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Author Topic: What is OC teaching on Heaven and Hell? Do they exist?  (Read 1839 times) Average Rating: 5
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« on: April 12, 2011, 04:17:07 PM »

I think there have been similar discussions before but after reading these I’ve became totally confused. My understanding was that there is supposed to be heaven and hell, and we all will be judged “according to our works”. After reading some posts it seems like some folks are saying that God will judge everyone and probably forgive everyone? And seemed like some people rejecting an idea of hell altogether? I don’t know if vague ideas God forgiving everyone sits well with me since its not what I’ve always thought. If we follow that reasoning, does that mean that a serial killer who has never repented for anything will be forgiven by God? (that’s just an example). What is the EXACT OC teaching on his? I truly appreciate everyone’s help because this type of thinking is a total shock to me so I’m very confused about what to think now.  Huh
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« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2011, 04:39:51 PM »

I am in no way an expert, but from the books I've read on Orthodox Christianity, both those who are in Heaven and Hell are in God's presence. Those who are saved will feel love and peace. Those who weren't saved will feel fear and despair.

Someone, correct me if I'm wrong.  Grin

This is an excerpt from "The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church," by Clark Carlton:
   "To understand the essence of sin is to understand hell as well. I had grown up listening to sermons describing the literal fire and the unmistakably physical nature of the torment. Yet, in Orthodoxy, I found a vision of hell far more terrifying than anything Jonathan Edwards could have concocted. Hell is that state in which men have rendered themselves incapable of receiving and responding to the love of God (or anyone else). In the words of Dostoyevsky, hell is 'the suffering of being no longer able to love.... ANd yet it is impossible to take this spiritual torment from them, for this torment is not external but is within them.'
   "Hell, though it no doubt has an external dimension is much less an external condition of punishment than the inward suffering of self-isolation. When Christ returns in glory and God becomes all in all (1 Cor. 15: 28), those whohave sealed themselves off in the fortresses of their own egos-those for whom "hell is other people"- will be faced with the torment of His eternal presence. His very presence will be a judgment and a torment because He is life and love Himself, the ontological antithesis of self-contained individuality. In that Day, there will be no place to hide, no refuge from His burning presence, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). In the words of one of the desert Fathers, 'The fire of hell is the love of God.'"

Take that all with a grain of salt, of course. I have seen his same ideas elsewhere, though.
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« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2011, 04:50:32 PM »

I think there have been similar discussions before but after reading these I’ve became totally confused. My understanding was that there is supposed to be heaven and hell, and we all will be judged “according to our works”. After reading some posts it seems like some folks are saying that God will judge everyone and probably forgive everyone? And seemed like some people rejecting an idea of hell altogether? I don’t know if vague ideas God forgiving everyone sits well with me since its not what I’ve always thought. If we follow that reasoning, does that mean that a serial killer who has never repented for anything will be forgiven by God? (that’s just an example). What is the EXACT OC teaching on his? I truly appreciate everyone’s help because this type of thinking is a total shock to me so I’m very confused about what to think now.  Huh

Posters do not speak for the Church. You were right, originally.

Christ has, in effect, forgiven everyone. But how can someone accept this forgiveness if he does not repent of his sins? But you want the "EXACT OC" teaching on this. However, you have asked for a hard thing. There's a lot to unpack, dogmatically, in the teaching on heaven and hell. Probably because of this, people make mistakes, very serious ones, too. However, if you want further reading, I suggest Elder Cleopa on "The Truth of our Faith," as well as Nikolaos Vassiliades' "The Mystery of Death." First and foremost, however, are the Holy Gospels. In them are ambiguities. In Orthodox teaching are ambiguities. We embrace a lot of ambiguity. It's good to know that.

We have no revelation at all that all people will be saved. We do not even know if we ourselves will be saved. We pray for both scenarios and trust in God.
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« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2011, 06:06:50 PM »

From what I've learned, the West in general has confused the teachings regarding Hell greatly.

There is Sheol, which is Hades... the abode of the dead.

Then there's Gehenna which is Hell, "where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.'"

As for Heaven... well I don't believe everyone is gonna be there.

'Sheep go to Heaven, goats go to Hell', and all that.

But will God judge us - or will we judge ourselves?

"Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?"
- I Corinthians 6:2


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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2011, 06:20:17 PM »

I thought that passage of St Paul was interesting. It can't mean that the saints somehow usurp God's judgment. It does imply, however, that the saints, who are already saved, are given the authority to judge sinners.
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« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2011, 09:28:03 AM »

Heaven and hell most assuredly exist, and we will all be judged. Matthew 25 tells us that our eventual destination will depend on how we cared for others.
As to what form heaven and hell are, or how it works, many have speculated. Personally I leave the details of who will be saved, judgement, heaven and hell up to God. I have enough trouble seeing to myself and my own sins, to quote St. Theophan. My hope and prayer is that all will come to know the love and mercy of God and all will be saved to live praising Him for all eternity.
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« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2011, 10:48:49 AM »

I should probably have a ‘tinned response’ to this question, since it so often comes up in conversion conversations.  Anyway, here are some basics:

1) The spiritual world is immaterial, and thus we are not talking about ‘places’ as much as conditions.  Therefore, ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are not ‘spiritual compartments’ but rather adjectives describing one’s disposition towards God.

2) At death, the souls and spirit are separated from the body, and thus become fully aware of their disposition towards God, both in terms of their love for Him and their sins.

3) God does not force anyone to do anything he or she does not want to do, but at the same time those who hate Him cannot bear His presence.

4) God forgives everyone, and all shall be resurrected.  This is from the Scriptures and why we call the event the ‘General Resurrection.’

5) Jesus Christ died and was resurrected for everyone, though some people reject this gift because they hate God similarly to the devil’s hatred, thus they face the same fate: the inescapable nature of God’s love.

