Nyssa's Hobbit Hole

Category: Hell (page 1 of 2)

Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?

Though conservative Protestant denominations tend to agree that the answer is yes, this is by no means what all churches believe.  See above section on Hell.

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

Also see:

An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions–Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetriou (Greek)

What about other Christians? (OCA)

Will the Heterodox Be Saved?–Archimandrite (Metropolitan) Philaret

The Catholic view:

Salvation Outside the Church

Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions–Pope Paul VI

Can people from other faiths be saved?

World Religions: A primer for Catholics

Vatican II for Gen-Xers

Can Non-Christians be Saved?

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

For more on this subject, related to the concept of Christ preaching in Hades, see here.

 

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

 

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Hell and the Nature of God

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[73].

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[76] .

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

Heaven and Hell from Vol. 4 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

Also see Eschatology and Purgatory by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.

Here is the view of the Orthodox Church of America:

Judgment

Eternal Life

Heaven and Hell

The Kingdom of Heaven

Also see:

The Uncreated Energies: The Light and Fire of God by Peter Chopelas  (also here)

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?

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

 

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“Kingdom Come”: Left Behind Review, Part 1–Where the Old Testament Law is Reinstated

by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 0842361901, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

A plot summary is here.

FINALLY!  After 5 1/2 years, I’ve made it to the end of this series!  It’s hard to believe it’s been so long–I could swear I just started this–But then, at my age, the years just fly by like the snowy owls we have around here: One moment you see it, the next it’s gone.

Now for my final review:

The Millennial Kingdom is described in the early pages.  Now Jesus is in charge of the whole world, and it seems rather Taliban-like: If you don’t get saved by age 100, you die and spend eternity in Hell.  (This does not apply to Jews.)

If you sin, you can get incinerated–or not.

And it seems that the Old Testament Law, which even the Apostles deemed too oppressive to put over Christians, is now back in effect, even the sacrifices and holidays!  Things which the Apostles and other Early Church leaders scolded their flock not to do, are now being done.

And now the Jews are the Chosen People again, and Gentile Christians are the “foreigners.”  What about everyone being equal?

First we have “The Millennial Kingdom,” a chapter which claims to describe what will happen during the Millennium.  Not what the authors think will happen, but what life will be like.  It’s things like [italics mine],

“Everyone will be assigned temporary housing until Jesus reconstructs the earth.”

An earthquake will have caused a residue that makes the entire planet sea-level.

“You may be a stellar student or an athlete or even a bit of a techie, but you will not have to be good with your hands.  You may not be a gardener let alone a farmer, and perhaps you always pay to have carpentry, wiring, or plumbing done around the house.  But in that day God will plant within you the desire–and the acumen–to do all those things yourself.”

How the heck do the authors know these things will happen?  Isn’t this all just speculation?

On page xli, we learn that the moon and sun are “supercharged by the Shekinah glory of Christ,” so you can’t go outside without sunglasses, and even at night it’s bright.  (I wear my sunglasses at night….)  It’s hard to adjust to sleeping in the light.

Sounds like the sun is going into supernova; isn’t that a bad thing, meaning the imminent end of the earth?  But then, at the end of the 1000 years, the earth is destroyed by fire from the heavens and from within the earth (p. 350)–Oh, hey, it IS a supernova!

And it sounds too frickin’ bright, not like paradise at all.  You need the night and its cooling for sleep; nocturnal animals need the night, too.

Also, now everyone speaks Hebrew fluently.  The rationale is Zephaniah 3:9, which says, “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord.”

How does that translate to Hebrew?  Why Hebrew and not some other language that’s actually still being used?  Hebrew is not designed for 21st-century life.  I bet their word for “cellphone” is English, not Hebrew!

What’s wrong with, say, a heavenly language?  How is Hebrew better than any other language?  Is it because the Bible was written in it?  The Bible was also written in Aramaic and ancient Greek–Why not one of those?

This version of the Millennium is also not the only one in Christendom.  It’s called premillennialism.  There is also post-millennialism and amillennialism.

