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To pray or not to pray: Dare we hope for the salvation of all?


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#21 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 15 January 2011 - 07:11 PM

If one holds to universal salvation, then they should not ridicule "once saved, always saved." At least with the latter, only those who at some point confessed Christ as their Lord and Savior enter eternal life with Christ in His Heavenly Kingdom. With the former, all are saved no matter how vile and wicked a life they led, no matter if they rejected Christ and blashphemed His Holy name. Surely universal salvation is absurd, erroneous, and leads to deadly conclusions. God has put into the consciences of humans that there is correction, and even punishment meted out for those who have gravely transgressed the laws of society. There is a reckoning with our Almighty God for all who have been made in His image, a time when we will be accountable to Him for the life He gave us. There is no escaping this with flowery language or wishful thinking. I pray for Christ to have mercy on me, and that I may stand before His judgment seat and hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master."

#22 Dusan Basta

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 12:19 AM

I have a problem with a desire to pray for Arius or Lenin or Hitler or on the opposite, with desire not to pray for them. It’s like, I am full of love and then I can decide for whom I will pray which makes no sense in Orthodoxy because its hypocrisy.

#23 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 12:32 AM

I find myself in profound disagreement with several of the comments in this thread. Forgive me but I cannot but respond. I do not intend disparagement nor do I wish to be contentious; but this matter touches the core of my faith.

I think though Father that there is something else very important that is at work here. I recall a number of years ago someone among the laity asking Metropolitan Vitaly if there was anyone we cannot pray for among those who have died. To this he replied Lenin- we must not pray for him as we pray for so many others. Now this may seem shocking at first sight- but for those exposed to the unspeakable and conscious brutality (in the name of building a new society) of someone whose decisions led directly and indirectly to the deaths of literally tens of thousands or millions, Vladyko's words held a real wisdom. ie unfortunately when we pray for all in equal hope we often minimize the evil of certain people. In other words Met Vitaly's words did not mean that he consigned in his own heart anyone to hell; and he did not instruct us in this fashion. But what he did mean I'm quite sure is not to minimize anything morally or spiritually. Thus it is also I think with Arius and various other heretics. These are after all referred to in very severe fashion in the hymnography, which we chant every year, and on more than one occasion. If the words we speak and hear in the Church about such people have any meaning, then it is obvious that we do not pray equally for all. Instead once again there are some whose conscious malignity is so great towards the Church or towards humanity that it is not proper or safe for us to pray for such without inevitably minimizing their actions. I am not speaking here of saints whose lives are lived on such a level that they can safely pray for demons and such. But for most of us our lives do not correspond to such a state. And so in such cases it is best to leave things as they say in the hands of God.


Father, I can well imagine a situation where either I or those I love have been so hurt by another that I find myself, for the time being, incapable of praying for that individual. I can equally imagine a community being so hurt that it finds itself, for the time being, incapable of praying for those who have inflicted great evil upon it. I am not shocked that Russian Orthodox who experienced the unspeakable horrors of Soviet oppression should find themselves unwilling to pray for Lenin or Stalin. I am sure I would feel the same way. I'm sure I would hate the same way. But nonetheless, I continue to believe, and have always proclaimed, that the gospel summons us to pray for our enemies and that it is only in so doing that we may grow in the love of Christ and be liberated from hatred and the desire for vengeance. I do not believe that God ceases to love us when we commit evil, even terrible evil. Is this not the revelation of Calvary? Did not Christ die for Diocletian, Arius, Muhammad, Lenin, and Hitler? Does he not love these wicked men with a love that is infinite and unconditional? If yes, how can we justify refusing to pray for them? Would that not be a denial of the gospel itself? Am I more worthy of the prayers of the Church than Lenin? Fr Raphael asks whether it is spiritually safe for us to pray for the incorrigibly wicked? I ask, is it spiritually safe for us not to?

Are we minimizing evil when we pray for the enemies of the Church, for the enemies of mankind, for our enemies? Of course not. The justice of God will be vindicated; his righteousness will be eternally established; but it will be vindicated and established through resurrection and boundless mercy. The God of Jesus offers forgiveness to even the most violent and wicked. That he does so is our salvation. If we are offended by the gratuity and indiscriminateness of God's grace--and how can we not be?--then that is God's judgment against us.

