Glorious Appearing by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 1414335016, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:
A plot summary is here.
The Erotic Gore-Fest
My first point is on page 149 because there isn’t a whole lot that actually happens in this book. You’d think that nearly 400 pages of the climax and conclusion of this loooong series would be exciting, especially coming as they are at the time of Armageddon and Christ’s second Second Coming (that is not a typo)–but they’re not.
On page 190, for example, we’re still waiting for Jesus to arrive in the sky–and nothing much else is happening except for waiting and occasional skirmishes with the armies of the Antichrist.
Anyway, on to page 149. The skies are full of supernatural lightning, as one of the Tribulation Forcers, Enoch in Illinois, worships and enjoys “The awful and terrible wrath of the Lord on display for the whole world!”
Er–What about calling it the wonderful deliverance of God’s vastly outnumbered people, about to get slaughtered? Does everything have to be about wrath with these writers?
On page 178 is more of the same idea of God hardening the hearts of the “evil” people who refuse to repent despite all the many Tribulation events that are obviously the battle between God and Satan.
While I can see the writers’ point, I still have trouble with the idea that even if the unbelievers do change their minds, they can’t repent and become Christians, even though they haven’t even died yet.
Usually, doctrine says you can repent up until you die–or, in some doctrines (what I’ve seen in Orthodox and Catholic doctrines and theological opinions), after you die. If it’s possible to repent even in Hades, then you should still be able to repent even up until Armageddon.
On page 191, Chaim says that,
I do not believe the Son of God is going to sit on His horse in the clouds with a gigantic sword hanging from His mouth. He is not going to shake His head and slay the millions of Armageddon troops with it. This is clearly a symbolic reference.
Oh, sure, with all the other unbelievable stuff you insist is literal, that is obviously symbolic!
Finally, after 202 pages of waiting and waiting and waiting and slowly moving and very little actually happening (other than people constantly wondering when Jesus is coming), Jesus finally arrives! And the gorefest begins!
Page 204–gore. Page 205–gore. Page 208–gore. Page 210–gore.
Basically, wherever this Jesus goes, Unity Army (Antichrist) soldiers just fall dead, “their bodies ripped open, blood pooling in great masses.” Or their skin dissolves. Horses die, too, and birds eat their fill.
As Susan R. Garrett writes in What Do Presbyterians Believe About Evil?:
In the final volume of the Left Behind series all the vengeance envisioned in the later chapters of Revelation is carried out. Here LaHaye and Jenkins understand divine power as just like worldly power, only more so.
“Power” in their view means fire-power, the power to destroy. So, at his glorious appearing Jesus slays millions of non-Christian storm troopers by the sheer power of a spoken word, and then causes their bodies to be instantly decomposed.
This is an image of Jesus wielding the power of death. But it is a false and idolatrous image.
God’s power is not the power of death, for death is “the last enemy,” which will itself be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).
God’s power is the power to create, the power to endure, the power to forgive, the power to love. God’s power is resurrection power. It is the power of life.
Such power, freely given, is God’s answer to the problem of evil, until that great day when all creation is set free from its bondage.
Then Jesus begins speaking to the Christians, each person hearing his own name spoken simultaneously. In an odd and clueless juxtaposition, we read on page 212, “Rayford sat in the middle of the carnage surrounding Petra, his heart bursting, the love and adoration he felt for Jesus coming right back at him from the clouds.”
Wait–in the middle of carnage? Then in the middle of Jesus speaking to everyone, Rayford slides to the ground and repeats, “I am so unworthy…Unworthy, unworthy!”
Pages 213 and 244 are full of what an ungodly (pardon the pun) amount of the whole book is full of: clipping and pasting Bible verses and sticking them in the mouth of Christ (or others, on occasion).
It really feels like Jenkins had 400 pages to fill and only a tiny amount of plot, so he just started throwing in verses from the Bible to pad it. These scenes also seem very corny.
Then on we go with more carnage and gore, things like entrails and innards gushing to the desert floor, Carpathia and Leon driving a Humvee that gets “bogged down in a reddish brown mud” and Leon having to get out into a sea of blood to push the Humvee out.
Pages of gore: 225-9, 239, 247, 249, 250, 252, 253, 254-6, 258, 273, 274, 278-9, 286….
Can we say, gratuitous?