6) After the General resurrection, those who love God will enjoy being resurrected, while those who hate God will eternally hate their existence, though they could repent.  They are eternally self-condemned, since God knows they will only hate more and more.

7) A serial killer would have to genuinely repent.  There have been some cases.  Jeffrey Dahmer appears to have had remorse for his crimes.  We believe that God brings justice to victims, not unlike the comfort received by Lazarus in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Hell is not about justice, though it is just.  What it is about is whether someone will repent and confess that he has no excuse for the evil he has done.

I hope this helps.


I think there have been similar discussions before but after reading these I’ve became totally confused. My understanding was that there is supposed to be heaven and hell, and we all will be judged “according to our works”. After reading some posts it seems like some folks are saying that God will judge everyone and probably forgive everyone? And seemed like some people rejecting an idea of hell altogether? I don’t know if vague ideas God forgiving everyone sits well with me since its not what I’ve always thought. If we follow that reasoning, does that mean that a serial killer who has never repented for anything will be forgiven by God? (that’s just an example). What is the EXACT OC teaching on his? I truly appreciate everyone’s help because this type of thinking is a total shock to me so I’m very confused about what to think now.  Huh
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« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2011, 01:49:03 PM »

I have a problem, I must say, with the idea that heaven and hell are "just" subjective conditions. Our spiritual disposition and relationship with God is certainly an important aspect of salvation or damnation, but there is just too much evidence that heaven and hell are also real, created places to simply dismiss out of hand. Take the following from St Ephraim the Syrian, for instance (Sermon 72):

Quote
"We know from the Gospel that there are various places of torment. For it has been revealed to us that there is exterior darkness (Matthew 8.12), and so it follows that there is also interior darkness. The fire of gehenna (Matthew 5.29) is another place, the abode of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25.30). Another place speaks of the worm that dieth not (Mark 9.43). We read in another place of the lake of fire (Rev. 19.15). The lower world of destruction and perdition are written of in precise terms (Matthew 7.13; I Timothy 6.9). The depths of the earth is another place. The hell where sinners are tormented, and the depths of hell, a more fearful place. The wretched souls of the damned are distributed throughout these places of punishment, each one according to the nature of his sins; fearfully or less fearfully, as it is written: Each one is fast bound by the ropes of his own sins (Proverbs 5.22); and this is what is meant by the servant who is beaten with many stripes or with few stripes (Luke 12.47, 48). For just as there are differences of sin so also are there differences in their punishment."

I also find it problematic to say that heaven or hell are not about justice. Take the following from Revelation 6.10:

Quote
“They [the martyrs] cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy
and true, doest Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on
the earth?”

Here we clearly have language about justice and even vengeance. So, I think we must be careful not to try to rationalize justice and vengeance away.
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« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2011, 01:52:46 PM »

Here is how I understand things:
I believe that we have to distinguish three periods:
1. before Christ's Resurrection,
2. after Christ's Resurrection,
3. after the Final Judgement.

Re:1. Both the righteous and the sinners went to Hades (the Greek name) or Sheol (the Hebrew name), although the righteous went to a part of Hades/Sheol called the Bosom of Abraham, or Paradise (by analogy to the real Paradise which was the Garden of Eden and which will the Garden of Eden restored, i.e., the Heavenly Jerusalem) - both names used by our Lord - while the sinners went to Hades/Sheol the proper, a.k.a. Tartarus. The righteous were receiving a partial reward, while the sinners - a partial punishment (as described in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus).
Re:2. All the righteous from the Bosom of Abraham were transferred to Heaven and that's where the righteous go now. Their reward is still partial but greater then the one offered in the Bosom of Abraham. The sinners still go Hades/Sheol the proper where their punishment is the same as it used to be.
Re:3. The righteous will be dwelling with Christ in the Heavenly Jerusalem which will be on the New Earth, under the New Heaven - all of it constituting the Heavenly Kingdom, or the Kingdom of God. They will be receiving the fullness of their reward. The sinners will be dwelling with Satan and all the demons in the Lake of Fire (to which Hades/Sheol will be thrown in), that is Hell or Gehenna. They will be receiving the fullness of their punishment.
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« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2011, 01:58:44 PM »

I have a problem, I must say, with the idea that heaven and hell are "just" subjective conditions.
This assertion strikes me as incredibly dualistic; it posits that something that happens to the spirit and mind is "subjective" and that which happens to the body is "objective." What happens to the mind and spirit is an objective reality, too. The experience of physical as well as spiritual "fire" being the result of the wicked person's encounter with the God whom he seeks to reject.

“They [the martyrs] cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy
and true, doest Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on
the earth?”

Here we clearly have language about justice and even vengeance. So, I think we must be careful not to try to rationalize justice and vengeance away.

I don't think anyone is asserting that the wicked will not suffer in the presence of the Living God. This is not, however, God imputing some sort of punishment as a consequence for an externally imputed label of "sinful/damned".
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« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2011, 01:59:28 PM »

That's interesting. I always wondered about that parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and how Lazarus could have gone to Paradise even before our Lord's Resurrection. Do you have a reference for that teaching that the "Paradise" of the parable was really a part of Hades?

There is definitely a tradition that Patriarch Enoch, Prophet Elijah and St John the Theologian never actually died, but were translated to Paradise, i.e. the "real" Paradise, and that they will return during the reign of Antichrist to denounce him and announce the imminent arrival of our Lord. The Antichrist will then finally kill them.

