorious over death and has raised up humanity with himself. Therefore, “let every mortal leap for joy!”

At the reader’s stand, I don’t choose what to read … the prescribed readings are handed to me and I chant what I’m given without warning or rehearsal. The surprising statements that come from my mouth often lead me to take a quick screenshot on my smartphone for future reference before Dmitri can turn the page or switch books. The hymns that follow are taken from those moments of rapture when I’m undone by early Christian worship.

I will italicize key phrases and offer some commentary along the way. Please, do not skim through the hymns. In fact, I suggest standing up and saying these hymns out loud as prayers. While Orthodox believers are discouraged from teaching apocatastasis as dogma, the debate should not be without reference to our profoundly inclusive hymnody.

The Eight Tones

I understand that not all Orthodox churches hold Vespers or Matins services, or the priest and a few readers may find themselves chanting them alone. So, I’m going to begin with selections from the eight tones embedded in the Divine Liturgy, our primary Sunday service. Any Orthodox believer who attends the Divine Liturgy will hear or sing these words throughout the year many times.

Tone One – Kontakion

As God, Thou didst rise from the tomb in glory, raising the world with Thyself. Therefore, mortal nature praises Thee as God, and death has vanished, Now Adam exults, O Master, and Eve, freed from her bonds, rejoices crying out: Thou are the One, O Christ, who grants resurrection to all.

This is the Christian gospel. In the Incarnation, in his death and in his resurrection, Christ has united himself to humanity, to the one human nature and raised humanity up with himself. Adam and Eve represent fallen humanity, which Christ has freed through his Passion victory. That resurrection is granted to who? To all.

Tone Two – Troparion

When Thou didst descend to death, O Life Immortal, Thou didst slay hades with the radiance of Thy Divinity. And when Thou didst raise the dead from the lowest depths, all the hosts of heaven cried out: O Giver of Life! Christ our God! Glory to Thee!

We proclaim Christ’s descent into and victory over hades every week (or every day if you’re keen) in our prayers. There’s a double meaning here, referring both to (i) Christ’s descent into death (the grave) to retrieve the dead and (ii) Christ’s descent into the world (bound by death) to save all who were born in bondage to death. That is, hades is not only the underworld where the dead languish, but also death’s dominion in this world where we’re born into corruption (decay). As we’ll see later, Christ has already rescued us (the living) from the kingdom of hades.

Tone Two – Kontakion

Thou didst rise from the tomb, O Almighty Savior, and seeing the miracle, hades became terrified: and the dead rose, and at the sight of it, creation rejoices with Thee. And Adam is joyful, and the world, O my Savior, praises Thee forever.

Hades is often personified as the slain enemy of Christ, the result of which all its captives are freed. The dead rise, Adam (all humanity) rejoices and the (whole) world praises its Savior.

Tone Five – Kontakion

Thou didst descend into hades, O my Savior, and as the Almighty One, broke down its gates. As the Creator, Thou didst raise the dead together with Thyself, shattering the sting of death, and delivering Adam from the curse, O Friend of mankind. Wherefore we cry out to Thee: save us, O Lord.

Again, the hypostatic union has implications. Christ unites with all to raise all with himself. And in this context, how is Christ considered almighty? He is almighty by his victory over all and for all. Plundering hades for a remnant or even for most would be mighty, but not almighty. But he is All-mighty.

Tone Six – Kontakion

Christ God, the Giver of Life, raised the dead from the dark abysses, and by His life-bearing hand, bestowed resurrection upon the fallen race of man. For He is the Savior of all, the Resurrection, the Life and the God of all.

Does this sound like he came only for the saints or the faithful? Was it for the righteous alone that he descended? No. He came for the dead confined in dark dungeons, for the fallen, and became the Resurrection, the Life and the God of the faithful elect (?). NO! He bestowed resurrection life on ALL.

Elevation of the Cross

Another shared experience for all Orthodox worshipers is the celebration of the Elevation of the Cross. Many hymns were written concerning the Cross as Christ’s throne of victory and they trumpet his saving conquest.

Verily, death which befell the human race by eating from the tree, hath been abolished today by the Cross; for the curse of the first mother and all her descendants hath been undone by Him who was born of the undefiled Theotokos, whom all the powers of heaven do magnify.

The curse of death was undone for ALL her descendants. Here we introduce “the Theotokos,” Mary the Mother of God. This rattled me as a young Protestant, failing to understand it as a deliberate christological statement. Specifically, it was coined to counteract the Arian heresy by pushing them to answer this question: “Is the One in her womb God or not?” The title Theotokos was thereby an affirmation of the deity of Christ.

Today the Cross is elevated and the world sanctified; for thou who sitteth with the Father and the Holy Spirit, when Thou didst stretch Thy hands thereon, didst draw the whole world to Thy knowledge.

The Cross sanctified the world. What might that mean? And the whole world is drawn to “Thy knowledge” seems a deliberate echo of Christ’s words, “I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), where “knowledge” implies “saving knowledge” as in “this is eternal life: that they would know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, who you have sent” (John 17:3).

And now we commence with a host of hymns assigned by the Orthodox throughout the day, the week and the weekend prayer services (outside the 10am-noonish Divine Liturgy). These are in no given order, but let the consistent barrage of inclusive salvation wash over you in successive waves:

Matins

In bringing forth the Giver of Life, thou hast delivered Adam from sin, O Virgin, and hast brought joy to Eve instead of sorrow; and those fallen from life hath thereunto been restored, by Him Who of thee was incarnate, God and Man.

