I am not sure if I should even post on this thread anymore.
James, You seem keen to argue against annihilationism,
We don't believe in annihilationism. We do believe in the general Resurrection of all. I'm with St. Isaac the Syrian on this one - even in hell we would be in the inescapable presence of God.yet I have nowhere here advanced that idea.
I see no way to fit annihilationism into Orthodoxy, so I can't see how it is an option. Conditional immortality of the soul (indeed the conditional existence of all that is not God) need not lead one to the acceptance of annihilationism. God is present everywhere and He sustains all creation. I can see why you might prefer to rejection leads to annihilation rather than eternal torment, much as I prefer to hope and pray that all might eventually be reconciled with God, but I simply can't reconcile annihilationism with our faith.
And God is eternal so if we reject him, it leads not annihilation but eternal torment.
You think that you haven't but in fact have, and now I see why:
You have reduced the possibilities for the soul in hell to either God sustaining souls for an eternity of suffering or God annihilating souls. I think I could make a case for either from patristics, but I think you are leaving out another logical possibility: unrepentant souls in hell, those who rather than being in communion with God have rejected Him and thus have not received the gift of immortality, just simply cease to exist (a belief that is typically called “Conditional Immortality”).St. Iranaeus wrote, "But, being ignorant of Him who from the Virgin is Emmanuel, they are deprived of His gift, which is eternal life; and not receiving the incorruptible Word, they remain in mortal flesh, and are debtors to death, not obtaining the antidote of life".
And this is the problem. Conditional Immortality does not mean what you appear to think it means. Annihilationism is the name for the belief that those who are damned cease to exist rather than suffering eternal torment, so not only have you advanced it several times but you've advanced it in this post whilst telling me you never have. Conditional Immortality means nothing more than that our immortality is not inherent in us but dependent upon God. Annihilationism is a possible consequence of belief in Conditional Immortality, and the two are often paired and, hence, confused, but the former does not necessarily flow from the latter. Conditional Immortality is entirely unaffected by whether God will or will not in fact allow and/or cause the damned to cease to exist, all it says is that we are inherently mortal and any immortality we might experience is solely dependent upon God - it is not natural to the soul.
Perhaps God simply allows people who reject immortality to get what they want (which is why the issue of free will is relevant). Of course, as Thomas Hopko notes, we know very little of what will actually happen after death; someday we shall find out if St. Isaac the Syrian is right. Faced with mortality of bodies in this life, we do know that God may act in one of three ways: (1) actively intervene to save them, to prevent them from dying, as He did for example with Lazarus; (2) actively intervene to annihilate them, as he did with the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah; or (3) passively allow them to die, which is the normal case.
And yet we know that those who die in the body are not dead at all. To deny this would be to go outside the pale of Orthodox belief. What happens with the body is not directly relevant to the soul, but I note that if we were to rewrite your paragraph to refer to the soul rather than the body, both 2 and 3 would be variations on annihilationism. The idea of annihilationsim does not require that God actively destroy us, passively allowing us to be destroyed fits the bill just the same.
Men, we agree, are mortal, both body and soul, and without God’s intervention, people die. So why is it inconceivable that God would simply not intervene and allow mortal souls to cease to exist, as he does with bodies?
I simply don't believe that the idea that the souls of the damned are annihilated (whether actively or passively) is consistent with the Orthodox faith. It seems to contradict Scripture and the overwhelming majority of the Fathers. One of the anathemas of Justinian against Origen even expressly condemns the idea of a temporary hell, though it was aimed at apocatastasis rather than annihilationism and is not included in the anathemas of the 5th Ecumenical Council. There's no doubt at all that it fails the Vincentian Canon, so what makes you think it an acceptable view to adhere to?
A number of Orthodox saints have claimed that heaven and hell are not two different places but rather just two different, indeed polar opposite experiences, depending on the state of the soul. Just as the uncreated light of Christ is both "an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light” as St. John of the Ladder wrote, so, it seems at least plausible that to one person, God could be mortality and to another, immortality.
I'd point out that our experiencing something requires our existence every bit as much as our being in a specific place would (and I don't believe in the idea of heaven and hell as places - I happen to agree with those who see them as experience). To experience something eternally would, certainly, require us to exist forever.
This would not be because God seeks to actively destroy or annihilate the unsaved soul, but rather a natural result of its own internal condition (a soul lacking the gift of immortality that accompanies union with God).
But as I pointed out above, this is still annihilationism, active or not.
This seems consonant with St. Iranaeus's understanding of 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10. "Who shall be punished with everlasting death from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in those who believe in Him" (IV, On Heresies, 33.11).
Yes, this can be interpreted that way (it depends on what you think 'everlasting death' means) and he certainly appears to have believed in conditional immortality. Other passages seem to preclude annihilationism, though:
'...thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal
. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity, these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it...' - Against Heresies, 4:28:2
Even if St. Irenaeus was an annihilationist, though, one Father (or even all of the handful of them I've seen advanced as suggesting the idea, not altogether convincingly) does not a consensus make.