Tuesday, December 13, 2016

HELL #1 - THE REALITY OF HELL

In this "Bible Note" on "HELL" I am trekking into what has become a "controversial" topic in these "post-modern and post-Chistian times". It is also a very emotional subject for many. For others it is a topic that creates many theological difficulties in their minds. The Ancient Church's teaching on the topic of hell is clearly established in the "doctrine of the Church". It is to this "Orthodox Faith" I will appeal for understanding of the "Truth" concerning "hell" and the questions that arise when "hell" is discussed: such as, "Is hell literal?"; "Is hell a place or a condition?"; and "Is hell eternal?".  There was a time when the general Christian consciousness was that there was "a hell to be shunned and a heaven to gain". Now, even Evangelicals question whether a Good and Loving God could send people to hell??? And punish them??? Forever??? Of course the Roman Catholics have a way around the eternal realities of hell through their doctrine of purgatory. They can suffer in the afterlife for their sins and eventually make heaven their home. It should be noted that they also believe in gehenna/hell fire for those who are lost.

This blog is dedicated to "Bible Notes", so I will appeal to the Holy Scriptures as the primary source for this post on the subject of "hell", particularly to the words of Jesus on the subject since He spoke of hell more than anyone else. Though it is perfectly fine to include other aspects of Holy Tradition to establish a doctrine, ie. liturgical texts, writings of the Church Fathers and Teachers, Lives of the Saints, I think on this subject it is especially important to appeal to Holy Scripture, especially the 12 times Jesus teaches about hell.  But I will say that my research has discovered that even among some modern Orthodox scholars there seems to be a lack of reliance on the Holy Scriptures as the primary source of "Truth" and "doctrine". Remember that the Orthodox have an understanding within "the world of doing theology" where theologians and Christians are allowed "theological opinions". But these opinions are permissable as long as they do not stray outside the boundaries of the Orthodox Faith. There is room for opinions but if the Church is clear on a matter of doctrine than beware, lest you stray beyond the gray areas of opinion and into the black of heresy.

This long introduction is necessary because of the controversy heaped upon this subject by atheistic scoffers, and those within the Christian Church-world who have developed an aversion to the idea of hell, eternal punishment, and eternal fire. Post-modern people and post-Christian western civilization is uncomfortable with absolutes, moral absolutes, religious absolutes. "No one knows anything for sure", they say. I will have to be the contrarian here and proclaim that there is "Truth"(John 8:32). Jesus is the Truth and the true Way to God(John 14:6). His Holy Spirit inspired Words are Truth(John 14:17). His Holy Orthodox Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth(1 Tim. 3:15). And what Jesus Himself teaches about "hell" and eternal punishment is the Truth on the subject, forever settled in heaven. An infamous teacher of the the 3rd century, Origen, dared to proceed beyond the limits of Holy Scripture, fell into heretical ideas, teaching that hell was not eternal and that ultimately everyone and everything would be reconciled to God. His followers spread this heresy which created a problem in the church large enough that it had to be dealt with at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople(553 A.D.) where Origen's teachings on various topics were condemned as heresy and Origen himself was deemed a heretic. 1000 years later, at the Council of Florence(1439 A.D.), the Roman Catholic teachings on purgatory were refuted by the Orthodox Church in the person of St Mark of Ephesus who demonstrated that the notion of purgatory and all the falsehoods that accompany it are to be rejected by the True Church.

HELL - A PLACE PREPARED BY GOD
The existence of "hell" was made clear by the Master Himself. Jesus, creator of all things, visible and invisble(Col. 1:14-18), proclaims to the goats on His left hand at the judgment which happens at the coming of the Son of Man, "...Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels"(Mt. 25:41). Hell/Gehenna was/is a place/space prepared by God to incarcerate the devil and the angels that fell with him.

WHAT IS HELL?
Hell is a place as well as a condition, a state of being. Upon being judged unworthy of being welcome into heaven, the sinner will be consigned to a place of torment known by Jesus as Hell/Gehenna, the "Lake of Fire", "Everlasting Torment",