This song reflects on the birth of Christ where those fallen from life, symbolized by Adam and Eve but inclusive of all humanity, have been delivered. See the pun on delivery? The delivery of the Virgin’s child is the deliverance of humankind.

Oktiochos/Tone 2
The Great Doxology and after it the Resurrection Troparion

Having risen from the tomb, and having burst the bonds of hades,
Thou hast destroyed the sentence of death, O Lord,
delivering all from the snares of the enemy.
Manifesting Thyself to Thine apostles, Thou didst send them forth to preach; and through them hast granted Thy peace to the world,
O Thou Who alone art plenteous in mercy.

Resurrection Troparion Tone 2:

When Thou didst descend unto death, O Life Immortal, then didst Thou slay hades with the lightning of Thy Godhead. And when Thou didst also raise the dead out of the nethermost depths, all the Hosts of the heavens cried out: O Life-giver, Christ our God, glory be to Thee.

Resurrection Kontakion Tone 2:

Thou didst arise from the tomb, O all-powerful Saviour, and seeing the marvel hades was with fear, the dead arose, and creation with Adam seeing this rejoiceth with Thee, therefore the world doth glorify Thee, my Saviour.

Kontakion, in Tone I

As God Thou didst arise from the tomb in glory,
and with Thyself didst raise up the world;
Human nature hymneth Thee as God, and death hath vanished,
Adam danceth, O Master, and Eve, delivered from bonds, now rejoiceth, Crying aloud: Thou are He, O Christ, Who granteth resurrection unto all!

Ikos: Let us hymn as God the Almighty Who rose on the third day,
Who broke down the gates of hades,
Who raised up from the grave those held there from ages past,
and Who appeared to the myrrh-bearing women, as He was well pleased to do, telling them first to rejoice and to proclaim joy unto the apostles,
in that He alone is the Bestower of life;
wherefore, with faith the women proclaimed the signs of victory to the disciples. Hades groaneth and death uttereth lamentation;
the world is filled with gladness, and all rejoice with it,
for Thou, O Christ, didst grant resurrection unto all.

Canon of the Cross & Resurrection

Irmos: All things are filled with awe 
Mindless hades seized Thee in its maw;
For having seen Thee nailed to the Cross, pierced by the spear, bereft of breath, It thought that Thou, the living God, wast a simple man.
But testing the might of Thy divinity it understood.
The grave and hades divided the ruined,
O Thou Who lovest mankind,
And both were against their will compelled to pay a fine:
The one by giving up the souls of the saints, and the other their bodies,
O Immortal One.

Ah, now in that hymn, it sounds like hades only gives up the saints. And yes, some hymns (a minority) specify the resurrection of faithful believers. But in the broader context of our hymnology, these lines don’t function as limits to the scope of salvation but are encouragements to be faithful and enter the experience of what Christ has done. For example,

Theotokion: Behold! Now that the prophecy been fulfilled!
For though, O Virgin who knewest not wedlock,
Didst have within thy womb Him Who is God over all,
And gavest birth to the timeless Son for all,
Who giveth peace unto all who hymn thee.

See how the birth of the Son is for all. But for those who respond to this good news, an experience of peace comes. The truth of our salvation is experienced through a willing response. The response doesn’t make it true. It makes it existential, like so:

Theotokian: Most blessed art thou, O Virgin Theotokos;
for through Him Who was incarnate of Thee, hades was taken captive,
Adam was recalled, the curse was annulled.
Eve was freed, death was put to death, and we were brought to life.
Wherefore, with hymns we cry aloud:
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,
Who hast been thus well pleased; glory be to Thee.

Salvation has already been secured. The curse of death is already annulled. Humanity in Adam and Eve has already been brought to life. Wherefore is old English for “from where” or “because of this.” It is because we have been freed that we bless Christ through these hymns.

Troparia: The veil was rent when Thou wast crucified, O our Savior, and death gave up the dead which it had devoured; and hades was stripped bare when it saw Thee coming into the nethermost parts of the earth.

“Stripped bare.” How so? Both of its power and of its captives. As St. John Chrysostom will say in his Paschal homily, “No one dead remains in the grave.” This also reflects how the first Christians understood Christ when describing how he would bind the strong man, invade his house and plunder his goods (Matt. 12:29), both in this realm and in his descent into hades.

Before Thy Passion Thou didst allow Thyself to be vested in a robe while being reviled, O Saviour, that Thou mightest clothe the uncomely nakedness of the first- fashioned man; and, naked, Thou was nailed to the Cross, disrobing Thyself of the garment of death.

That’s a seriously deep two-fold analogy. First, when the soldiers put the royal robes on Christ (to mock him), he simultaneously robes the nakedness (i.e. shame) of humanity from Adam and Eve and all their descendants. Second, as he allows himself to be stripped naked for the crucifixion, so he strips humanity (in his own body) of the shroud of death.

Having risen from the tomb, Thou hast raised with Thyself the dead who were in hades, and, since Thou art compassionate, Thou has enlightened them that glorify Thy Resurrection.

This is another example of how Christ raises all the dead in hades while enlightening those who glorify him. This enlightenment means that in our worship, fear of death is washed away in the glory of his Life. They are called to share this Light to the world—to those who are still blind to the good news. They need to know Christ came for them too:

Matins of Holy Saturday

You descended to earth to save Adam, but you did not find him on earth; And so You descended to hell in order to search for him.

