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


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#41 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 08:42 PM

Dear in the Lord, Darlene,

The struggle you are having with prayer for the departed is one that must be faced by many who are brought to the grace of the Church from traditions in which this love and pastoral care for the departed is not known or exercised. It is a struggle; do not fear the struggle! Yet know that this is not an incidental matter, a secondary issue in Orthodoxy: it is an essential part of our understanding of life in the Body of Christ—a life which transcends death.

I offer, merely by way of some slight encouragement, a few words on prayer for the departed form a homily by St John of Shanghai and San Francisco:

“Therefore, panikhidas (i.e., memorial prayers for the dead, served in Church) and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition ‘for those in hell.’

“Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: ‘Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints.’ We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

“O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls. Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead. As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. […] Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’”

We must be careful, who struggle to live the life in Christ in a world where philosophical systems dominate and control the actions of the heart, not to let a fear of such things keep us from what is needful. Do not let the fear of errant philosophical systems of apocatastasis prevent you from embracing the needful and necessary prayer for the departed.

INXC, Fr Irenei

#42 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 10:17 PM

Evan wrote:


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.


The question if I remember correctly was how is there the possibility that all can be saved if repentance is no longer possible after death.

Repentance belongs here due to our sinful attraction to the material. It is a movement from bad to good. However the movement after death is not like this since it takes place where the material is no longer a source of sinful attraction. There it will be a movement of what is good to what is better such as St Gregory of Nyssa describes. This is the possibility that all will have if they desire this.

But how then to account for the possibility of hell? Because the desire for what is good corresponds to free will; ie the free desire after we depart, of greater and greater participation in God and the things of God. So we will have the ability to desire the good- but also not to desire it. And from what Scripture and the Fathers write such a terrible choice could be eternal on our part. We could choose to be apart from what is good.

Incidentally though this is why we also pray for the departed. Forgiveness of their sins- that after they depart- and we depart- that we may choose and desire what is good. In other words we can pray for all in this manner that whatever good they had in them, may now become the light and driving force which propels them towards the Light.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#43 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 03:59 AM

Evan wrote:




The question if I remember correctly was how is there the possibility that all can be saved if repentance is no longer possible after death.

Repentance belongs here due to our sinful attraction to the material. It is a movement from bad to good. However the movement after death is not like this since it takes place where the material is no longer a source of sinful attraction. There it will be a movement of what is good to what is better such as St Gregory of Nyssa describes. This is the possibility that all will have if they desire this.

But how then to account for the possibility of hell? Because the desire for what is good corresponds to free will; ie the free desire after we depart, of greater and greater participation in God and the things of God. So we will have the ability to desire the good- but also not to desire it. And from what Scripture and the Fathers write such a terrible choice could be eternal on our part. We could choose to be apart from what is good.

Incidentally though this is why we also pray for the departed. Forgiveness of their sins- that after they depart- and we depart- that we may choose and desire what is good. In other words we can pray for all in this manner that whatever good they had in them, may now become the light and driving force which propels them towards the Light.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


I'm sorry, Father but I cannot accept any of this. The terrible choice that could be eternal on our part is what we do in this life, not the next. Whatever good they had in them may now become the light? Where is there even a remote Scripture reference for this? We all are given an opportunity to choose good from evil, to receive the gift of His grace and love, to accept His sacrifice and the shedding of His blood, but that opportunity is in THIS life, not the next. What of those that Revelation speaks of who did not want or desire the life of Christ? This is what Holy Scripture says, "He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death." Rev. 21:7&8 And, "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." Revelation 22:O14 &15 These scriptures make it clear that there are those who will be received into Christ's Heavenly Kingdom and those who will not. What good is it to say we fear God if we think we can do what ever we please and somehow have the opportunity to repent after death? Why even teach such a thing to Orthodox Christians, leading them to believe they can live ungodly lives and still hear from Christ, "Well done." ?? This is like an Orthodox version of once-saved-always-saved. This is making light of our Lord and Savior's horrible death on the cross. He did not suffer and die so that those who wanted nothing to do with Him in this life could share His life in the next. I do not believe in some sort of Purgatory or second chance after death.