On a related topic, how do we understand the tradition of praying for the dead in Old Testament times (as recorded in Maccabees, for instance). Since everyone was stuck in Hades anyway, in what way did prayers for the dead "work"? Was it a matter of perhaps moving souls from worse to better parts of Hades?
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« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2011, 02:00:48 PM »

I have a problem, I must say, with the idea that heaven and hell are "just" subjective conditions.
This assertion strikes me as incredibly dualistic; it posits that something that happens to the spirit and mind is "subjective" and that which happens to the body is "objective." What happens to the mind and spirit is an objective reality, too. The experience of physical as well as spiritual "fire" being the result of the wicked person's encounter with the God whom he seeks to reject.

“They [the martyrs] cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy
and true, doest Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on
the earth?”

Here we clearly have language about justice and even vengeance. So, I think we must be careful not to try to rationalize justice and vengeance away.

I don't think anyone is asserting that the wicked will not suffer in the presence of the Living God. This is not, however, God imputing some sort of punishment as a consequence for an externally imputed label of "sinful/damned".

The issue I had was with the idea that heaven and hell are not created places. Hence the use of the adverb "just".
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« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2011, 02:03:07 PM »

The issue I had was with the idea that heaven and hell are not created places. Hence the use of the adverb "just".
They don't need to be separate places to produce "tangible", physical suffering, though.

I don't think St. Ephrem is describing literal separate realms in your above quote. He's surely not saying that souls are literally kept in the center of the Earth.
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« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2011, 02:21:19 PM »

Do you have a reference for that teaching that the "Paradise" of the parable was really a part of Hades?

See the footnotes to Luke 10:15, 16:22 and 23:43 here: http://www.orthodoxanswers.org/eob/download/eobntpublic.pdf

On a related topic, how do we understand the tradition of praying for the dead in Old Testament times (as recorded in Maccabees, for instance). Since everyone was stuck in Hades anyway, in what way did prayers for the dead "work"? Was it a matter of perhaps moving souls from worse to better parts of Hades?

I would say that these prayers were to make their fate better at the moment of the Final Judgement.
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« Reply #14 on: April 13, 2011, 02:29:02 PM »

So, what you are saying is that God will still punish those who repent?

Sorry, but that is not correct.  What is being spoken of in Revelational is the avengement upon those who will not repent.

Eternal torment is just because it is what those who hate God make for themselves, however it is not just as in restoring to the victim anything that is lost.

By the way, 'subjective conditions' are what this is all about.  They are more real than our awareness would let us realize.

I think you also realize that St. Ephraim was speaking metaphorically.  Please reread St. Mark of Ephesus and see where he talks about these metaphors, and the lack of their 'physical' reality.  The soul is not literally bound with ropes, for example.



I have a problem, I must say, with the idea that heaven and hell are "just" subjective conditions. Our spiritual disposition and relationship with God is certainly an important aspect of salvation or damnation, but there is just too much evidence that heaven and hell are also real, created places to simply dismiss out of hand. Take the following from St Ephraim the Syrian, for instance (Sermon 72):

Quote
"We know from the Gospel that there are various places of torment. For it has been revealed to us that there is exterior darkness (Matthew 8.12), and so it follows that there is also interior darkness. The fire of gehenna (Matthew 5.29) is another place, the abode of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25.30). Another place speaks of the worm that dieth not (Mark 9.43). We read in another place of the lake of fire (Rev. 19.15). The lower world of destruction and perdition are written of in precise terms (Matthew 7.13; I Timothy 6.9). The depths of the earth is another place. The hell where sinners are tormented, and the depths of hell, a more fearful place. The wretched souls of the damned are distributed throughout these places of punishment, each one according to the nature of his sins; fearfully or less fearfully, as it is written: Each one is fast bound by the ropes of his own sins (Proverbs 5.22); and this is what is meant by the servant who is beaten with many stripes or with few stripes (Luke 12.47, 48). For just as there are differences of sin so also are there differences in their punishment."

I also find it problematic to say that heaven or hell are not about justice. Take the following from Revelation 6.10:

Quote
“They [the martyrs] cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy
and true, doest Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on
the earth?”

Here we clearly have language about justice and even vengeance. So, I think we must be careful not to try to rationalize justice and vengeance away.
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« Reply #15 on: April 13, 2011, 03:03:02 PM »

Of course God will not punish those who repent, and I don't understand how you managed to read that into what I said. He will, however, punish those who do not repent. If you agree with that, you agree with me. There are some, however, who deny that God will punish at all. I believe Fr George Metallinos is one of those who claims such a thing.

Would you please provide a reference for St Mark of Ephesus? I would be interested to hear if he explicitly denied heaven and hell were real places. That the language of binding the soul with ropes, when speaking of the torments of sinful souls after the particular judgment, surely must be metaphorical. If we hear such language regarding the punishment of souls and bodies after the Last Judgment, however, I would be concerned about trying to render that completely metaphorical as well. Generally, however, the only torment I recall being spoken of with regard to sinners after the last judgment is being burned in unquenchable flames.

I think there may be some confusion in our terms "heaven" and "hell". Certainly, these must be real places when we speaking of the time after the Last Judgment, since we will be resurrected with our material bodies. It is impossible to think that these bodies of ours will not be situated in any particular place. The only being of whom we cannot say it is situated in only one place is God. Even with respect to our souls, however, I believe that these go to different places even before the Last Judgment. If you can find me a patristic source that denies this, however, I would be glad to see it.

I don't see what is so implausible about sinful souls being sent to the center of the earth, or of righteous souls being raised beyond the observable heavens. Are you saying it's physically impossible?

