Is Hell Real?

On one of the roads leading into my small city a billboard has recently appeared. It is part of a larger campaign by a nationally known evangelist who is to have a revival in Knoxville. The sign is simple. In very large bright yellow letters (all caps), the sign says: HELL IS REAL. In small letters beneath it, in white, that can be read as your car nears the sign is the statement: so is heaven. Like the small bulliten boards outside of many Southern churches, this sign belongs to a part of our culture that has been with us a long time. But everytime I see this sign, my mind turns to the subject of ontology (the study of the nature of being). Thus I offer today some very basic thoughts on the subject of being – a classical part of Christian theology.

The first thing I will note is that you cannot say Hell is real and Heaven is real and the word real mean the same thing in both sentences. Whatever the reality of Heaven, Hell does not have such reality. Whatever the reality of Hell, Heaven is far beyond such reality.

St. Athanasius in his De Incarnatione, sees sin (and thus hell) as a movement towards “non-being.” The created universe was made out of nothing – thus as it moves away from God it is moving away from the gift of existence and towards its original state – non-existence. God is good, and does not begrudge existence to anything, thus the most creation can do is move towards non-being.

I’m certain that the intent of the billboard was to suggest that hell is not imaginary or just a folk-tale. It is certainly neither of those things. But in Orthodox spiritual terms I would say that hell is a massive state of delusion, maybe the ultimate state of delusion. It is delusional in the sense that (in Orthodox understanding) the “fire” of hell is not a material fire, but itself nothing other than the fire of the Living God (Hebrews 12:29). For those who love God, His fire is light and life, purification and all good things. For those who hate God, His fire is torment, though it be love.

And these are not simply picky issues about the afterlife – they are very germane issues for the present life. Christ Himself gave this “definition” of hell: “And this is condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

It is of critical importance for us to understand that being, reality, life, goodness, beauty, happiness, truth are all synonymous with reality as it is gifted to us by God. Many things that we experience in our currently damaged condition (I speak of our fallen state) which we describe with words such as “being, reality, life, goodness, beauty, happiness, truth, etc.”, are, in fact, only relatively so and are only so inasmuch as they have a participation or a relationship with the fullness of being, reality, life, etc.

Tragically in our world, many live in some state of delusion (even most of us live in some state of delusion). Christ said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” We are not pure in heart, and thus we do not see God, nor do we see anything in the fullness of its truth. Our delusion makes many mistakes about reality. The most serious delusion is that described by Christ, when we prefer darkness to light because our deeds are evil.

I have in my own life known what moments in such darkness are like – and I have seen such darkness in the hearts and lives of others many times. The whole of our ministry and life as Christians is to move from such darkness and into the light of Christ. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship (communion) one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1John 1:7)

Is hell real? Only for those who prefer to see the Light of God as darkness.

Is heaven real? Yes, indeed, and everything else is only real as it relates to that reality. God give us grace to walk in the Light.

End of ontology lesson.


  1. The photo is of C.S. Lewis’ home, the ‘Kilns,’ outside of Oxford, England. I and with my son during a pilgrimage to that fair country. Lewis’ classic little book, The Great Divorce, does as fine a job of suggesting images for the reality of heaven versus the “reality” of hell. It, of course, should not be read literally, but the imagery is quite Orthodox in its thought.

  2. Very thought provoking. Just a couple of comments. I think your premise that two distinct places, heaven and hell, cannot both be “real” is intresting fodder for a philosophy class, but there is no sense in scripture which would lead th ereader to believe them to be anything else but real. Jesus certainly described them as coexisting and hardly figurative. The other comment is in response to the discussion of the pure in heart being able to see God. Certainly in a saving relationship with Christ one has received a pure heart. Ez 11:19; Col 2:11-12) However, the point of this idiom is that “seeing” in the phrase “shall see God” has to do with receiving His favor does it not? At leat that’s what I get. Thanks so much for the wonderful blog. God bless your work in His kingdom. Bryan

  3. I don’t think of them in terms of places but in terms of our relationship with God. We use place metaphors for that’s what we know, but the reality of heaven certainly transcends anything we currently think of as place. I do not mean to describe them as merely figurative either.

    But neither can they be somehow compared as having a comparable existence. It might seem like something for a philosophy class, but it is also something for a theology class, at least as we know theology in the Orthodox Church.

    Literalism is the bane of Scriptural understanding. Not that there aren’t plenty of “literal” things described. But many times we have to push beyond the literal to arrive at the truth. At least this is the case in many of the Eastern Church fathers.

    Thanks for the read! And the comment!

    Actually a very good Scriptural example of what I have described is found in Exodus 14:19-20. It describes the night beside the Red Sea before Israel crossed, and while the Egyptians were there seeking to destroy them:

    19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.

    Same angel. Light for one, darkness for the other. The Fathers also cite this passage in support of what I have shared.

  4. fatherstephen, I would like to suggest an aid to help you perhaps better understand the biblical words and idioms – Figures of Speech Used In The Bible, by EW Bullinger. It is still in print off the Web also. Bullinger was an Anglican also. But Low Church. He has another work also that is very good, if you believe in the value of NT Greek word studies – Critical Lexicon & Concordance to the English & Greek NT. Also still in print.

  5. There is simply nothing like Bullinger’s work on the Figures Of Speech Used In the Bible! Even our modern term “genre”, now being used theologically, is just too loose.

  6. Just wanted to pop in and say “great blog.” I look forward to reading it more in the future!

  7. “Lewis’ classic little book, The Great Divorce, does as fine a job of suggesting images for the reality of heaven versus the “reality” of hell. It, of course, should not be read literally, but the imagery is quite Orthodox in its thought.”

    I agree 100%. I was thinking about this for quite a long time… It’s very interesting to compare “The Great Divorce” with, for example, the first book of “The Life in Christ” of Saint Nicolas Cabasilas. I think that the basic points are almost identical. And Cabasilas is not the only Orthodox Father who thinks in this direction! Simply this idea is very strongly underlined and very vigorously presented in his writings.

  8. It quite simply amazes me how modern Christians still follow “tradition” over the revelation of God’s Word! Even many so-called evangelicals! It must be the depth of our human and sinful aspect toward idolatry, (Col. 3: 5). Even Francis Bacon spoke of the “idols of the mind”…the four idols distinguished, were: the idols of the tribe, den, market, and theatre. Here for Bacon the idols of “theatre” were: errors of theories, the abstract schemata of Aristotelianism, and the introduction of theological notions into science. Things to at least think about? And I love “Jacks”…CS Lewis, but he would want us to put to test biblically, any and all of his writings. He was not a hard theologian, in the strict sense. Somehow we have made him the new modern age “Church Father”, at least in some way. Sad to my Anglican and evangelical mind!

  9. The Baconian Commensense Philosophy was the forerunner of modern Protestant fundamentalism. While I have not run to philosophy but Scripture and the Fathers. There is nothing that I have said here that is a contradiction to the Scriptures unless your reading allows only for a kind of literalism that is foreign to the history of early Christian interpretation of Scripture. I would only cite Lewis as an Anglican “friendly,” certainly not a Father. But unlike many modernist Churchmen, he had actually bothered to read the Fathers and Scripture (which would have been a proper Anglican approach).