God is love, but He also executes justice. I cannot submit to a teaching that does not promote the fear of God in me. Our Lord Jesus said, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." St. Matthew 10:28 And then there are the warnings in Hebrews, "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and provaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." This is a warning in Scripture for those who have tasted the goodness and kindness of the Lord, who partook of His life, and shared sweet converse with him, only to turn away from Christ and deny Him.

These warnings in Scripture are there for a reason. We are to guard our hearts so that we do not become like the example in Hebrews. We are to heed our Savior's words that there is something to fear and it is eternal punishment and being outside of His blessed Kingdom forever.

#44 Antonios

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 04:46 AM

We will be judged by our actions and our hearts, not one, but both, for both testify to the truth and will do so before the Living Truth that is Jesus Christ, the Judge of mankind.

Our actions shape our heart and our heart shapes our actions. Will He find us worthy to enter His Kingdom? Will our hearts witness against us? Will the saints? Our testimony consists of the actions we have done (and many times more importantly, what we didn't do), what we have said (or what we should have said), and who we have worshiped other than Him who is the only One worthy of worship, that is the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth.

We don't pray for the dead in the hope that we will change the events of the testimony of the one who has died, for the actions made in this life stay with us to the Last Day. Rather, we pray for their souls, their hearts, to be better prepared before the Judgment Seat of Christ, in the hopes that in that pivotal moment, their hearts might finally know true repentance and maybe, just maybe, by the great mercy of God, they might enter into Paradise.

Even if there is just a minuscule chance before the Divine Judgment of God, we can do no less than hope and pray for the salvation of their souls.

#45 Anna Stickles

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 12:48 PM

Whatever good they had in them may now become the light? Where is there even a remote Scripture reference for this?

The Scriptures aren't our only source of doctrine. There is also Tradition. This is because often the Scriptures barely hint at things that later writers have more fully articulated.

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.

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."

These quotes by Fr Irenei and St Augustine from earlier in the thread are well within Tradition. But there is a whole underlying theology of the nature of the purification that takes place in the soul, and the state of the soul after death that one has to become familiar with before it makes sense.

It takes time to come to understand Orthodox anthropology and soteriology. It does make sense, but only after one has come to understand some of the background for what is going on.

Also as far as biblical support. Part of the Orthodox canon includes the books of Maccabees. In 2 Maccabees 12 it says.

"The following day, as was now necessary, Judas and his men left to gather up the bodies of those killed in battle, to bring them back to rest with their kindred in the tombs of their forefathers. But under the tunics of each of the dead, they uncovered sacred tokens of the Jamnian idols, which Jews are forbidden by law to wear. So the reason these men died in battle became clear to everyone. Thus they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the hidden things. They turned to supplication and prayed that the sin they had committed might be completely blotted out.

The noble Judas exhorted his people to guard themselves from sin, for with their own eyes they had seen what happened to those who died in battle because of their sin. He then took up an offering from his soldiers amounting to 2000 drachmas and sent it to Jerusalem to present as a sin offering. In doing so he acted properly and with honor, taking note of the resurrection. For if he were not looking for the resurrection of those fallen, it would have been utterly foolish to pray for the departed. But since he was looking to the reward of splendor laid up for those who repose in godliness, it was a holy and godly purpose. Thus he made atonement for the fallen, so as to set them free from their transgression."

I was completely astounded the first time I read this. I had originally thought that maybe prayers for the dead were something new the church had adopted after the resurrection of Christ, but even here we see a prophecy of and hope in what He brought to reality.

Fr Raphael can comment as to whether this is right, but I think a good way to understand what he is saying about the light is that for some people, the light indeed dwells in their soul, it has not fully been extinguished by a lifestyle of indulgence in sin, but that their soul is like a house with it's windows so covered with grime and dirt that no light is visible. After death those people still have a chance for their windows to be cleaned and when the windows are cleaned then God's light can shine into the house gradually making it brighter and drawing the soul toward God.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 19 January 2011 - 01:18 PM.
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#46 Anna Stickles

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 01:02 PM

Outside are the dogs and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood."