This applies to everyone, qualified only by our need for forgiveness. Note how in our hymns interspersed with the beatitudes, we first proclaim universal salvation, then ask to be included with the prayer of the thief. That is, we respond in faith to the good news with assurance that the thief’s cry of faith is sufficient for us as well:

Forgiveness Sunday / Tone 4
Beatitudes on 10; Octoechos 6; Triodion 4, from Ode 6

3. On the Cross thou didst tear asunder with the spear the record of our sins; and, numbered among the death, Thou didst bind the tyrant of hades, O Lord Who lovest mankind, Who by Thy resurrection hast delivered all from the bonds of hades. Thereby we have been illumined, and we cry to Thee: remember us also in Thy kingdom.

Those who believe in ultimate redemption do not deny the summons to respond, but we see a faith response as our participation in the victory of Christ. Repentance is our wholehearted reorientation to the cruciform love of God:

4. O Thou Who alone art immortal, Who wast crucified and as almighty, didst arise from the tomb on the third day, and hast raised up Adam, the first created: Vouchsafe that I also may turn to repentance with my whole heart, and may ever cry out to Thee with fervent faith: Remember me, O Savior, in Thy kingdom!

And here is the great truth we’re reoriented toward:

5. For our sake He Who is without passion became a man subject to the passions; and, nailed of His own will to the Cross, He has raised us up with Himself. Wherefore, we glorify His Cross, passion, and resurrection, whereby we have been refashioned and whereby we are also saved, who cry out: Remember us also in Thy kingdom!

“Have been refashioned.” “Are saved.” When? How? In Christ’s passion, wherein he united humanity to himself and re-headed the human race—formerly all in Adam, now all in Christ. And yet the truth of our being must become the way of our being. Our new ontological reality becomes a new existential reality. This salvation is neither transactional nor unilateral. There is a synergy of reciprocal love: “we love him because he first loved us.” We are being saved by him because he has saved us. Join the dance of risen Adam! Let every mortal leap for joy!

6. O ye faithful, let us entreat Him who hath risen from the dead, hath made captive the dominion of hades, and wast seen by the myrrh-bearing women and said to them: “Rejoice!” that He delivers from corruption the souls of us who ever cry out to Him with the voice of the noble thief, “Remember us also in Thykingdom!”

Canon of the Cross & Resurrection

Irmos: As a natural image of a sojourn 

Having been tested by wounds by Thy suffering of the Cross,
Thou didst raise up with Thyself those wounded by hades.
Wherefore, I cry out: Lead up my life from corruption,
O Thou who lovest mankind.

The gates of hades opened unto Thee in fear,
And the vessels of the enemy were plundered.
Wherefore, the women met Thee, receiving joy instead of grief.

Here there can be no equivocating. Those freed are not merely the saints of old but especially those “wounded by hades” and even regarded as “vessels of the enemy.” It is precisely those who Christ came to save and plundered from their captor!

Kontakian, in Tone II

Though didst arise from the tomb, O all-powerful Savior;
and hades, beholding the wonder, was stricken with awe, and the dead arose.
Creation, seeing Thee, rejoiced, and Adam was glad,
and the world, O my Savior, ever hymneth thee.

Ikos: Thou art the light of those in darkness;
Thou art the resurrection of all and the life of men,
And has raised up all with Thyself, O Savior,
Abolishing the dominion of death and breaking down the gates of hades, O Word.
And the dead, beholding the wonder, marveled, and all creation rejoiceth in thy resurrection, O Thou who lovest mankind.
Wherefore, we all glorify and hymn Thy condescension;
and the world, O my Savior, ever hymneth Thee.

I started wondering if I had accidentally copy-and-pasted the above text more than once, but no, the repetition is purposeful, because I guess it needs to be. Our weekly communal prayers announce salvation for those who mindfully hymn Christ and the whole world and all of creation. So how is it that this never-ending celebration of universal salvation and ultimate redemption escapes the Orthodox infernalists?

Yes, I get that there are also songs of dread judgment. I don’t negate those. Like David Bentley Hart, I place them in their proper stanza within the divine rhapsody—in the age to come, on the Day of Judgment—before the All-Merciful Lamb, whose mercy triumphs over judgment and who delivers us through the fire to his Father and into the end of the ages where God is all and in all. All the hymns belong. I just don’t know where these universal hymns belong for the denouncers of apocatastasis.

But wait, we’re not quite done.

Canon of the Theotokos

Irmos: O ye faithful, with hymns let us magnify

In thy womb, O pure one, the Word of God was given to corrupt nature as a staff of strength; and He raised it up which had fallen headlong into hades …

O Master, mercifully accept as advocate for us Thy Mother, Whom Thou didst choose. All things will be filled with Thy goodness, that we may all magnify Thee as our Benefactor.

That’s our new Exodus for hades’ slaves. That’s the lost sheep. That’s the wandering son. Humanity, corrupt in nature, fallen face-first into the pit, dragging creation down with us—now raised up and filled up, along with all creation, with Christ’s goodness.

Ode 5 – Canon of the Akathist

Irmos: All things are filled with awe at thy divine glory; for thou O Virgin who hast not known wedlock, didst contain within thy womb Him Who is God over all, and gavest birth to the timeless Son, granting peace unto all who hymn thee.

All things filled with awe. God over all. But peace also to those who proclaim it. Maybe this is not just a distinction between “the saved” and “the lost.” What if it also delineates those who proclaim salvation for all vs. salvation for some? Knowing Christ’s saving work is not for us only, but for the whole world, gives a special gift of peace. The hymn may not mean that, but it’s certainly been my experience as I’ve sung it.

Rejoice, O all-immaculate one who didst bear the Way of life, thou who hast saved the world from the deluge of sin! Rejoice, O Bride of God, awesome rumor and report! Rejoice, O dwelling-place of the Master of creation!