    Fundamentalism and literalism are modernist in their origin. I would do more than cite Francis Bacon if I needed authority for anything. Tradition, for an Orthodox Churchman, is not a substitution for Scripture, but reading Scripture in accordance with the Fathers – itself not foreign to classical Anglicanism.

    I daresay that reading Maximus the Confessor, Dionysius the Areopagite, St. John of Damascus and the Cappadocians is a sufficient introduction to the figures of speech in Scripture.

    But thanks for the suggestion

  10. First, I am not unfamillar with the Church Fathers, both East and West. You can read my other blogs for just a bit of that. And I was for several years a R. Catholic Benedictine. (I am 58 by the way, Irish born, but Anglo-Irish now, and educated in England…D. Phil. & Th.D.) But certainly now I am a Low Church Anglican. I am convinced of the basis of the evangelical truth and experience. I am also a “biblicist”, but not a fundamentalist in the historic sense. So to throw that label will just not stick, least on me. If you bother to look at Bullinger’s book on Biblical Figures? You will see that! No one who is not overt in bias can level that at Bullinger, nor me!
    I did not state you made contradiction, I will leave that up to other other readers. But, I am not a High Church person any more! Both my mind and biblical experience, as evangelical are far now from that. (Now about 20 years). I had a classic Augustinian and evangelical conversion years ago too. But I am myself convinced that the Church (both East & West) have followed more of man’s tradition, than the so-called Biblical tradition! This is both an ideological and theological difference between us, most obviously. But need not imply we are not somehow still “Brethren In Christ”! This certainly is not my point here at all, but the we are at variance on the subject of Holy Scripture, and its exegesis!

    Peace of Christ,
    Fr. Robert

  11. “Love is a grave and ruthless passion, unlimited in selfgiving and unlimited in demand.” ~ Evelyn Underhill

  12. Fr. Robert,

    I’m a former Anglican, thus maybe a bit touchy, forgive me. I did not mean to be uncharitable, and looking back over my comment I can see that I was. I was a “High Churchman,” perhaps more Laudian than Anglo-Catholic. But reading the Fathers and Scripture and being exposed to Orthodox writings when I was in college led me towards an Orthodox understanding. My family and I converted in 1998.

    I’ll have to look at Bullinger. I am committed to the received interpretation of the Church, which I think is indeed Biblical, and we’ll probably have to differ on that. But I pray nothing but God’s good blessings to be with you.

    In America, Baconian reason and “Scottish Common Sense” philosophy were dominant historical pieces that gave rise to classical Protestant Fundamentalism, for instance at Princeton in the 1920’s. It’s history in America, rooted utimately in American Puritanism leave me highly doubtful as Christian approaches. America’s history and Britain’s (and Ireland) are different enough to leave some variance in experience on these things. Until about 20 years ago it would have been almost impossible to find a British style Anglican evangelical in America (among Episcopalians). J.I.Packer, for instance, was always more likely to be addressing conservative Presbyterians. I have some of those in the family, too.

    I worked for a short while with an Anglican priest who was a British trained evangelical. We never really understood each other – very different worlds.

  13. Father Stephen, i think your making an excellent point on the question of existence in heaven and hell. Thank you for making me seek and ponder more in my search for religious belonging.

  14. Natasha,

    May God bless your search. Seek God above everything else and the rest will fall into place, if I might be so bold as to give advice.

    A central concern for me in this writing is to draw our attention away from thoughts of external images of heaven or hell and to see within ourselves the Truth as God reveals it in the Scriptures. The heart is the key to everything for us in our Christian life. As I have posted in the quotes on the sidebar:

    “The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.” St. Macarius (H.43.7)

  15. Father Steven,
    Thanks mate for the return post. Forgive me also, I get on these blogs, and get rather dogmatic, the irish I guess? lol I have a best friend who is an Orthodox priest, we have our moments, but it is always “brotherhood” first and last.
    Your point about the heart is very good! I always strain things thru the biblical text, so the Wisdom lit. comes to mind here.
    Best blessings, fraternally In Christ,
    Fr. Robert

  16. Hey Grant, give me an evidential statement about the mystery of love! Or do ya not believe in that? Save the love of eros?

  17. Thank you for this post! I was raised to fear hell and that fear loomed large above the seeking and delight in heaven in my young eyes. C.S. Lewis’ writings have blessed me very much in this regard, as have George MacDonald, John Bunyan, Julian of Norwich…actually the Anglican communion helped me to get past the fear of heaven and seek God.

    That seeking brought our family to Orthodoxy, praise God! So it is with a thankful and grateful heart that I read your thoughts as a priest in Christ’s Church.

  18. You see the Freudian slip? The fear of “heaven”?! I meant the fear of hell, but in reality it was the fear of heaven that has driven me into the arms of God. The fear that this reality is really as wonderful and even moreso than I can think upon.

  19. Grant,

    I guess it all depends on what criteria you use for evidence. If you’re a surface-dweller and a literalist about your world, there is all kinds of evidence you will never see. But that doesn’t tell me anything about the world, only about how you see or don’t see.

    But it is obvious that plenty of people have plenty of evidence, or sufficient evidence that they believe in God and sometimes die for that belief. They must be seeing something – but not necessarily something everyone sees.

    There are also people who pour their lives out for the sake of others and the poorest of the poor. They also see something that others likely don’t see.

    I have evidence, sufficient for me. It’s could be sufficient for you in certain circumstances. May you have all the evidence you need for a joyful life.

  20. A very well-written and thought-provoking post, Father. Thank you. Forgive me for not checking in more often, I’ve been a little busy, between work, handling 2 blogs and a new website on top of it all.

    I’m picking up the slack again, and I just wanted to let you know that I’m still around. Visit my blog if you have the time, you can find the website there also.

    Blessed Pascha to you.

  21. Father Steven,
    Here is a blog with question someone sent me: Is Blogging a Pascalian Diversion? Interesting I suppose for us Western Christian types especially! We always must ask ourselves, I am speaking from and in the presence of Christ? And in this, and or for Him?

  22. Fr. Robert, It seems Bullinger is one of your Church Fathers. The issue seems to come down to, what makes Bullinger’s interpretations of metaphors, types, etc. either “authoritative” or “commonsensical”? I don’t mean to imply everything he says is wrong, nor that he may not have insights, however ultimately what you say is true: we pick a tradition and we work within its boundaries. You have chosen one (or created one) that may or may not have correspondent points within the Orthodox tradition. Ultimately it seems to be a question of authority, not interpretation. Good discussion, I’ve seen your posts on other blogs. Yep, you’re Irish. 🙂

  23. Father Bless,
    Please help my understanding here of heaven and hell. Through every moment I have choices to make because of the free will I was created with. I can choose to ignore thoughts or actions that distance me from God which is hell. Those thoughts I recognize as worries, fears, frustrations, being judgmental towards others, etc. All of them center around my pride of what will satisfy me and my selfish wants that I think will make my life happier. In reality, my deep desire for God, heaven, helps me to turn away from those thoughts and actions. To do this is a struggle whence repentance and the Eucharist are my only way towards heaven. Heaven and hell are here and now and are not something to experience later at my death. I know I have described this in a short and simplistic way.