Just one more comment. It is very different between the person who dies in a state of loving their sin and those who die in a state of still at some level loving God and not really wanting to be separated from Him, even if they are still practicing that sinful lifestyle. The former may indeed end up in eternal hell. But the latter may not be wholly freed from their struggle with sin, and thus the need for God's chastisement for their correction, even after death.

God works with us for our purification of and freedom from the inclination to sin all of our lives. And for those who do not reach freedom before death, the process of death itself may bring about that final freedom. But the Church has always taught that for others that final freedom only comes as a result of God working with the soul after it has left the body, but before the final resurrection.

#47 Evan

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 01:56 PM

These quotes by Fr Irenei and St Augustine from earlier in the thread are well within Tradition. But there is a whole underlying theology of the nature of the purification that takes place in the soul, and the state of the soul after death that one has to become familiar with before it makes sense.


A somewhat minor point:

I was under the impression that this was one of the two or three things that St. Augustine didn't get quite right. The quote referenced here is often cited to prove up the existence of purgatory, a temporal place of chastisement for those who have committed "venial sins" for which they have not received absolution but who are not guilty of any "mortal sins" and thus still "have a chance" to escape eternal torment. Would someone be willing to address this issue?

In Christ,
Evan

#48 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 02:06 PM

Dear Darlene,

Maybe it's better if we go through this a step at a time. Understanding takes time and no one is calling for an over night change of mind.

A very good first step then can be made from what you have written:

The terrible choice that could be eternal on our part is what we do in this life, not the next.



I want to ask everybody here who wishes to consider this question: is the desire for what is good given to us by God when we are created (ie is will & desire for the good inherent) or is it a result of the Fall?

When you look at it in this way the answer should be automatic if we are Christian. The desire for good is part of our very make up; it is part of what and who we are as created by God; it is an inherent part of our nature.

OK. The next question then is: is anything inherent to what we really are removed at death? Isn't it in fact, and in hope also, just the opposite- that what we are created to be by God is made more real, more complete, after death? That after death we desire fulfillment? ie unless we consciously go against what is good after we die.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#49 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 02:28 PM

Anna Stickles wrote:

Fr Raphael can comment as to whether this is right, but I think a good way to understand what he is saying about the light is that for some people, the light indeed dwells in their soul, it has not fully been extinguished by a lifestyle of indulgence in sin, but that their soul is like a house with it's windows so covered with grime and dirt that no light is visible. After death those people still have a chance for their windows to be cleaned and when the windows are cleaned then God's light can shine into the house gradually making it brighter and drawing the soul toward God.


This is continually referred to by St Gregory of Nyssa. It is at the basis of his understanding of 'from glory to glory' as our possible state after death. After all, all people sin. If this completely extinguished the light and the desire for that light then there would be no hope for anyone. Indeed salvation itself would be at peril.

Instead then we begin from that optimistic perspective about people that the light of their created nature as God has given them this, still is present according to desire and will. It is this desire & will in harmony with divine grace which cleans off the grime of the house's windows so that we can begin to see again. And this desire and will does not disappear at death- for life is the continual formation of this desire and will in Christ, so that we may be taken purely into the next life when all material distractions and temptations will disappear.

This hope then applies to all. We do not see how, we cannot sort this out clearly. But since all have this light within even if unformed or crudely formed, we pray that whatever is of light in them is willingly turned towards that Light Who restores all life. In other words, salvation is possible for all- but it must relate to that light within which can desire what is good, so that salvation is a free process.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#50 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 06:24 PM

I think it has to be admitted (though I welcome correction) that the majority position of the Church, at least during the past 1,5000 years or so, approximates the position advanced by Darlene, namely, that the opportunity for repentance no longer exists after our biological death. At St John of Damascus puts it: "[W]hat in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance" (Orthodox Faith II.4). On this view, one's fundamental orientation toward God, either toward him or away from him, is irreversibly established at death. From that point on, it is simply a matter of fulfilling and consummating one's definitive life-choice. This is most certainly the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church, as reiterated in Pope Benedict's encyclical Spe salvi:

With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.

Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).


Pope Benedict's understanding of Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory is elaborated at length in his book Eschatology. Contemporary Catholic theologians have clearly abandoned the theologoumenon that the purifying fire of Purgatory is a created, physical fire. I wonder how the discussions at the Council of Florence might have gone if this outstanding theologian had been present.

Pope Benedict's Eschatology should be read alongside Metropolitan Hierotheos' book Life After Death. The similarities and differences are illuminating. Like Benedict, and following St Mark of Ephesus, Met Hierotheos believes that "the will can be changed as long as a man is in this life, whereas after death it remains immovable" (p. 175). Compare the following passages with the quoted passage above from Pope Benedict:

According to the teaching of the authoritative Fathers, if a person had entered the stage of repentance before his death but had not been purified, the cure would continue in him "in perpetuity," since virtue does not have an end. This, to be sure, does not refer to those who of their own choice remained completely unrepentant and had not entered the stage of repentance. Besides, the saints teach that the angels too will be increasingly receptive of divine grace, in which case even for angels we can use the word purification. (p. 298)

At the Second Coming of Christ nature will be restored, but the will will not be restored. All will gain immortality, the bodies of all will rise again, but the will and man's personal opinion will not change. They will continue there too according to the choice with which they lived in their biological life. Even the sinners will have knowledge of God, will see God, but they will not have participation. Punishment is not the absence of God, but non-participation in God, the presence of God as a fire. … All will rise again, but they will not all glorify Him. Christ's resurrection is a gift which was given to all, but the ascension will be experienced only by the saints. Therefore in all there will be a restoration of nature, which will remain forever, immortal, but there will not be a restoration of the will, since each person will perceive Christ according to his choice. (p. 312)


After death, the soul goes to either Hades or Paradise, depending on its spiritual condition, there to await the final judgment: "If the soul had not been healed while it was united with the body, after its departure from it it suffers and is tormented by the passions, it feels no comfort and consolation, it has no share in the illuminating and deifying energy of God, and this is a dark, dim way of life, a torment, a torture. It is called Hades. By contrast the righteous, after departing this life, live in Paradise, in Abraham's bosom. In other words, they participate in the illuminating and deifying energy of God" (p. 92). But within the group who live in Hades, Hierotheos acknowledges a difference between obstinately impenitent sinners and those who have died in the faith but are still burdened by small sins and and the the disorder of the passions. The Church rightly prays for this latter group in the hope that God will forgive their sins, but there can be no remission of sins for those who are guilty of unrepented mortal sin. Met Hierotheos favorably cites the judgment of the 1722 Council of Constantinople:

We, the godly, following the truth and turning away from such innovations, confess and accept two places for the souls of the dead, paradise and hell, for the righteous and sinners, as the holy Scripture teaches us. We do not accept a third place, a purgatory, by any means, since neither Scripture nor the holy Fathers have taught us any such thing. However, we believe that these two places have many abodes. … None of the teachers of the Church have handed down or taught such a purgatory, but they all speak of one single place of punishment, hades, just as they teach about one luminous and bright place, paradise. But both places also have different abodes as we said; and since the souls of the holy and righteous go indisputably to paradise and those of the sinners go to hell, of whom the profane and those who have sinned unforgivably are punished forever and those who have offended forgivably and moderately hope to gain freedom through the unspeakable mercy of God. For on behalf of such souls, that is of the moderately and signal, there are in the Church prayers, supplications, liturgies, as well as memorial services and almsgiving, that those souls may receive favor and comfort.



I read in neither Pope Benedict nor Met Hierotheos an eschatological hope for the salvation of all. Both seem to know that there will be some, perhaps many, who have rejected and will eternally reject the mercy of God. Both men, however, do envision a process of continuing purification for those who die in a state of incomplete repentance and openness to God. For these individuals, the prayers of the Church can be of great and essential benefit.