In his book That Man is your, Fr Louis Evely describes the Last Judgment as depicted by the playwright Jean Anouihl:

The good are densely clustered at the gate of heaven,
eager to march in,
sure of their reserved seats,
keyed up and bursting with impatience.

All at once a rumor starts spreading:

"It seems he's going to forgive those others, too."
For a minute, everyone's dumbfounded.
They look at one another in disbelief,
gasping and sputtering
"After all the trouble I went through!"
"If only I had known this!"
"I just can't get over it!"
Exasperated, they work themselves into a frenzy
and start cursing God;
and at that very instant they're damned!
That was the final judgment, you see.
They judged themselves,
excommunicated themselves.
Love appeared,
and they refused to acknowledge it.


This, as I wrote a few years ago, is the Injustice of Grace. What other religion in the world dares to proclaim the unconquerable love of God for those who hate him? What other religion in the world commands its members to pray for their enemies?

Evan quotes Fr Patrick Reardon's assessment of apocatastasis and invites responses:

The definitive separation of wheat and chaff, which means the final acceptance and rejection of human decisions, is essential to the Gospel itself, because it affirms the everlasting significance of those decisions made in the course of time. Consequently, this biblical threshing stands directly at variance with those religious philosophies constructed on "the myth of the eternal return," in which all human decisions rendered in the course of history are "subject to further review," so to speak, and ultimate correction in an afterlife, in order to achieve a universal reconciliation. This latter heresy was appropriately condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553. The biblical teaching about God's judgmental threshing, then, is asserted as though to answer the question contained in the provocative title of a book by a well known theologian of the twentieth century, *Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"?* (*Allversöhnung?*).


Alas, I must disagree with Fr Patrick. The Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned the Origenist formulation of the apocatastasis; but it did not condemn the orthodox hope for universal salvation, which is grounded not in a myth of eternal return but in the boundless love of the Creator. The hope expressed by St Gregory Nyssen and St Isaac the Syrian may be a minority opinion, but it has never been dogmatically rejected by the Eastern Church. I acknowledge Fr Patrick's central point, viz., the eternal significance of our historical decisions. In a real sense, death sets a boundary that gives meaning to all of our choices. Against this, however, may I also posit the eternal significance of Christ's resurrection and ascension. "The opening of the heavens by Christ," writes Fr Boris Bobrinskoy, "is fundamental and irrevocable because it is of an ontological order; through it, we are already in the mystery of the Trinity and in the Church."

That there is no opportunity for repentance after death is the long-standing conviction of Western Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant; indeed it enjoys the status of dogma within the Catholic Church. But is Orthodoxy so clear on this?

Is it at all possible that the fate of a person can be changed after his death? Is death that border beyond which some unchangeable static existence comes? Does the development of the human person not stop after death? It is impossible for one to actively repent in hell; it is impossible to rectify the evil deeds one committed by appropriate good works. It may, however, be possible for one to repent through a "change of heart," a review of one's values. One of the testimonies to this is the rich man of the Gospel. He realized the gravity of his situation as soon as [he] found himself in hell. Indeed, in his lifetime he was focused on earthly pursuits and forgot God, but once in hell he realized that God was his only hope for salvation. Besides, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the fate of a person after death can be changed through the prayer of the church. Thus existence after death has its own dynamics. … [A]fter death the development of the human person does not cease, for existence after death is not a transfer from a dynamic into a static being, but rather a continuation on a new level of that road which a person followed in his or her lifetime. (Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell, pp. 216-217)


If the fate of only one person in Hades, just one, can be altered by the prayers of the Church, then why may we not hope and pray that the fate of all may be so altered? Why do we think we know that Hell is populated?

The relationship of grace and human freedom is truly mysterious. God is not just the other who stands over against us; he is also the immanent ground of our freedom. God does not coerce our obedience, for that would render our response meaningless. But the divine lover may find ways to gently and surreptitiously break down our resistance and win our hearts. As St Teresia Benedicta of the Cross observed: "Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted."

Hoping that everyone is saved is really saying I hope that I don't really have to put real effort into my own salvation, because if everyone is saved, that means me too. Great, now I can go about my business and do pretty much whatever I want to do, because it really doesn't matter in the end yes?