  24. You make my point between us, your authority is a Traditional one, a mixture of Scripture and human tradition and transmission. I would only allow and seek the authority of Holy Scripture. Not even the Anglican Thirty Nine Articles, or any human creed has the authority like Scripture: It alone has the voice and breath of God, the only power and jurisdiction over humankind!
    Bullinger also has feet of clay, but his premise was to the authority of Scripture alone also. God has sent and sends gifted men and people to His Church, but only Scripture and the Spirit of God are infallible! Yes, the Church must always be “reforming” itself by the Word of God! This is the nature of Scripture…2 Tim. 3:16-17.

  25. But I would say that your appeal to nothing but the words of scripture plays out as an assertion of privilege for your own private interpretation over other competing interpretations. If that’s your goal, OK. But it’s not tradition versus scripture. Rather it is your tradition of interpretation (even if it is an entirely private and individual interpretation) versus a different tradition of interpretation. I guess I’m too “postmodern” to see any “Truth” down that path at all. The natural (and to me obvious) result of that approach is the Christian pluralism we in fact observe today.

  26. Wow. Quite the lively debate here! (RE: tradition)

    As an Orthodox Christian I am seeing that I do not judge the Church but she judges me. Thankfully there is much mercy found as well. I have no words of answer (I do not know enough or how to articulate it) but I can say how refreshing it is to not have need to define Scripture based on my own terms or my limited understanding. Post-modernity may seem freeing, but it also denies a lot of what has ‘gone on before’… it is hard for me to even explain! How does one explain God? Or humility? Or to imagine my surprise and delight in finding out that what I learned about in medieval literature courses (I went to a Christian University) about the understanding of the world being full of the sacramental presence of God, being found in the Church in a greater fullness than I ever knew. And yet I know nothing – in light of seeing, and in comparison, to the Church. The Fathers and the tradition of the Church are alive…living and breathing… Something bigger than us that we can adjust ourselves to, like a plant going towards sunlight…

  27. Your statement and argrument are the common stock of those that do not believe in the authority of Holy Scripture alone. There is nothing private about standing naked and before the Word of God, save my own personal spirit & soul there before God, which is exactly what the Scripture says as to any persons in the final appeal – ” And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Heb. 9: 27) And as our Lord told the Samaritan woman, “for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4: 22). Therefore, I stand upon the Word of God, as Jesus also said: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (St. John 3: 19-21)
    And sadly yes, “postmodern” is nothing to be appealing to, as it is running away from rather than to the Judeo-Christian revelation and the God who alone has spoken…Hebrews 1: 1-2..”Hath in these last days spoken (spoke) unto us by (“in” Gr. epi) literally, Son.” No article here, but its absence only more emphtatically and definitely expresses the exclusive character and nature of His Sonship!

  28. It seems my blog has woke up some Orthodox minds! lol I will not press it further, I am not really that much of a hard blogger. But, it is obvious that there are real differences between what I would call reformational and evangelical Anglicans, verses the East and Orthodoxy.
    And to my friend and his “postmodern” ideas, it would be my conviction that postmodern and Christian are not compatible! We simply must stand against this, it is not something really Judeo-Christian! We do live in a fallen world, and more and more a Godless society!

    Peace of Christ,
    Fr. Robert

  29. Handmaid Anna,

    I think you summed it up pretty well. We certainly live in a state of struggle moment by moment. In that struggle, by God’s grace, I can strive for Truth, beauty, reality, humility, goodness, kindness, etc., while I am also tempted by things that finally have no reality to them (evil has no substance) and it is certain that my will plays a role in all of this (but only a part). We are more complex than the will alone can describe. But that may be the only refinement I would suggest.

  30. Happily, I have accepted, for the most part, that I am quite common. I used to hope I had a brilliant mind, not that I think I am stupid, but nor am I brilliant. Commonstock, yes. But still relieved that I have the Church fathers, also yes. Happy that I am no longer in a Calvinist church, as much as I was loved by them and still care about the people I knew, also yes… 🙂

  31. “Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic “reality”: evil as a dark power, as presence and not only absence. But we may go further…..There must exist a personal world of those who have chosen to hate God, to hate light, to be “against.” ….. Thus the answer is veiled in symbols and images, which tell of an intial rebellion against God within the spiritual world created by God, among angels led into that rebellion by “pride”. The origin of evil is viewed here not as ignorance and imperfection but, on the contrary, as knowledge and a degree of perfection which makes the temptation of pride possible. Whoever he is, the Devil is among the very first and the best creatures of God. He is, so to speak, perfect enough, wise enough, powerful enough, one can almost say “divine” enough, to know God and not surrender to Him – to know Him and yet to opt against Him, to desire freedom from Him. But since this freedom is impossible in the love and light which always lead to God and to free surrender to Him, it must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion.” ~ Alexander Schmemann (Of Water & Spirit..)

  32. For those who may not know? Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox priest (1921-1983). Russian I believe? But taught I think at St. Vladimir’s in America. Father Steven would likely know?

  33. I would find nothing in what Fr. Alexander has said that would in the least contradict what I have written. As always, his work is accurate and to the point. In describing hell, notice at the end that it “must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion” – none of those things have proper “being” or “reality” in ontological terms. Just as evil itself does not existence in itself but can only exist as something good that has turned itself from goodness (since all that God created is good). Even Augustine gets this one right.

  34. The point is, that the reality and person of the Devil is very biblical, as is his fall and rebellion from God. (Rev. 12: 4)

  35. It would be a useful study – lexicon/concordance – to note all the references to the devil and Satan in St. Paul’s Letters. He is a real “spiritual” adversary! (Eph. 6: 11-12) And of course 1 Peter 5: 8-9 is very real also!

  36. This is one of the problems with RCC / Orthodoxy, yes my own Anglican communion, the lack and loss of Biblical “literacy”! This is all too real in our postmodern siege and bombardment!

  37. irishanglican,

    I think you’re arguing a different point. No one here has said that the devil, Satan, does not exist. Fr. Stephen is talking about the lack of ontological reality of *evil.* This is distinct from denying the existence of Satan and his angels.

    In Christ,
    Sbdn. Lucas

  38. The reason I left both the Anglican Church (and later, the RCC) for Orthodoxy was because of the slouch towards modernism and the creeping evangelical atitudes towards scripture of the “low church” Anglicans. One can not have a “sola scriptura” theology. i.e “It’s just me and my paper pope against the world and the Holy Spirit will show me how to interpret it!” (despite the scandalous spawning of hundreds of Protestant “sola scriptura” sects every year) and have the mind of the Fathers/Mothers of the Church. The Bible is the possession of the same Church whose experiences it records and its SPIRITUAL interpretation is an established maxim of the Fathers/saints who commented on it. Their authority for commenting on it lies in the COLLECTIVE acknowledgement of the Church that each of these commentators had “put on Christ” through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, a litmus test for any saint. I really have no use for any interpretation of the sacred scriptures that lies ouside the SACRED TRADITION that formed the scripture to begin with.