UNDERSTANDING THE GREEK WORDS FOR HELL IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
There are three Greek words translated as "hell" in the KJV of the New Testament.The first Greek word is "tartarus" and is translated "hell" in 2 Peter 2:4 and  is understood to be a compartment in the nether world where fallen angels are bound awaiting the final judgment. The second Greek word is "hades" and is translated as "hell" in Mt. 11:23; Mt. 16:18; Lk. 10:15; Lk. 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14. Hades is understood to be the "place of the departed/the dead" in the heart of the earth where Old Testament saints and sinners(Lk. 16:19-31) awaited the coming of the Messiah and Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, either in Paradise/Abraham's Bosom or far across a great chasm in flaming Torment. Upon the Passion of Christ, His Crucifixion and death opon the Cross, Christ descended into "hades" where He destroyed him who had the power of death that is the devil(Heb. 2:14). Then Christ preached to the spirits in prison there(1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2:6-8). Jesus, being God, could not remain in "hades", nor could His body see corruption in the grave. He was raised from the dead, leading all the captive saints who were being held in "captivity" and they were lead by him from there. Some of the saints who arose with Him appeared to many in Jerusalen after His resurrection(Mt. 27:55; Eph. 4:9,10; Acts 2:27,31; Acts 13:31) The third Greek word translated "hell" in the New Testament is "gehenna" (Mt. 5:22,29,30; Mt. 10:28; Mt. 18:9; Mt.23:15,33; Mk. 9:43,45,47; Lk. 12:5; Jms. 3:6) which is the eternal "lake of fire" which Jesus warned of, and into which "death and hades" will be cast into on the great day of judgment(Rev. 20:14). "Gehenna is the Hebrew ge - hinnom - the valley of the son of Hennom. It was located southeast of Jerusalem. During the time of idolatry there was an idol of the god Maloch in the form of a bull, and when fires were burning beneath it, children or even adults were thrown into the fire as human sacrifices. This is why the valley was called the valley of mourning. King Josiah (7th century B.C.) declared that place unclean and ordered all the unclean things to be thrown there - the refuse of the city, the carcasses of animals, the corpses of people who had been condemned to death and unburied dead. The destruction of all these was done by fire, whose purpose was also to disinfect the area. During the day clouds of smoke, rising from there, covered the surrounding area, while at night the huge flames could be seen from a considerable distance. Because of this the place was called - gehenna of fire - and it became a symbol of hell, since people would say: "The hell of sinners must be something like this!". This is why the Lord used this image, which was familiar to his contemporaries in order to describe the weight of the punishment and the severity of eternal hell."(The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, p. 518)


It is important to note that "hell" should not be confused with "hades". Hell/Gehenna is described as eternal, where "hades" is described as being "temporal". Jesus says of Himself, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hades and of death"(Rev. 1:18). Then in Revelation 20:14 we see written, "And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death". At the general resurrection those in hades will be resurrected to stand before the Great Judgment Seat. Hades will be cast into the "lake of fire" which is Gehenna or hell. "and whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire"(Rev. 20:15). Only a few verses earlier do we read of the destiny of the devil and his cohorts, "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever(Rev. 20:10). So we see that "hades" and it's occupants upon the resurrection of the dead, after being judged and found not to be in the book of life, are cast into the "lake of fire" which is "hell", and which is the second death, the eternal death. This is the "resurrection of damnation"(John 5:29,30).



Monday, December 12, 2016

HELL #2 - THE HORRORS OF HELL

The first horror is that the sinner, banished to hell fire, will not partake in the glory of heaven, nor experience the light of the New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:1-22:5 reveals to us the vast contrast of those who "overcome" and "those not found in the book of life". For ages and infinite ages will those counted worthy, be a part of God's light and beauty, love and wisdom, mystery and infinity, drinking from the waters of life freely, living eternally in the very presence of God who has made His home among mankind. But those who resisted the love of God and the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ will have knowledge, torturous knowledge of what they can not have. One may ask, "Do you think hell is seperation from God?" The answer is "Yes and No". "Yes", because the sinner in hell is seperated from the benefits, the blessings of heaven. But, "No", because God is in hell as He is everywhere, always. Listen to the Psalmist, "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I go from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there"(Ps. 139:7,8). It has been speculated that the sinner in hell will find the presence of God in hell an unwelcome torment. For God is love and Our God is a consuming fire. To the saint God's love is purifying and healing fire, to the sinner God's love is torment. Jesus speaks of the unprofitable servant being cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Outer darkness is Old Testament imagery for the curse that comes upon the disobedient, you are outside the camp. And here, seperated from the blessedness of heaven, and hating God, the sinner is found weeping, not in mourning, or because of pain, but he weeps in anger gnashing his teeth against God(Matthew 25:14-30).

Shame, unrelenting shame, will be the eternal lot of sinners. In the resurrection of the dead, those who are lost in their sins will "awake...to shame and everlasting contempt"(Dan. 12:2). St Paul warned Christians to be careful who they followed, saying, "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)(Phil. 3:17-19).