I certainly admit that my hope for the salvation of others is tied into my hope for my personal salvation: if it is possible that Lenin might be saved through a miracle of grace, perhaps there is hope for me. But ultimately, this hope is founded neither on my spiritual failures nor on my sinful desire to remain in my sin. It is founded on God, who passionately desires the salvation of every one made in his image. It is this God who seeks after the one lamb that is lost. It is this God who cleans every nook and cranny of the house searching for that one coin that has been misplaced. If we do not hope for universal salvation, then this can only mean that we do not love as God loves.

I acknowledge that the hope for the salvation of all may be exploited to evade repentance and conversion. The biblical warnings of Hell exist precisely to confront this spiritual danger. We may and must not presume. We need to confront the horrifying possibility that by our choices we may forever separate us from communion with the living God. The proclamation of the gospel is eschatological event. The time for repentance is now. The kingdom is at hand. I may not put off my repentance until tomorrow, for there is no tomorrow. There is only this moment. But the danger is not that God will withdraw his love tomorrow but rather that I may become such a person who becomes irreversibly deaf to his voice.

I think we can agree that "hoping" that any particular person will NOT be saved, be it Judas or Hitler or Pauly Shore is probably not efficacious.


Not efficacious? Hoping that any specific person will not be saved is a denial of love; hoping that any nonspecific person will not be saved is a denial of love. But is indifference much better? Why do we find Hell tolerable? Why are we so willing to accept the damnation of many, the few, the one? Is it not because our love is weak and egotistically distorted? Again I invoke the words of St Silouan: "Love could not bear that. We must pray for all." The terrible reality is that, at this moment, I do bear it. Perhaps in my worst moments I even delight in it. As selfish as I am, it is hard to look beyond my own personal salvation. It is hard for me to build up much concern for the eternal salvation of those who do not belong to the inner circle of my family and friends. But compare my indifference to the patient and comprehensive love of St Catherine of Siena:

How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hands? No, in absolutely no case do I want to see a single one of my brethren meet with ruin, not a single one of those who, through their like birth, are one with me by nature and by grace. I want them all to be wrested from the grasp of the ancient enemy, so that they all become yours to the honor and greater glorification of your name.


"Love cannot be contained in hell," the Lord replied to St Catherine; "it would totally annihilate hell; one could more easily do away with hell than allow love to reside in it." She responded:

If only your truth and your justice were to reveal themselves, then I would desire that there no longer be a hell, or at least that no should would go there. If I could remain united with you in love while, at the same time, placing myself before the entrance to hell and blocking it off in such a way that no one could enter again, then that would be the greatest of joys for me, for all those whom I love would then be saved.



Do you not hear the voice of the Savior in the words of St Catherine?

#24 Anna Stickles

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 02:34 AM

There is a statement in Elder Paisios' writing where he says something to the effect of:

God does not mistreat the sinner, but He abundantly rewards those who obey Him.

I think the main problem we all have with the idea of hell as it is usually understood is that it seems to us that never-ending pain is mistreatment. One question that bugs me a lot - Is the Orthodox understanding of hell never-ending pain, or simply never ending suffering? The two are not necessarily the same. If we can't know exactly what eternal hell is, and since suffering and pain are such subjectively variable things, I have found that this thought by the elder at least provides a place to balance that does not deny evil, nor violate God's mercy.

For myself one of the biggest problems I have with an idea of eternal hell as a place for the actively unrepentant sinner is how to reconcile this with the statements about God allowing death so that sin would not be eternal. We talk about the final resurrection of the dead where souls are restored to their bodies - but at that time are the souls themselves restored to full life and feeling, if through their choices in life they had brought themselves to a state of captivity and death - ie loss of will, energy, perception, feeling etc.? (This at least as far as I have read seems to be what the Fathers are referring to when they talk of the death of the soul)

Do any Fathers address this issue?

#25 Anna Stickles

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 02:53 AM

Father, I can well imagine a situation where either I or those I love have been so hurt by another that I find myself, for the time being, incapable of praying for that individual. I can equally imagine a community being so hurt that it finds itself, for the time being, incapable of praying for those who have inflicted great evil upon it. I am not shocked that Russian Orthodox who experienced the unspeakable horrors of Soviet oppression should find themselves unwilling to pray for Lenin or Stalin. I am sure I would feel the same way. I'm sure I would hate the same way.


Jeremiah 7:16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you."