  39. Sbdn. Lucus,
    We really quite simply do not know the “ontology” of these things! My point is we must see and use the biblical text. Example, I have heard not one word about any Greek word studies on any of this! I have myself just touched on it. We must exegete, not philosophize..until the text perphaps might allow it? (I have a D. Phil myself)
    And yes, this discussion must be “In Christ”, and thank you for your imput. This is how we can learn and grow. I try hard to “think” only in the Biblical Text! I sometimes fail, but this is always my goal!

    Yours In Christ, by grace,
    Fr. Robert

  40. Just a couple of thoughts regarding the discussion between Fr. Robert and Fr. Stephen re: this post. I think the struggle is really about calling something that has great EXPERIENTIAL reality from a human perspective (i.e., evil, suffering, hell and death) “unreal,” though it truly is unReal in the ontological sense that Fr. Stephen is talking about (perhaps we should distinguish by placing a capital R for the ontological sense of Real). I’ve found that within the Orthodox tradition, evil is treated as more real (and more fully biblically) in its experiential sense than in any churches of my former Christian experience (mainline to evangelical Protestant), yet the ontological understandings are more profound than what I hitherto had access to as well.

    With regard to the “Solo (not Sola) Scriptura” stance that Fr. Robert is propounding, all I can say is I’ve been there, done that, and I believe that it is a delusion. I, too, was very resistant to the idea of reading Scripture through (anyone else’s) “tradition” because of Roman Catholic understandings of what the “Tradition” of the Church is. The Orthodox perspective is different. That said, however, no Orthodox who understands his Tradition would deny that God, by His Holy Spirit, often works directly through the Scriptures in the lives of individuals even outside the fullness of the Church’s wider Tradition which are their natural context, and enough is intelligible to the honest seeker of God to move him well along the road of repentence. Glory to God for all things!

  41. Well my “Beloved Brethren,”
    The Biblical Text will never be a mere “paper pope”, not to my mind at least! And I can appreciate your desire to seek some place of authority, etc. My position on the Church is “evangelical” – the real Church, i.e. Body of Christ is Invisible! But this is another long issue. I have made some real valid points. I have heard back mostly Orthodox “theology/philosophy”, rather than what might be Orthodox exegesis of the biblical texts. This is one of the problems I have personally with Orthodoxy. And I say this in a friendly manner. It is not an attack, but perhaps my Western mind set, and certainly Irish person and Anglo-Irish education.
    I have spent a bit time with ya all. God Bless and keep us!

  42. And to ascribe ontological reality to evil is to assert that it is a creation of God, who is the source of all being. It is, in more than one sense, to describe God as the source of evil, or to think of evil in a dualistic way, as though it were a co-eternal opposing reality against the goodness of God.

    As to tradition, all those who fancy that they follow the Bible alone, free from any tradition or amalgam of traditions, are simply kidding themselves. I have never met or heard of the man or woman who stands naked and alone before the words of scripture completely divorced from what they have been told about those words or about words similar to those words. It just doesn’t happen like that.

    The basis for all genuine Tradition is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, who works through men and women in flesh and blood. At any given time in the Church’s history, the Spirit is offering the same revelation of Jesus Christ and all that follows from that. It is the same revelation that is found in the pages of scripture, and the commonplace goes that “tradition is scripture rightly interpreted.” We can trust the words of fathers of the past in learning how to read scripture not because these fathers claimed such authority for themselves or were given such authority in their lifetimes (some were, but others were instead rejected during their lifetimes) or because they belong to the past, it is because the whole church tried and tested their words and found them to be faithful. This is why the words of some fathers carry more weight that the words of some of their contemporaries. We do not read scripture just between us and the Holy Spirit; we read them together with the Holy Spirit who is present in all corners of the Church. If what we believe is not what the Church has believed, we can be confident that we have strayed.

    The dichotomy of scripture versus tradition is largely a Reformation emphasis and is largely a distraction from the matter of what is a faithful witness to the revelation of Jesus Christ and all of the implications of that revelation.

    No hostility intended with these words. I just wanted to join the fray a bit with a few thoughts.

  43. Here is another bomb I would like to drop here, and something else to think about? I am Premillennial! Pro, but not blank check for national Israel! I see their place in Romans 11: 28-29 (actually, the context goes from Rom. 11: 25-32). In my opinion, this has to be understood, to get the whole Biblical hermeneutic right!

  44. Fr. Robert, here is link to a critique (if I recall correctly from a Reformed, not Orthodox) perspective as an explanation of “Solo (as opposed to Sola) Scriptura:” Perhaps you or others who read the blog and are curious about the distinctives (and weaknesses) of the “Solo Scriptura” tradition through which many read the Bible might find it interesting or helpful as well as I did.

    BTW, I am partial to all things Irish (especially the people). I spent three-and-a-half very happy years of my childhood in N. Ireland right before the worst of “the troubles” broke out in Belfast in the late ’60s, near which we lived (and we traveled quite a bit in the South on holidays)–the most gregarious and warm people in the world. Blessings! 🙂

  45. Not too many of my Anglican brethren will follow me here either! But there are some. The Nation of Israel today is a moral and political reality! Besides theological.

  46. I thought that would end the discussion! Many High Church people just think chiliasm is Jewish, and or fundamentalist. This is narrow and simply wrong!

  47. Irishanglican:

    I hear you saying, “only Scripture, not Tradition.”

    When I worshipped in an Episcopal church, part of the service included: “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them up unto the Lord.” I just checked my concordance, and I don’t find these words in Scripture. Are you saying that the Anglican worship service is without authority because the words are not in Scripture?

  48. I posted an earlier comment, but it seems not to have taken.

    St. Irenaeus, for one, taught of a millennial reign of Christ and his followers, beginning after the Second Coming, so the idea is not foreign to Orthodoxy. It just isn’t dogma.

    God is the Lord of hosts, not simply the Lord of me, him and the Bible divorced from the Church (which is the “hosts”). I am obligated to square what I believe the scriptures are saying with what the rest of the Church has found them to be saying. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to reveal to me anything that hasn’t been revealed to the rest of the Church. I can particularly look to those luminaries (fathers/mothers) who have been tried by the Church and found to be reliable witnesses to the gospel. Those luminaries aren’t infallible, but they have been found to be trustworthy, even by “reformers” who picked and chose what they would believe.

  49. Fr. Robert,

    A genuine problem with Evangelicalism of any sort is its captivity to culture – reading “Scripture” outside the Tradition is to make yourself captive. And, particularly in the U.S., few things are as culturally captive as Evangelical Christianity. Maybe different in Ireland, don’t know. But the premillenial Bible prophecy stuff is purely cultural, beginning in 19th century England and made popular in America. It has a very minor place in the history of Christianity, and most of what passes for Biblical interpretation on such matters is just silliness and a distraction.

    The Orthodox have not left off Scripture or departed from it in any way. We probably use more of it than any Church in existence. The service this morning, for instance, included the reading of St. Matthew’s gospel, from beginning to end. We’ll do the same with the other gospels through Wednesday of this week. The service on Holy Saturday will include 15 readings from the Old Testament (I think I’m right on the number).