I don't agree that it is "all about" subjective conditions. When St Basil interprets "he divideth the flame of fire" from the Psalms, he doesn't deny that God punishes the sinners who endure the flame in its tormenting aspect. Their subjective condition, i.e. their unrepentant sinfulness, merits the punishment, but God is at the same time actively punishing them. Your language, and the language of certain theologians like Dr Kalomiros and Fr Metallinos, on the other hand, suggests to me that God does not actively punish at all, except perhaps in a purely therapeutic manner. Since the punishments of sinners after the Last Judgment cannot be therapeutic, because there is no deliverance from Gehenna, these claim that there can be no punishment, since such punishment would have to be retributive only. I do not believe, however, that God does not punish retributively. I believe He punishes therapeutically, where He foresees the repentance of the sinner being punished, and retributively, where He foresees a lack of repentance.
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« Reply #16 on: April 13, 2011, 03:40:29 PM »

I don't see what is so implausible about sinful souls being sent to the center of the earth, or of righteous souls being raised beyond the observable heavens. Are you saying it's physically impossible?
Souls are bodiless, so it's not a matter of physics. The view that souls literally ascend upwards out into deep space, and that other souls literally descend into the earth's core is... rather Gnostic; it reminds me of the Archontic sect in particular.
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« Reply #17 on: April 13, 2011, 03:53:38 PM »

I don't see what is so implausible about sinful souls being sent to the center of the earth, or of righteous souls being raised beyond the observable heavens. Are you saying it's physically impossible?
Souls are bodiless, so it's not a matter of physics. The view that souls literally ascend upwards out into deep space, and that other souls literally descend into the earth's core is... rather Gnostic; it reminds me of the Archontic sect in particular.

Well, regardless of what the Gnostics believed, it is what our tradition tell us will happen. If you find that hard to rationalize, that's your problem, not the Church's.

Do you believe your soul is omnipresent? Of course not. It is situated in a specific place, i.e. your body, with which it is coextensive.
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« Reply #18 on: April 13, 2011, 04:10:25 PM »

It is not Orthodox tradition that the righteous souls travel 47 billion lightyears into deep space, and unrighteous souls descend into the nickle-iron inner core of the Earth.

We don't know where disembodied souls are temporally. But I think we can dismiss the idea that the Bosom of Abraham is floating out near the edge of the universe somewhere, and Hades is orbiting around in the earth's mantle. That is Gnostic silliness.

Augustine, in one of his moments of clarity, rebukes his Manichean Gnostic former brothers for such silliness:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.
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« Reply #19 on: April 13, 2011, 04:33:23 PM »

That passage from St Augustine has nothing to do with our discussion. Perhaps somewhere he or another Father says explicitly that our souls do not travel to any particular place after being separated from our bodies? I would be prepared to take that into consideration.

You really do appear to think it is physically impossible for our souls to travel billions of light-years into space or to descend into the heat of the earth. But whether or not your little brain can contain the thought is not our concern here. What is our concern is what the Fathers taught. Now, again, can you come up with a patristic source that denies our souls travel to any particular place after death, either up into the heavens or down into the earth?

For instance, something that may contradict what is contained in this passage from St Athanasius' Life of St Anthony:

Quote
“a call from on high, saying, ‘Anthony! Rise, go out and

look!’ He went out therefore – he knew which calls to heed – and, looking up,

saw a towering figure, unsightly and frightening, standing and reaching to

the clouds; further, certain beings ascending as though on wings. The former

was stretching out his hands; some of the latter were stopped by him, while

others flew over him and, having come through, rose without further trouble.

At such as these the monster gnashed with his teeth, but exulted over those

who fell. Forthwith a voice addressed itself to Anthony, ‘Understand the

vision!’ His understanding opened up, and he realized that it was the passing

of souls and that the monster standing there was the enemy, the envier of the

faithful. Those answerable to him he lays hold of and keeps them from

passing through, but those whom he failed to win over he cannot master as

they pass out of his range. Here again, having seen this and taking it as a

reminder, he struggled the more to advance from day to day in the things that

lay before him.”
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« Reply #20 on: April 13, 2011, 04:42:56 PM »

You really do appear to think it is physically impossible for our souls to travel billions of light-years into space or to descend into the heat of the earth.
Whether or not it's possible and whether or not it's true or necessary are not the same thing.

For instance, something that may contradict what is contained in this passage from St Athanasius' Life of St Anthony:

Quote
“a call from on high, saying, ‘Anthony! Rise, go out and

look!’ He went out therefore – he knew which calls to heed – and, looking up,

saw a towering figure, unsightly and frightening, standing and reaching to

the clouds; further, certain beings ascending as though on wings. The former

was stretching out his hands; some of the latter were stopped by him, while

others flew over him and, having come through, rose without further trouble.

At such as these the monster gnashed with his teeth, but exulted over those

who fell. Forthwith a voice addressed itself to Anthony, ‘Understand the

vision!’ His understanding opened up, and he realized that it was the passing

of souls and that the monster standing there was the enemy, the envier of the

faithful. Those answerable to him he lays hold of and keeps them from

passing through, but those whom he failed to win over he cannot master as

they pass out of his range. Here again, having seen this and taking it as a

reminder, he struggled the more to advance from day to day in the things that

lay before him.”
So you take St. Anthony's vision as something literal, describing a literal reality?

Do you take everything that occurs in an icon's mandorla depiction to be literal as well? Did Christ literally trample down the True Cross with his feet as he arose from Hades? Were there really a bunch of locks and keys laying around down there too?

When I die, will I find myself at the top of, or falling off of, a literal Ladder of Divine Ascent?

