On the Mystery of Paradise and Hell

Fr. George Metallinos

The mystery of paradise-hell is also experienced in the life of the Church in the world. During the holy mysteries/sacraments, there is a participation of the faithful in divine grace, so that grace may be activated in our lives, by our course towards Christ. Especially during the Holy Eucharist, the uncreated (Holy Communion) becomes either paradise or hell within us, depending on our condition. Primarily, our participation in Holy Communion is a participation in either paradise or hell, in our own time and place. That is why we beseech God, prior to receiving Holy Communion, to render the Precious Gifts “not as judgment or condemnation” within us, “for the healing of soul and body,” not as “condemnation. ”

This is why participation in Holy Communion is linked to the overall spiritual course of life of the faithful. When we approach Holy Communion uncleansed and unrepentant, we are condemned (burnt). Holy Communion inside us becomes the “inferno” and “spiritual death” (see 1Cor.11:30, etc.). Not because it is transformed into those things of course, but because our own uncleanliness cannot accept Holy Communion as “paradise.” Given that Holy Communion is called “the medicin of immortality” (Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, 2nd century), the same thing exactly occurs as with any medication. If our organism does not have the prerequisites to absorb the medication, then the medication will produce side-effects and can kill instead of heal. It is not the medication that is responsible, but the condition of our organism. It must be stressed, that if we do not accept Christianity as a therapeutic process, and its holy mysteries/sacraments as spiritual medication, then we are led to a “religionisation” of Christianity; in other words, we “idolatrize” it. And unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence when we perceive Christianity as a “religion.”

Besides, this lifetime is evaluated in the light of the twin criterion of paradise-hell. “Seek first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Christ teaches us (Mt.6:33). Saint Basil the Great says in To The Youth (ch.3) “Everything we do is in preparation of another life.” Our life must be a continuous preparation for our participation in paradise – our communion with the Uncreated (Jn.17:3). Everything begins from this lifetime. That is why Apostle Paul says: “Behold, now is the opportune time. Behold, now is the day of redemption.” (2Cor.6:2) Every moment of our lives is of redemptive importance. Either we gain eternity, the eternal community with God, or we lose it. This is why oriental religions and cults that preach reincarnations are injuring mankind: they are virtually transferring the problem to other, (nonexistent of course) lifetimes.

The thing is, however, that only one life is available to each of us, whether we are saved or condemned. This is why Basil the Great continues: “We must proclaim that those things therefore that lead us towards that life should be cherished and pursued with all our strength; and those that do not lead us to that destination, we should disregard, as something of no value.” Such are the criteria of the Christian life. A Christian continuously chooses whatever favours his salvation. We gain paradise or lose it and end up in hell, already during our lifetime. That is why John the Evangelist says: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn3:17-18).

Consequently, the work of the Church is not to “send” people to paradise or to hell, but to prepare them for the final judgment. The work of the clergy is therapeutic and not moralistic or character-shaping, in the temporal sense of the word. The purpose of the theraphy offered by the Church is not to create “useful” citizens and essentially “usable” ones, but citizens of the celestial (uncreated) kingdom. Such citizens are the Confessors and the Martyrs and the true faithful, the saints…

However, this is also the way that our mission is directed: What are we inviting people to? To the Church as a [spiritual] hospital/therapy Centre, or just an ideology that is labelled “Christian”? More often than not, we strive to secure a place in “paradise”, instead of striving to be healed. That is why we focus on the rites and not on therapy. This of course does not signify a devaluing of worship. But, without ascesis (spiritual exercise, ascetic lifestyle, acts of therapy), worship cannot sanctify us. The grace that pours forth from it remains inert inside us. Orthodoxy doesn’t make any promises to send mankind to any sort of paradise or hell; but it does have the power — as evidenced by the incorruptible and miracle-working relics of our saints (incorruptibility=theosis) — to prepare man, so that he may forever look upon the Uncreated Grace and the Kingdom of Christ as Paradise, and not as Hell. (Paradise and Hell According to the Orthodox Tradition)

Source: http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/OurFaith/Articles/Paradise&Hell%20-Mellitos.pdf

For various sources on Orthodox Eschatology: