by Fr. George Metallinos
Part Two of his series on Paradise and Hell in the Orthodox Tradition
This is what is depicted in the portrayal of the Second Coming. From Christ a river flows forth: it is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the saints are. At its lower end, the same river is fiery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant (“the never repentant” according to a hymn) are depicted. This is why in Lk 2:34 we read that Christ stands as the fall and the rising (resurrection) of many.
Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life, for those who accepted Him and who followed the suggested means of healing the heart; and to those who rejected Him, He becomes their demise and their hell.
There exist numerous patristic testimonies: St. John of the Ladder says that the uncreated light of Christ is
“an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light.”
St. Gregory Palamas observes:
“Thus, it is said, He will baptize you by the Holy Spirit and by fire: in other words, by illumination and punishment, depending on each person’s predisposition, which will bring upon him that which he deserves.”
Elsewhere, The light of Christ,
“albeit one and accessible to all, is not partaken of uniformly, but differently.”
Consequently, Paradise and hell are not a reward or a punishment (condemnation), but the way that we individually experience the sight of Christ, depending on the condition of our heart. God does not punish in essence, although, for educative purposes, the Scripture does mention punishment. The more spiritual one becomes, the better he can comprehend the Scripture and our traditions. Man’s condition (clean-unclean, repentant unrepentant) is the factor that determines the acceptance of the Light as “Paradise” or “hell.”
(3) The anthropological issue in Orthodoxy is that man will eternally look upon Christ as Paradise and not as hell; that man will partake of His heavenly and eternal Kingdom.
And this is where we see the difference between Christianity as Orthodoxy and the various other religions. The other religions promise a certain “blissful” state, even after death. Orthodoxy however is not a quest for bliss, but a cure from the illness of religion, as the late Fr. John Romanides so patristically teaches. Orthodoxy is an open hospital within history (“spiritual infirmary” according to St. John the Chrysostom), which offers the healing (catharsis) of the heart, in order to finally attain “theosis”-the only destination of man. This is the course that has been so comprehensively described by Fr. John Romanides and the Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos (Vlachos); it is the healing of mankind, as experienced by all of our Saints.
This is the meaning of life in the body of Christ (the Church) and the Church’s reason for existence. St. Gregory Palamas (in his 4th Homily on the Second Coming) says that the pre-eternal will of God for man is
“to find a place in the majesty of the divine kingdom”
to reach theosis. That was the purpose of creation. And he continues:
“But even His divine and secret kenosis, His god-human conduct, His redemptory passions, and every single mystery (in other words, all of Christ’s opus on earth) were all providentially and omnisciently pre-determined for this very end (purpose).”
(4) The important thing, however, is that not all people respond to this invitation of Christ, and that is why not everyone partakes in the same way of His uncreated glory. This is taught by Christ, in the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus (Luke, Ch. 16). Man refuses Christ’s offer, he becomes God’s enemy and rejects the redemption offered by Christ (which is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit-it is within the Holy Spirit that we accept the calling of Christ). This is the “never repentant” person referred to in the hymn. God “never bears enmity,” the blessed Chrysostom observes; it is we who become His enemies; we are the ones who reject Him. The unrepentant man becomes demonized, because he has chosen to. God doesn’t want this. St. Gregory Palamas says:
“…for this was not My pre-existing will; I did not create you for this purpose; I did not prepare the pyre for you. This undying pyre was pre-fired for the demons who bear the unchanging trait of evil, to whom your own unrepentant opinion attracted you.”
“The co-habitation with mischievous angels is arbitrary (voluntary).”
In other words, it is something that is freely chosen by man.
Both the rich man and Lazarus were looking upon the same reality, i.e., God in His uncreated light. The rich man reached the Truth, the sight of Christ, but could not partake of it, as Lazarus did. The poor Lazarus received “consolation,” whereas the rich man received “anguish.” Christ’s words, that they:
“have Moses and the prophets”
– for those still in the world – signifies that we are all inexcusable. Because we have the Saints, who have experienced theosis and who call upon us to accede to their way of life so that we too might reach theosis like they did. We therefore conclude that those who have chosen evil ways-like the rich man-are inexcusable.
Our stance towards our fellow man is indicative of our inner state, and that is why this will be the criterion of Judgment Day, during Christ’s Second Coming. This doesn’t imply that faith, or man’s faithfulness to Christ is disregarded; faith is naturally a prerequisite, because our stance towards each other will show whether or not we have God within us. The first Sundays of the Triodion preceding Lent revolve around fellow man. On the first of these Sundays, the (seemingly pious) Pharisee justifies (sanctifies) himself and rejects (derogates) the Tax-collector. On the second Sunday, the “elder” brother (a repetition of the seemingly pious Pharisee) is sorrowed by the return (salvation) of his brother. Likewise seemingly pious, he too had false piety, which did not produce love.
On the third (carnival) Sunday, this stance reaches Christ’s seat of judgment, and is evidenced as the criterion for our eternal life.