Hell will be "the moonless place", a place of utter darkness, the deepest darkness, in the outer darkness. A darkness without escape, a darkness that presses in on you, suffocates you. You will be in a fire that has no brightness. You will for all eternity be found in a deep abyss, falling forever, never to land, never free of fright. Oh the horror of falling in utter darkness, with fire that has no light burning you, a darkness that shatters the soul. Poisonous flesh-eating worms that feast gluttonously on your flesh, never satisfied. Forever you will be in the company of your enemies, the demons. How horrific to be chained together with unseen murderers in a joyless place, filled with inconsolable grief. This deathless death that the sinner will endure is much more unbearable and bitter than the seperation of body and soul. This is the second death, which is eternal death.

To some this sounds like exaggeration, but it is absolutely consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus teaches in his "Sermon on the Mount" that "broad is the way that leads to destruction...every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire...then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of iniquity"(Mt. 7:13,19,23). Jesus warned that "it is better for you to enter into life maimed, then having two hands to go into hell/gehenna, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where there worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched". Jesus repeats this warning three times in a row(Mk. 9:42-47; Mt. 18:7-9). Jesus reveals what happens at the end of the world, at His second coming: He will send His angels to gather together all those who do iniquity, "And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth"(Mt. 13:37-43). Jesus warns of the "danger of hell fire" in Mt. 5:22 and again in Mt. 5:29 and 30. In Matthew 10 Jesus is teaching about the requirements for discipleship and says, "...fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell/gehenna"(Mt. 10:28; Lk. 12:1-9). And once more, pronouncing the seven "Woes" upon the Scribes and Pharisees Jesus says, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell/gehenna"(Mt. 23:15,33). And yet once more, Jesus ends his parable of the talents saying, "And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."(Mt. 25:30).  

St Paul describes what will come upon the unrepentant sinner at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence 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 all them that believe..."(2 Th. 1:7-9). St Paul explains how the sinner who resists the goodness of God that leads to repentance hardens his impenitent heart storing up for himself wrath which will be revealed against him on "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God"(Rom. 2:4,5). The life of the sinner beyond the grave is called "destruction" by the God-inspired Apostles. "The enemies of the Cross of Christ: whose end is destruction"(Phil. 3:18,19). There end is "the lake that burns with fire and sulphur"(Rev. 21:8). They have only to look forward to a certain fearful judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour them(Heb. 10:27). And "the mist of darkness" and "the blackness of darkness" is forever reserved for the unrepentant sinner(2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 13).

UNDERSTANDING THE FUNCTION OF A SYMBOL
All the various images, given by Jesus and the Apostles for the indescribable experience that hell will forever be, are symbols. There are those who object to a literal interpretation of these scriptural passages describing hell. And the Church Fathers and the doctrine of the Church concurs. We know that these images of hell are not to be understood in a literal, material way. As John of Damascus says, "Fires of hell are a mystical fire far more real than the material fires of earth...". The fire of hell is different than familiar fire. Actually the earthly fires symbolize a far more horrific mystical fires. Symbols are used as metaphors and as figurative speech. The function of a symbol is to be a likeness of a reality. A symbol points beyond itself to something even more real and intense than that pictured by a symbol. Take no comfort that these are symbols used by Jesus and the Apostles. For they point us to a far greater reality of horror. St Gregory of Nyssa observes, "When you hear about the fire of hell, you must understand something different from familiar fire, because that fire has other characteristics than those held by this fire on earth. That fire(hell fire) cannot go out; while many methods have been found to put out this one(earthly material fire). There is, therefore, a great difference between the fire that goes out and that which is never quenched. Consequently, the fire of hell is something different and unlike our familiar fire. Again when you hear about "the worm" of the future hell, let not your mind race, on account of the synonym, to the familiar "worm" of the earth. For the characterization of that worm as something that "does not die"(Mk. 9:48) leads us to believe basically that this is something different from the familiar worm we know".(The Great Catechetical Homily 40 p. 45 Gregory of Nyssa)

The above being true, we may also add that the torment of hell may include a physical component seeing that the sinners receive a resurrection body suited to the punishment of soul and body(John 5:28,29). The torment of soul is definite, but we will forever be body and soul creatures for eternity, so the body may be a part of the torment.










Sunday, December 11, 2016

HELL #3 - HELL IS ETERNAL

Jesus must be our ultimate authority on this subject of "Hell". Does Jesus teach clearly on the reality of hell? Yes. In His compassion and mercy for mankind, on numerous occasions, He made known the perils of living wickedly. He forewarned of the horrors of eternal damnation, eternal punishment, eternal seperation, eternal torments, of eternal hell fire. His revelaion of this sober reality was not an idle threat by which to scare sinners into following Him, but a revelation of what was created for the devil and his angels, and to where those who are satanized will also be consigned on the great day of judgment.