#51 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 07:59 PM

I think that we're confusing two different things here- repentance and change after death. I do not see how we can maintain that the soul does not experience a fundamental change after death. For the soul that desires this, this change will be a change from glory to glory.

This change however is not the same as repentance. This is what I said in one of my previous posts so as not to confuse the two.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

Edited by Fr Raphael Vereshack, 19 January 2011 - 08:39 PM.


#52 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 09:12 PM

Dear Darlene,

Maybe it's better if we go through this a step at a time. Understanding takes time and no one is calling for an over night change of mind.

A very good first step then can be made from what you have written:

I want to ask everybody here who wishes to consider this question: is the desire for what is good given to us by God when we are created (ie is will & desire for the good inherent) or is it a result of the Fall?

When you look at it in this way the answer should be automatic if we are Christian. The desire for good is part of our very make up; it is part of what and who we are as created by God; it is an inherent part of our nature.

OK. The next question then is: is anything inherent to what we really are removed at death? Isn't it in fact, and in hope also, just the opposite- that what we are created to be by God is made more real, more complete, after death? That after death we desire fulfillment? ie unless we consciously go against what is good after we die.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Father,

Now I'm completely befuddled. I have no idea of the point you are trying to make.

#53 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 09:31 PM

Father,

Now I'm completely befuddled. I have no idea of the point you are trying to make.


Dear Darlene,

To clear this up I would first need for you to explain what is causing the confusion for you. What is it that you don't understand? What is the main point in your posts? Perhaps I'm not seeing this correctly.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#54 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 09:52 PM

Anna Stickles wrote:



This is continually referred to by St Gregory of Nyssa. It is at the basis of his understanding of 'from glory to glory' as our possible state after death. After all, all people sin. If this completely extinguished the light and the desire for that light then there would be no hope for anyone. Indeed salvation itself would be at peril.

Instead then we begin from that optimistic perspective about people that the light of their created nature as God has given them this, still is present according to desire and will. It is this desire & will in harmony with divine grace which cleans off the grime of the house's windows so that we can begin to see again. And this desire and will does not disappear at death- for life is the continual formation of this desire and will in Christ, so that we may be taken purely into the next life when all material distractions and temptations will disappear.

This hope then applies to all. We do not see how, we cannot sort this out clearly. But since all have this light within even if unformed or crudely formed, we pray that whatever is of light in them is willingly turned towards that Light Who restores all life. In other words, salvation is possible for all- but it must relate to that light within which can desire what is good, so that salvation is a free process.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Father, I am still unconvinced - in fact more than ever. What you are saying sounds like Quaker-speak, divine spark and all that. I must be convinced by Scripture not the philosophy of only a few church fathers - this is not something they are unanimous on. The light of some people's created nature can be marred through sin so much that the darkness overcomes them. To make a point, where was the light of Hitler's created nature? Stalin's? Jeffrey Dauhmer's? The BTK serial killer? And many other very wicked people? They snuffed it out. The desire and will of some wicked person's upon death is not that they possess some sort of light from their created nature, but rather that they are full of darkness and want nothing to do with the light of Christ. As is said in Scripture, " He who does what is evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed." John 3:20 Just before this passage a judgment is made regarding certain persons, showing that some have marred that image so that they choose to do that which is evil. The windows are so filthy that they are beyond cleansing so that it is impossible to see, (to go along with your analogy) and this is due to the choices they have made, namely to reject God and to prefer wickedness. "He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." Some really don't have that light in them, all their thoughts are "there is no God." Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You have the light of the created nature...whoops...I mean, "You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because their is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature for he is a liar and the father of lies....Why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." John 8:44, 46&47

Jesus declaration to the Pharisees may sound harsh, but I take my Savior's words as the gospel truth. He said nothing to them about some created light that abides within.

Edited by Darlene Griffith, 19 January 2011 - 10:15 PM.


