The Orthodox Pages































Question 19

Hi Father, What is Hell in the teaching of the Orthodox Church? In the gospels, Christ describes a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and speaks of a worm that does not die. In the book of Revelations it speaks of a lake of fire. Some priests speak of Hell merely as a place of separation from God which is the ultimate suffering in itself. Some Orthodox writings describe the sufferings of sinners in Hell as analogous to what they did on earth for example a liar will be hanged from his tongue!! How should we understand Hell?      


Answer to Question 19


What happens to the soul after its departure from the body depends entirely on its spiritual state while it was still in this life. Angels or demons receive and lead it to a place of rest which we call Paradise or Hades. We should not think of these as physical places but rather as a state of the soul. We use the terms Paradise and Hades to indicate a particular way of life, since the righteous partake of the glory of God, while the sinners receive the caustic energy of God. In the patristic tradition it is clear that there are not two ways, but God Himself is Paradise for the saints and God Himself is Hades for the sinners. God sends His grace to all men, since “He makes His sun rise on the just and the unjust and sends His rain on the evil and the good”. If God gives us a command to love all people, even our enemies, He does the same Himself. It is impossible for him not to love sinners as well. But each person feels God's love differently, according to his spiritual condition.


God is light and light has two properties, illuminating and caustic. If one person has good vision, he benefits from the illuminating property of the sun, and he enjoys the whole creation. But if another person is deprived of his eye, if he is without sight, then he feels the caustic property of light. This is how it will be also for the life of the soul after it leaves the body. God will also love the sinners, but they will be unable to perceive this love as light. They will perceive it as fire, since they will not have a spiritual eye and spiritual vision. Therefore the same love of God, the same energy will fall upon all men, but it will work differently. Therefore Paradise and Hades exist not in the form of a threat and a punishment on the part of God, but in the form of an illness and a cure. Those who are cured and those who are purified experience the illuminating energy of divine grace, while the uncured and ill experience the caustic energy of God.


In the parable of the Last Judgement Christ makes mention of a hell that was prepared for the devil and his angels: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41) This is a punishment reserved for the end of time, but it is clear that the everlasting hellfire was not originally prepared for man, but for the devil and his angels. In the parable Christ is saying that “For man I have prepared the Kingdom, the fire is not meant for man, but only for the devil and his angels: But you have taken on the likeness of his angels, you no longer resemble the man I created in my image and of your own free will you have put on the image of demons. Therefore you will share the same reward as the demons you resemble.” 


But even this, we should not assume that the eternal place of punishment is literally a fiery furnace; the Lord uses this frightful image to express the terrible nature of the punishment. The Lord also makes mentions of a worm that dieth not. Together with the hellfire they express the interior and exterior suffering of the sinner. The hellfire as we have seen is the exterior suffering of being in a place deprived of God’s light and the worm refers to the person’s interior suffering. This is the person’s conscience, his guilt of the sins he has committed which will eternally eat away at him and give him no rest.