Orthodoxy goes with amillennialism, or that the Millennium is symbolic of the time after Christ.  (More info here.)  Then at the end, Christ comes back, there is the Judgment (not a bunch of little judgments as in the Left Behind books), and then:

Thus, in its faith in resurrection and eternal life, the Orthodox Church looks not to some “other world” for salvation, but to this very world so loved by God, resurrected and glorified by Him, tilled with His own divine presence.

At the end of the ages God will reveal His presence and will fill all creation with Himself. For those who love Him it will be paradise. For those who hate Him it will be hell. And all physical creation, together with the righteous, will rejoice and be glad in His coming.

…When the Kingdom of God fills all creation, all things will be made new. This world will again be that paradise for which it was originally created. This is the Orthodox doctrine of the final fate of man and his universe.

It is sometimes argued, however, that this world will be totally destroyed and that God will create everything new “out of nothing” by the act of a second creation….

Because the Bible never speaks about a “second creation” and because it continually and consistently witnesses that God loves the world which He has made and does everything that He can to save it, the Orthodox Tradition never interprets such scriptural texts as teaching the actual annihilation of creation by God.

It understands such texts as speaking metaphorically of the great catastrophe which creation must endure, including even the righteous, in order for it to be cleansed, purified, made perfect, and saved….See full article at The Symbol of Faith: Eternal Life, OCA website

This also contradicts the LaHaye/Jenkins vision of the final end of everything after the Millennium ends and God’s opponents are incinerated: the earth is incinerated as well, replaced with a new one.

I’ve also noted that the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern part of the Roman Empire which lived on after the Western part fell into the Dark Ages, lasted for about 1000 years–then was laid waste by the Ottomans.

Since the Byzantine Empire was Christian, it works well as a literal Millennium–except for the end, of course.  How could God’s Empire end with the evil side winning Armageddon?

On page 7, Irene is in the middle of reminiscing about Heaven: “She was able to describe the very portals of the house of God, a great, cathedral-like expanse where the redeemed of the ages were arrayed in purest white….”

Hmmmm….Last I recall, from The Rapture, they were all nekkid.

Fans of the Slacktivist‘s Left Behind reviews, have joked about the Millennium’s “steaming piles of fresh produce, drenched in butter.”  Well, here they are on pages 2 and 11!

You see, meat is no longer used for food, despite the sacrifices (which are once again started in the Temple) and the eating of perfect meat after Armageddon (see Glorious Appearing).

So veggies drenched in butter are suddenly feasting food….I’m not quite sure I get the attraction….Where’s the cheese dip? the ranch dressing?

On page 13 is a reference to “new wine,” and we soon learn that people drink wine in the Millennium.  But…I thought “new wine” was actually grape juice, according to Evangelical lore, and that wine is evil, so we’re not supposed to drink it at communion?

(Seriously, that’s how I was raised.  It was a huge adjustment to take actual wine for communion in the Orthodox church, because I’d always taken grape juice.)

The hills and mountains now literally drip with “new wine” and flow with milk instead of water.  But….What if you’re lactose intolerant?  Chaim quotes some passage of the Bible where this image comes from.  Yeah….I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be a metaphor.

To be continued.

 

 

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“The Rapture”: Left Behind Review, Part 1 (also goes into smacking kids upside the head)

by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 1414305818, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

A plot summary is here.

FINALLY, the last prequel.  So only one more book is left!  (I’ve been reading these books for more than five years now.  😛  Though that’s nothing compared to how long the Slacktivist has been doing this.  😛  )

It’s comforting, on pages 13 to 14, to see Irene’s new Christian friends and pastor counsel her to stop nagging Rayford into getting “saved.”

Another pleasant surprise comes on page 16, when their son Raymie asks, “Mom, is Dad going to hell?” and Irene answers, “Frankly, I can’t tell where your dad is on all this.  He claims to believe in God, and it’s not for us to say.”

Pages 17 and 18 inspired me to write this post on my blog, which I will copy for you here:

I’m currently reading the Left Behind book “The Rapture” for my series of Left Behind reviews.  My reviews and the Slacktivist describe the bad, ungodly behavior of the Christians in the books.  But what I read last night, really burns me up:

A good Christian woman, Lucinda Washington, middle-aged, who is not afraid to show her faith and is respected by all, is also Buck’s favorite colleague, a mentor of sorts.