    Scripture permeates every word of Orthodox liturgical life. We bathe in it. But, Holy Tradition has also taught us a thing or two about ontology, and other matters. It was required of the Church (without such thought there would be no Nicene Creed, or doctrine of the Trinity). The doctrine of the two natures in Christ, etc., all require thought that is not “purely Scriptural”. Interestingly, the Arians were the ones who wanted to cry “only Scripture.”

    In the US we are witnessing a morphing of Evangelical Christianity which, apart from the Reform tradition, is largely just becoming Americanism and “seeker friendly” religious drama. It is a topic of serious discussion among many Evangelicals here.

    I appreciate your dropping through a sharing your thoughts. May God save Ireland and all its good people (I have some ancestry there).

  50. LynneA
    Now you are talking about liturgy and litany. Note, I said I use both creeds (Anglican Thirty Nine Articles, etc.), and obviously some form of liturgy (The Book of Common Prayer). But, when I look and listen to the infallible Word of God, even in the liturgy, the Scripture is read alone. Then maybe comes some form of preaching or homily. But The Scripture stands alone on its own merit, as God’s Word & Breath! And the aspect that gives the Anglican Church its authority, is Word & Sacrament (and for evangelical Anglicans there are only two sacraments).

  51. William,
    I am glad that you brought up the historical reality, that some early Fathers (so-called) were premillennial. This cannot be ignored! I am not certain, but I thought that the Orthodox made the position either heretical or very near so?
    I think the historic Premillennial position has great biblical warrant, both Old and NT. It has descended on some bad times, with what I call pop culture religion, but its real historic truth and reality can be maintained with exegesis and biblical theology.

  52. Father Steven,
    I would agree, as I said, that most modern forms of premillennial preaching (so-called) and teaching (so-called), are very poor. But we cannot throw out the baby with the bath water, etc. The position is historic and sustained by sound, careful exegesis and biblical theology. And with the Nation of Israel (1948) we cannot simply bury our heads in the ground, and act as if they are just a piece of phenomenon! They too, are God’s covenant people! (Rom. 11: 27-29).

    I have enjoyed the debate some and dialog mostly, as to our different beliefs. I have seen some evangelicals go over to Orthodoxy, and I have seen some cradle Orthodox, come to evangelicalism. To Christ I hope, and the glory of our Triune God!

    In the end, and this has not been said enough in this debate/dialog, Jesus Christ must be Lord and Savior…Master of our lives and souls! On that we would all agree! We would give HIM His place of honor anf glory: “Now the God of peace, That brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ: to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Heb. 13: 20-21)

    Fr. Robert

  53. Irishanglican:

    I don’t find sacrament in my concordance.

    Do you suppose that sacraments are part of Holy Tradition?

  54. lol My dear, hold my feet to the fire!
    As I said, I “use” creed and theology, but the biblical terms are “baptism”, “the Lord’s Supper” / “breaking of bread” / “Lord’s Table” etc. I know you will find those in ya concordance!

    It has been interesting with you Orthodox. And I do have close Orthodox friends here in my life too. We are Irish, English and a bit of a we have to get along. But we have our moments. lol

    God bless

  55. LynneA,
    I like the text Acts 2: 42…”They devoted themselves to the apostles doctrine/teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Pretty simple then!

  56. To my mind there is still but one main Apostle for “the Nations”…St. Paul, “Apostle of the Gentiles” – Gal. 2:7 / Eph. 3: 1-4, etc.

  57. A few last thoughts. . . I love the Holy Scriptures. I have been a serious student of them for 30 plus years. As an Evangelical I tried to milk them for all they are worth in search of true intimacy with my Lord and found much to nourish and grow my faith in Christ. But I have never found that study so fruitful as within the Orthodox Church! I have observed that unless one can take the truths of Scripture and translate their message into the language of one’s own culture (as the Fathers did in so much of their theological reflections), one doesn’t really understand them. The kind of philosophical thinking and language whereby the Fathers hashed out the Creed, etc., is very necessary in this sense and is fully complementary to a high view of Scripture. This is a personal issue for me because I have had close family members trapped in very destructive cultish, sectarian, schismatic, and triumphalist groups (who nevertheless sprang from Evangelical and Protestant soil and, in a superficial sense at least, held to the doctrines of the Trinity, the God-Man unity of the Person of Jesus Christ, etc.). These all without fail banged the drum of “only the Scriptures . . . ” and bullied anyone outside the group with proof-text after proof-text in support of their aberrant interpretations and applications. They became blind to the fact that their very oppressive, controlling and judgmental group cultures in no way reflected the character and M.O. of the Jesus of the Gospels (Who inspired the very Scriptures to which they claimed to be so uniquely faithful)! While these attitudes can be found potentially within any broad category of Christendom, because of the long history of the Orthodox hermeneutic and tried and true approach to the spiritual life, I no longer feel as vulnerable to this kind of bullying. I also have the added benefit of regular reflection on the lives of those from every era and background who are upheld as Saints in the Church. Because of this I am regularly reminded of what kind of life and attitude a proper understanding of Scripture will lead to, and I feel very free to ignore Orthodox who adopt schismatic, Pharisaical and triumphalist attitudes!

  58. Every serious Christian must have an interior life, a place alone inside where he or she communes with God in Christ. The sure way to walk in this place and path is to seek another humanity wherein Christ renews all His mystery. And for the Christian, the Cross is a spirituality of redemptive suffering. In the end, we will be judged I think by who we are, and thus what we have become in Christ, rather than what we have accomplished. Indeed the work must be Christ’s. And as St. John of the Cross said: “When the evening of this life comes we shall be judged on Love.” But it must be the love that is given by God. We will know it! For it is the Spirit of God that loves: Father for the Son, the Son for the Father, and the bond or Person of that love is the Holy Spirit. Triune Love! From here we can love too!
    God bless you!

  59. How can one explain the story of Philip and the Ethiopian from a Sola Scriptura point of view? If the scripture interprets itself, then the Ethiopian should have explained Isaiah to Philip, not the other way around.

    I think the Bible is pretty clear that there is no possibility of reading the scriptures correctly apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit. Where then can we turn to find the Holy Spirit? Well, we can start by looking for those who received tongues of fire on Pentecost, and then see who they authorized as also being spirit filled and so on until the present day.

    I think the argument for interpreting the scriptures literally fails on several levels: 1.) Where in the scripture do we see an injunction for reading the scripture literally? To my knowledge, nowhere. On the other hand, in Hebrews, for example, the writer repeatedly sees the Old Testament as a symbol of the New. 3.) Where do we see authority practiced in interpreting scriptures in the scriptures themselves? We see authority in those cases, where Christ reads the scriptures. Thus, it is Christ, not a properly historical interpretive scheme that gives an interpretation authority. What though are we supposed to do in the absence of the physical body of Christ? Simple, look for Christ’s spiritual body: the Church. 3.) Literal readings clearly fail for certain passages such as “I am the Door,” “Christ is the Lamb,” etc. 4.) As a philosophical matter, I don’t believe that a non-interpretative reading of an text is even possible in general. All reading is interpretation, and all interpretation is based on prior biases which are then refined in interaction with the text. In the case of the scriptures, the proper biases to bring to the text in order to form a correct interpretation are the biases of the Church.