Back to Matins

In Thy mercy Thou didst withstand wounds and stripes, O Christ, enduring the malice of blows to Thy cheeks; and with long-suffering deigning to be spit upon, Thou didst thereby accomplish salvation for me. Glory to Thy power, O Lord!

Thou didst partake of death in a mortal body, O Life, for the sake of the suffering of the poor and the groans of Thy paupers; and having brought corruption upon the corrupter, O All-glorious One, Thou didst resurrect all with Thyself, in that Thou hast been glorified.

Tone Four Kontakion

As God my Saviour and Deliverer has raised up the earthborn, from the grave and from their bonds, and He has broken down the gates of hades, for, as Master, He rose on the third day.

Who is included? Who has been raised up and delivered? The “earthborn” entombed and chained in hades. And I repeat, this is not only talking about those who’ve fallen asleep. It describes my personal history—my testimony. It’s about rescuing the living from death’s prison.

Canon of the Cross & Resurrection

Irmos: Let every mortal leap for joy …

Having deceitfully caused me to fall, the serpent took me captive away from Eden; But on the hard stone of Golgotha the Lord Almighty dashed him as he were a babe, and through the tree of the Cross opened the entrance to delight again to me.

#deathmetal. But also, watch how the hymnist sees his life on earth as “the wastelands of hades” from which he’s been raised in Christ:

The mighty fortresses of the enemy hast Thou now brought to desolation; And with Thine almighty hand Thou hast plundered his riches, O Christ Who raised me up with Thyself from the wastelands of hades;
And an object of scorn has Thou shown him to be who of old boasted beyond measure.

Canon of the resurrection – Ode 6

Irmos: The uttermost abyss hath engulfed us, and there is none to deliver us. We are accounted as lambs for the slaughter. Save they people, O our God, for Thou are the strength and correction of the weak!

We were grievously wounded by the offense of the first-created man, O Lord, but we have been healed by the wounds wherewith Thou wast wounded for us, O Christ; for Thou art the strength and correction of the weak.

Thou hast led us up out of hades, O Lord, having slain the all-devouring monster and set his power at naught by Thy might, O Omnipotent One; for Thou art Life, Light and Resurrection.

Having descended to me, even unto hades,
And made resurrection a way for all,
Thou didst ascend again,
Taking me with Thee on Thy shoulder,
And didst bring me to the Father.
Wherefore I cry out unto Thee:

Hymn the Lord, O ye works, and exalt Him supremely for all ages.

Finale

The great hymns of the church thus proclaim universal salvation as a done deal, not so much focusing on what will happen after we die, but on what has already become reality through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. This is not an eschatology or an atonement theory. This is the gospel of the historic church … what Christ has accomplished (tetelestai) has implications for what Christ will accomplish (at the telos)—God’s gracious and glorious end game.

Singing these truths over and over functions as a call to:

  • Remember and proclaim what Christ has accomplished, conquering death by death and raising humanity in himself.
  • Respond to the good news in worship and recapitulate our new ontologythrough repentance, so that the truth of our being in Christ would become the way of our being in our life experience.
  • Educate and in my case re-educate the church with the gospel theology of the apostles and the early church fathers and mothers whose message they received and stewarded.

I’ve framed this article to address Orthodox believers who hadn’t noticed our apocatastasis-drenched hymnody. But I’ve also deliberately written it to appeal to other Jesus-followers who, like me, have conservative impulses, desiring to root our hope in something firmer than progressive trends or personal preferences. As if we don’t already have enough warrant from the dozens of biblical texts that foresee ultimate redemption, please understand that the church has also interpreted those texts, boldly proclaiming them in public worship even while her theologians haggled over split ends in ivory towers.

So yes, for sure, study the scriptures and the fathers. But on something so grand and so deep, worship may get you to convictions that they couldn’t.

* * *

Brad Jersak serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. He is the Dean of Ministry Studies (as of Sept 2019) at St. Stephen’s University (ssu.ca in NB, Canada) where he teaches New Testament, Theology, Patristics & some Philosophy. He is the author of several books, including A More Christlike God and Her Gates Will Never Be Shut.

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36 Responses to “Let Every Mortal Leap for Joy”: Apocatastatic Hymnody in Orthodox Worship

  1. Jacob says:

    I love all of this! The one sticking point for me, however, is that Jesus says that people can be raised either to the resurrection of life, or to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29). I think most “infernalists” would find many of these hymns entirely compatible with their beliefs, because they can use this verse to say that even someone who is damned for eternity has also been “granted resurrection”, “raised from the nethermost depths”, and “freed from the curse”.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      You raise an excellent question, Jacob, regarding resurrection to condemnation. I hope Brad will read the comments and respond to you.

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    • Brad Jersak says:

      Thanks Jacob,

      Yes, I have given that a lot of thought, study and prayer. I would say three things:

      1. I think “condemnation” is a poor translation for κρίσεως. “Condemnation” infuses the term with implications of shame and inescapable retribution. Far better to use the typical translation “judgment,” which is then open to interpretation.

      2. We will certainly rise to “judgment” but what kind of judgment? Does the Bible indicate that this judgment could be restorative rather than retributive? Absolutely. Malachi 3 imagines this judgment as a “refiners fire” that cleanses gold of dross and a “launderers soap” that cleanses our soiled garments. So too 1 Cor. 3 pictures a judgment in which the wood, hay and stubble of our false selves is burned away while the gold, silver and precious stones of our true selves shine forth. And what is this soap or fire? It is fire of the glory of the love of Jesus Christ. This is how it is expressed in St. Macrina the Young, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Isaac the Syrian and, if I may, St. George MacDonald.