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« Reply #21 on: April 13, 2011, 05:01:43 PM »

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty”.  The shelter of the Most High is the law of God, because it is given to us as an aid in the struggle with the invisible enemies.  Such person will “rest in the shadow of the Almighty”, which means that in the afterlife he will be God’s cohabitant.  He will live in the same habitation with the heavenly Creator; he will be overshadowed by God Himself, and not by something created." -St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Psalm 91

"Sin, Gehena and death do not exist at all with God, since they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of self-will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist. Gehena is the fruit of sin. At some point in time it had a beginning but its end is not known. Death however, is a dispensation of the Creator's wisdom. It will rule only a certain time over nature; then it will certainly disappear". St. Isaac the Syrian, Ibid p.82

"Hades, now a prisoner, sees himself despoiled of this Lazarus,
Whom a short time ago he held enchained below;
For when the King of angels came against him,
The strength of demons was destroyed;
And the serpent who trails over the earth on his stomach,
Now, pierced in the mouth by the Wooden Spear, appears as dead.
But Adam rejoices when he sees Christ,
In His goodness, take pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha."
-St. Romanos the Melodist (to demonstrate what happens if you take all musings on the afterlife literally, I'd like to see you track down an icon of Christ on the Cross: the Wooden Spear; I expect a Greco-Roman Hades/Pluto to be impaled on it.)
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« Reply #22 on: April 13, 2011, 05:26:02 PM »

Perhaps we need to distinguish "literal" from "material", since my impression is that when you refuse to take any of this "literally" you mean that the material things which the images represent are not always appropriate when we are speaking of spiritual realities, like the fate of souls after death. I completely agree. However, I don't think it is inappropriate to speak of specific places when speaking of our souls. The material and spiritual worlds cannot be divorced to that extent. Now, we can't see the heavenly realm of angels and saints with our material vision, although we can suppose it is situated somewhere beyond the visible limits of the material universe. Likewise, we cannot see the realm of Hades with our material vision, but we can suppose it is situated somewhere "down" from us. The earth is in a way the center of the universe for us still, despite the fact that it appears to revolve around another body and so on. It is rather like the difference between material and spiritual geography when looking at the world. Spiritually, we would say Jerusalem is the center of the world, although any standard map or globe does not give this impression (when we calculate the exact middle point between the poles, for instance).
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« Reply #23 on: April 13, 2011, 06:56:39 PM »

Perhaps we need to distinguish "literal" from "material", since my impression is that when you refuse to take any of this "literally" you mean that the material things which the images represent are not always appropriate when we are speaking of spiritual realities, like the fate of souls after death. I completely agree. However, I don't think it is inappropriate to speak of specific places when speaking of our souls. The material and spiritual worlds cannot be divorced to that extent. Now, we can't see the heavenly realm of angels and saints with our material vision, although we can suppose it is situated somewhere beyond the visible limits of the material universe. Likewise, we cannot see the realm of Hades with our material vision, but we can suppose it is situated somewhere "down" from us. The earth is in a way the center of the universe for us still, despite the fact that it appears to revolve around another body and so on. It is rather like the difference between material and spiritual geography when looking at the world. Spiritually, we would say Jerusalem is the center of the world, although any standard map or globe does not give this impression (when we calculate the exact middle point between the poles, for instance).
Ah, but you did not say the boundaries of the material universe, you said boundaries of the observable universe. These are quite different things.

There is no reason to take "above" and "below" to be literal spiritual locations, because, unless you are a hardcore geocentric, these are relative material planes. It's possible to view this through the lens of "spiritual materialism"-- that is, assuming that the spiritual reality parallels the material reality-- this is what you're doing. I believe the two realms are intertwined, but not con-fused or even parallel. There is not a spiritual outline of a ladder where the ladder sits in my garage, as if the spiritual realm was merely some sort of aura of the material realm (or vis versa). You seem to view spiritual locations in a very Mesopotamian way; the Mesopotamians believed the "houses" of their gods existed invisibly in certain places throughout existence (I.E. the Sumerian god Enki lived in a realm beneath the sea, but not in a material sense.) I cannot say that your view is orthodox (lower case) or that I've ever heard an Orthodox theologian espouse it.

These spiritual realities cannot have the answers you seem to assign them; Hell is down in relationship to the Earth, Heaven must be up there somewhere in relation to the Earth? We can't know this because it has not been revealed. If this is your speculation, fine, but it certainly isn't a doctrine.

I'd like to hear other peoples' comments on this.
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« Reply #24 on: April 13, 2011, 07:05:49 PM »

Perhaps we need to distinguish "literal" from "material", since my impression is that when you refuse to take any of this "literally" you mean that the material things which the images represent are not always appropriate when we are speaking of spiritual realities, like the fate of souls after death. I completely agree. However, I don't think it is inappropriate to speak of specific places when speaking of our souls. The material and spiritual worlds cannot be divorced to that extent. Now, we can't see the heavenly realm of angels and saints with our material vision, although we can suppose it is situated somewhere beyond the visible limits of the material universe. Likewise, we cannot see the realm of Hades with our material vision, but we can suppose it is situated somewhere "down" from us. The earth is in a way the center of the universe for us still, despite the fact that it appears to revolve around another body and so on. It is rather like the difference between material and spiritual geography when looking at the world. Spiritually, we would say Jerusalem is the center of the world, although any standard map or globe does not give this impression (when we calculate the exact middle point between the poles, for instance).
Ah, but you did not say the boundaries of the material universe, you said boundaries of the observable universe. These are quite different things.

There is no reason to take "above" and "below" to be literal spiritual locations, because, unless you are a hardcore geocentric, these are relative material planes. It's possible to view this through the lens of "spiritual materialism"-- that is, assuming that the spiritual reality parallels the material reality-- this is what you're doing. I believe the two realms are intertwined, but not con-fused or even parallel. There is not a spiritual outline of a ladder where the ladder sits in my garage, as if the spiritual realm was merely some sort of aura of the material realm (or vis versa). You seem to view spiritual locations in a very Mesopotamian way; the Mesopotamians believed the "houses" of their Gods existed invisibly in certain places throughout existence (I.E. the Sumerian god Enki lived in a realm beneath the sea, but not in a material sense.) I cannot say that your view is orthodox (lower case) or that I've ever heard an Orthodox theologian espouse it.