    At any rate, I’m sure no one here is changing anyone’s mind on the matter of interpretation and authority. Now that we’ve all vented our spleens, let’s let the matter drop.

  60. “For it is the Spirit of God that loves: Father for the Son, the Son for the Father, and the bond or Person of that love is the Holy Spirit. Triune Love!”

    Since the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the scriptures, on what basis are you making the claim that God is Triune?

  61. Irishanglican:

    The apostles doctrine/teaching in Acts 2:42: yes, and that core of knowledge has kept the church going through persecutions, and through distance, and through cultural differences until the present.

    The doctrine/teaching helped to select the books of the Bible at the Council of Nicea in 325. So the church had just the doctrine/teaching for 300 years, plus the Hebrew Bible, a lot of letters floating around claiming to be the inspired word of God.

    (Now 300 years is not long to you Irish, but it’s pretty long to those of us living under the U. S. Constitution.)

    (And then the Protestants eliminated some of those letters from their canon….but that’s for another thread.)

    The apostles doctrine/teaching, as passed on in Holy Tradition, is what gave us the canon of Scripture.

  62. Carl,

    The Trinity is in the Scriptures. The Father, Son & Holy Spirit are referred to as distinct Persons who perform acts characteristic of divinity such as creating, sustaining and redeeming the universe.

  63. Irishanglican:

    Two sacraments???

    You don’t marry people? You don’t pray for their burial? You don’t ordain people? You don’t confirm (laying on of hands)?

    What poverty for the life of the community and for each person!

  64. Wow, I leave for a bit.. and there awaits more posts on this subject! lol I guess my feeble presence has awakened something. All I will say on the Trinity, is that it certainly permeates the NT revelation. But, the full, hard doctrinal statements are still debated with Chalcedonian to Monophysite. I have written some blogs on this, I invite all to read. And it is obvious that I am Trinitarian!
    As to biblical hermeneutics, (from the Greek, ‘to interpret’). I follow the grammatical-historical. Without this we will end up somewhere between, existentialist, allegorical, demythologization, human existence, to finally just myth. And we can see this played out in our modern life and culture, with Darwinian theory ascended, to neo-Darwinismism, etc.

  65. I used to believe I was ready to jump into eternity because the Evangelical doctrine that Jesus paid the price made it merely a matter of time till the banquet, for me, would begin. My cavalier attitude then, or so I now believe, was only possible because I had too little appreciation for hell — facing God with my sins. That reality is here and now.

    I don’t think it matters much what I think of hell in any philosophical sense. If I don’t recognize it chewing on my heart every day, then my appreciation for what’ll happen when my dead body gets cast naked into spiritual reality is going to be inadequate.

  66. LynneA,
    First, I have family in the USA…and some are serving in both the US Air Force and US Marines. So I value the US Constitution! I am myself a combat vet for freedom, and always something of a Royal Marine! (Still proud and 5’11, 150lbs! lol) So as your US Marines say, Semper Fi!

    As to the nature of what has become “sacrament”, again this is not seen in the NT, save as something that was and has come from the Jewish life and formation. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper have Jewish overtones. This does not mean they are not part of the NT revelation, but they are certainly not to be beyond a carefully defined symbolic act, in their communication (in themselves). I base this on the NT Text use, and the NT words themselves (etymology). And last, I would again certainly use theology. As St. Augustine, who defined it as the ‘visible form of invisible grace’ or ‘a sign of a sacred thing’. Also see the Anglican Thirty Nine Articles, which are simular in statement to Augustine, but I will not quote.
    Finally, the earliest attempt to classify the sacraments was made by Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, who first had but three rites – Baptism, Eucharist and Unction. His words. The seven sacraments are very late, both East and West.

    Proverty of life? I guess that would be between God and the soul alone. Who can judge this too, but God. I would not try to judge my Jewish friends, who have but the OT text alone. But, still God’s Word & revelation. As I have said, they are still God’s covenant people.

    Blessings for you, on this holy time for you.

  67. Karen C.
    I missed your post with your time in Northern Ireland. Thanks for the nice words. Irish are just like all people, we have the good and the bad! We can certainly be a proud people I know. I am Anglo-Irish, that means I was educated in England, and really love England. Many American people do not know that in England there are whole areas that are Irish!
    If you note, I have not pressed any Reformed or Protestant Scholasticism. I am simply, but hopefully…Biblist (as to my final authority and revelation).

    Peace of Christ

  68. Do you Orthodox see that my final and only authority for God’s word & breath is Holy Scripture? This does not mean I do not use or even like some form of liturgy. And I do love biblical theology. And yes, I do love the Anglican Collects/Prayers also! I am Low Church and Evangelical, perhaps some of you should look up such terms, at least as they concern Anglicans. I have not sought to use or argue from the Thirty Nine Articles, many hard Reformed Anglicans do this, and I like and even love some of them (Articles), but they are not the Biblical Text Itself. I hope you can see my points here is all I ask?

  69. irishanglican,

    I think most of the Orthodox readers on the site would understand the points you have made – many of them are converts to Orthodoxy themselves and many have backgrounds within various forms of Evangelicalism, and even some Anglicans (like me).

    What Orthodoxy clearly thinks is impossible is to have Scripture as the final and only authority. Your description of the Sacraments was itself not based on Scripture but, necessarily, on an interpretation of Scripture, and necessarily has philosophical elements (such as “symbolic” etc.). But this is always true of Scripture or any text. The Holy Scripture is not separate from the Church, nor is the Church separate from the Scriptures. It is a Holy Community of interpretation (interpreting Scripture as it was received from Christ). Thus there is a clear Tradition within the New Testament of how the Apostles read the Old Testament that is itself part of the content of the Church’s faith. Thus we say that Christ rose again “in accordance with the Scriptures” meaning “in fulfillment of the right reading of God’s Word.”

    But that right reading cannot be had apart from the community. Christ Himself demonstrates this as He instructs the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Without His instruction we cannot rightly read the Scripture. That instruction occurs within the community of faith.

    But, of course, I’m only making an Orthodox response to your statements. I understand them, but think they are incorrect and mistaken. But I think you knew I would think that. May God bless you.

  70. We can have, ‘Friendship, not Accord’ to use your own Orthodox statement. Maybe we learned something from each other? For that there must be some humility. I always seek that aspect, since the old nature never dies, nor ceases till death and or resurrection, (Rom. 7: 21-25). Hopefully however, the New Man or nature is ascending as in Rom. 8.

    Peace of Christ

  71. One aspect that has always been a bit of a mystery to me, is the lack of the Orthodox understanding and care for Jews, and the Nation of Israel (in May 60 years old!). I guess this has been a real Christian failure, and shared by all of us! But since the 19th century, Zionism…and finally the birth of a Nation called Israel again (1948). Some Christians have come to see the reality of Israel, as they are…still covenant people of God! (Rom. 11: 26-29) What is the Orthodox position on Israel now as a Nation? As their 60th celebration of their statehood in May comes near, this is a real question!