Not praying for someone does not have to reflect hate. It could simply reflect a heart that is aligned with God's will, His justice and mercy in a particular situation. The Church has this authority, just as it has the authority to refuse last rites, communion, etc. This is a proper statement about the seriousness of sin and where it puts us in relation to God.

Although on an individual level, when we sense within ourselves some kind of resentment and hate that is precisely when we need to force ourselves to pray for people, and struggle against the lack of prayer that anger brings.

#26 Olga

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 03:32 AM

Jeremiah 7:16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you."


But, it must be said, that the world of the OT does not necessarily correspond with the revelation that is the NT. An eye for an eye, anyone?

Not praying for someone does not have to reflect hate. It could simply reflect a heart that is aligned with God's will, His justice and mercy in a particular situation. The Church has this authority, just as it has the authority to refuse last rites, communion, etc. This is a proper statement about the seriousness of sin and where it puts us in relation to God.


A look at the Orthodox funeral and memorial services might shed some light on this.

Although on an individual level, when we sense within ourselves some kind of resentment and hate that is precisely when we need to force ourselves to pray for people, and struggle against the lack of prayer that anger brings.


Quite true. The litany at the end of Great Compline (most frequently heard during the services for the Canon of St Andrew of Crete during Great Lent) indeed says: Let us pray for those who love us, and those who hate us.

#27 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 03:42 AM

Jeremiah 7:16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you."


Anna, if God were to command me not to pray for _____, I would certainly obey. But in the absence of a prophetic word, I think that the words of the Lord are sufficient to guide us:

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt 5:44).

#28 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 04:32 AM

Upon re-reading my comment #48, I wish to re-write one sentence. "I'm sure I would hate the same way" does not say what I intended. What I intended was something like "I might well hate the Soviets, as well." I do not wish to intimate in any way that either Metropolitan Vitaly or Fr Raphael were or are guilty of hate.

#29 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 02:30 PM

Fr Alvin Kimel wrote:

I do not wish to intimate in any way that either Metropolitan Vitaly or Fr Raphael were or are guilty of hate.


That's alright. The tone of the words, at least in how I heard them from the Metropolitan, was in order to prevent moral minimalizing.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#30 Evan

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 11:21 PM

Withdrawn. With apologies for what I have come to regard as a misinterpretation of a foregoing post.

Edited by Evan, 16 January 2011 - 11:54 PM.


#31 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 09:04 PM

Dear friends,

Though it comes a bit after-the-fact, I did want to make a brief comment on the quotations provided a bit earlier in the conversation:

I'd be interested to know what those who have participated in this discussion think of this decidedly harsh assessment of apocatastasis, written by Father Patrick Henry Reardon:

"The definitive separation of wheat and chaff, which means the final acceptance and rejection of human decisions, is essential to the Gospel itself, because it affirms the everlasting significance of those decisions made in the course of time. Consequently, this biblical threshing stands directly at variance with those religious philosophies constructed on "the myth of the eternal return," in which all human decisions rendered in the course of history are "subject to further review," so to speak, and ultimate correction in an afterlife, in order to achieve a universal reconciliation. This latter heresy was appropriately condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553. The biblical teaching about God's judgmental threshing, then, is asserted as though to answer the question contained in the provocative title of a book by a well known theologian of the twentieth century, *Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"?* (*Allversöhnung?*).

No, we do not dare to hope for such a thing. It is a delirious fantasy, neither a proper object of Christian hope, nor a proper subject for Christian speculation. In fact, St John of Mount Sinai warns us of the grave spiritual danger of even entertaining such a thought (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5, "On Repentance"). If wheat and chaff are ultimately the same thing, then human choice is a mirage, human history only a theatrical production, and the death and resurrection of Christ ultimately meaningless. For this reason, Jesus as Savior must not be disconnected from Jesus as Thresher."


I would note that I rather disagree with what seems to be a confusion of a few distinct matters in these quotations. Professing belief in a philosophical system that is built on 'universal return' is quite a different beast indeed than hoping that God might bring about the repentance of even the most greivous of sinners, even all sinners, through chastisement and mercy. Suggesting that 'wheat and chaff are ultimately the same thing' is a strange conclusion to draw from hopes that God may convert the hearts of even those who have thus far long rebelled - which is indeed a hope of conversion from chaff to wheat, which is at the very heart of the whole Christian hope of repentance and a conversion of life.