These spiritual realities cannot have the answers you seem to assign them; Hell is down in relationship to the Earth, Heaven must be up there somewhere in relation to the Earth? We can't know this because it has not been revealed. If this is your speculation, fine, but it certainly isn't a doctrine.

What do you mean it hasn't been revealed? In that passage from St Ephraim, for example, where in that does he say these directions of up and down are meant to be understood literally? Maybe you find it hard to accept, but then you're the one speculating, not me. I'm just taking St Ephraim's word for it. If you can quote St Mark of Ephesus or someone else to the effect that we really must not interpret these spatial dimensions in that way, I'm interested in hearing it, but so far I only have your word to go on.
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« Reply #25 on: April 13, 2011, 07:21:58 PM »

What do you mean it hasn't been revealed? In that passage from St Ephraim, for example, where in that does he say these directions of up and down are meant to be understood literally?
I agree, he makes no indication that it is literal. Any notion of levels of heaven that correspond with the layers of atmosphere and observable space, or with the rings of the earth's mantle, would be gnostic, from the mesopotamian-persian school or the egyptian school.

"Sin, Gehena and death do not exist at all with God, since they are effects, not substances." St. Isaac the Syrian, Ibid p.82

Once again, I'd like to have some other opinions weigh in on this.
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« Reply #26 on: April 13, 2011, 08:59:13 PM »

What do you mean it hasn't been revealed? In that passage from St Ephraim, for example, where in that does he say these directions of up and down are meant to be understood literally?
I agree, he makes no indication that it is literal. Any notion of levels of heaven that correspond with the layers of atmosphere and observable space, or with the rings of the earth's mantle, would be gnostic, from the mesopotamian-persian school or the egyptian school.

"Sin, Gehena and death do not exist at all with God, since they are effects, not substances." St. Isaac the Syrian, Ibid p.82

Once again, I'd like to have some other opinions weigh in on this.

You'll have to excuse me. I missed a negative. I meant to say "Where does he say these are not to be understood literally?" The point I was trying to make is that in that passage he seems to be taking the imagery quite literally.

St Isaac's phrase "exist with God" may need some explanation here, as is his distinction between "effect" and "substance". To me his language suggests he is thinking of how sin and evil are essentially negative phenomena, a point I believe raised in other patristic writings, such as St Athanasius' "On the Incarnation". In a certain sense, they have no reality (no "substance"), while in another sense they do have an objective reality (as "effects" of a will contrary to God).

It is interesting, though, that St Isaac doesn't come out and say these things don't exist at all, or that Gehenna is not a place. He seems to be trying to convey something far more nuanced. I agree with you that other opinions would be welcome in trying to elaborate on this.
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« Reply #27 on: April 13, 2011, 10:11:03 PM »

I think we can both agree that Gehenna-that is, the state of the damned after the final judgment and resurrection-- will indeed *occur* at a place; we'll be in bodies, after all, and bodies occupy space. We'll also be on a "new earth" of some sort, and it will presumably occupy space. Where we disagree is that I don't see the place being tied to the state.

St. Anthony said "To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind." I don't see why the blind would have to be in a different temporal location than the seeing, if this same ontological state can be achieved at any temporal location where "the sun (God, all-in-all) shines".
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« Reply #28 on: April 13, 2011, 10:45:48 PM »

I think we can both agree that Gehenna-that is, the state of the damned after the final judgment and resurrection-- will indeed *occur* at a place; we'll be in bodies, after all, and bodies occupy space. We'll also be on a "new earth" of some sort, and it will presumably occupy space. Where we disagree is that I don't see the place being tied to the state.

St. Anthony said "To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind." I don't see why the blind would have to be in a different temporal location than the seeing, if this same ontological state can be achieved at any temporal location where "the sun (God, all-in-all) shines".

Hm, you raise interesting questions. While on the one hand the Uncreated Fire will torment sinners at the same time it illumines the saints, at the same time we are told about "outer darkness". To me it means that God is everywhere, but also heaven and hell are different places. The two are compatible as far as I'm concerned.
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« Reply #29 on: April 14, 2011, 01:00:19 AM »

I understand you may have problems with what I am saying, but there is no clear teaching on the topic and the Fathers don't repeat each other word-for-word.  Syriac theories differ from Greek.  There is a very good review of these theories by Prof. Nicholas Constas: http://www.sosotech.com/html-history-and-military/dumbarton-oaks-papers-vol-51-59.html

I'm certain no saint would literally think of these 'places' as physical locations.  This was an old Western error.  St. Ephraim wrote poetry, and so he's painting a picture rather than giving a newpaper-ready description.

'Justice' means different things to different people.  If we had 'absolute justice' in the human sense, we would all be damned.  God's justice is not about punishment, but about 'making just' that which was subjected to injustice, as in repairing what is broken.  No amount of punishment can do that.  If anything, God's punishment is simply when He allows us to do what we want and reap the harvest of our sins.



I have a problem, I must say, with the idea that heaven and hell are "just" subjective conditions. Our spiritual disposition and relationship with God is certainly an important aspect of salvation or damnation, but there is just too much evidence that heaven and hell are also real, created places to simply dismiss out of hand. Take the following from St Ephraim the Syrian, for instance (Sermon 72):

Quote
"We know from the Gospel that there are various places of torment. For it has been revealed to us that there is exterior darkness (Matthew 8.12), and so it follows that there is also interior darkness. The fire of gehenna (Matthew 5.29) is another place, the abode of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25.30). Another place speaks of the worm that dieth not (Mark 9.43). We read in another place of the lake of fire (Rev. 19.15). The lower world of destruction and perdition are written of in precise terms (Matthew 7.13; I Timothy 6.9). The depths of the earth is another place. The hell where sinners are tormented, and the depths of hell, a more fearful place. The wretched souls of the damned are distributed throughout these places of punishment, each one according to the nature of his sins; fearfully or less fearfully, as it is written: Each one is fast bound by the ropes of his own sins (Proverbs 5.22); and this is what is meant by the servant who is beaten with many stripes or with few stripes (Luke 12.47, 48). For just as there are differences of sin so also are there differences in their punishment."