  72. And also Father Steven, ya might want to check out Barth’s CD, he makes the point there that he sees a real Christlogical lack in Orthodoxy. I think from your Apophatic theology. This tradition (as you call it) was used by both Gnostics, Philo and Numenius. Also Plotinus and other Neoplatonists, etc.

  73. The State of Israel is a political fact. There are some difficulties for some Orthodox, particularly those who live or lived in Israel/Palestine. Many were deprived of their property, and have undergone pressures from both Jews and Muslims. Most have migrated away from Israel to more peaceful places. Ironically, a place that was once almost half Christian, now has but a tiny minority, generally ignored by the non-Orthodox, while Evangelical Christians make a great deal about the State of Israel.

    They certainly have a right to exist, and I would not deny that their return to Israel is possibly a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. But I’m not sure many Orthodox whose historical home was or is the mideast would think that.

    It’s a little like discussing the rights of the British in Ireland. 🙂

    Or the presence in the American South of those from the North. 🙂

    Or the absence of Armenians in Turkey.

    Or the absence of Greeks in Turkey.

    Or … gosh I could just multiply this list. 🙂

    It’s a hard world and the only way forward is to forgive each other. Forgive me.

  74. Fr. Stephen says:

    “In the US we are witnessing a morphing of Evangelical Christianity which, apart from the Reform tradition, is largely just becoming Americanism and ‘seeker friendly’ religious drama.”

    Absolutely true. A story to illustrate:

    A friend of mine sent me an e-mail with a link to a video saying this would be one of the most profound things I would ever see. The clip was of a popular “emergent church” figure, speaking on how we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and how much God loves us. The message was good, actually. But the way it was presented . . . oh my. The speaker was on the stage of a theater-like auditorium. A pained, emotional look on his face, almost in tears as he spoke, right hand waving and pounding, Bible in left hand, piano playing softly in the background, rising and falling in pitch and meter to mirror the speaker’s voice, crowd clapping and cheering as he crescendoes then back down again, etc.

    Speaking from Ps. 32 (Hebrew 33), he tells the crowd that God knows us intimately. He knows every detail and circumstance of our lives, all the pain we’ve been through that we didn’t cause or ask for. And that He will hold you together, no matter what happens in your life, no matter the circumstances, He will be there for you. (speaking in third person now) Oh this sounds wonderful but you may be asking tonight how do I know this, tonight, right now, in my life?!? (piano continues) By looking into the human body, he says.

    He then proceeds to tell the story of running into a molecular biologist at one of his rallies who informs him that he needs to tell people about *laminin* when he preaches. Wha?!? Ok, go on, tell me more, he says. The biologist explains to him that laminin is a protein molecule in the human body that is like rebar in concrete. Laminin is the structure, the backbone, of everything else in our bodies. The biologist tells him he needs to go look at pictures of laminin. Wha?!? Ok, I’ll look it up. So he goes home, googles pics of laminin. (eyes bugging out now) and you wouldn’t believe what I saw. WOW! THAT’S laminin?!? (crowd obviously itching to see a picture of laminin)

    So he tees up the crowd with the obvious question: What’s so significant about laminin, and what does this have to do with God’s love for me? (piano intensifying, crowd on the edge of their seats) . . . up pops a diagram/drawing of a laminin molecule on the huge video screen behind him. Its shaped exactly like a cross. The crowd cheers. But wait! he yells over the cheers and claps . . . wait! There’s more! Here’s an actual laminin molecule – up pops a magnified picture of a laminin molecule under an electron microscope. It’s shaped roughly like a cross. See! he yells. It’s in the perfect shape of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! Then quoting from Col. 1, he says in Jesus, all things hold together! OF COURSE THEY DO, OF COURSE THEY DO! (crowd claps, piano intensifies) and on it went.

    This kind of thing reaches some people on a certain level, I am sure. I came to faith in Christ in this type of environment. But the seeker sensitive stuff has no substance. It’s fluff. Much of Evangelicalism today is morphing, as Fr. Stephen says, into nothing more than seeker-sensitive religious drama. It may be good for inviting people to the banquet, but not the banquet itself. I honestly don’t know how good, well-meaning Christian people are sustained in their lives with a regular diet of this kind of thing. Seriously, how do you live the Christian life? Personally, I reached a point in my life where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed Christ in a way that no church or pastor I knew of could provide . . . or I would die. A last ditch effort at saving myself and my family had us visiting a local Orthodox church a couple of years ago. My family and I became Orthodox on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross last year.

    The video clip was was fun and actually educational – I didn’t know that about laminin. But to be honest, this was not the most profound thing I’ve ever seen. The most profound thing I’ve ever seen is my Lord, in the Cup, as I approach to receive His body and His blood.

  75. Carl and Neo-Chalcedonian

    What I meant by my statement of the “doctrine” of the Trinity not being in the Scripture was not to say that the Scriptures do not teach that doctrine. Rather, that extra-biblical words, such as “Homoousios” are required for that doctrine to be expounded in its fullness. This is the experience of the Church- and I know that you agree. I just wanted to clarify my statement.

  76. Matt,
    Thanks for that. I would not like the “emergent church” that is for sure! In reality it is a mere “religious” thing that trys to manipulate and handle God for their own purposes. It sadly goes all the way back to the OT time when people cried “the Temple of the Lord” etc. (Jer. 7: 4) It is a form of exhibition and fanaticism, not true worship, again sadly!

    However, there are some evangelicals that do love and worship God, with mind & heart, and the desire for truth (within) “true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” (John 4: 23)

    “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” (2 Tim. 2: 19 /Num. 16:5)

  77. “In the end, we will be judged I think by who we are, and thus what we have become in Christ, rather than what we have accomplished. Indeed the work must be Christ’s. And as St. John of the Cross said: “When the evening of this life comes we shall be judged on Love.”

    Fr. Robert, definitely no argument from the Orthodox here! And this statement also takes us back to the subject of Father Stephen’s post.

    My experience has been that Orthodoxy (i.e., the spirituality of its Saints and its Liturgy) has the most intensely Christ-centered worship and spirituality I have ever encountered. That said, one can find members in any communion of Christians who have no real comprehension of the true spiritual meaning of their faith (i.e., the gospel), and what faith they have is largely externalism or nominal. It is no different among the Orthodox. I also believe that to affirm that one must read Scripture “within the Church” in order to grasp its full meaning is not to pit that against the fact that God, by His Spirit, speaks to all of us directly as well. Unless He did, we wouldn’t be able to recognize the Church for what it is or that its teaching is true. “Tradition” in Orthodoxy does not mean a top-down imposition of a clerical “Magesterium” of some sort as it seems to be understood within Roman Catholicism. Nor does it mean that there is some authority that stands between me and Christ in the sense of keeping me at a distance from God or that God can’t deal with me directly. This is not what Orthodoxy means by the authority of Tradition or the Church. But I also believe that when it is truly God speaking to us, what we hear and understand will agree with the consensus of the Church across the centuries. . . . I don’t think any Anglican or indeed any Evangelical worth his or her salt would say otherwise. It’s just that our application of that conviction to the real events and theological movements within the history of Christendom look a little different. Thanks for your kind words. I also spent my junior high years living in Lancashire! So, let’s here it for the Brits as well! 🙂

  78. My point to the Nation of Israel today, is both biblical and prophetic, and also that Jewish people are our brethren, the people that our Lord chose for His own purpose, and also the Incarnation. Let us not forget our Lord’s mother was Jewish also! A true “Miriam”! (Ex. 15: 20-21)

    Thanks for the thoughts here. I think the Orthodox need some reflection here however, i.e. The special place of Israel and the Jewish people!