This kind of aggressive rebuttal of philosophical apocatastasis (which it is indeed quite right to condemn and rebut) unfortunately mixes together with such systems -- in a rather unhelpful way -- a number of things that have never been condemned by the Church, ultimately coming to the strange (and unsupportable) conclusion that one cannot hope that God will save all the world. This is precisely what one must hope for, must pray for. One can and must pray that the hearts of even those who seem most rebellious, of whom we see no sign of change or repentance in our observation of them in this life, may yet in the depths of their hearts be touched by a divine compunction that leads to a repentance unknown and hid from us. We must pray that, in the mystery of His love that goes beyond the observable limits and boundries of repentance to which we can gain observation in this life, God may turn even the hearts of the most grievous sinners to repentance.

What we cannot do is insist that God will or must bring all to true repentance and a salvific change of life. We cannot do this because God has revealed, clearly and repeatedly, that He will not do this; that His creation of man into the image of His own freedom means that the human ability to rebel can mean eternal rebellion, may result -- should the person so will it -- in a divorce from God that abides unto all eternity. We cannot deny this God-revealed fact, and this is the core problem with the philosophical systems of apocatastasis that from time-to-time surface: they attempt to create a vision of God's mercy that ignores and in fact goes against what He has revealed of the true extent of human freedom.

A doctrine of apocatastasis, meaning the principled, doctrinal insistence that all that have fallen away must universally return, is clearly wrong and to be rejected. But the hope that God's ability to convert the sinner to repentance, and through repentance to true life and salvation, is at the core of the Christian faith.

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei

#32 Evan

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:33 PM

Dear friends,

Though it comes a bit after-the-fact, I did want to make a brief comment on the quotations provided a bit earlier in the conversation:



I would note that I rather disagree with what seems to be a confusion of a few distinct matters in these quotations. Professing belief in a philosophical system that is built on 'universal return' is quite a different beast indeed than hoping that God might bring about the repentance of even the most greivous of sinners, even all sinners, through chastisement and mercy. Suggesting that 'wheat and chaff are ultimately the same thing' is a strange conclusion to draw from hopes that God may convert the hearts of even those who have thus far long rebelled - which is indeed a hope of conversion from chaff to wheat, which is at the very heart of the whole Christian hope of repentance and a conversion of life.

This kind of aggressive rebuttal of philosophical apocatastasis (which it is indeed quite right to condemn and rebut) unfortunately mixes together with such systems -- in a rather unhelpful way -- a number of things that have never been condemned by the Church, ultimately coming to the strange (and unsupportable) conclusion that one cannot hope that God will save all the world. This is precisely what one must hope for, must pray for. One can and must pray that the hearts of even those who seem most rebellious, of whom we see no sign of change or repentance in our observation of them in this life, may yet in the depths of their hearts be touched by a divine compunction that leads to a repentance unknown and hid from us. We must pray that, in the mystery of His love that goes beyond the observable limits and boundries of repentance to which we can gain observation in this life, God may turn even the hearts of the most grievous sinners to repentance.

What we cannot do is insist that God will or must bring all to true repentance and a salvific change of life. We cannot do this because God has revealed, clearly and repeatedly, that He will not do this; that His creation of man into the image of His own freedom means that the human ability to rebel can mean eternal rebellion, may result -- should the person so will it -- in a divorce from God that abides unto all eternity. We cannot deny this God-revealed fact, and this is the core problem with the philosophical systems of apocatastasis that from time-to-time surface: they attempt to create a vision of God's mercy that ignores and in fact goes against what He has revealed of the true extent of human freedom.

A doctrine of apocatastasis, meaning the principled, doctrinal insistence that all that have fallen away must universally return, is clearly wrong and to be rejected. But the hope that God's ability to convert the sinner to repentance, and through repentance to true life and salvation, is at the core of the Christian faith.

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei


Father, your blessing:

This is immensely helpful. I'm glad you returned to this subject. As I expressed to Father Kimel in a recent correspondence, the logical conclusion of Father Reardon's arguments would seem to be that certain Fathers whose orthodoxy has never been questioned ulimately fell into dangerous and delusive speculations.