I also find it problematic to say that heaven or hell are not about justice. Take the following from Revelation 6.10:

Quote
“They [the martyrs] cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy
and true, doest Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on
the earth?”

Here we clearly have language about justice and even vengeance. So, I think we must be careful not to try to rationalize justice and vengeance away.
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« Reply #30 on: April 14, 2011, 01:54:29 AM »

I understand you may have problems with what I am saying, but there is no clear teaching on the topic and the Fathers don't repeat each other word-for-word.  Syriac theories differ from Greek.  There is a very good review of these theories by Prof. Nicholas Constas: http://www.sosotech.com/html-history-and-military/dumbarton-oaks-papers-vol-51-59.html

I'm certain no saint would literally think of these 'places' as physical locations.  This was an old Western error.  St. Ephraim wrote poetry, and so he's painting a picture rather than giving a newpaper-ready description.

'Justice' means different things to different people.  If we had 'absolute justice' in the human sense, we would all be damned.  God's justice is not about punishment, but about 'making just' that which was subjected to injustice, as in repairing what is broken.  No amount of punishment can do that.  If anything, God's punishment is simply when He allows us to do what we want and reap the harvest of our sins.



I have a problem, I must say, with the idea that heaven and hell are "just" subjective conditions. Our spiritual disposition and relationship with God is certainly an important aspect of salvation or damnation, but there is just too much evidence that heaven and hell are also real, created places to simply dismiss out of hand. Take the following from St Ephraim the Syrian, for instance (Sermon 72):

Quote
"We know from the Gospel that there are various places of torment. For it has been revealed to us that there is exterior darkness (Matthew 8.12), and so it follows that there is also interior darkness. The fire of gehenna (Matthew 5.29) is another place, the abode of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25.30). Another place speaks of the worm that dieth not (Mark 9.43). We read in another place of the lake of fire (Rev. 19.15). The lower world of destruction and perdition are written of in precise terms (Matthew 7.13; I Timothy 6.9). The depths of the earth is another place. The hell where sinners are tormented, and the depths of hell, a more fearful place. The wretched souls of the damned are distributed throughout these places of punishment, each one according to the nature of his sins; fearfully or less fearfully, as it is written: Each one is fast bound by the ropes of his own sins (Proverbs 5.22); and this is what is meant by the servant who is beaten with many stripes or with few stripes (Luke 12.47, 48). For just as there are differences of sin so also are there differences in their punishment."

I also find it problematic to say that heaven or hell are not about justice. Take the following from Revelation 6.10:

Quote
“They [the martyrs] cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy
and true, doest Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on
the earth?”

Here we clearly have language about justice and even vengeance. So, I think we must be careful not to try to rationalize justice and vengeance away.

It's a Western error to think of heaven and hell as places? I find that difficult to believe, but I'd be glad to see your evidence.

I suppose I understand what you mean by "physical" location. The problem is that our concept of things like location are generally constrained by a purely material vision. The reality of course is that material and spiritual realities are intertwined. So you can have "spiritualized" bodies like our Lord after the Resurrection, which at the same time ate and drank but then moved through closed doors and transported instantly from place to place. So I am quite prepared to believe that heaven is a place, but maybe in some kind of dimension we cannot perceive with our material vision, and likewise hell. Similarly, the directions of "up" for heaven and "down" for hell are real, but maybe the reality is not something we can easily perceive, and when we think of physical up and down in our own material perspective that is only an imprecise image of the reality.

My point is that while admitting that the physical reality of heaven and hell may be hard for us to perceive currently, we should not exclude it completely.
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« Reply #31 on: April 14, 2011, 08:32:21 AM »

It's a Western error to think of heaven and hell as places? I find that difficult to believe, but I'd be glad to see your evidence.

I suppose I understand what you mean by "physical" location. The problem is that our concept of things like location are generally constrained by a purely material vision. The reality of course is that material and spiritual realities are intertwined. So you can have "spiritualized" bodies like our Lord after the Resurrection, which at the same time ate and drank but then moved through closed doors and transported instantly from place to place. So I am quite prepared to believe that heaven is a place, but maybe in some kind of dimension we cannot perceive with our material vision, and likewise hell. Similarly, the directions of "up" for heaven and "down" for hell are real, but maybe the reality is not something we can easily perceive, and when we think of physical up and down in our own material perspective that is only an imprecise image of the reality.

My point is that while admitting that the physical reality of heaven and hell may be hard for us to perceive currently, we should not exclude it completely.

Jonathan, I think you are right here.  I don’t think there is a problem speaking of heaven and hell as places, as long we understand that they are not to be understood as places in our usual materialistic understanding.  As you pointed out in reference to the resurrected body of Christ, though the resurrected body will have some sense of materiality, this materiality will be of a different order than the materiality which we have grown accustomed to since the Fall.  Time, space, materiality, location, place, etc., are, and will be, of a different order than we currently understand them, and this different order manifests itself in the post-Resurrection account of Christ entering through the closed door, the account of Christ and some of the saints (like St. Mary of Egypt) walking on water, the story in the book of Acts of St. Philip who was “caught away” and translated to another location after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, Elder Porphyrios in Athens who could see events occurring miles away while physically blind, and many other stories related in the Gospels and in the lives of the saints where we can see the order of the “kingdom of heaven” being manifested on earth.

