St Paisios the Athonite once fasted and prayed for two weeks for the eternal salvation of the devil. While praying he saw a dog’s head sticking his tongue out and mocking him. Paisios concluded from this incident that “God is ready to accept the demons provided they repent, but they themselves do not want their salvation.”
Met Kallistos Ware tells the story of a four-hour car journey he once had with a Greek archbishop. Hoping to enjoy a long conversation on the topic, he asked the archbishop: “If it is possible that the devil, who must surely be a very lonely and unhappy person, may eventually repent and be saved, why do we never pray for him?” The hierarch peremptorily replied, “Mind your own business.” End of discussion. Ware comments:
He was right. So far as we humans are concerned, the devil is always our adversary; we should not enter into any kind of negotiations with him, whether by praying for him or in other ways. His salvation is quite simply none of our business. But the devil has also his own relationship with God, as we learn from the prologue of the book of Job, when Satan makes his appearance in the heavenly court among the other “sons of God” (Job 1:6-2:7). We are, however, altogether ignorant of the precise nature of this relationship, and it is futile to pry into it. Yet, even though it is not for us to pray for the devil, we have no right to assume that he is totally and irrevocably excluded from the scope of God’s mercy.1
I’m with Met Kallistos on this. Perhaps the saints and holy elders may safely pray for the salvation of our great adversary; but I am not called to do so. I am too vulnerable in my sinfulness. Except for renouncing Satan and praying for deliverance, the demons are none of my business. It is therefore with some reticence that I write this blog article. I’m not sure if this is spiritually dangerous territory, but it is certainly territory in which few of us are called to travel.
But one who did travel in this territory was St Isaac the Syrian. Isaac does not hesitate to affirm that the fallen angels are as much objects of God’s love and salvific will as are human sinners. We cannot speak about the one without speaking about the other. God loves the demons and desires their reconciliation:
Nor are we able to say that the love of the Creator is diminished towards those rational beings who have become demons as a result of their demonic action, and is any less than the fulness of love which He has towards those who remain in the angelic state; or that it is less for sinners than for those who are justly named righteous. This is because the divine Nature is not affected by what happens and by opposition, nor does there spring up within it any causal stirring which takes its origin from creation, and which is not to be found with Him from eternity; not does He have a kind of love which originates as a result of events which take place in time.
Rather, everyone has a single place in His purpose in the ranking of love, corresponding to the form He beheld in them before He created them and all the rest of created beings, that is, at the time before the eternal purpose for the delineation of the world was put into effect. For it was not with an adventitious love that He had, without any beginning, the stirring that initiated the establishment of the world. He has a single ranking of complete and impassible love towards everyone, and He has a single caring concern for those who have fallen, just as much as for those who have not fallen.
And it is clear that He does not abandon them the moment they fall, and that demons will not remain in their demonic state, and sinners will not remain in their sins; rather, He is going to bring them to a single equal state of perfection in relationship to His own Being—in a state in which the holy angels are now, in perfection of love and a passionless mind. He is going to bring them into that excellency of will, where it will not be as though they were curbed and not [free], or having stirrings from the Opponent then; rather, they will be in a state of excelling knowledge, with a mind made mature in the stirrings which partake of the divine outpouring which the blessed Creator is preparing in His grace; they will be perfected in love for Him, with a perfect mind which is above any aberration in all its stirrings. (Second Part II.40.2-4)
St Isaac prophesies the ultimate salvation of Satan and the demonic company. His argument is identical to his argument offered for the salvation of humanity: God’s love does not change. It is immutable and impassible; it is not affected by what happens within the creaturely realm. Despite the disobedience and rebellion of rational creatures, whether angelic or human, God continues to love them with the same love that he possessed before the ages. And just as God made provision to save impenitent sinners by the Gehennic “torments of love,” so he has made similar provision for the restoration of Satan and the fallen angels. How? By the enchantment of the divine goodness and beauty, Isaac answers. In the mystery of parousial self-revelation, the LORD will overcome the resistance of both humans and demons and restore them to himself:
The Fathers tell us that at the hour when the saints will be attracted by the divine wave, they will be raised to that beatitude by meeting our Lord Who will attract them with His power, like a magnetic stone drawing iron particles into itself. Then all the legions of heavenly hosts and Adam’s descendants will gather together into one Church. And then the purpose of the Creator’s providence will be fulfilled which He prepared from the beginning of the world, making the creation by His benevolence. To this purpose the long course of various events of this world was prepared, serving to rational (beings) as to its master. And henceforth the exiles of the Kingdom will enjoy a life in peace in which there is no end or change. (Cen. I.92)2
And since in the new World the Creator’s love rules over all rational nature, the wonder at His mysteries that will be revealed (then) will captivate to itself the intellect of (all) rational beings whom He has created so that they might have delight in Him, whether they be evil or whether they be just. (II.38.2)
Even now, our Great High Priest prays before the Throne of Glory for the salvation of all rational beings:
“You are a Priest forever” (Ps 110.4). This “forever” (means) that our Lord Jesus Christ is a priest now and ministers to us for our redemption. It always continues (and will continue) until He elevates us all to Himself. (Cent. I.21)
The ministry of Christ consists in saying prayers on behalf of all rational natures to the Divine nature which dwells in Him . . . The Apostle testifies: “He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Heb 9.24). This “for us” should be understood (as follows): He rose for the sake of us all and sat down on the right hand of God and intercedes for us. He did it not only for the sake of human beings but also for the sake of holy angels. (Cent. I.22)3
Isaac even speculates that the fallen spirits may be elevated to an even more brilliant noetic level than the unfallen:
Maybe they will be raised to a perfection even greater than that in which the angels now exist; for all are going to exist in a single love, a single purpose, a single will, and a single perfect state of knowledge; they will gaze towards God with the desire of insatiable love, even if some divine dispensation [i.e., Gehenna] may in the meantime be effected for reasons known to God alone, lasting for a fixed period, decreed by Him in accordance with the will of His wisdom. (II.40.5)
Who can put limits on the power of the Father’s love? Who can fathom the wisdom of the Creator?