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus gives us His most complete picture of Hell and its eternal reality. We see that at the Glorious Second Coming of the Son of Man that there will be a universal judgment; That this judgment will be open and solemn; That this judgment will be strict and terrible; That this judgment will be a "Day of wrath and a revelation of the righteous judgment(Romans 2:5); That this judgment will be final and definitive, for all eternity the fate of each one judged is determined.
In verse 41 we are told that the King will say to those on his left hand, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels". Prior to this, in verse 34, we are told that the King will say to those on his right hand, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world". Notice that Jesus reveals that both, "the kingdom" and "the everlasting fire" were "prepared" for this moment in time. The kingdom of God and all its glory is opened to all those on his right hand. Those on his left hand witness this great inheritance being opened to those who have done the will of God. Then those who have refused to do the will of God are sent to the place not made for humans, but to the place made for the eternally doomed devil and his angels. In Verse 46, Jesus says, "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal". Let us settle the question of the eternality of hell! For if hell be temporal, why not the kingdom of God. Theologians fight within themselves about the very things their finite minds cannot fathom. Yet they boldly espouse ideas and doctrines that contradict the very revelations of Jesus Christ Himself on the matters of eternal destiny. Let us not be deceived, let us not be swayed by vain questions and speculations about the afterlife. But let the words of Jesus speak the simple and profound realities that should cause us with fear and trembling to work out our salvation(Phil. 2:12).

St Cyril of Jerusalem instructs us that the sinners, at the general resurrection of the dead, will receive an eternal body suffering the punishment of sins, so that while burning eternally in fire they will never be consumed. WOE!!! St Basil the Great also teaches the same things, when he criticizes that "most people" have been misled by the machinations of the devil and forget the very clear words of the Lord. Some of these people dare to insist that hell will end, that they may sin all the more with audacity...If eternal torment ever ends, then eternal life must also end. If we refuse to imagine this about eternal life, under what logic can we terminate eternal torment? For it is clear that the designation "eternal" is applied equally to the righteous and to the sinners".(Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses, 18,19; Basil the Great, Short Rules, Question 267, pg 31,1265A)

In Mark 9:38-48 Jesus uses a question from John the Apostle to teach on the reality and the horrors and the eternality of gehenna/hell fire. Three times in a very short message Jesus repeats the warning that there will be those "who are cast into hell fire/gehenna: where there worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched".

Reading Matthew 3:5-12 John the Baptist reveals that Jesus will gather the wheat and burn the chaff. St Gregory Palamas comments on the words of the Forerunner, "And He will clean thoroughly His threshing floor, that is, the whole world, and the wheat, those who are fertile for righteousness, He will gather in his granary(the heavenly chambers), but the chaff, as something worthless in the efforts for virtue, He will burn with unquenchable fire. If that fire is unquenchable, then it must also have an inconsumable fuel; this then represents the eternity of hell"(Gregory Palamas Homilies XXII, Homily 59). 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9: St Paul makes it clear, "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with EVERLASTING destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power". St John further clarifies the answer to the question, "Is hell forever?" in his Revelation(20:10,14,15) when he reveals that the devil, the beast, the false prophet, and all those not found in the book of life will be tormented in the lake of fire day and night for ever and ever.

In Mark 3:22-30 Jesus warns that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit puts a person in danger of "eternal damnation".

It appears that there will be degrees of torment for those consigned to hell just as there are degrees of glory for those who enter the kingdom of heaven. Read Luke 12:41-48 and Matthew 10:15 and Matthew 11:21-24. Hell will be a personal experience for the wicked just as heaven will be a personal experience for the saved. Each of us will receive according to what we have done.
(2 Cor. 5:8-10; Mt. 16:27; Romans 2:5-7; John 5:28,29; Mt. 25:31-46)

Suggested Reading:
"The Mystery Of Death" by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis; 1993 by The Orthodox Brotherhood www.bostonmonks.com
"Orthodox Dogmatic Theology" by Michael Pomazansky; 1983,2009 by the St Herman Of Alaska Brotherhood www.sainthermanpress.com
"A Ray Of Light" by Archimandrite Panteleimon; 1946,1991 Holy Trinity Monastery www.jordanville.org





Saturday, December 10, 2016

HELL #4 - THE CHURCH FATHERS ON HELL

To the question "where is the place of torments?" St John Chrysostom responds: "Why are you concerned  about the place? What is important is the fact that it is and not where it is." "I think that it is somewhere outside of this world...hell is outside of this created universe." "Do not, therefore, ask where it is, but how to avoid it". (John Chrysostom, On Romans, Homily 31,4-5 pg. 60,673-674)