However, I would like to press this point about apocatastasis a little bit. We find often in the Fathers admonitions that the time for repentence effectively ceases at death. St. Gregory Palamas talks of this in his sermons on the last judgment (I don't have his homilies at hand now, but I can return with them later). And there's also the matter of judging and avenging the blood of the martyrs on those who dwell on the earth. St. Ambrose, treating of what is often called the problem of evil, says the following:

"Why do sinners have abundance of wealth and riches, and fare sumptuously, and have no grief or sorrow; while the upright are in want, and are punished by the loss of wives or children? Now, that parable in the Gospel ought to satisfy persons like these; for the rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen, and dined sumptuously every day; but the beggar, full of sores, used to gather the crumbs of his table. After the death of the two, however, the beggar was in Abraham's bosom in rest; the rich man was in torment. Is it not plain from this that rewards and punishments according to deserts await one after death?

And surely this is but right. For in a contest there is much labour needed— and after the contest victory falls to some, to others disgrace."

From Book I of "De Officiis"

As I read St. Ambrose, he understands it to be meet and right that punishment await those who escape punishment for the injustice they perpetrate against the lowborn and disdained, the weak things of the world. One finds this throughout the letters of St. Paul, addressing those suffering from Jewish persecution in Thessalonica-- that it is a just thing with God to repay tribulation to them that trouble them.

How do we reconcile this with our hope that all be saved? Of course, we know that God desires the eternal loss of anyone. But I return to St. John of Damascus:

"One must bear in mind that God's original wish was that all should be saved and come to His Kingdom. For it was not for punishment that He formed us but to share in His goodness, inasmuch as He is a good God. But inasmuch as He is a just God, His will is that sinners should suffer punishment.
The first then is called God's antecedent will and pleasure, and springs from Himself, while the second is called God's consequent will and permission, and has its origin in us. And the latter is two-fold; one part dealing with matters of guidance and training, and having in view our salvation, and the other being hopeless and leading to our utter punishment, as we said above."

From Book II of "Exposition of the Orthodox Faith."

I don't wish to be contentious. But I'd like to engage with this matter further, because there's a certain tension I perceive here that I have not yet fully resolved. Lord, enlighten my darkness.

In Christ,
Evan

#33 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 11:01 PM

Dear Evan,

Thank you for the thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I think your comments, and your questions, give evidence of your struggling with the very tension that abides in the mystery of true freedom, which itself has given rise to the mystery of evil and suffering. We all too often forget, in contemporary discussions on such matters (which generally strive to be as analytically consistent and rationally concrete as possible) that human freedom, as fundamentally part of man's bearing the image of God, is a mystery. Freedom is not a purely rationalistic enterprise of unrestrained choices; nor are its dimensions or consequences susceptible to the almost mathematical analysis by which we often try to comprehend them. Human freedom is something that has its origin in the nature of God, and included in that mystery of God's nature are the intermingling of eternity and time, change and consistency, which apart from abiding in God's nature would be otherwise distinct and even opposing categories.

The interweaving of such things is what makes definitive 'proclamations' on these matters dangerous -- which is why several of the Fathers warn so strongly against them, why others approach cautiously; and why some in the history of the Church, in attempting to approach them too forcefully and definitively, have found themselves in error that has required correction.

What do we know of the mystery of freedom as it relates to evil and repentance? We know that the time of the this life is the principal venue which the Lord has provided for freedom to embrace repentance. We know that beyond this life, much of the exercise of that freedom is hampered or lost. Yet we also know that the limit of this life (death) is not the absolute or full limit of the ability of God's mercy to care for the salvation of the person -- hence our practice of prayer for the dead, our proclamation of Christ minsitering to those in Hades, etc.

We know that all repentance is and must be an act of freedom; it cannot be forced. Yet we also know that our ability to discern the heart, and its enslaved or unbound freedom, is quite limited.

We know that chastisement awaits sin and rebellion; we also know that chastisement always aims at correction -- that only at the eschaton, at the dread and final judgement, does chastisement become punishment through the abiding free determination of the person, judged and responded to by Christ.

These are not analytical 'data sets' that can be fed neatly into an equation that will provide a neat, tidy result. These are dimensions of a great mystery in which the person finds himself in this life. And it is these dimensions which shape how we live an act within this life: they demand the work of repentance now, 'while it is still day'; but they demand similarly the prayer of intercession for the forgiveness of thsoe who have reposed. They demand our understanding of sin and its consequences; but they demand similarly the petitions of mercy and the usage of chastisement to convert the heart. And so on.