We may question how Isaac can assert his opinion so confidently, given the testimony of the Book of Revelation: “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20:10). One reason he can be so confident is that this book was not included in the 7th century Syrian canon of the Bible, the Peshitta. Hence we can only speculate on how he might have interpreted the verse. But we have already noted in our blog series one dimension of the Syrian’s interpretation of Holy Scripture: he does not remain at the surface level of meaning. The Scriptures are an icon of God. We cannot simply state the “plain” meaning of the Bible as if that were sufficient; we must penetrate through the text to the spiritual truths and realities the words intend. Isaac was not a practitioner of the allegorical method that had been popularized by Origen—he stands in the Antiochene school of biblical exegesis—but like Origen he knew that the truth of Scripture could only be apprehended by moving through the biblical letter to God himself, or perhaps alternatively stated, by allowing God to reveal the deeper truths of his Word.
Regardless how a historical critic might exegete Rev 20:10, the verse cannot pose an insurmountable problem for St Isaac. He reads the Bible through a hermeneutic of love, the very love he finds portrayed in the crucified Christ and experiences in prayer. The Syrian mystic invites us to read the Bible with him, to read it in and through the perfect charity that is the Holy Spirit. What else then can the lake of fire be but the purifying flames of divine love? If we dare to embrace with Isaac the hermeneutic of love, we may find God surprising us in ways we have never dreamed. We may even be given to see that God will most certainly find a way to convert Satan, redeem evil, and achieve the transfiguration of the cosmos. The demons may not presently want to be saved, as St Paisios learned, but that hardly constitutes an insuperable obstacle for omnipotent Love:
No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernal Kingdom, which is prepared for all worlds. Because of that goodness of His nature by which He brought the universe into being and then bears, guides and provides for the worlds and all created things in His immeasurable compassion, He has devised the establishment of the Kingdom of heaven for the entire community of rational beings—even though an intervening time is reserved for the general raising of all to the same level. And we say this in order that we too may concur with the magisterial teaching of Scripture. (II.40.7)
The God of love will consummate his creation in the Trinitarian community of love. He has made provision for both demonic and human evil, which he foresaw before the ages. This is the deep truth of Holy Scripture: Christ’s love will ultimately prove irresistible for all, even for the demons. As Wacław Hryniewicz writes, commenting on the holy monk:
Sin and Gehenna will be ultimately abolished, although their end is a mystery surpassing human understanding. The final outcome of the history of the created world must correspond to the beauty of the beginning and to the goodness of God. If we suppose the truly eternal punishment of sinners and demons, this would mean that the creation of the world was an enormous failure and mistake. God is able to overcome, by His goodness and beauty, every evil, even the opposition of the devil himself.4
Few theologians in the Christian tradition have spoken as boldly as St Isaac of Nineveh about the ultimate salvation of Satan and his fellow demons. Even the great Origen appears to have hesitated.5 But in the mid-20th century Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov dared to declare the eschatological restoration of the unholy spirits.6 He follows closely the logic of love as laid out by Isaac, even though he was unacquainted with the discourses of The Second Part: God will not and cannot abandon sinful human beings to evil, so he will not and cannot abandon the fallen angels. He wills to be all in all. In particular I note two of his speculative insights that complement the teachings of the Syrian.
