VISIONS OF HELL

My beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

VISIONS OF HELL

For Orthodox Christians, the reality of Hell is as certain as that of Heaven. Our Lord Himself on many occasions spoke of those men whom, because they did not obey His Commandments, He will send "INTO THE EVERLASTING FIRE PREPARED FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS" (Matthew 25:41). In one of His Parables, He gives the vivid example of the rich man who, condemned to hell because of his unrighteous deeds in this life, looks up to Paradise which he has lost, and begs the Patriarch Abraham there to allow Lazarus, the beggar whom he disdained while alive, to come and "DIP THE TIP OF HIS FINGER IN WATER AND COOL MY TONGUE; FOR I AM TORMENTED IN THIS FLAME." But Abraham replies that "BETWEEN US AND YOU THERE IS A GREAT GULF FIXED," and there IS NO CONTACT BETWEEN THE SAVED AND THE DAMNED (Luke 16:25-26).

In Orthodox Christian literature visions of Hell are as common as visions of Heaven, occur more commonly to ordinary sinners than to Saints, and their purpose is always clear. Saint Gregory in his Dialogues states: "In His unbounded mercy, the Good God ALLOWS some souls to return to their bodies shortly after death so that the sight of Hell might, at last, teach them to fear the Eternal punishments in which words alone could not make them believe." Saint Gregory then describes several experiences of Hell and tells of the impression they produced on the beholders. Thus, a certain Spanish hermit Peter died and saw "hell with all its torments and countless pools of fire." On returning to life, Peter described what he had seen, "but even had he kept silent, his penitential fasts and night watches would have been eloquent witnesses to his terrifying visit to Hell and his deept fear of its dreadful torments. God had shown Himself most merciful by not allowing him to die in this experience with death."

The 8th century English chronicler, Venerable Bede, relates how a man from the province of Northumbria returned after being "dead" one whole night and related his experience of both Paradise and Hell. In Hell, he found himself in dense darkness; ‘frequent masses of dusky flame suddenly appeared before us, rising as though from a great pit and falling back into it again… As the tongues of flames rose, they were filled with the souls of men which, like sparks flying up with the smoke, were sometimes flung high in the air, and at others dropped back into the depths as the vapors of the fire died down. Furthermore, an indescribable stench welled up with these vapors and filled the whole of this gloomy place… I suddenly heard behind me the sound of a most hideous and desperate lamentation, accompanied by harsh laughter… I saw a throng of wicked spirits dragging with them five human souls howling and lamenting into the depths fo the darkness while the devils emerged from the fiery depths and rushed to surround me, harassing me with their glowing eyes and foul flames issuing from their mouths and nostrils…"

The monk of Wenlock beheld a similar scene in the "lowest depths" of the earth, where "he heard a horrible, tremendous, and unspeakable groaning and weeping of souls in distress. And the Angel said to him: "The murmuring and crying which you hear down there comes from those souls to which the loving-kindness of the Lord shall never come, but an undying flame shall torture them forever" (The Letters of Saint Boniface, p. 28).

Of course, we should not be overly fascinated by the literal details of such experiences, and even less than in the case of Paradise and Heaven should we try to piece together a "geography" of Hell based on such accounts…Orthodox Tradition knows only the one reality of Hell in the underworld. Furthermore, as Saint Mark of Ephesus teaches what is seen in experiences of Hell is often AN IMAGE OF FUTURE TORMENTS RATHER THAN A LITERAL DEPICTION OF THE PRESENT STATE OF THOSE AWAITING THE Last Judgment in Hell. But whether it is an actual beholding of present realities or a vision of the future, the experience of Hell is recorded in Orthodox sources is a powerful means of awakening one to a life of Christian struggle, WHICH IS THE ONLY MEANS OF ESCAPING ETERNAL TORMENT: THIS IS WHY GOD GRANTS SUCH EXPERIENCES.

JESUS EXPLAINS THE PARABLE OF THE WHEAT AND TARES [Matthew 13:37-43]

"He answered and said to them: "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seed are the sons of the Kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the Angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be AT THE END OF THIS AGE. The Son of Man will send out His Angels, and they will gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend. and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR."

____________

"Glory Be To GOD
ALL
THINGS!"

+ + +

With sincere agape in the Divine and Glorious Resurrection of Our Savior,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: