The Place Called Hell


Taken from Gehenna: The Orthodox Christian Doctrine about Judgment and Hell, from the Tradition and Holy Fathers and a Historical Survey at Icons of the Last Judgement by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo (here)

“….Latins, and later Protestants, developed their concept of hell (as well as of heaven) from the presuppositions of civil law, Aristotelian rationalism, and to some degree, the elements of Orphic Gnosticism found in Plato with its radical dichotomy between body and soul, and noetos kosmos. There were also aspects of superstition  and the terrors of the pagan world involved – what we have referred to as “folk religion”.  They applied the metaphors and similitudes of Greek sagas to their concepts, although many of the ideas themselves might have been found in the Vedic writings of India, Zoroastrianism or the idolatry of Babylon and Egypt. None of these sources were strangers to the Hellenistic world or to Rome. The most likely source of the idea of a literal place called hell, with its horrors and tortures and chambers, is Zarathustra (Zoroaster). The depictions of hell that appear in Western art and in corrupted paintings in the Orthodox Christian world are found nowhere in Hebrew Scripture or tradition, nor in early Christian iconography or tradition. Rather, they match the descriptions presented by Zarathustra and in some Hindi and Buddhist art.”

Feeling Good vs. Being Good


In his perceptive book This Little Church Went to Market , Pastor Gary Gilley notes that the professional marketing journal American Demographics recognizes that people are:

“…into spirituality, not religion….Behind this shift is the search for an experiential faith, a religion of the heart, not the head. It’s a religious expression that downplays doctrine and dogma, and revels in direct experience of the divine–whether it’s called the ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘cosmic consciousness’ or the ‘true self.’ It is practical and personal, more about stress reduction than salvation, more therapeutic than theological. It’s about feeling good, not being good. It’s as much about the body as the soul….Some marketing gurus have begun calling it ‘the experience industry.’ ” (pp. 20-21)

*Taken from an article on the Seeker-Friendly way of doing things here

Alcohol, Pros and Cons


Fr. Ted’s blog (here)

“When watered in due measure the earth yields a good, clean crop from the seed sown in it; but when it is soaked with torrential rain it bears nothing but thistles and thorns. Likewise, when we drink wine in due measure, the earth of the heart yields a clean crop from its natural seed and produces a fine harvest from what is sown in it by the Holy Spirit. But if it is soaked through excessive drinking, the thoughts it bears will be nothing but thistles and thorns.”

St. Diadochos of Photiki in The Philokalia, Vol 1, p. 267

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine, those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.” (Proverbs 23:29-35). 

We are all human


“In general, the whole concept of ‘Greek’ versus ‘Russian’ seems to us rather artificial and is only a cause of quite unnecessary tensions and quarrels. Obviously, the ‘Greeks’ who use ‘Russian’ as a term of opprobrium are thinking of a certain attitude among Russians which is indeed deplorable; and the other side obviously has in mind some unpleasant characteristics of some ‘Greeks’. But this only proves we are all human, and the truth is not to be found in either ‘party’ as such. It would be much better and wiser to think of both ‘Greeks’ and ‘Russians’ only the best things, those which enter into the higher harmony of Orthodoxy, which is beyond nationalities. This is how Vladika John always thought of ‘Greeks’ and is why he adopted many Greek customs which are not commonly practiced by Russians today – Greek customs, that is, which are closer to the authentic tradition of Orthodoxy, and certainly not just because they are ‘Greek’!

Taken from the Letters from Father Seraphim (Rose)

The inability of man to love

docek_nj._p._vladike_davida_u_johanesburgu_16._10._2013._9Homily delivered by Bishop David of Stobija upon his arrival in Johannesburg for the church feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. Loosely translated from here:

(Pictured far left – fellow blogger Deacon Steve Hayes, author of the Khanya blog.)

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to share with you a thought and feeling I have today here with you in Africa. That thought I consider to be very important and that’s why I wish to share it with you.

They say that hell is the inability of man to love. And truly, in the tradition of the Church we find the most diverse presentations of what hell is and what it looks like. But I think the most accurate presentation of hell is man’s inability to love. This summer I had the blessing of having Fr. Panteleimon visit our monastery. He spoke to me with such love about all of you so that at this moment I feel as if I already know you all. In the eyes and heart of Fr. Panteleimon  I saw the great love he has for all of you,  he conveyed that love to me and the fathers and monastics and all the people that were at the Divine Liturgy then which was served by Fr. Panteleimon . Filled with that love, we have a momentary foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.

