The Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to the European International Institutions Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, on Interfax-Religion’s request, commented on the recent suggestion of Danish Lutheran theologians to consider the hell and the devil a metaphor and to accept only existence of the paradise.
- This theology should be considered in general context of liberalized Christian dogmatic and moral teaching developed in depth of many Protestant communities in several recent decades. Everything that makes Christianity is “inconvenient”, “uncomfortable” is being omitted, “the dark Middle Ages” heritage is cleared up. Christianity in light version is under construction and the hell and devil don’t match it.
A tragedy of Protestantism has originally been the following. Seeking to get rid of medieval stratification of Catholicism, Protestants didn’t properly study the heritage of the Eastern fathers. And today when arguing with the Middle Age hell and devil, liberal Protestants don’t trouble themselves with reviewing the Holy Fathers and their conception of afterlife retaliation.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Christian tradition has never considered the hell as created by God to punish sinners. God didn’t create the hell, free will of people has created it. It exists not because God wants it, but because people keep it existing. They first create the hell on Earth and then carry it on to the afterworld.
-What do you mean by the hell on Earth?
- When a man using his power over others makes Earth the hell for them. Didn’t Hitler turn Earth to hell for millions of people tried and tortured in concentration camps, perished in gas cameras and battlefields? Didn’t Lenin and Stalin make hell for thousands and millions of people who died in camps or were shot on false denunciations or sentenced by Stalin’s “troika”? Don’t today’s terrorists, who kill peaceful citizens, take them hostage and cut off their heads, turn Earth to the hell?
And is it believable that malefactors and monsters, who kill other people and revolt against God and all-hallows will share the paradise with righteous and saints? Is it believable that the paradise will welcome both John the Baptist and Herod, St. Veniamin of Petrograd and Lenin, thousands of the murdered new Russia’s martyrs and confessors and their torturers? It removes division between the good and the evil. Then there’s no difference if you are a saint or a villain, if you do the good or the evil, if you save people from death or kill them.
-So sins will be inevitably recompensed?
-Any person bears moral responsibility for his actions. And he will answer for the sins of his earthly life in the eternity. St. Isaac the Syrian writes that sinners in the hell are not deprived of God’s love. On the contrary, love is given equally to everyone: to the righteous in the Heavenly Kingdom and to the sinners in Gehenna. But for the righteous it becomes the source of joy and bliss while for sinners it is the source of torture.
Thus, God didn’t create the hell for sinners, they did it themselves. God doesn’t send sinners to the hell, but people who oppose God’s will and revolt against God choose the hell themselves. And this choice is made in their earthly life rather than in some distant eschatological prospect. It is right here on Earth that infernal tortures and “the Kingdom of God come with power” begin.
- However, even the Orthodox divine service says that the hell is “abolished” by Christ after His Resurrection from the dead?
- The reality of the hell, its existence for sinners and even the possibility of its eternal existence don’t contradict the news of its abolition by Christ resurrected. The hell is really “abolished” in the resurrection of Christ, as it is not inevitable for people anymore and doesn’t have power over them. But those, who consciously oppose God’s will and commit crime and sin, restore destroyed and abolished hell as they don’t want to reconcile with God’s love.
I’d like to stress it again: God didn’t create the hell, people created it for themselves, God destroyed and abolished the hell, but people restore it again and again. The hell is re-created every time when the sin is consciously committed and isn’t repented.