#55 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 10:12 PM

I think that we're confusing two different things here- repentance and change after death. I do not see how we can maintain that the soul does not experience a fundamental change after death. For the soul that desires this, this change will be a change from glory to glory. This change however is not the same as repentance. This is what I said in one of my previous posts so as not to confuse the two.


Father, perhaps you could elaborate further, as I am a bit confused. How can any serious sinner who dies in an unrepentant state be saved without repentance, i.e., without a change of will? I can see how the "glory to glory" image works for those who die in the faith and are already fundamentally though imperfectly oriented toward God. Though hampered by disordered affections, they are already on the journey toward God. They do not need to turn to Christ. But if there can be no repentance, then this must mean that the incorrigibly sinful cannot be saved by our prayers or even, I presume, by God himself. They are frozen in their rejection of God. Nobody can be saved apart from their free assent, and this assent cannot be given by the damned. This, I take it, is Fr Patrick Reardon's position, and he would seem to have the support of St Mark of Ephesus and Met Hierotheos. Archbishop Hilarion, on the other hand, following St Isaac, seems to believe that repentance as change of will may be possible: "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." Those who have died are incapable of penance, but they still may be capable, through grace and prayer, of turning away from darkness toward the light. If Hilarion is right, then perhaps even the worst of sinners may be saved.

I am surprised that Fr Ambrose has not joined this discussion. He is a strong advocate of praying people out of Hell, as he puts it. I believe that he believes that anyone, no matter how grievous a sinner, is a potential candidate.

Edited by Aidan Kimel, 19 January 2011 - 10:41 PM.


#56 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 10:32 PM

I think it has to be admitted (though I welcome correction) that the majority position of the Church, at least during the past 1,5000 years or so, approximates the position advanced by Darlene, namely, that the opportunity for repentance no longer exists after our biological death. At St John of Damascus puts it: "[W]hat in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance" (Orthodox Faith II.4). On this view, one's fundamental orientation toward God, either toward him or away from him, is irreversibly established at death. From that point on, it is simply a matter of fulfilling and consummating one's definitive life-choice. This is most certainly the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church, as reiterated in Pope Benedict's encyclical Spe salvi:

Pope Benedict's Eschatology should be read alongside Metropolitan Hierotheos' book Life After Death. The similarities and differences are illuminating. Like Benedict, and following St Mark of Ephesus, Met Hierotheos believes that "the will can be changed as long as a man is in this life, whereas after death it remains immovable" (p. 175).

After death, the soul goes to either Hades or Paradise, depending on its spiritual condition, there to await the final judgment: "If the soul had not been healed while it was united with the body, after its departure from it it suffers and is tormented by the passions, it feels no comfort and consolation, it has no share in the illuminating and deifying energy of God, and this is a dark, dim way of life, a torment, a torture. It is called Hades. By contrast the righteous, after departing this life, live in Paradise, in Abraham's bosom. In other words, they participate in the illuminating and deifying energy of God" (p. 92). But within the group who live in Hades, Hierotheos acknowledges a difference between obstinately impenitent sinners and those who have died in the faith but are still burdened by small sins and and the disorder of the passions. The Church rightly prays for this latter group in the hope that God will forgive their sins, but there can be no remission of sins for those who are guilty of unrepented mortal sin. Met Hierotheos favorably cites the judgment of the 1722 Council of Constantinople:

I read in neither Pope Benedict nor Met Hierotheos an eschatological hope for the salvation of all. Both seem to know that there will be some, perhaps many, who have rejected and will eternally reject the mercy of God. Both men, however, do envision a process of continuing purification for those who die in a state of incomplete repentance and openness to God. For these individuals, the prayers of the Church can be of great and essential benefit.


Father,

What you have posted makes far more sense to me. I do think that there are those who upon death want to be with Christ even though they lived ungodly lives and were burdened by passions. I think of the various phone calls on 9/11/01 from people in the burning towers. Many of them began to call out to God. I think of those who died and had a vision of Heaven and then were brought back to life, where upon they repented of their sins because they were so drawn toward the light of God.