First, by their expulsion from the immediate presence of their Creator, the fallen angels are cut off from the bread of heaven. They now live in the world as parasites, drawing upon its life and being to sustain themselves in their diminished demonic existence:
The two worlds—angelic and human—are inseparably linked. The supreme angel, together with his minions, was called to become man’s first friend, and this service could have been based only on self-renouncing love. When this love faded, its place was taken by the lust for power, fed by envy, for, originally, from his creation, man was placed ontologically higher than the angels, having his own world, which the angels serve. From the guardian angel of the world Satan is transformed into “the prince of this world,” who wants to gain possession of it. He becomes a conquering predator, governed not by love but by envy and the lust for power, not by truth but by falsehood. The devil “was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). Satan’s relation to the world is based upon his all-devouring subjectivism, for he finds for himself a kingdom in which he can rule parasitically, until he is “cast out” (John 12:31). As an angel he retains access to the life of the world and his own place of action in it. As Satan he retains this possibility of action in the world, but he uses it now to pervert the world according to his own likeness, to sow his chaff in the world, to poison and ruin the world. As an angel he is not transcendent to the world but belongs to it; as Satan he is hostile to the world. And by this creative capacity of evil, he acquires objective life. If the life of the holy angels is cohuman by their positive service, then in the case of Satan too it is cohuman, but now only because of parasitic infection. Satan’s insane desire to become God’s equal and to take God’s place in the human world finds a temporary and apparent realization, whence the creative action of evil in the world and the battle for the world with God.7
Second, the battle for the salvation of the unholy spirits only begins with their banishment from the world that gives them their pseudo-objective existence. They must be cast into the void. Only then can they suffer the full depth of their ontological powerlessness and thus be forced to confront the futility of their quest for radical independence from the LORD. Finally they will know what they have lost and cannot recover. Such is their freedom and their hell:
Insofar as unlimited freedom is without bottom or support, satanism is the infinite rebellion of malice and hatred. The pseudo-creative activity of evil is rooted in this emptiness, which determines the pose of the “prince of this world,” who pretends to be the absolute center of creation. For a time there exists the possibility of such an illusion here and even a place for the authentic creative activity of evil, as long as the kingdom of this world exists. The world here is in some sense stolen from God, who permits this on the pathways of creaturely freedom. But this trial of freedom has its limit; it can and will be experienced to the end. And the end of the trial will come by the power of God, in the parousia, when Satan, despite his solipsistic affirmation, will be expelled from this world, will remain void of being, in the pose of a metaphysical charlatan, no longer deceiving anyone, not even himself. Satan will not stop being a creature of God, for, outside of this, only annihilation would await him. But God does not annihilate His creatures. With hatred and against his will, Satan knows that he is a creature of God, but he does not find joy in this, for he hates God precisely owing to this consciousness of his creatureliness. This consciousness of self is for him the primal source of the burning in hell, of the hatred of God as the source of life, of ontological envy.
But after the expulsion of the prince of this world, Satan’s duel with God begins.8
We can barely imagine the barrenness and aridity of this terrible existence. Alive but not alive. Alone in the nihility. Nothingness and gloom. Frigidity. Impotence. Inertness and immobility. A bankruptcy of being. Absolute infecundity. Defeat.
How can this emptiness that is left by the “casting out” be filled? How can this spasm accompanied by a pose be resolved? Can this caprice of self-willfulness find in itself a positive power, and how? For if this caprice is suspended in emptiness, can the latter be infinite and (if only in this sense) eternal? The nature of the creaturely spirit is characterized by creative activity, which is its life—as self-creative activity. As long as Satan was the “prince of this world,” of God’s creation that he had stolen, he was characterized by a parasitical pseudo-creative activity of evil, whose material and content, whose given, taken from the world, were “stolen goods” from the ontological point of view. But when, in the parousia, God takes possession of the world and Satan is expelled from the latter, he will be compelled to see that he is nothing, that his pseudo-creative activity has no content and creates nothing. Can the life of the spirit ground itself in such emptiness except by a gyration in eternal repetition? Can even creaturely freedom be realized in such objectless emptiness? But such a possibility would signify a subject without object or nature, a life without the content of life, the burning fire of the thirst for life without any satisfaction, an absolute dead end. Such is satanical eternity. When freedom is arbitrary and irrational, it contains all possibilities, in particular the bad infinity of satanism as the only stable existence of the now-powerless anti-god.9
Thus begins the ages-long process of demonic repentance. Cast into the void of the outer darkness, “condemned to sustain themselves in an objectless solipsism,”10 the malignant spirits must inevitably exhaust themselves in their struggle against their Creator. Try as they will to continue their rebellion, the undeniable fact of creaturehood abides. As long as they possessed the cosmos as an arena of action and sustenance, they were able to suppress awareness of their existential contradiction; but in the abyss of their nothingness, their consciousness is now flooded with one thought: “I am not God!” They are powerless to maintain their delusions and phantasies, powerless to evade the torments of their impotent existence, powerless to deny the failure of their quest for total freedom. Surrender is inevitable.