For if hell, as we have stated, is man’s inability to love and we see and hear how much Fr. Panteleimon  loves you and conveys that love to us then it is truly a foretaste of the Heavenly Kingdom here on earth, and together with that love comes also joy. For believe me, it is not possible for someone to even say that they are an Orthodox Christian unless they are joyful. Love and joy go together. Joy is the foundation of every Christian family, every parish, every monastery.

I greet you with that joy now. That love and joy, joy conveyed to us this past summer by Fr. Panteleimon which we feel for it simply does not cease. I believe we will only multiply that love and that joy of which we now speak in our fellowship during these days, and God grant, I hope that you will all allow us to return that love and joy when you visit us. I speak not only from my lips but my heart that when you come it will be as if you come to your own home and may it all be in glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Uncanonized Saints


“In the Orthodox Church it is by no means discouraged to pray to ‘uncanonized’ saints. Actually, canonization only grants official status to what already exists unofficially: people are already praying to a saint before the Church finally declares his public veneration, when the service and icon to him are approved, etc. For that matter, privately one may pray to any departed Orthodox Christian, just as one asks the prayers of living Orthodox Christians – for in Christ all are alive; and all the more so someone whose holiness of life or martyrdom have evidently found favor with Christ our Lord, so that he can hear our prayers and intercede for us. Therefore, if you are so inspired to do so, by all means pray to Hieromartyr Seraphim*. In fact, there is nothing wrong with cutting out his photograph and putting it in your icon corner – not in central place, but off to one side, at the edge of the icon corner, so to speak. Many people did this with images of Saint John of Kronstadt and Saint Herman long before they were canonized…”

Taken from Letters from Father Seraphim (Rose)

* New Russian Martyr, Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich, who at the time was not yet canonized

“No one has a monopoly on sin…”

2531452309_39b1e3ce2dH/T: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy (here):

The Rules of Christian Ethics

Metropolitan Georges Khodr

The Gospel passage today, taken from the Gospel of Luke, tells us that “Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you.” We also find this saying of the Lord in the Gospel of Matthew (7:12). This is the second saying. The first saying, which was not read today is “What you do not want people to do unto you, do not do unto them.”

Here in the Gospel today we have two basic rules of Christian behavior. The first rule is that we refrain from hurting people: We do not slander anyone. We do not lie. We do not steal. We do not kill. Anything that we do not wish to be done to us, we do not do to others, because others– all others– are the children of God and the Lord rejoices in them. His face shines upon all of them, regardless of what neighborhood they belong to or what group they come from. All people belong to God, whether they like it or not, whether they know Him or not. Just as children in a family might not know that their father and their mother love them– they might not feel in themselves their parents’ love even though the parents love them and want every good thing for them– so also is God with us: He loves. He loves those who know themselves to be His children and those who do not know themselves to be his children because this is God’s way.

The second rule of Christian behavior was summed up by the Lord when He said, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” This is how today’s Gospel closed, after the Lord gave examples of His teaching: If you lend to someone and he does not pay it back, do not hold it against him. Do not expect to be repaid anything, since people might not give back in kind.

Christ did not say to us, “If you love people, they will necessarily love you.” Naturally, this is the general rule, that if we love truly, deeply and sincerely they will return our love. This is not, however, an absolute rule: they may give us hatred in return. A person may not be able to love. But we must imitate Christ who loved His enemies and forgave them while He was on the cross because love is triumphant in the other. It is always victorious.

This means that we cannot cut anyone off from our hearts. We cannot put some people in our heart and others outside it. All are on the inside and we treat them on this basis. We are the ones who establish closeness. We take the initiative to draw near to people and we do not expect anything from them. Humans, by nature, are not open to others. They are prejudiced in favor of their family or their village or their sect. They think that their family is better than every other family, that their village is better than others, and that their sect is better than every other sect. The reality is that all of us are of this clay, all of us are shaped with sins.

What the Gospel is telling us is that there is no human group that stands out for its morality. Yes, there are different circumstances and emotions, but human beings, no matter what group they belong to, have many sinners among them and also many who love. No one has a monopoly on sin or righteousness. Sin is spread out, as is holiness.

When we gather together to perform the Divine Sacrifice, we declare that we are all one in Christ, one in His love. Our hearts are given to all people, from one side of the world to the other, so that we might remain faithful to the end, with love as the final word for us.