      3. So in John 5, the resurrection of the dead is for some unto eternal for others unto the judgment of the age to come. There are many dualistic passages like this where you have two groups and two destinations. But there are also many monist eschatologies where we ALL pass through the same judgment and rather than ‘condemnation’ and ‘eternal life’ being two outcomes, they are consecutive — THROUGH judgment TO eternal life (which DBH lays out beautifully in ‘That All Shall Be Saved.’ I say a bit about that in my article on the parable of the dragnets (https://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2015/12/question-response-parable-of-the-dragnet-matt-1347-50-with-brad-jersak.html).

      Great question.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jacob, something else to consider. One thing in particular struck me on my first reading of Brad’s article: the promise of resurrection is emphatically declared in the mode of unconditional good news. It’s a matter of celebration and great rejoicing. No caveats are mentioned, no qualifications are made. And yet, according to the infernalist message, the general resurrection is only good news for the redeemed; for the condemned, it is the worst news possible: God intentionally raises the wicked not only to be judged for their sins but to be condemned to everlasting torment.

      I don’t think my point proves anything, but it does raise a question. How is it that the Church can celebrate an event, i.e., the general resurrection, that has such terrible consequences for the impenitent?

      One possibility is that the hymns are not written for those outside the community of faith. They are written for the baptized. Perhaps we could then say that the hymns promise salvation to all Christians; and in fact, St Ambrose and others seemed to have believed precisely that. (I think I have that right. My copy of Brian Daley’s book on patristic eschatology is presently hiding under a huge pile of books.)

      Of course, the infernalist has an easy answer: the hymns that Brad has quoted need to be read in conjunction with the hymns, say, of the Sunday of the Last Judgment. Perhaps Brad can be persuaded to write a sequel to his piece and to discuss the judgment hymns in relation to the apocatastitic hymns (hint, hint).

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  2. Cuthbert says:

    This is quite beautiful, thank you Dr. Jersak.

    Let me say up front that I believe in the apokatastasis. So this is me playing devil’s advocate, but, wouldn’t the Infernalist simply say, “Yes, of course the resurrection is universally applied. Death has been slain and all are set free. And now those who died without Christ will be cast into the fire for the second death which will have no end…”?

    Are there any hymns that speak of the apokatastasis rather than the universal resurrection?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Yes good point, and that throws out the ethos and worship argument (“I could study the works of the fathers, the councils and canons forever and still miss the tone and texture of Orthodoxy. Ethos matters”) Sing the same songs but two people can come away with wildly divergent position, one a die-hard infernalist, the other a convinced universalist.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Like Scripture itself, the hymnody affirming the universality of salvation is sufficiently ambiguous to allow infernalist interpretations. It too needs to be interpreted through a hermeneutic of Pascha.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Brad Jersak says:

      I think these hymns are saying much more than that we are all resurrected but some to eternal life and others to eternal damnation. Much more. For example, I do not see how the promise of being “raised up with Jesus Christ” or “freed from the curse” and those in hades now “freed” and “rejoicing” leaves any room for Infernalism. Nor is our escape from ‘hades’ referring only to resurrection from the dead, but quite explicitly from the ‘kingdom of hades’ into the kingdom of God. The language is deliberate and bold and glorious.

      If I were an infernalist, I would not argue with the content of the words. I would argue that this is poetic excess not to be taken literally. But of course, that would be ironic.

      Sorry about the typos in my previous comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reba Rambo says:

    Tears and more tears…Thank you

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  4. Michelle says:

    Did St. John Chrysostom write some, most, or all of these prayers/readings? Has St. John Chrysostom anywhere explained the universality of what he himself has written for our Divine Liturgy with his own belief in an eternal damnation for some? He was an “infernalist” after all, wasn’t he?

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    • Michelle,

      Most scholars would say that the liturgy is “by” Chrysostom in the same way that “The Wisdom of Solomon” is by Solomon.

      And as far I am aware, most scholars don’t think he actually wrote the famous paschal homily either.

      As for what he actually believed, he was probably an anti-universalist, though there are some odd sounding universalist bits in his sermons and he did learn from Diodore and Theodore who were universalists.

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      • Michelle says:

        I would assume Solomon understood what he was writing about when he wrote the Spirit inspired book, “Wisdom of Solomon.” That’s why I asked about St. John Chrysostom, because I assume he understood the content he was writing, despite it being Divinely inspired. But maybe I am wrong to assume Solomon and Chrysostom understood the Wisdom content they were writing down?

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        • Michelle,

          I don’t think you understood what I meant. Nobody thinks Solomon actually wrote The Wisdom of Solomon. And nobody thinks Chrysostom sat down and made our liturgy. They are both within the TRADITION of those men but not BY them.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        “And as far I am aware, most scholars don’t think he actually wrote the famous paschal homily either.”

        I did not know that.

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        • Mark Chenoweth says:

          I’ve never looked into this myself, this was just what I remember our homiletics professor saying when we looked at Chrysostom’s sermon. That does make it sort of interesting though. It’s possible that whoever made all those affirmations of the annihilation of hell actually meant it. Who knows?

          It seems clear to me that at least some church fathers understood the emptying of Hades to mean universal salvation. Otherwise, why would Gregory of Nazianzus have said, ““If he descends into hell, descend with Him. Learn to know the mysteries of Christ there also: what is the providential purpose of the twofold descent, to save all humans by his manifestation or there, too, only them that believe? (Or. 45.24, PG 36:357a).

          His rhetorical question seems to obviously imply he thought that if Christ DID take everyone from Hades, this means he saved everyone. I get the sense that Cyril thought the same thing.