The living out of this contradiction constitutes the only and exhaustive content of the life of the prince of this world in his exile from this world. Can this struggle extend for an infinite (and in this sense “eternal”) duration, a bad infinity, or, having been weakened by the struggle, must he at some point in exhaustion lay down his arms? If his strength inexhaustible for this hopeless and endless struggle with what is self-evident, such that it can fill the ages of ages, or is even such a supposition impossible because . . . Satan, in point of fact, is a creature and only a creature, making his strength and his capabilities limited? What can save him in this situation is precisely that same creaturehood he rejects as a reality outstripping his creaturely freedom. He can grow exhausted in this unequal struggle—rather, he cannot not grow exhausted from it, in the end capitulating before realtiy and acknowledging that not he himself, but rather God, is his creator, and this means: falling down and worshipping him. Then will there occur an ontological coercion on the part of reality, by force of fact.11
Bulgakov calls this the “ontological postulate” of demonic existence. “This pathway can end,” he comments, “only with the filling of the void that appeared in heaven as a consequence of the fall, with the return of the fallen angels, the ‘lost sheep,’ to the fullness of the kingdom of God, where God is definitively all in all without any limitation or exception, and creation is without any failure or even minus.”12 By the grace of the Father, Satan will once again become Lucifer, “star of the morning” (Isa 14:12).
This matter is beyond me. It is none of my business. And yet perhaps it is. The fallen angels are fellow creatures. They are beyond my comprehension and sympathy, much as sociopaths and psychopaths are beyond my comprehension and sympathy. All I know is that devils are dangerous, destructive, malevolent. I have no love for them. Yet as alien as they are to my experience, as deeply as they have injured me and my family, we are bound together to the one God by cross and resurrection.
- St Isaac teaches me that the demons remain objects of God’s love.
- St Isaac teaches me that the glorified Savior prays for the salvation of the unholy spirits.
- The Lord Jesus Christ teaches me to pray for my enemies.
- St Silouan teaches me that “He who does not love his enemies, does not have God’s grace.”
Satan is my enemy—not only my enemy but the enemy of my family, friends, and fellow Christians. His hatred for mankind appears to know no bounds. I cannot yet pray for him, and probably never shall in this life. As long as Satan remains in the world, parasitically drawing on its being and life, he remains incapable of repentance. I must leave their destiny in the hands of Christ and the saints. Bulgakov offers this warning:
Indeed, as long as the prince of this world and his armies do battle against Christ and all humankind in this world, a sentimental attitude toward the enemies of the name of Christ would constitute an utterly false pity. The Church severely rejects and condemns such false sentimentality under the pretext of love. The Lord Himself not only chased away demons, forbidding and annulling the works of their malignity, but also addressed the words of His holy indignation to them: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?” (Mark 9:19; Matt. 17:17; Luke 9:41). The Book of Revelation is full of such holy wrath, which is a manifestation of God’s love for creation. And, in general, before the expulsion of the prince of this world, during the state of battle with him and his continuing power, there can be no reconciliation with him. It is as if a limit to love were erected in the hearts of people and even in the Church itself.13
But if I should not pray for the conversion of Satan, perhaps I can be glad that St Isaac does. I must pray for a merciful heart.
And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart burning for the sake of all creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and every created thing; and by the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. By the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and by his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in his heart in the likeness of God. (Ascetical Homilies I.71, p. 491)
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
(22 March 2013; rev.)
 Quoted by Alexey Fokin, “Apocatastasis in the Syrian Christian Tradition: Evagrius and Isaac,” in St Isaac the Syrian and his Spiritual Legacy, p. 134.
 Quoted by Fokin, p. 131.
 See C. A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” Journal of the History of Ideas 28 (1967): 467-478; Lisa Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved?” Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009): 1-23; Ambrose Andreano, “The True Fate of the ‘So-called Devil’ in Origen“; Ramelli, Apokatastasis, pp. 141-156.
 Bulgakov addresses the question of the salvation on Satan in The Bride of the Lamb (1945) and in his essay “On the Question of the Apocatastasis of the Fallen Spirits (in Connection with the Teaching of Gregory of Nyssa,” included in the original Russian version of Bride as an appendix but not in Boris Jakim’s 2002 English translation. Jakim did publish a translation of the essay in 1995, which may be downloaded here. A fresh translation of “Apocatastasis” may be found in The Sophiology of Death (2021), trans. Robert De La Noval, and it is from this translation I will be quoting.
 Bulgakov, Bride, pp. 158-159; emphasis mine.
 Ibid., pp. 507-508.
 Ibid., p. 509.
 Ibid., p. 512.
 Bulgakov, “Apocatastasis,” pp. 78-79.
 Bulgakov, Bride, p. 512.
 Bulgakov, Bride, p. 513.