On Degrees of Bliss and Torment

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392

[S]ome speak of one kingdom and one hell. We, however, speak of many degrees and differences and measures, both in the kingdom and in hell itself. Just as the soul “ensouls” all the members and yet operates in the brain and still moves the feet below it, so also the Godhead contains all creatures, the heavenly and those under the abyss, and is everywhere being filled up in creation, even though it is most transcendent above creatures because it is infinite and beyond any comprehension. Therefore, this Godhead is concerned with men, and it providentially guides all things according to reason. And when some pray, not knowing what they seek, others fast, while others perservere in service, God being a just judge, gives the reward to each one according to the measure of his faith. For what things they do, they do out of fear of God. But not all these are sons or kings or heirs. In the world there are murderers, others are fornicators and others robbers. On the other hand, there are those who distribute their goods to the poor. For both of these groups the Lord has a concern and to those doing good He gives rest and a reward. For there are superior and inferior degrees. And in the very light itself and the glory there is a difference. And in hell itself and punishment there appear poisoners and robbers and others who have committed lesser sins. Those who say that there is only one kigdom and one hell and that there are not degrees, speak wrongly. (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 40)

St. Gregory of Sinai ca. 1265-1346

Chastisements differ, as do the rewards of the righteous. Chastisements are inflicted in hell, in what Scripture describes as ‘a dark and gloomy land, a land of eternal darkness’ (Job 10:21-22 LXX), where sinners dwell before the judgment and whither they return after judgment is given. For can the phrases, ‘Let sinners be returned to hell’ (Ps. 9:17 LXX), and ‘death will rule over them’ (Ps. 49:14 LXX), refer to anything other than the final judgment visited upon sinners, and their eternal condemnation? (On Commandments and Doctrines, 33)

By ‘many dwelling-places’ (Jn. 14:2) the Saviour meant the differing stages of spiritual ascent and states of development in the other world; for although the Kingdom of Heaven is one, there are many different levels within it. That is to say, there is place for both heavenly and earthy men (cf. 1 Cor. 15:48) according to their virtue, their knowledge and the degree of deification that they have attained. ‘For there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory’ (1 Cor. 15:41); and yet all of them shine in a single divine firmament. (ibid., 44)


  1. Nice!

  2. Michael and Maximus,

    I wanted to let you know that I think you guys are awesome and are doing a great thing by packaging and disseminating the information the way you do. You guys have certainly helped me on my journey home.

    The afterlife is an issue that I have been struggling to understand. I know what the reformed and radical reformed believe (unfortunately). I am trying to understand how the Orthodox look at the New Heaven and New Earth (Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1) part of the afterlife. What are the authors eluding to here? Is there going to be an actual new earth or is it talking about the theosis of all things redeemed by Christ Jesus?

  3. Toby,

    Thank you for checking out the site and sharing in our journey as well!!

    In my understanding of the Tradition of the New Heaven and Earth it means exactly “the theosis of all things redeemed by Jesus”. God will be all in all and the entire material cosmos will be glorified and spiritual. Not spiritual in the sense of non-physical but spiritual in the sense of Christ’s deified flesh. A sacramentalized cosmos free from corruption and vanity. This new creation will also correspond to what existed before; it won’t be destroyed but renewed. This will occur at the General Resurrection:

    Act 3:20-21 …that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things

    Rom 8:19-23 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

    This is the New Earth, it’s no accident that it’s renewal is tied to our own because we are taken from the earth, when we fell, it fell. When we ascend so shall it. The blood of Christ even renews and cleanses the very heavens (please remember that Satan’s fall took place there):

    Col 1:19-20 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

    Heb 9:23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

    Now the quotes above seem to refer to both the “interim state” and after the Resurrection. Remember, before the Resurrection one partially partakes of their eternal lot and after the Resurrection one receives the fullness of his eternal destiny in our Tradition. Those who partake of the Resurrection of the just shall dynamically shine, forever moving from glory to glory and strength to strength.

    The damned will experience this new glorified reality as darkness, caustic flame and torment according to their knowledge and deeds. That they might know that by what things a man sinneth, by the same also he is tormented. (Wisdom 11:17) and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (Rev. 14:10) They too are in the presence of God just as St. Macarius says above. See also here: http://classicalchristianity.com/2011/03/16/the-light-shines-in-darkness/

    Here is awesome book on this subject: http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/mod_contents.aspx Hope this helps. If I wasn’t clear or if you want to discuss this further don’t hesitate brother. You can also email Michael or myself by utilizing that option right upper part of the screen. Pray for us!

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