But what is the fire, making sinners burn? — First of all, it is the same fire, which will enlighten the righteous since the day, “when all deeds, good and evil, will be tried by fire,” as we read in the canon to the Guardian Angel; it is like the Chaldean furnace: “A furnace once in Babylon, by divine decree, divided its action, burning up the Chaldeans but refreshing the faithful”. The fire burns the wood, hay and straw, but cleanses gold and silver. The sinners shall be cast “into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Math. 13:42-43). Similarly Apostle Paul tells about one and the same fire — the Divine touch — that influences different souls in a different way. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:13-15).
In this sense the Lord is called as consuming fire in the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah calls Him eternal fire, eternal flame, which burns the sinners. “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions”, and further (33:14-15).
Do not you want to say that the lot of the righteous and sinful will be the same if to look at them from aside: it is the state of constant vision of God and the impossibility to hide from Him, — but for one it will be the source of pleasure, and for others — of tortures, forthcoming from their hatred and powerless rage? — Or do you want to say that the eternal fire is nothing but the Divine presence, which is so hard to bear for his enemies? I did not mean “nothing but” but what was meant is “in the first place”. To say “nothing but” will be possible only in the case, when someone compares the eternal fire with material fire from the church legend (and the church legend is as well holy for us, as the words of the holy Bible), and only if it is possible to bring this idea together with that indisputable truth about the resurrection of the body, so precious for most ancient Christians and so obviously revealed to us through the Word of God.
But, in the vast course of dogmatics there is no expression of the holy fathers about the material fire in hell. But, certainly, we would not dare to deny the presence of physical tortures there, — it is only easier to talk about the soul in respect of future life, than in respect of the resurrected body, for as well in this life the spiritual aspect is more understandable for us, then that of flesh and matter, as correctly states one Russian philosopher, who passed away long before. No one could yet define what matter is, and it is more difficult to imagine, which qualities of matter will definitely remain in the resurrected flesh. (Life Beyond the Grave and Eternal Sufferings)