Pages 275-276 are words in Jesus’ mouth which are clipped and pasted from Isaiah 40 and Zechariah 14. So this is where the gorefest comes from, including the flesh dissolving–
But are we really supposed to take this so literally? Couldn’t this be metaphorical imagery used to demonstrate the power of God over his enemies, written in a more barbaric age?
On page 278, Enoch, in a neighborhood in Illinois, goes through an earthquake and “heard Carpathia loyalists screaming for their lives.”
So–didn’t he go do anything to help them? Or did he just let them die? There is no indication that he does a thing.
On page 323, we read, “Jesus had told [Chang] that He was there when Chang was born, when he was raised in a godless home and an aberrant religion.”
I’m having trouble figuring out what “aberrant religion” Chang was raised in; it does not seem to be named, at least that I can remember over all these books, or find on the Net. Just that it’s not Christian.
But in any case, that statement of a “godless home” and “an aberrant religion” is not only contradictory, but insulting to Chang’s family’s religion.
On pages 331 to 337, we see the new world with Christ now in charge. The weather is “hot, clear, refreshing, as if they were breathing new air.” The trees and bushes are “suddenly full and healthy.” Everyone can speak his own language while understanding each other.
Since all the evil people of Jerusalem and Israel are dead and gone, the million righteous survivors can live in their houses.
All animals are docile, and fat cows and sheep happily line up to be butchered for delicious meat. The groves and even the city trees are full of fresh fruits and vegetables which just fall off the trees. Yes, that appears to include vegetables falling off city trees.
As soon as the produce falls and is gathered, the branches ripen again.
Money is no longer needed. It’s bright day and night–which I expect would suck when you’re trying to sleep, or want to get out of the glare.
All damage and residue from the earthquakes has vanished, leaving a clean, safe city. Even the houses are clean and orderly, “as if a cleaning crew had swept through the entire place.”
And when people say grace before a meal, Jesus answers each of them “audibly and immediately and personally” in their heads.
No flies bug the food as they stop to listen and worship while Jesus keeps talking, which in normal circumstances would make everyone impatient to eat. But for them, hunger can wait, and the food retains its heat.
On pages 351 to 352, the character Eleazar explains that during the Millennium, “anyone born during the Millennium who does not trust in Christ by the time he or she is a hundred years old will be accursed and die.” While believers get to live all the way through to the end of the Millennium.
While the quoted passage (Isaiah 65:17-25) does talk about long life for the righteous, it does not specifically say that unbelievers will die at age 100. Nor does it say that all righteous will live to the end of the Millennium.
Heck, it doesn’t even necessarily fit into the premillennialist doctrine of the Millennium, or 1000 years of a literal reign by Christ on Earth before the Judgment.
The passage says this is a “new heaven and a new earth,” or rather, a purified, glorified earth. This comes at the end of time–as we see in Revelation 21, it’s after the Great White Throne Judgment.
The Orthodox Study Bible connects the Isaiah passage to Revelation 21. So the references to people living long, babies, people dying, must be metaphorical, because after the Judgment, no one dies or is born or ages.
But LaHaye and Jenkins yank out of this hard-to-understand passage the concept that you have until age 100 to decide to “trust in Christ,” and if you don’t, you die; if you do, you live to the end of the Millennium, up to 1000 years.
You’re just making this up! It just gets so unbelievable as the authors describe it, that the Isaiah passage must be meant metaphorically. Especially since, in Isaiah’s day, Christ had not yet come to Earth, so he would not have been referring specifically to Christians!
For pages 354 to 356, oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we stick the Rapture and the Resurrection before the Tribulation! (And when we make the Rapture separate from the Resurrection.)
Where do I start? This is so convoluted and imaginary. Get this scheme of things, which in all my years of being a premillennial dispensationalist, never cropped up in anything I heard or read about the End of Days:
First, you have the Rapture, which is the beginning of error, because it is not biblical and mangles the doctrines and timelines of the Second Coming and Resurrection. Then this Rapture applies only to Christians and not to Old Testament saints.
Then the authors split the Resurrection into two resurrections, one of life and one of death (condemnation). Um, I thought they were supposed to happen at the same time for everyone, after the Tribulation and at the end of time, then we’d all be judged, and some would go to Heaven and some would go to Hell.
But the first resurrection (of life) gets split still further, with timing depending on when you lived.
Christians who died before the Rapture are resurrected at the Rapture, Resurrection #1.
Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs are resurrected between the Glorious Appearing (ie, Christ coming to stop Armageddon) and the Millennium, Resurrection #2.