"Let us not disbelieve that there is a hell, that we may not fall in it. For he who disbelieves in hell becomes more slothful and indolent toward virtue: he who is slothful and indolent toward virtue will develop a spirit of unrepentance and will surely end up in hell. As for us, let us believe in the existence of hell without reservation, and let us hold frequent conversation about it and thus we will not fall into sin readily and quickly. For the memory of hell acts as a bitter medicine and restrains and cures every evil."(John Chrysostom, On The Future Judgment, PG 63,744

"It is just(the judgment of God) because while accepting the call of God, I was not obedient; while being taught, I was not paying attention; while they were reassuring me, I was jeering them; while I studied the divine word and knew it without disbelief, nevertheless, I spent the years of my life in negligence, laziness, and carelessness, in distractions and sinful confusion and guilty thrills. My months and days were filled by the labors, efforts and struggles for the temporal, the corruptible and the earthly."(Cyril Of Alexandria, On The Exodos Of The Soul,PG 77,1073A)

"If you have faith in the Lord you will fear punishment, and this fear will lead you to control the passions."(Maximos The Confessor, Four Hundred Texts On Love, Philokalia Vol 2, pg.53)

"Put evil to death so that you will not rise up dead (at the future judgment) and thus pass from a minor to a major death."(Thalassios The Libyan, On Love, Self Control and Life, Philokalia Vol. 2, pg 328)

"If someone asks, "how can the soul endure such a great multitude of punishments and be punished for an endless duration of ages?". Let him keep this in mind: When the soul received a body that is incorruptible and inconsumable, there is nothing that will obstruct the extension of hell into the infinite. The body will remain together with the soul eternally to be tormented, and there will be no other end at all".(John Chrysostom, To The Fallen Theodore I 9,10 PG 47,289,290)

St Cyril of Alexandria in his shocking homily, "The Exodus of the Soul and the Second Parousia" confesses as follows, "I am afraid of the gehenna because it endures forever...I am afraid of the hell that has no end...I am afraid of the unbreakable bonds...For the temporal pleasure of sin I am forever tormented. There in hell there is eternal pain, endless grief, ceaseless weeping and gnashing of teeth and sleepless sighing: there in hell there is always woe! woe! woe! There in hell they shout for help and there is no one to help."(Cyril Of Alexandria, On The Exodus Of The Soul PG 77,1072BC; 1073A; 1076D)

"Eternal means that which is forever, that which never has an end, never...The miserable sinners are condemned to remain eternaly in the fire being tormented...And above all remember, my sinner brother, the violence and ferociousness that the fire of gehenna will exercise over you, and which St Paul, wishing to describe it, said: A fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries(Heb. 10:27). Interpreting this verse, the saintly Theophylactos says: As a wild beast, when disturbed by someone, becomes angry and violent, so also that fire, becoming in a sense jealous and wrathful, is destined to be consuming eternally the enemies of God, that is, the sinners."(Nikodimos Of The Holy Mountain, New Ladder, Constantinople 1844, pp. 188;191)

"Christ the Lord of all calls out and says, As long as you have the light, run to the light that the darkness may not overtake you. Run by way of repentance, run in the way of the commandments of Christ. But, if we do not choose to obey Christ our Lord and do not attempt, as long as we are found in this present life, to receive from Him the kingdom of God within us, when we go there we will hear Christ justly saying these things to us: Why are you asking now for what you did not want when I was giving it to you? Was I not often pleading with you to struggle for a while that I may give you the kingdom of heaven, and you did not want it, but rejected it preferring rather the earthly, the corruptible; now what is it you want? With what deeds or what words do you expect to be able to find the Kingdom from now on? For now is not the time for work, but for retribution."(Symeon The New Theologian, Complete Extant Works, Part I, Homily 25,2 p. 136)

"Do you see how the devil succeeded in making us enemies of ourselves? Let us come to our senses, let us look carefully. Let us keep vigil, let us reach for the eternal life, and let us hold on to it tightly. Let us put away from us the abundant sleep of sin. There is a judgment; there is hell. The Lord is coming in the clouds. A river of fire is flowing before Him, the ceaseless worm, the unquenchable fire, the outer darkness, the gnashing of teeth. Even if you are troubled a myriad of times over these things, I will not cease speaking them. There is eternal hell and it is inconsolable; there is no one to help us."(John Chrysostom, On 1 Thessalonians, Homily 9,5 PG 62,454)