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  5. Michelle says:

    Comparing these hymns to the Exodus from Egypt seems fitting. The Israelites saw their own salvation in the form of miraculous freedom from bondage with their own eyes. God’s love and favor for them was utterly proven. And yet they continuously mistrusted God, to the point where their unbelief barred them from entering the Promised Land. I imagine this is how St. John Chrysostom understood the universalist prayers he wrote for the Divine Liturgy in light of his belief in eternal damnation for some.

    However, interesting to note, despite the proclamation of their punishment of being barred from the Promised Land the Israelites continued on with Moses. Why would they do that when their fate was already sealed? They continued on with Moses because of all that they had witnessed, and because of the hope according to the proclamation of mercy God would have on their children, promising that their seed would, indeed, enter the Promised Land.

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  6. Yaakov says:

    I don’t get how you go from these hymns to a universalist position.

    Please comment on the following hymn, and how it is understood in conjunction with the hymns of triumph you cited:

    “Behold the bridegroom comes at midnight. And blessed is he whom he finds watching, but unworthy is he whom he shall find heedless. Beware therefore oh my soul, lest thou be weighed down with sleep, lest thou be given over unto death and shut out of the kingdom. But rouse thyself crying, holy, holy, holy art thou oh Lord”

    At the end of the day, only a position that includes the possibility of eternal separation from the kingdom truly honors the gift and responsibility of freedom given to man by God, described over and over again both in the hymns, the scripture, and the Fathers.

    One can easily recognize the triumph of God, available to all and universal (even to the earth, not only to humans) in scope, while also recognizing that we have the serious freedom to reject that.

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    • Yaakov says:

      I do agree that the quote from St Gregory is compelling.

      I wonder how to reconcile it with “many are called, but few are chosen”?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      First read TASBS Yaakov. Should you then still have questions we will be glad to grill you answer your questions then.

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      • Yaakov says:

        Sooo I can’t understand the position without read DBH… enough said

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          You can, but it constitutes an umpteenth rehashing on our end. Pointing you to a very good source on this very subject is not meant to be dismissive. Especially do read meditation four. But truly all meditations should be read together.

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    • Brad Jersak says:

      Thanks for the insightful question. I’ll do my best to lay out my interpretation of these hymns and their place in the big story.

      I don’t believe that the many specific hymns I’ve actually cited can be read as less than apokatastatic.

      I also cited hymns that include a summons to respond as the means of experiencing our salvation.

      I am not claiming that ALL hymns proclaim apokatastasis.
      I am not claiming that SOME hymns proclaim judgment and exclusion.
      I am unaware of any hymns that proclaim this judgment as irrevocable and eternal, though that would not surprise me.

      As for the hymn you cited, I chant that with my whole heart as well, because it echoes the dire warnings of Jesus about the forthcoming judgment. I see nothing in it that suggests an eternal state that negates how in Christ, ultimately “mercy triumphs over judgment”.

      But what I thought I made clear in the article is that to honor both the judgment hymns and the apokatastatic hymns, you have to place them in their proper order within the grand narrative of redemption (as Hart does). To be more explicit, the Bible describes three eras:

      1. This present evil age (Eph. 6)
      2. The age to come (Matt. 25), often mistranslated “eternal”
      3. The end of the ages (1 Cor. 15).

      For both the judgment passages/hymns AND the universal inclusion passages/hymns to be included in the arc of redemption, you can either speak of both as possibilities (a la Von Balthasar and Ware) … though texts like Phil. 2 or 1 Cor. 15 or the hymns I’ve cited do not. OR you place them in their context:

      1. The judgment passages/hymns refer to the forthcoming trial of the age to come,
      (that is, all those texts are taken very seriously as penultimate),
      2. The universal passages/hymns refer to the end of the ages, when God is all in all,
      (that is, all those texts are taken very seriously as ultimate).

      This is St. Macrina the Younger’s approach in Gregory of Nyssa’s “On the Soul and the Resurrection.”

      What then shall we say about our freedom? When the NT foresees every eye seeing, every knee bowing and every tongue confessing the Lordship of Christ to the glory of God the Father, and when Christ himself explicitly promises to draw all people to himself, and when Paul says that “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive,” does this negate human freedom or the gospel summons for a willing faith response?

      St. Maximos’s theology of the natural will and gnomic will indicates no problem at all. He foresees a final judgment in which the natural will that was created to respond with a willing yes to the good will be restored and we will do what we were made to do without coercion or any compromise to human freedom. That is, Maximos sees us making a “freed will” response … and yes, you have to make the response but once we see Christ face-to-face in the glory of his love, we won’t unsee it or even want to (similar to Paul’s reflection on his conversion in 2 Cor. 4).

      Another way to approach this is by considering the River of Fire that flows from the Throne of Christ. Those who are prepared for the fire by their orientation toward divine love will experience it as heavenly. Those who have resisted and rejected Christ will experience it as torment. Infernalist Orthodox believe this will be a locked-in state for all eternity. But Macrina, Gregory, Isaac and others believed that the infinite fire of divine love is effective, transformative and transfiguring. That is, the judgment is restorative–a refiners fire and launderers soap (Mal. 3) and purgative (1 Cor. 3). You cannot stand in the fire of infinite love and not be changed by it.

      So yes, judgment is forthcoming. Yes, a response is necessary. And yes, the hymns declare ultimate victory for all.

