On the Sufferings of Hades

There is a holy tale, preserved by the Fathers of the Holy Mountain, which tells how grave are the sufferings experienced in hell. There were two friends, of whom one was moved by the word of God and entered a monastery. There he spent his life in tearful penance. The other friend remained in the world, led a life full of distractions, and finally his heart became so hardened that he began to insolently deride the Gospel.

Death came to him in the midst of such a life. When his friend the monk learned about his death, he, obeying the dictates of friendship, began to pray to God that the state of his departed friend might be revealed to him.

After some time, when the monk had sunk into a light sleep, his friend appeared to him. “How are you? Is it well with you?” asked the monk. — “Woe is me! The never-resting worm is consuming me and will give me no rest for all time.”

“What is the suffering of hell like?” the monk continued.

“This suffering is unbearable!” the departed exclaimed. “But it is impossible to avoid God’s anger. Because of your prayers, I have been temporarily set free. If you wish, I shall show you my suffering. Were I to reveal it to you in its entirety, you would not be able to bear the view; but recognize it at least partly.” At these words the dead man raised his clothes to his knees. O horror! His legs were completely covered with frightful worms that were eating his flesh. Such a stench issued from his wounds that the horrified monk instantly woke up. But his whole cell was filled with the hellish stench, and the odor was so strong that the monk in his horror jumped out. But he forgot to close the door, and the stench penetrated the whole monastery. All the cells were filled with it, and time did nothing to take it away. Thus the monks were forced to leave their monastery and to wander to a different place. As for the monk who had seen the prisoner of hell and his terrible suffering, all his life he was unable to free himself from the evil odor that kept clinging to him. He could neither wash it off nor cover it with any perfumes. (From the book Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave, issued by the monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos. Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave: Orthodox Teachings on the Existence of God, the Immortality of the Soul, and Life Beyond the Grave compiled by Archimandrite Panteleimon pp. 174-175)