With regard to the Lord’s Ascension, the demons inhabiting the air, the souls of the unrepentant being dragged down to hell, etc., these locational or directional references describe what actually takes place, yet again I think we have to be cautious about interpreting such locational and direction information in an overly materialistic manner.  Does the fact of Christ’s Ascension imply that heaven is in space somewhere?  Or, if the soul of the unrepentant sinner is dragged down to Hades, does this necessarily imply that Hades is located in the center of the earth?  These things could be, but if this is the case they may exist in an order that would not be perceptible to our post-Fall material vision.  We do not see the Garden of Eden, for instance, whose entrance has been barred because of the Fall.  It does not exist in the material way which would be perceptible to our vision in our current fallen state.  We cannot bodily approach the entrance of Eden and look into it with our physical eyes, for instance. 

It seems that the imagery used for heaven and hell in the Scriptures can be approached in a similar manner as the anthropomorphic references to God, His “throne”, His “hand”, etc. which are found in the Old Testament.  These references are intended to convey a true meaning about the reality conveyed, and the imagery used has been divinely chosen based on the impression which this imagery should convey upon the soul.  In other words, God speaks to us in human language using material symbols to refer to divine things in order to convey to our souls the right impression of divine things to the extent possible while we still inhabit our fallen material bodies.  That the Fathers highly regarded all Scriptural images is very evident, such as in St. Dionysius’ book on the Divine Names, or in Fathers’ instructions to constantly meditate upon the imagery used to describe the torments of hell as a way to gain victory over our passions.  To the Fathers, this imagery is real, for if the imagery is not real or true how could one obtain any value from constantly reflecting upon them?  Yet, while the imagery employed is true and reflects reality, the reality itself is above and beyond the symbol to the extent that the imagery is mostly physical and yet the experience of heaven and hell will certainly not be merely physical, or physical in the way we understand it.  Physical or earthly fire will burn and hurt the body but will not afflict the soul, while the sufferings of hell will be complete and entire, afflicting the whole person, both soul and body, with no possibility of escape. 

I think where the Western approach goes wrong with the conception of heaven and hell is not in the reference to either as “places”, but rather in their overly materialistic understanding of the symbolism employed in the Scriptures, as well as their conception of these places as though they are created material places outside of God.  While the Fathers’ encourage us to constantly reflect on the imagery used to describe the torments of hell, it seems as though they consistently speak of the kingdom of heaven in a more spiritual manner in order for our aspirations for entering the kingdom of heaven to reflect the proper inner disposition we must have on our earthly pilgrimage.  Non-Orthodox, in attempting to encourage a desire for the heavenly kingdom, may go on about how pretty and nice and beautiful it would be to have streets made of gold, and other such Scriptural imagery is likewise understood in such a way to appeal to our materialism or carnality.  The non-Orthodox also fall into error in speaking about hell as though it is “separation from God”, as if anything can be “separate from God”.  Spiritually there is separation from God, but insofar as this experience of separation is actually the experience of God’s own Uncreated Energies by a soul that has turned eternally away from God, this “separation” cannot be understood in the entire manner in which non-Orthodox often interpret it when referring to this “separation”. 

So, again, I think the problem is not in referring to heaven and hell as existing or as places, but rather in understanding either in an overly materialistic manner, or in understanding hell as a place outside of God, or in understanding the joys and sufferings of either heaven or hell as somehow the experience of created realities rather than the experience of the Uncreated Energies of God, which are experienced either as heaven and hell depending on the orientation of one’s soul in reference to God.
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FatherGiryus
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« Reply #32 on: April 14, 2011, 10:31:01 AM »

Well, now, I think you can see that your primary objection was one of semantics.  We essentially see the matter in a similar way.

What I was referring to can be seen in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where there is a 'gul' which is at the same time not 'remote.'  This is very similar to the ending of Isaiah, where the New Jerusalem is surrounded by 'hell.'  The experiences are utterly different, and yet they remain in the same 'place.'  It is all poetic language rather than a news report.

Now, just to be clear, I do not think that the suffering of hell will 'cause' anyone to repent, and thus the Last Judgment is indeed the last.  Those who have chosen to utterly reject God will continue to do so and so they have tossed aside any hope.  They are condemned because they will not accept God's justice for their sins by repenting.  There will be no innocent victims of a 'terrible misunderstanding.'  The whole purpose of the Last Judgment is to clear that up.

As for evidence, please read Prof. Nicholas Constas' article.  It is very enlightening. 



<snip>

I suppose I understand what you mean by "physical" location. The problem is that our concept of things like location are generally constrained by a purely material vision. The reality of course is that material and spiritual realities are intertwined. So you can have "spiritualized" bodies like our Lord after the Resurrection, which at the same time ate and drank but then moved through closed doors and transported instantly from place to place. So I am quite prepared to believe that heaven is a place, but maybe in some kind of dimension we cannot perceive with our material vision, and likewise hell. Similarly, the directions of "up" for heaven and "down" for hell are real, but maybe the reality is not something we can easily perceive, and when we think of physical up and down in our own material perspective that is only an imprecise image of the reality.

My point is that while admitting that the physical reality of heaven and hell may be hard for us to perceive currently, we should not exclude it completely.
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« Reply #33 on: April 25, 2011, 09:22:13 PM »


  I'm tempted to think of myself as a universalist, my OCA priest seems to think that position might be compatible with Orthodoxy as well.   I do think few of us will leave this life ready for eternity with God (sort of a "Purgatory" but more like how CS Lewis describes it, than most Roman Catholics), but its very uncreative and unthinking to suggest that God must somehow punish people forever out of some "Justice" he answers to (and yet somehow also desires all men to be saved).      At the same time i think it's a bit wierd to assume that God would be unmoved to allow somebody to suffer eternally, wheather or not they will it.   But there may be kerygmatic reasons for preserving the traditional teaching that i do not undertand.  So I think any view that says God is loving, and merciful, and leaving human beings as responsible moral agents (no free pass to do evil), is acceptable to me... and i'm comfortable leaving it a mystery.
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