      This is one of the reasons I affirm ultimate redemption but avoid the label “universalist.” It’s not that I don’t believe Christ’s salvation is universal in scope or effect. It’s that the label has come to be associated with a denial of 1. the ravages of sin, 2. the centrality of Christ, 3. the apex of the Cross/Resurrection, 4. the necessity of a willing faith response and 5. the reality of judgment. I believe those 5 points are essentials of the gospel through which Christ will ultimately gather everyone.

      As an Orthodox believer, my understanding is that I may hold this as a conviction rather than sharing it as a dogma (and the same is true for infernalists). So my article certainly reveals my convictions but I would also argue, lays out some pretty important data that infernalists have never taken seriously.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mark Chenoweth says:

        Brad, thanks for this article. It’s nice to see a universalist article arguing FROM tradition sometimes. I, like you, don’t see this as a liberal vs. conservative issue, which is why I think Fr Michael Gillis and Fr Stephen Freeman (both hopeful universalists) are still keeping their head above water over there at AFR, despite a lot of voices there being quite adamantly anti-universalist.

        In your opinion, do you think Paul is THINKING of Mal. 3 in 1 Cor. 3? I doubt he invented this understanding of the fire whole cloth. Is there anywhere else he would have gotten this from? And do you think Paul is addressing only believers in that passage or EVERYONE?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mark Chenoweth says:

          I’m very glad that Hart (and really, Bulgakov) have brought 1 Cor. 3 into the forefront because a discussion of it has been missing from scriptural treatments of universalism. Before Hart, I don’t think I saw you or Parry bring it up. I wasn’t really even aware of it until several months ago.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Iakov, regarding your point about human freedom, read my recent article “Divine Retribution,” as well as the long discussion on freedom in the comments. The subject is much more complicated than you may think. I’m happy to recommend further reading, if this is a subject in which you are interested.

      Bottomline question: Would a God of absolute and infinite Love freely create a world in which one or more human beings would end up spending an eternity in irredeemable torment?

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      • Yaakov says:

        The very definition of an absolutely loving God makes the answer to that question an obvious yes to me, but apparently you disagree, which just goes to show that we shouldn’t base our teachings on what we ourselves consider loving, but on what’s been revealed.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          It seems a stretch, if not an insult, to suggest Fr Kimel does not inform his teaching on what has been revealed. From whence the difference in understanding then?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Yaakov, you have criticized the advocates of universal salvation of going beyond divine revelation and improperly importing philosophy into their reflections. This I emphatically deny for two reasons: (1) it is the New Testament that teaches us that God is absolute and unconditional Love. (2) Everyone who engages in theological reflection also engages in philosophical reasoning, as amply evidenced by the history of doctrinal controversy. As an example I quote your above statement: “At the end of the day, only a position that includes the possibility of eternal separation from the kingdom truly honors the gift and responsibility of freedom given to man by God, described over and over again both in the hymns, the scripture, and the Fathers.”

      Where do you get this notion of personal freedom? From the Scriptures? Of course not. The only freedom the New Testament writers are interested in is the freedom from sin that the Spirit bestows. From the Fathers then? Probably. But at that point they themselves are engaging in fallible philosophical reflection. No Church Father, whether it be St Gregory of Nyssa or St Augustine or Hippo, can be said to have uttered the final word on what creaturely freedom means within the context of divine and creaturely agency.

      Is God honor-bound to allow his beloved children to irrevocably damn themselves? Where do you get this notion? Not Scripture! Clearly human parents who truly love their children will always intervene to prevent their children from doing irreparable harm to themselves. If someone thinks that they shouldn’t, they do not know what love means!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Mark Chenoweth says:

    Yaakov,

    Certainly, this hymn is COMPATIBLE with universal salvation. If universalism is true, this would simply mean that no one would be shut out forever. Isn’t getting shut out of the kingdom where most everyone is anyway when Christ descends into hades? To where else is Christ descending other than to “the nethermost depths,” “the territory of the enemy,” etc. Unless you want to split time up between “hades,” and “Gehenna” AFTER the final judgment, where God is incapable of saving anyone. But I don’t think that’s what these hymns imply. Interestingly, some of the hymns even refer to Christ bursting “the eternal” bars of hades or hell. I’d really love to know the greek word for eternal in all these cases.

    Also, only around the 8th or 9th century do we see Orthodox theologians completely separate eschatological physical resurrection from spiritual resurrection. From Irenaeus to Maximus, resurrection constitutes spiritual as well as physical healing and restoration. We can subtract some fathers from this, perhaps Chrysostom completely separated the two concepts, but a lot of them didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jorge MacDonald says:

    Orthodox are discouraged from proclaiming universalism as dogma…why? Doesn’t matter I’m an ex evangelical get the hell, and hell, out of my way! I know what I am about! You should preach every suicide funeral with ‘all things happen for that e good for those who love God’ rejoice! Evil doesn’t exist, don’t be dualists!

    Perhaps universal salvation does await. But can you weigh the terror of the launderers soap any more than you can a beloved‘s suicide being permitted for a greater good? No. You cannot. Full stop. What vanity is your ancient tradition of apophaticism and monastic self negation, didn’t they know that their toil could have been distilled into a wink of the eye? I await an ascetic modern universalist. Something was lost in translation and it wasn’t the teaching.

    Since you’re all de facto DBH papists, ponder his location of the real problem, not that evil exists, but why does beatitude have to cost so much? (Re: Dostoevsky). Add up all the evil, all the filth that the launders soap has to clean and ask why? No answer. Evil is so remarkable in the scheme of salvation like your aversion to Ezekiel. Yet it remains. You do not and cannot know the pain and suffering that it will cost to for a thing to be united to a no-thing. So stop acting like it’s the greatest news. It’s not. It’s horrible. And if it’s not horrible, it is in fact your God that is the sadist in the very act of creation and the doctrine of analogy because death would be sweeter than life if it were not the case and we are all just chasing our tails here below. It is a meaningless discussion to be had in public, the church is correct.