I do not find any inherent contradiction in, for example, what St Ambrose is saying in his De officiis, and what St Gregory of Nyssa (for example) says when he speaks of the hope that God will redeem all. They are speaking to different dimensions of the mystery, which must be held together if we are authentically to lead the life in Christ.

What we cannot do is make definitive statements that deny what has been revealed of the mystery of this life. We cannot, for example, proclaim that all will or must be saved, for this fundamentally denies the reality of freedom. We similarly, cannot definitively deny that any one cannot or will not be saved, based on our human perceptions of the limits, boundries or lack thereof of his sin; for God has revealed that there is but one sin that is not forgiven. A doctrine of philosophical apocatastasis is dogmatically wrong; it cannot be proclaimed or maintained. But a dogmatic insistence that one cannot hope for the conversion to repentance of all, is similarly a denial of what God has revealed. Many people conflate the two issues (such as is done in the quotations provided earlier in the thread, on which I commented previously); but this ought not to be done.

INXC, Fr Irenei

#34 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 11:31 PM

Evan, you are making a good argument for the classical Latin doctrine of Purgatory and the temporal punishment of sin. :) Thus St Augustine:

For our part, we recognize that even in this life some punishments are purgatorial,--not, indeed, to those whose life is none the better, but rather the worse for them, but to those who are constrained by them to amend their life. All other punishments, whether temporal or eternal, inflicted as they are on every one by divine providence, are sent either on account of past sins, or of sins presently allowed in the life, or to exercise and reveal a man's graces. They may be inflicted by the instrumentality of bad men and angels as well as of the good. For even if any one suffers some hurt through another's wickedness or mistake, the man indeed sins whose ignorance or injustice does the harm; but God, who by His just though hidden judgment permits it to be done, sins not. But temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come." (Augustine, City of God, 21:13)


Why should believers in Christ be given to escape the just punishment of their sins?

#35 Evan

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 11:51 PM

Father Irenei,

Thank you for your patience in engaging my questions and concerns. I have been given much to think about here. That is to say, to the extent that "I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge," I will lay my hand upon my mouth.

Evan, you are making a good argument for the classical Latin doctrine of Purgatory and the temporal punishment of sin. :) Thus St Augustine:



Why should believers in Christ be given to escape the just punishment of their sins?


They've been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. As far as the east is from the west, so far have their trangressions have removed. The prodigal wasn't given a bill. :)

In Christ,
Evan

#36 Anna Stickles

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 03:13 AM

They've been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. As far as the east is from the west, so far have their trangressions have removed. The prodigal wasn't given a bill. :)

In Christ,
Evan


The Prodigal wasn't given a bill, and yet the father does say to the older son, "everything that I have is yours" Reading this has always given me pause in thinking over the seriousness of the consequences of sin. Yes the prodigal was fully welcomed back as a son in the house of his father, but still this did not restore everything as it was before. There were ongoing consequences.

Likewise when Nathan confronted David about murdering Uriah and sleeping with Bathsheba even after David confessed his sin and repented there were still continuing consequences.

II Sam 12:13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the LORD, the son born to you will die.”"

This isn't to deny what has been said above about God's ability to turn chaff into wheat, and maybe it is just my own problem, but I know that often I want to live in the irresponsible notion that God just waves a magic wand over everything and makes it better without any kind of cost. And stories like these remind us that the consequences of sin are serious indeed. They are like ripples in a pond, and can't just be erased even by repentance and personal forgiveness.

#37 Paul Cowan

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 04:10 AM

why did the son have to die?

#38 Antonios

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 06:19 AM

And stories like these remind us that the consequences of sin are serious indeed. They are like ripples in a pond, and can't just be erased even by repentance and personal forgiveness.


There can be great consequences of sin which are serious indeed. And there can be complete and total forgiveness by God. There can be both. This is why we pray for mercy and struggle daily against our sins.

#39 Evan

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 07:18 PM

Anna,

I think of the two thieves who were crucified together with Jesus. One acknowledges that he deserves the worst, and throws himself at Christ's mercy, knowing that he's got nothing else to show for himself but his tears of repentance. One blasphemes him. One enters into paradise. One receives not a word.

We have it on good authority that we will render account for every idle word. That we will be judged according to what we've done in the body. And yet, we know that if God were to mark iniquities, to keep a cosmic ledger as it were, we truly could not stand. We are holy because God shares His holiness with us, becoming poor, that we might become rich. We are made righteous because Christ fulfilled all righteousness. Only by identification with Christ, by participation in His resurrected, Spirit-borne life, is our situation anything but hopeless.