(Like they did between the Rapture and the Tribulation, the authors have inserted an interval here which they seem to have pulled out of their butts. And what about Christians who died of natural causes during the Tribulation, so aren’t martyrs?)
The Millennium believers are resurrected at the end of the Millennium, even though they’re all still alive (yes, the book points this out), Resurrection #3.
But all the condemned are resurrected at once no matter when they lived: after the Millennium, during the Great White Throne Judgment, Resurrection #4.
On page 357, we read, “…[A]pparently it was God’s intent that the Millennium start with a clean slate. All unbelievers would soon die.” All unbelievers are doomed, doomed, doomed!
On page 358, we read,
The various groups of believers might find each other, but what were they to do? Would there be enough of them to start rebuilding the country as, finally for real, a Christian nation?
Oh, they get their theocracy! You often hear from the religious right that we’re a “Christian nation,” even though we are pluralist. Then we find that everyone is to live in Israel. So they don’t even get to choose where to live?
On page 363, the authors totally misinterpret Christ’s representation of the sheep vs. the goats (Matt. 25:31-46). We read,
“Some call this a Semitic jugment,” Eleazar said. “Jesus will judge you Gentiles on how you have treated His chosen people. Those who honored the Jews are the sheep, and those who did not are the goats.”
NO, NO, NO! The passage is very clear on what is meant: The sheep showed love for other people–Jew or Gentile–by treating them as if they were Christ, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, that sort of thing. The goats showed disdain for other people by being selfish and self-centered.
Don’t make this into some political statement about Christian Zionism, let’s all vote for the Republican Party so we don’t get labeled a goat, when it’s really about love for one’s fellow man! Especially since for centuries, there was no political Israel. And before Israel existed, there was no Israel, period.
The story of the sheep and goats says absolutely nothing about nations or Jews or Gentiles–or, for that matter, religions, period.
(Realizing this fact is one of the first things that got me wondering if I had been taught correctly about the Judgment, which ultimately led me to Orthodoxy, which also recognizes that this passage is not about correct religion, but love toward one’s fellow man.)
In United States politics, Christian Zionism is important because it mobilises an important Republican constituency: fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants who support Israel.
The Democratic Party, which has the support of most American Jews, is also generally pro-Israel, but with less intensity and fewer theological underpinnings. —Christian Zionism
Then after this heresy we find the grammatical heresy of Eleazar saying “When Jesus slayed all his enemies.” Slayed?
Pages 364 to 365 demonstrate the worst heresy of Calvinism–and the reason why I could no longer, in good conscience, believe the stringent Evangelical/ Fundamentalist teachings about the Judgment (and discovered, to my delight, that even the Catholics and the Orthodox are not nearly so strict):
Priscilla Sebastian says, “But it doesn’t sound like there will be much to judge [at the Great White Throne Judgment]. People either received Christ as their Savior, or they didn’t.” Eleazar replies,
Right, but we believe that God, being wise and fair and wanting to demonstrate how far men and women fall short of His standard, will judge them based on their own works.
Obviously, all will fail to measure up. This will show that the punishment is deserved, and as I have said, they will be sent to the lake of fire for eternity.
So how do you know they’re all going to fail?
From the Orthodox Study Bible:
–The Orthodox view is that unbelievers are judged according to the natural law, the law written on the conscience which every human being has. We are naturally good; to sin is to act against our nature.
–Habitual sins can dull the conscience; the conscience is also the means by which unbelievers can ultimately be saved. The goal is not man’s praise, but pleasing God. This is based on Romans 2:14-16 and 29.
–Also, those of us who are aware of the Mosaic Law (particularly the moral one, which still stands) are also aware that it is impossible to keep it perfectly; it cannot make us righteous.
–We are accountable to both the natural and Mosaic Law. Those who “become righteous by grace through faith fulfill in Christ both the natural and the Mosaic Law” (pp. 341-343, The Orthodox Study Bible).
Jesus Christ’s Parable of the Last Judgment (Matt.25:31-46) indicates that for many people the Judgment will become a moment of insight, recognition and conversion, while for others it may turn out to be a great disappointment and frustration.
Those who were sure of their own salvation will suddenly find themselves condemned, while those who perhaps did not meet Christ in their earthly life (‘when did we see Thee?’) but were merciful towards their neighbour, will be saved.
In this parable, the King does not ask people about matters of belief, doctrine and religious practice. He does not ask them whether they went to church, kept the fasts, or prayed for long time: He only asks them how they treated His ‘brethren’.
The main criteria of the Judgment are therefore the acts of mercy performed or not performed by people during their earthly lives.
According to the teaching of the Church, the Last Judgment will be universal: all people will undergo it, be they believers or non-believers, Christians or non-Christians.
If Christians will be judged by the Gospel’s standards, pagans will be judged by the natural law which is ‘written in their hearts’ (Rom.2:15).
Christians will take full responsibility for their deeds as those who ‘knew’ the will of God, while some non-Christians will be treated less strictly for they did not know God or His will.
The Judgment will ‘begin with the household of the Lord’ (1 Pet.4:17), that is, with the Church and its members, and not with those who did not meet Christ nor hear the message of the Gospel. —The Last Judgment
The Catholic view:
So, in the Orthodox view, what does it mean that Christ is the “Way, the Truth and the Life”? It does not mean that belief in Christ is the only way to Heaven, or that Christ is a gatekeeper keeping out the unbelievers. (One Orthodox forum poster jokingly referred to this belief as “Bouncer of Heaven.”) Rather, it means that Christ is the Judge of who receives salvation.
How will people be judged if they were not properly taught about Christ? We don’t know. But, as my priest says, we who were properly taught have the responsibility to believe/live the faith, be an example of it, and pray for those who are not Christians.
And how do the Orthodox answer the question, “What’s the point of missions, then, if good Muslims/Hindus/etc. can go to Heaven anyway?”
The point of missions is not to get spiritual notches on your witness belt, or to increase believer counts, or to snatch people out of Hell. Our eternal life begins now, not in Heaven, and here we begin sanctification (“theosis”).
The point of missions is to spiritually feed the church and then the people outside the church, getting them started on theosis right here and now.
“You ask, will the heterodox be saved….Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins…” –St. Theophan the Recluse
A Mass of Judgments
This book has a mass of judgments. On page 363 we read,
But the Tribulation was also a time of judgment of unbelieving Gentiles. That should have been obvious from the twenty-one judgments that came from heaven during the past seven years.
But that’s not all:
In [the Valley of Jehoshaphat] it appears the Lord will conduct three judgments: He will restore the Jewish nation; He will judge the sheep; and He will judge the goats.
This judgment is coming soon. But that’s not all: On page 365, we read that the goats get judged twice: once in this coming judgment, then again at the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of time.
For now they will be sent to hades, apparently a compartment of hell, where they will suffer until that final judgment, and then they will be cast into the lake of fire.
If only the authors took Orthodox theology more seriously, they would not have ended up with this convoluted interpretation with so many judgments.
No, there are two judgments: one at death, when you go to Hades or Paradise, which are not compartments of Hell, because nobody goes to Hell or Heaven until after the Resurrection.
And they are also not physical, literal places, but metaphors for the state of the soul:
I’m trying to get the bulk of my information here from official, Orthodox Church-run sites, and avoid using “River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros as a resource, because many charge that he was anti-West and part of a schismatic, non-Orthodox group. Nevertheless, I find many of his claims to be echoed on official Orthodox Church websites, such as the one for the Orthodox Church of America.
In fact, I checked with the Very Reverend John Matusiak, who answers questions in the Q&A section of the OCA website, and he said that yes indeed, the Orthodox idea of Hell is of a place which is beyond time and space, not physical but in God’s presence, with metaphorical fire.
He says that apparent differences between websites and other sources are really just different ways of explaining the same truth. Also, there are many websites, especially those which are not official Church websites, which have incorrect information and theological opinion which does not match Church teachings.
However, I cannot just discount “River of Fire.” It is controversial, yes, especially because of the polemics against the West. It’s also accused of bad theology. However, it also has fervent backers among the canonical Orthodox, including priests, monks and archimandrites. Some find it too harsh against the West; some find it to be full of beauty and light, bringing them ever closer to God.
It was the first Orthodox book or article to start me down the path of investigating Orthodoxy’s claims. After I first read through it late one night, I felt as if I truly loved God for the first time ever–before was just infatuation. Not only did it discuss Hell, but the nature of God and the atonement.
A good friend, who was recommended the book by an archimandrite (unmarried priest or head of a monastery), requested me to put “River of Fire” back on my site.
He says that whether something comes from an Old Calendrist (very conservative Orthodox, no longer in communion with the official Orthodox churches), or from a New Calendrist (official Orthodox), makes no difference: You can tell if it’s of God. So here is “River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros.
My research is pulling up an Orthodox vision of Hell which contrasts sharply with the famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards.
In essence, this “Hell” is not necessarily a physical place. Many say it is within the heart. God will not separate anyone from him; he will bathe every single soul with love. But this is not “universalism”: Even in God’s presence, some will resist his love, while others bask in it.
For those who accept the consuming fires of his love, which burn away all impurities, this love will be bliss. For those who resist them, this love will be Hell.
Is it eternal, or never-ending? Some Church Fathers disagree, but there seems to be a consensus that it will never end, that after the Resurrection when all souls are given eternal bodies, that eternal nature means we can no longer change or repent.
The Fathers who disagree say it’s possible for the soul in Hell to repent; it’s also possible to never repent, but become so full of despair that you enter an existential void from which you never escape. (A friend’s priest told him that the meaning of “eternal” has never officially been fixed.) So whether you’re dealing with physical flames or metaphorical flames, Hell still should be avoided.
Also, demons will not torture the condemned, because they and Satan will also be condemned–their own fault. God is not raging at them; he loves them and wishes they had chosen another route. But they could not be allowed to continue in wickedness.
St. John Damascene wrote in Book IV Chapter XXVII of An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith:
Again the divine apostle says, For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
And again: It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory: it is sown a natural body (that is to say, crass and mortal), it is raised a spiritual body, such as was our Lord’s body after the resurrection which passed through closed doors, was unwearying, had no need of food, or sleep, or drink.
For they will be, saith the Lord, as the angels of God: there will no longer be marriage nor procreation of children.
The divine apostle, in truth, says, For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus, Who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body: not meaning change into another form (God forbid!), but rather the change from corruption into incorruption….
We shall therefore rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ:
and the devil and his demons and the man that is his, that is the Antichrist and the impious and the sinful, will be given over to everlasting fire: not material fire like our fire, but such fire as God would know.
But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages. Amen.
As is written on the website for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:
The resurrection of the dead is a miracle that will happen at the second coming of the Lord. According to the Creed: “I await the resurrection of the dead.”
This resurrection will be a new creation. However, our physical bodies as we know them now will be restored, in a spiritualized existence like that of the Lord after His Resurrection.
The final judgment will follow the resurrection of all. Some will rise to the resurrection of life, and some to the resurrection of judgment and condemnation. Christ will be our Judge on the basis of our deeds, our works of love or our acts of wickedness.
The end-time will follow, with a permanent separation between good and evil, between those who will be awarded eternal life of happiness and bliss in heaven, and those who will be condemned to the fire of eternal damnation, to the eternal remorse of their conscience for having rejected God and authentic life in Him and having joined the inauthentic life invented by the devil and his servants.
A new heaven and new earth will be established, inhabited by righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). The Kingdom of God will be fully established; the Church will cease to exist. Finally, the Son of God will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, “that God may be everything to everyone” (1 Cor. 15:28).
Spirits first go to Hades, or Sheol; this is also where Christ went between his death and resurrection. He set free the captives there, the Harrowing of Hades (also known as the Harrowing of Hell). (Though some say this is a misreading of 1 Peter 3:18-19, my research shows that this is how the Early Church understood it. The Orthodox Church still understands it this way. See The Communion of Saints by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr. and Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev.)
Some theologians of different denominations say that the blessed dead go to Paradise (not Heaven, but a holding tank for the righteous) and the wicked dead go to Hades (not Hell, but a holding tank for the condemned). Some say that before Christ, there was no Paradise, only Hades; some say that before Christ, there was Paradise and Hades.
At the Resurrection and Judgment, we will go to either Heaven or Hell, which are eternal and unchanging, unlike Hades. An Orthodox catechism put out by the Russian Orthodox Church says that the spirits of sinners in Hades could potentially be saved–until the Resurrection and Judgment. After the Judgment, there is no more salvation. (It’s hard to tell if this is official church doctrine or just one school of thought.)
During a Lenten or Holy Week sermon, possibly on Holy Friday, in I believe 2011 or 2012, my priest spoke of the time of Christ speaking to the spirits in Hades as ever-present.
My priest often speaks of events in the past being ever-present: When the Divine Liturgy and Eucharist are celebrated, he says, it does not just represent Christ’s crucifixion, but we are actually there at the crucifixion. When during Holy Week we go through the services, and especially on Holy Thursday as Christ suffered his Passion, we are there with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane; when we don’t attend services, we desert him. The preaching in Hades follows the same concept.
It is a difficult concept to understand, but fits with the mystical heritage of Orthodox theology. My priest said that our relatives, when they die, will all go to that point when Christ spoke to the spirits in Hades. Basically, this means everyone gets the chance to accept or reject Christ: neither universalism nor unfair. The following passage by Bishop Hilarion might clarify:
Has this anything to do with those who died outside Christian faith after the descent of Christ into Hades?
No, if we accept the Western teaching that the descent into Hades was a ‘one-time’ event and that the recollection of Christ did not survive in hell.
Yes, if we proceed from the assumption that after Christ hell was no longer like the Old Testament sheol, but it became a place of the divine presence.
In addition, as Archpriest Serge Bulgakov writes, ‘all events in the life of Christ, which happen in time, have timeless, abiding significance.
Therefore, the so-called ‘preaching in hell’, which is the faith of the Church, is a revelation of Christ to those who in their earthly life could not see or know Christ. There are no grounds for limiting this event … to the Old Testament saints alone, as Catholic theology does.
Rather, the power of this preaching should be extended to all time for those who during their life on earth did not and could not know Christ but meet Him in the afterlife.
According to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, all the dead, whether believers or non-believers, appear before God. Therefore, even for those who did not believe during their lifetime, there is hope that they will recognize God as their Saviour and Redeemer if their previous life on earth led them to this recognition.
…Is it possible at all that the fate of a person can be changed after his death? Is death that border beyond which some unchangeable static existence comes? Does the development of the human person not stop after death?
On the one hand, it is impossible for one to actively repent in hell; it is impossible to rectify the evil deeds one committed by appropriate good works. However, it may be possible for one to repent through a ‘change of heart’, a review of one’s values.
One of the testimonies to this is the rich man of the Gospel we have already mentioned. He realized the gravity of his situation as soon as found himself in hell. Indeed, if in his lifetime he was focused on earthly pursuits and forgot God, once in hell he realized that his only hope for salvation was God .
Besides, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the fate of a person after death can be changed through the prayer of the Church. Thus, existence after death has its own dynamics.
On the basis of what has been said above, we may say that after death the development of the human person does not cease, for existence after death is not a transfer from a dynamic into a static being, but rather continuation on a new level of that road which a person followed in his lifetime. —Christ the Conqueror of Hell
In On the Soul and the Resurrection, St. Gregory of Nyssa argued that, since spirits were in Hades without their bodies, it could not be a physical place, the gulf separating the blessed and the wicked could not have been physical, and the fires torturing the wicked could not have been physical. I’m not sure what he said about after the Resurrection.
St. John Damascene, as we have just seen, also said that the fires after the Resurrection of mankind are not material.
The Greek Orthodox Church seems to agree with the Russian Orthodox Church that change is possible after death until the Resurrection, though I’m not sure if they’re referring just to the saved or to everyone:
A partial judgment is instituted immediately after our physical death, which places us in an intermediate condition of partial blessedness (for the righteous), or partial suffering (for the unrighteous).
Disavowing a belief in the Western “Purgatory,” our Church believes that a change is possible during this intermediate state and stage. The Church, militant and triumphant, is still one, which means that we can still influence one another with our prayers and our saintly (or ungodly) life.
This is the reason why we pray for our dead. Also, almsgiving on behalf of the dead may be of some help to them, without implying, of course, that those who provide the alms are in some fashion “buying” anybody’s salvation. —“Orthodox Eschatology” section, The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church by His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh
According to the Orthodox Church in America, at the end of the ages the Earth will be renewed and we, in our resurrected bodies, will all live here in God’s presence and love. For those who love God, it will be bliss (Heaven); for those who hate God, it will be torment (Hell): Eternal Life, from Vol. 1 of the Rainbow Series
So when you hear people say, “This Earth is not my home,” they are wrong: It is our eternal home, though then it will be in a perfect condition.
On another page, we see that this inner Hell is worse than the Dante-ish external Hell, so it still must be avoided. This is also proclaimed to be the teaching of the Church Fathers: Judgment from Vol. 1 of the Rainbow Series
In a book commonly used to introduce people to the Orthodox faith, The Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos Ware writes that God does not imprison man: Man imprisons himself. Man experiences God’s love as suffering because of his own free will.
