Dear Fr. Alvin,
Having both the Orthodox books you cited, I will lead off by saying that, while edifying, you cannot use them as representing 'official Orthodox statements' regarding the afterlife. Please remember the previous problems you have had with 'proof texting.' They are opinions, one from a saint and the other a scholar.
Thank you, Fr Giryus, for your comment. I certainly do not want to slip into the kind of proof-texting of which I disapprove. But over the last year I have been reading as much Orthodox material as I can get my hands on on this topic. I am trying to understand and to discern that which is "doctrine" and that which is "opinion." This is no easy matter, which is why I keep contributing to this and related threads.
For example, this afternoon I had a lengthy telephone conversation with an old acquaintance of mine who is an Antiochian priest and distinguished theologian and biblical scholar. He was raised within the Catholic Church and knows Catholic theology (especially pre-Vatican II theology) very well. As you might guess, our discussion focused on purgatory. I asked him, if purgatory is formulated along the lines of Pope Benedict and C. S. Lewis (i.e., as a process of sanctification), is it compatible with Orthodoxy? "Absolutely," he replied. "That's exactly what I believe Orthodoxy essentially teaches on the matter, absent Western terminology" (my paraphrase of his more extended answer).
I then asked my friend about Archbishop Hilarion's view that even the most incorrigible sinner can repent in Hell/Hades. His answer: "It's unbiblical." He believes the the Church Fathers support his judgment on this. He certainly does not believe that he represents a minority opinion within Orthodoxy.
I do not raise this to challenge you directly--only to point out (1) how difficult it is, with regard to this specific topic, to pin down THE Orthodox position. In fact, I suspect, there are several legitimate views on eschatology within Orthodoxy.
I re-read today St Mark Eugenicus's homily on Purgatory (included in Seraphim Rose's book The Soul After Death
), as well as Metropolitan Hierotheos's discussion of Purgatory
. Unfortunately, the version of St Mark's homily is a translation of a translation, and it is abbreviated. St Mark's homilies on Purgatory desperately need to be freshly translated into English! In any case, I note the following:
1) St Mark emphatically affirms that the prayers of the Church are of great benefit to those who are imprisoned in Hades but with a limitation:
But we have received that even the souls which are held in hell and are already given over to eternal torments, whether in actual fact and experience or in hopeless expectation of such, can be aided and given a certain small help, although not in the sense of completely looking them from torment or given hope for a final deliverance. (p. 200)
St Mark is certainly aware of the prayer for the departed included in the Pentecost kneeling prayers, but apparently he doesn't interpret this prayer as supporting the belief that the prayers of the Church can effect a change of status of the truly wicked. The prayers can bring comfort to the damned but not salvation. He elaborates:
But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which--even though they have repented over them--they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not at all been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or--if their sins were more serious and bind them for a longer duration--they are kept in hell, but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard. (p. 201)
St Mark certainly believes that some souls in Hell may be delivered from imprisonment through the prayers of the faithful, but note the kinds of people for whom such prayers are efficacious--those who have committed small sins of which they have not repented and those who committed and repented of serious sins but who had not demonstrated sufficient change in their moral lives. He apparently does not believe that the truly wicked can be delivered from Hell.
2) We must pray for all the departed, including the wicked and impious. Christ has taught us to pray for our enemies and he himself prayed for those who crucified him. St Mark observes that some of the saints have prayed for departed pagans and their prayers were heard and answered: St Thecla prayed for Falconila, and St Gregory the Dialogist prayed for the Emperor Trajan (p. 203). Trajan, it is said, was baptized in the tears of Gregory. The salvation of Christ can be extended, through the prayers of the Church, even to the unbaptized.
3) St Mark distinguishes three moments or actualizations of the remission of sin:
Remission is given in three forms and at different times: (1) during Baptism; (2) after Baptism, through conversion and sorrow and making up (for sins) by good works in the present life; and (3) after death, through prayers and good deeds and thanks to whatever else the Church does for the dead. (p. 210)
Mark notes that in Baptism all sins are forgiven equally, but that the eschatological forgiveness "is a remission only of those sins which are not mortal and over which a person has repented in life" (p. 110).
My reading of St Mark appears to be supported by Met. Hierotheos's summary of Mark's views on the intermediate condition in his book Life After Death
. Apparently Mark criticized the Latin view on purgatory for promoting indolence. Just as Origen's teaching about the apocatastasis made people lazy because they began to count on their future deliverance from torments, so the Latin doctrine of purgatory discourages people from struggling to purify themselves in the present, because they expect a future purification. If Mark believed and taught that the wicked could be "prayed out of Hell," would have not have been vulnerable to the same criticism?
Hierotheos mentions an argument advanced by St Mark that is not present in the abbreviated version of the homily:
The second argument is that it is not possible for the will of man to be changed by any purifying fire after his departure from this life. "The movement of the will and that of deeds is necessarily limited to the present life". The will can be changed as long as a man is in this life, whereas after death it remains immovable. "And he receives the prize or the punishment for these things and not for going through purgatory". So long, then, as uprightness of the will is needed for beatitude and so long as purgatory cannot change the will from bad to good, since this is in accordance with the way the person lived in his biological life, therefore "purgatory contributes nothing" towards beatitude. This too means that men cannot be purified by any purgatory.
If St Mark believed that the will remains immovable after death, how is it possible for anyone to repent in Hell?
From what I can tell, St Mark's presentation seems to be very close to Elder Cleopa's. St Mark of Ephesus is an important authority within the Orthodox Church, especially on purgatory and the after-life. He presents a view that is very similar to contemporary
Catholic and Anglican construals of purgatory, such as we find in Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict, C. S. Lewis, and Peter Kreeft. He certainly seems closer to them than to, say, St Isaac the Syrian or Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev.
Fr Giryus, I'm not trying to put you on the spot or to trap you on this. I'm certainly not trying to win any polemical points--quite the contrary. But may we not reasonably state that a diversity of views exist within Orthodoxy on the particular judgment and the intermediate condition and that, at least in some quarters in Orthodoxy, Pope Benedict's construal of purgatory as transforming encounter with the risen Christ would, or might be, be warmly welcomed? I do not want to paper over real and significant differences, but I also do not want us to overlook substantive convergence and unity.
On the balance, Elder Cleopa's position at first glance is in the minority in regards to Orthodox teaching, though I would say it is not a small one. However, the problem becomes all the more difficult when faced with the imprecise language of 'hades' and 'beyond the grave' as to whether he is speaking of the Particular Judgment or the Last Judgment. This gets confusing even in regular discourse.
If I have mis-read Elder Cleopa, I welcome correction, but I think that the passages I cited earlier all speak to the interim period between the particular judgment and the final judgment.
After the Last Judgment, it is certain that there is no repentance. It is over with. As we have also discussed previously, one could make an argument that the 'final results' of the Particular Judgment could be just as final, depending on how you look at it. After all, those involved in deep, wretched sin are generally so 'gone' that no amount of punishment (temporary or permanent) will derail them. For them, the Particular Judgment is the 'last stop' on the 'Repentance Train.'
Quite right. I think you and I are very close here.
The question is one of conscience, which neither passage you quote really addresses. For the Orthodox, the torment of the afterlife prior to the Last Judgment is one of conscience, not purification or punishment.
May I ask you to elaborate on this. St Mark Eugenicus touches on this in his homily, too, but I'd like to hear more about this in your own words. If we define "purification" to refer to the sufferings caused by a physical purgatorial fire, and if we define "punishment" as the divine infliction of retributive vengeance, then many Catholics would agree with you, including, I think, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Karl Rahner, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. I have yet to read a Catholic theologian of the last fifty years who believed in a material purgatorial fire, and many (not all but many) Catholic theologians, including Pope John Paul II, interpret the "punishment" of purgatory as precisely the painful process of liberation from sinful attachments.