So, yes, sin has consequences. I don't think anyone here is submitting that we should rest assured that God's mercy will "win out" even if we are determined to return to the pigpen. But I think our trust as Christians must be that, in a very important sense, God will not treat us as we deserve. Such is the testimony of the good thief, as I understand it.

In Christ,
Evan

#40 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 08:24 PM

This kind of aggressive rebuttal of philosophical apocatastasis (which it is indeed quite right to condemn and rebut) unfortunately mixes together with such systems -- in a rather unhelpful way -- a number of things that have never been condemned by the Church, ultimately coming to the strange (and unsupportable) conclusion that one cannot hope that God will save all the world. This is precisely what one must hope for, must pray for. One can and must pray that the hearts of even those who seem most rebellious, of whom we see no sign of change or repentance in our observation of them in this life, may yet in the depths of their hearts be touched by a divine compunction that leads to a repentance unknown and hid from us. We must pray that, in the mystery of His love that goes beyond the observable limits and boundries of repentance to which we can gain observation in this life, God may turn even the hearts of the most grievous sinners to repentance.


Father Irenei, I agree with what you have said above whole-heartedly. Just today the Lord compelled me to fast and pray for my children. I pray especially for my son who has deconverted from the Christian faith and become a staunch atheist. Just a few days ago in the process of moving he found the Bible his Dad had given him when he was young. It belonged to my husband for many years and had a salutation in it to our son to follow Christ and be faithful in reading the Scriptures. Our son handed the Bible to him and said, "I won't be needing this anymore. Here, you can have it back." My husband refused to take it back. We continue to pray that God will bring him to repentance. He has hardened himself against God so severely and it scares us.

What we cannot do is insist that God will or must bring all to true repentance and a salvific change of life. We cannot do this because God has revealed, clearly and repeatedly, that He will not do this; that His creation of man into the image of His own freedom means that the human ability to rebel can mean eternal rebellion, may result -- should the person so will it -- in a divorce from God that abides unto all eternity. We cannot deny this God-revealed fact, and this is the core problem with the philosophical systems of apocatastasis that from time-to-time surface: they attempt to create a vision of God's mercy that ignores and in fact goes against what He has revealed of the true extent of human freedom.


I agree with you on this as well.


A doctrine of apocatastasis, meaning the principled, doctrinal insistence that all that have fallen away must universally return, is clearly wrong and to be rejected. But the hope that God's ability to convert the sinner to repentance, and through repentance to true life and salvation, is at the core of the Christian faith.



Amen! The heart of the Christian faith is that we should desire that all men be saved for the Holy Scriptures say that God desires that all men be saved. However, this is my problem. I do not believe that this desire for our neighbor to be saved can extend past this earthly life - that is - after one has shed this mortal coil. Now is the day of salvation. We must be urgent to do the works of Him while it is day; night comes when no man can work. There are numerous Scriptures that attest to the urgency of hating sin in this life, turning away from evil in this life, doing good and living righteously in this life. Why? Because there is a reckoning, an accountability with our Heavenly Father. Physical death ends the possibility to live a righteous life. The soul is separated from the body and the wheat and chaff are thus revealed to be who they really are.

Although I am Orthodox (just short of a year), I cannot bring myself to understand this practice of praying for the dead. Their destination is sealed. Perhaps it is because, while not a Protestant any longer, I fully understand Martin Luther's anger toward the abuse of indulgences and his eventual rejection of this teaching and the Roman Catholic teaching on Purgatory.

There is yet another reason why I cannot pray for the dead. A number of years ago I had was committed to praying for my atheist grandmother. Over the course of several years I would pray that she repent and turn back to God. Then one day I heard a voice speak to my spirit and say, "You can stop praying for your grandmother now." Shortly thereafter, I learned that my grandmother died within the span of time that I heard this voice. I recognized that voice as the Holy Spirit. It was no longer necessary to pray for her because her destiny was determined upon her death. Furthermore, there are many Orthodox saints who have asked that God would allow them to live longer so that they may have more time to repent. Why bother if it is possible to repent after death?

We must be urgent to live holy, godly lives while we are in the body. And may God be merciful to me, a wretched sinner indeed.




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