…Yet, though Hell is viewed as eternal, several Church Fathers have believed in universalism, or that all will be saved.
…It is perfectly all right to hope that universalism is correct (even though it is not church doctrine), and we must pray for the salvation of all. St. Gregory of Nyssa even said we could hope for the salvation of Satan. —Excerpts from The Orthodox Church
Check out how Wikipedia describes the Eastern Orthodox view of Hell, and what it says (in the “Judaism” section) Jews considered Gehenna to be. Though the “Images of Hell” section under Eastern Orthodoxy, contradicts the claim that Orthodoxy does NOT believe in a material Hell. ARGH!
The Orthodox also reject the Catholic view of Purgatory. Some, Orthodox and Catholic, have argued that the Orthodox view of metaphorical purifying fires is the same as Purgatory. However, these purifying fires lead to bliss, not pain, and they are eternally part of Heaven, not a temporary place of punishment. Since these views are not officially from the Orthodox Church, they could be inaccurate. For these views, see: The Orthodox Response to the Latin Doctrine of Purgatory
Here, Wikipedia quotes from the Greek Orthodox website, contradicting both the earlier quote from the same website that change after death is possible, and the Russian Orthodox catechism, saying that the Orthodox Church has always taught it’s not possible to repent after death.
So you see why it’s so frickin’ hard for inquirers to figure out what exactly the Orthodox Church believes.
Here is an online catechism from the Russian Orthodox church, which includes an explanation of Hell and Christ’s visit to Hades/Hell. See Death & Resurrection, which says there’s a possibility of the soul being released from Hell before the final Judgment. See The Last Judgment, which talks about what happens to non-Christians. See What is Hell and A New Heaven & a New Earth.
Check this out:
In a remarkable instance of freedom from biblical literalism, St. Isaac the Syrian, arguably the greatest mystic in the tradition of Eastern Christianity, intentionally demythologizes the image of hellfire.
Although he by no means rejects the reality of hell, he reinterprets it as a separation from and inability to participate in God’s eternal love, a separation more painful according to him than any physical hell.
For St. Isaac, hell did not exist prior to sin and its ultimate end is unknown. Hell is not a place of punishment created by God, but a spiritual mode of anguished suffering created by sinful creatures willfully separated from God.
According to Isaac, sinners in this hell are not deprived of the love of God; only they suffer in the profound realization of having offended against love and of being unable to participate in it.
Hell is none other than this bitter awareness of separation and regret, what St. Isaac calls the ‘scourge of love.’ Thus, the same divine love radiating towards all is bliss to the righteous but torment to sinners.
Certainly the patristic tradition, known for its spiritual exegesis, cannot be charged with slavish literalism to an absolute holy word. In the end, as H. Chadwick has observed, the Church fathers knew that Christianity is not a religion of a book but of a Person. —The New Testament, An Orthodox Perspective–Theodore G. Stylianopoulos
Here’s another quote from an Orthodox Catechism by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto:
Let us be careful here. All that the Holy Scriptures say regarding hell should not be understood physically, as we know these things today.
We should always keep in mind that with the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgement everything will change. Everything will become ‘new.’ The whole universe.
The Fathers of the Church explain this very well, particularly, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who writes the following:
‘Because you learned to understand something different from what exists in reality, when you hear the words fire or worm, you should not think of the earthly fire or insect.’
In other words, when you hear of fire and worms do not understand it as the fire and worms that you know of here.
St. John Damascene also writes the following: ‘eternal fire is not a material thing such as we are familiar with; rather it is something that only God comprehends.’ In other words, the fire of hell is not physical as we know it, but will be fire as God knows it. —Eternal-life-and-eternal-hell
Here is the view of the Orthodox Church of America:
Apocatastasis: The Heresy That Never Was on Eclectic Orthodoxy, argues that universalism was never actually condemned by the Church, but that this is a misinterpretation passed down as fact for hundreds of years.
This is a testimony of a convert from the Baptist to the Orthodox church. I see some similarities with him: disenchantment with evangelical Christianity, a discovery that Hell is not fire-and-brimstone but an inner reaction to God’s love, a discovery that relying on individual interpretations of the Bible (as opposed to examining doctrines of our forefathers) can be a trap. (I’ve read that even Luther did not mean “scripture alone” as “ignore tradition.”) : From First Baptist to the First Century by Clark Carlton
What does my priest say about “River of Fire”? He found it very hard to get through, with too many negatives about other faiths and not enough positives about the Orthodox faith.