After witnessing the dramatic, supernatural defeat of the air forces sent to decimate Israel, he comes to her office looking for answers.  He plops down in a chair with his feet on the desk and she says,

“If you were my son I’d whup you upside the head, sitting like that, tearing up your spine.”

“You don’t still smack Lionel, do you?” Buck said, peeking at the photo of the smooth-faced youngster [he’s 12].

“Can’t catch him anymore, but he knows I can still take him.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Excuse me, this isn’t set in 1950, but in 21st-century America, some indeterminate time after the present, right before the Rapture–and the book was written in 2006.

This barbaric practice should be universally condemned as child abuse by the time this book takes place.  It’s already illegal in some places.  And even 100 years ago, people knew that smacking kids anywhere on the head is dangerous.  I go into this in great detail in these posts:

Child Abuse, Examples of Child Abuse, Hitting Kids Upside the Head is ABUSE, Slapping Kids Upside the Head Causes Traumatic Brain Injury, and  …Because slapping kids on the head is ABUSE!  STOP THE VIOLENCE!

And this is the woman we are supposed to admire as a great woman of God?  A FRICKIN’ CHILD ABUSER????!!!!!

Here, I describe how two narcissistic “friends” turned out to be child abusers, whom I eventually reported to CPS because I could not get through to them, and who then threatened and began stalking me for calling them child abusers.  One of the things they did which most enraged me, was smacking their little kids in the head.

I also unfriended some old high school classmate a while back for advocating beating children on her Facebook status.  Then, a few months ago, unfriended (and eventually blocked) a girl in my social circles who said parents should beat their children.

Now, after all that, and enduring the stress and emotional anguish of being threatened and stalked for calling this child abuse, I’m supposed to read this “Christian” book and accept that a godly woman would abuse her child by smacking him upside the head?  I’m supposed to like this character after knowing this?  She’s just another hypocrite like the rest of the series’ Christians!

On page 26, Irene has turned into a Stepford Wife, even setting out Rayford’s clothes as if he were a child.  Since badgering him into converting doesn’t work, she’s taking the opposite tactic–still manipulative, but I guess she doesn’t see that.

But it drives him crazy, because he knows her various problems with him (church, his use of time, not spending enough time with their son) are still on her mind.  He’d rather argue than pretend they don’t exist.

On pages 63 to 66, Rayford explains to Raymie what many of us have realized over the years: that just because you don’t belong to a particular religion or sect, does not necessarily mean you’re going to Hell.  Raymie replies,

Wow.  You sound just like the people Pastor Billings talks about.  People who think they have it all figured out, but they don’t really believe in Jesus.

Say what?  Just because you have a different idea of who goes to Hell, you don’t really believe in Jesus?  Also, Raymie’s words have a distinct vibe of “Oh, you’re one of those people,” said with a curling lip.  ARGH!

And double-ARGH to the last few paragraphs on page 66:

Rayford…overheard the boy talking with Irene, who had asked how things went.

“Dad’s going to hell,” Raymie said.  “He doesn’t think he is.  He thinks he isn’t.  But he doesn’t believe in Jesus.  Not really.”

Meanwhile, back in Antichrist land, pages 71 to 74 depict a Mafia-style punishment of the family of a guy marked by Fortunato, Nicolae Carpathia’s right-hand man.  It’s full of evil and angst.

Where the heck was this kind of writing in the rest of the series?  If we see this along with Carpathia’s public image as a nice guy, we’ll know he’s evil.  No, all we get in the first books is that Carpathia wants world peace, which doesn’t sound so bad.

But if we got more of this behind-the-scenes evil instead of endless pages of traveling itineraries and phone conversations, the first books could have been awesome, instead of dull trudging wondering when this book will end.

To be continued.

Find all my Left Behind book reviews here.

 

 

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A Mass of Judgments in “Glorious Appearing”: Left Behind Review–part 3

 

Previous parts

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[73].

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[76] .

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

Heaven and Hell from Vol. 4 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

Also see Eschatology and Purgatory by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.

Here is the view of the Orthodox Church of America:

Judgment

Eternal Life

Heaven and Hell

The Kingdom of Heaven

Also see:

The Uncreated Energies: The Light and Fire of God by Peter Chopelas  (also here)

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 

[12/3/12-1/23/13]

 

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