But as you have said, both Pope Benedict and Met. Hierotheos acknowledge that there will be some, perhaps even many who will eternally reject the mercy of God. Hell is a reality of which we who desire to love Christ our Savior can only cringe because it is so grievous to our very core. Yet there are those people such as psychopaths and sociopaths who only laugh at the idea of hell, or worse, joke about going there.

#57 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 10:41 PM

Father, perhaps you could elaborate further, as I am a bit confused. How can any serious sinner who dies in an unrepentant state be saved without repentance, i.e., without a change of will? I can see how the "glory to glory" image works for those who die in the faith and are already fundamentally though imperfectly oriented toward God. Though hampered by disordered affections, they are already on the journey toward God. They do not need to turn to Christ. But if there can be no repentance, then this must mean that the incorrigibly sinful cannot be saved by our prayers or even, I presume, God himself. They are frozen in their rejection of God. Nobody can be saved apart from their free assent, and this assent cannot be given by the damned. This, I take it, is Fr Patrick Reardon's position, and he would seem to have the support of St Mark of Ephesus and Met Hierotheos. Archbishop Hilarion, on the other hand, following St Isaac, seems to believe that repentance as change of will may be possible: "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." Those who have died are incapable of penance, but they still may be capable, through grace and prayer, of turning away from darkness toward the light. If Hilarion is right, then perhaps even the worst of sinners may be saved.

I am surprised that Fr Ambrose has not joined this discussion. He is a strong advocate of praying people out of Hell, as he puts it. I believe that he believes that anyone, no matter how grievous a sinner, is a potential candidate.


I, too, agree with Father Patrick Reardon's view. God will execute justice upon all, and justice cries out for equity. He rewards those who dilligently seek Him, but He punishes those who refuse to repent, though they were/are given many chances over the course of a lifetime. Universal salvation is a misleading and deceptive doctrine. It persuades some that they don't have to take sin seriously, because God will ignore all their evil choices in this life and give them a second chance after death.

#58 Anna Stickles

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 02:00 AM

Possibly part of our problem is that cultural conceptions of justice do not allow us to understand divine justice. When we align our mind and our life with God's practice of justice, then no doubt things start to become more clear.

"Divine justice is against is against human law. Human law is inflexibly equal to all, for it never deviates, but attributes justice to everyone, by putting more emphasis on its regulations than on each individual person. However, divine justice at times deviates and is sympathetically granted to all; it doesn't mistreat people who deserve punishment, while it plentifully rewards the praiseworthy ones.

So divine justice and charity is an expression of God's sympathy towards humanity, whereas human justice and fair judgment tend to be an expression of ill-will." Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

#59 Anna Stickles

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 02:14 AM

How can any serious sinner who dies in an unrepentant state be saved without repentance, i.e., without a change of will?.... Both seem to know that there will be some, perhaps many, who have rejected and will eternally reject the mercy of God


What is the gnomic will and can it exist forever?

Universal salvation is a misleading and deceptive doctrine. It persuades some that they don't have to take sin seriously, because God will ignore all their evil choices in this life and give them a second chance after death.

Is it the doctrine of universal salvation that persuades some that they don't have to take sin seriously or their own proclivity to self-justification as a fallen action of the will?

#60 Antonios

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 04:36 AM

As Anna stated, it is important that we accept that our fallen notion of justice is categorically not the justice of God.

This is why it's not common in Orthodox Christianity to speak of 'mortal sins'. Many people disobey the Ten Commandments, not merely just often, but rather make a living this way for reasons only they and God know. The Lord has revealed much to us as recorded by the Evangelists and by the prayers of other giants of the faith who have been filled with the Holy Spirit. The Final Day, however, will be revealed to all and for all, to see: God's Justice, God's Mercy, and God's Love (the order I arbitrarily picked)

Until then, we must pray for our souls, for those alive with us, and for those whose bodies sleep and souls await His Glorious Return.




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