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    • jeremyklein228 says:

      I don’t think you are attacking the position that Fr. Kimel, nor Mr. Hart, advocate. The launder’s soap, first off, has no consciousness, rational human intellect or dignity as a creature created in the image of God himself. Hence, it has no capacity to be deified or united to the divinity in a significant way.

      Second, it is certainly not horrible for all to make it to Heaven eventually. St. Isaac the Syrian absolutely doesn’t downplay the severity of hell, which is very real, and will (under the universalist framework) require all sinners to undergo a similar rejection of self to what the ascetics choose to do now. What they do now, those who gravely sinned will have to freely do later to get into Heaven. To call all of us DBH papists is simply absurd! We agree with DBH because we find his reasoning to be not only convincing in the sense of reason, but wholly compatible with Saints like St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac Nineveh. If anything, the true “papism” is those who take a fideistic perspective, using circular reasoning to say, “I know it [that some will be eternally damned] is true because the Church said it… and I know the Church said it because it’s true.” Whether we like it or not, we all have to participate in the discussion.

      You say that God would be a sadist to let everyone get into Heaven, but the position universalists have is that everyone will get into Heaven because everyone will ultimately freely will to go through the same process of accepting Jesus Christ our Lord and be purged completely of sin. What is sadistic about that at all? If anything, it even greater demonstrates the majesty of God by demonstrating his perfect ability to overcome evils with goodness both in the finite material and infinite immaterial world. It would be much more sadistic for God to abandon his children who act in awful ways out of their deluded state, as it would be sadistic for a father to abandon his daughter sticking her head into a fire as respect of her “freedom.” We would arrest that father for negligence, and rightfully so.

      Finally, I must point out: many of us here have experience with people committing suicide. When I was in high school, one of my best friends committed suicide, and I had to speak at his funeral. I was quite relieved to hear the priest saying that my friend, who I’ll call L here, was in Heaven, rather than being eternally separated from God. I think that all of us would agree that the latter would be severely upsetting for all; for those who knew him in life as a kind, gentle soul and a Christian, for all of those who would meet him at the end of this life, and for the Lord himself, who knew him from eternity and will continue to do so forever. God bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I had to chuckle when I read “DBH papists.” I presume that you are implying that Hart is our Pope. This is incorrect. I am the universalist pope (my public support of the greater hope predates David’s public by a year or two), and Hart is my terminator. 🙂

      Your comment, Jorge, indicates that you are relatively, if not completely ignorant, of the universalist tradition. You need to immerse yourself in the literature and learn what we universalists actually teach. My “Readings in Universalism” page will direct you to the best resources. A good place for you to begin is “The Severity of Universal Salvation.” Please read this before you comment again. And come back with a better, more charitable attitude, too. I have to insist on that. I am, after all, pope of this blog. Thanks.

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  9. Marc-André says:

    I’m late to the discussion, but after reading this beautiful article, I arrived to an appropriate passage in my reread of Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition. He writes:

    Every doctrine of the orthodox creed was a liturgical doctrine, for the creed was recited in the liturgy. Nevertheless, some doctrines were liturgical in a special sense, because they had been articulated more satisfactorily in worship than in dogma. Even though some of them would eventually be defined as orthodox by a council, they were, at this time, and in a way would always remain, liturgical rather than dogmatic in their fundamental character. ( The Spirit of Eastern Christendom; p.137).

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  10. Jorge MacDonald says:

    It’s true that I am in over my head in knowledge and charity. My apologies.

    Universalism seems to be implored in two ways: one as a form of neo-evangelism (here is the untarnished pre modern Gospel, stumbling blocks removed). Secondly, as a form of theodicy, evil is assuaged in as much as in the end everything will be resolved. Many turn to it after personal tragedy. And, indeed, Hart’s biggest concern seems to be defending God in the ring of theodicy from believers and atheists alike.

    “If everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what children have got to do with it?…and therefore I absolutely renounce all higher harmony. It is not worth one little tear of even that one tormented child who beat her chest with her little fist and prayed to ‘dear God’ in a stinking outhouse with her unredeemed tears! Not worth it, because her tears remained unredeemed…I do not, finally, want the mother to embrace the tormentor who let his dogs tear her son to pieces!” “I’d rather remain with my unrequited suffering and my unquenched indignation, even if I am wrong. Besides, they have put too high a price on harmony, we can’t afford to pay so much for admission. And therefore I hasten to return my ticket…It’s not that I don’t accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket.”

    This was what was meant when I said the universalist God is a sadist, the content of existence remains unchanged, hell still exists, and universalists are too quick to emphasize their interpretation of a twinkling of the eye. What becomes of the content of existence itself? If after death beatitude is bestowed by divine fiat, our freedom finally free from illusion, should we not think of God as a sadist in the very act of creation, ex nihilo as Hart said puts a moral impetus on God himself!

    For me, existence itself is the crux of the issue and I don’t see how universalism can but fail on both accounts of evangelism and theodicy since it can’t account for reality without hell, leaving aside its duration. Or at least can you point me in the right direction if I am wholly out in left field?

    Finally, since this is a post about liturgy, dogma wise I think there is more to universalism being resisted than the fallen and stubborn nature of man. Balthazar’s position was one of an existential posture before reality, correct for the Christian. Not the “stupid little book” of a ‘mealy mouth’. The same goes for A.Hilirion’s back peddling upon episcopacy.

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