But he said that Hell is not physical or material as we are: Everything will be transformed at the Resurrection, no longer material as we know it now. Pictures of Hell are made material so we understand the devastation of it. We can burn inside without being materially affected.
An interesting aside on Isaiah 66:24, which is about the continual burning of the bodies of the wicked, and the righteous looking upon them, after all wickedness is finally defeated:
The Talmudists (t) observe from hence, that the wicked, even at the gate of hell, return not by repentance; for it is not said, that “have transgressed”, but “that transgress”;
for they transgress, and go on for ever; and so indeed the word may be rendered, “that transgress”, or “are transgressing” (u); for they interpret it of the damned in hell, as many do; and of whom the following clauses may be understood:
for their worm shall not die; with which their carcasses shall be covered, they lying rotting above ground; or figuratively their consciences, and the horrors and terrors that shall seize them, which they will never get rid of. The Targum is,
“their souls shall not die;”
as they will not, though their bodies may; but will remain to suffer the wrath of God to all eternity: neither shall their fire be quenched; in hell, as Jarchi interprets it;
those wicked men, the followers and worshippers of antichrist, will be cast into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; they will for ever suffer the vengeance of eternal fire; and the smoke of their torment shall ascend for ever and ever, Revelation 14:10,
and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh; the true worshippers of God, Isaiah 66:23 to whom their carcasses will be loathsome, when they look upon them; and their souls abominable, because of their wicked actions;
and who cannot but applaud the justice of God in their condemnation; and admire distinguishing grace and mercy, that has preserved them from the like ruin and destruction. The Targum is,
“and the ungodly shall be judged in hell, till the righteous shall say concerning them, we have seen enough;” —Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
From what I understand, the Targum was an oral explanation of the Torah given by rabbis in ancient times, to help the people understand the Torah better. So–according to the Targum, the punishment goes on because the wicked never stop sinning, yet this eternal punishment only lasts until the righteous ask for it to end?
At the end of Glorious Appearing is a little section ironically named “The Truth Behind the Fiction.” I don’t think the authors intended that to be funny, but it is anyway. 🙂
First, this section refers to the book Glorious Appearing as “that dramatic story.” Er…What? Dramatic? I thought it was quite the snoozefest, actually, with very little actually happening.
Then the authors tell us that newspapers have a headline type called “Second Coming type,” used for cataclysms and the like. But why call it this?
The reason, of course, is that there is no bigger event than the second coming of Christ, and even the most irreligious journalist at the most liberal newspaper in the most ungodly city in the world knows it.
Isn’t that rather judgmental? Note that it’s a liberal newspaper equated with irreligious journalist and ungodly city; what, can’t a liberal Democrat be religious and godly? (Even Billy Graham is a Democrat. And, from what I see in local letters to the editor from Sisters, many nuns must be Democrats as well.)
Here is an Orthodox critique of premillennial dispensationalism, which is the doctrine of a Rapture, Tribulation, Armageddon, Second Coming, then 1000 years of a literal reign of Christ on Earth.
As I understand it, Orthodoxy is amillennialist: The thousand-year reign is not literal, but symbolic, the “church age,” and we’re in it now. No Rapture, which is not biblical, but the Second Coming at the end of time, then the Judgment, and the renewed heavens and earth. There is only one physical resurrection, at the Judgment.
Here, Elder Cleopas explains Revelation in detail.
On page 403, the authors write,
The Glorious Appearing will end the time of Satan’s deception of mankind and will usher in Christ’s kingdom of peace on earth. It is the very cornerstone of Bible prophecy and is one of the most loved and believed doctrines in the Bible, accepted by almost every denomination that still considers itself Christian.
What, are there Christian denominations that don’t consider themselves Christian? (Universalist Unitarians aren’t Christians, since members can follow any beliefs or religions they like. But even the most liberal Christian denominations still call themselves Christians.)
The part about “peace on earth” sounds like he’s referring to premillennialism, so what about the amillennialists, which are a huge swath of churches that do indeed call themselves Christians–and conservative Christians, at that?
So is it not Christian if it’s amillennialist? Or is he referring to the doctrine of the Second Coming, rather than the kingdom on earth? It’s unclear.
You’d think this was it, but no, there are four more books to come: the prequels! le sigh