  79. Karen,
    A very sweet post! You write and think very well, not to mention the most important…Christlike! Thank you!

  80. I should say this for clarity, I am very close to my Anglican High Church and thus Orthodox brethren, on Mary the Mother of our Lord. Both, though not alright scriptual, but theological…Mary as Mother of God, and Theotokos. But, I know some evangelicals that just cannot get there. I do not make them, or make this a necessity. But a matter of personal faith.

  81. The full Roman logic and development on Mary is certainly beyond any Mariology (I won’t say the other M word). Mary’s mystery, and there is Scripture from Luke here, must be seen in Christology!

  82. that should have been “outright scriptual”…the scripture is really silent here. It is a theological deduction, or even logic. But I can go no further on Mary biblically!

  83. Again, my faith will allow the theology of Mary as Mother of God (Council of Ephesus), and Theotokos, but it is not exegetical from any biblical text directly. This must be admitted!

  84. Sometimes I wonder if this is easier for me, sense I was raised RC? See, I don’t confess any complete ability or logic in myself. This is one of the reasons I stand or speak only when Scripture speaks. We all have feet of clay! And I don’t see any infallible church or “tradition”, save Holy Scripture.

  85. Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this post! It was so refreshing. I could tell you horror stories about what I learned about hell in my non-denominational evangelical church once upon a time.

    I know you’re busy with Holy Week, but I was hoping to get your input. I have been studying universalism quite a bit lately and I was wondering about your impression of universalism in the Christian tradition. I know that Kallistos Ware is pretty sympathetic to it, but I’ve also heard Orthodox Christians call it outright heresy, so I’m just confused. My impression was that it is a viewpoint that is at the least tolerated in the Orthodox Church because of Fathers like Gregory of Nyssa.

  86. Rachel,

    You are right, there are about 2 Church fathers who taught a form of universal salvation who were not condemned for it. It is, however, contrary to the general teaching of the Church. There are some who hold it as a private opinion, or rather, I should say, as a hope. Not to hope for it is probably to lack compassion. To teach it with authority would be heretical (because the Church has not so taught it). I hope that’s helpful and not confusing.

  87. Near this issue is the teaching of annihilationism. Something that some Anglicans have held to (even Bullinger). And for what it is worth, there are not a few modern evangelicals that have turned to the position. What say Orthodoxy here?

  88. irishanglican,

    It has no place in Orthodox thought. God does not begrudge us existence and does not take that gift away.

    St. Isaac of Syria is the most important Father to hold to a notion that end the end, the mercy of God will find a way for all.

    But, as I’ve noted in my posting, the difficulty with hell is its delusional aspect. In a sense, the only fate that awaits any of us is eternity with God. It’s just that some find that to be a torment. What more can you do than love someone? If they hate that very love it’s quite problematic.

  89. Father Stephen, Neochalcedonian,

    I agree that the Scriptures do contain the doctrine of the Trinity. My point though was that one could never find this out by using the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.

    (I tried to post this last night, but apparently that post got lost in the electronic ether. Oh well.)

  90. One more point, notice that neither Christ nor the Apostles ever used the grammatical-historical method in their explanation of the OT.

  91. I have tried to be patient and listen, question and look, and even expose myself a bit here. It needs to be noted, that with secular or just nasy so-called Christian bloggers, this would not even be such. So thank you. I have overall enjoyed this time. But this is an Orthodox Blog. And I have not brought my house with me either. Many of my Reformational and Reformed brethren are much more harh than I appear I can asssure you! lol I think we have exhausted ourselves, at least on this subject, and a few others. lol I would love to continue, but I sense we have spent ourselves, and we don’t want to go round and round. I would like to chat more on hermeneutics, but perhaps another time. This blog seems full? Yes? Ya let me know?

    Sincerely In Christ,
    Fr. Robert

  92. Dear Fr. Robert,
    I was gone for two days and WOW! I appreciate your irenic tone among the many voices here. Regarding Scripture, if I may be shamelessly self promoting, may I point you to and click on the audio archives where you will find a four part series on sola scriptura (and program notes). Many of the comments and replies in this discussion are dealt with in some depth in those four programs. They may not “convert” you, but they will give you an Orthodox perspective on the place and authority of Scripture and Tradition.

  93. s-p Thank you for the kind words. It has been a bit of a ride lol, but a thinking one I hope. I will look at the site, promise. God bless

  94. Thank you, Father Stephen, for this thought provoking piece. It is evident from the number of comments that many people are interested in this topic. You are right to tackle it from ontology. I’d like to draw 2 parallels.

    Hell is to Heaven as darkness is to the Light. Hell is the absence of Heaven as darknesss is the absence of light.

    Hell is to Heaven as the blood of animals is to the Blood of the Incarnate Word. The sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is bloodless because the Blood of Christ IS present; no other blood may be present, since bloods can’t be mixed. So, according to the oldest priest manuals, if a priest accidently cuts himself while at the altar, he must leave. Hell testifies to the perfection that remains beyond our reach, save for God’s mercy received by faith in Jesus Christ.

  95. Steven Robinson
    Forgive me I was a bit confused with you and the other priest Steven. I like your Web site. For us Western minded, it is both more approachable and understandable. I can see that the self-governing aspect for Orthodoxy can be broader than I realized. I must confess I am not comfortable with what some of the lay people say and think. Certainly their right, but from a cetechesis standpoint can be questionable. I am not sure sometimes what the Ortodox believe on certain subjects? As I quoted Alexander Schmemann in the last subject about the nature of evil, etc. Schmemann does not seem to place all his argument on ontology. And he agrees that evil is somehow personified. Least the way I am reading hm? Did I miss something?

    Your right as to Bullinger, he is one of my major exegetes. Though I cannot always follow him. However his love for the text, and his ability in Greek word studies is profound to me. I was taught years ago that the rector must read his Greek NT! And for me preaching and teaching are almost sacramental or “royal”! … “laboring in word (preaching) and teaching” (1 Tim. 5: 17) There is a certain theological desposit or background, or should be, in the mind of every preacher. And it simply must be biblically sought! (Titus 1: 9)

    Are you on the left or right in the picture? I am glad to chat with someone closer to my I am 58. I look back at my life, seems like I did not know much until my 40’s? lol Both of my son’s were born in my 40’s.

    Well thanks again.

  96. Reading the “River of Fire” represented a major turning point in my own journey out of fundamentalist Christianity and into the Eastern Orthodox Church. What has mystified me in retrospect is not that a fundamentalist might come up with a vision of hell from reading the Bible which amounts to an eternal torture chamber created by God for vengeance upon those who don’t accept his free gift of salvation, but the attachment many keep to this vision of hell when far more tenable ideas (equally biblical if not more so) are presented to them which don’t make God out to be evil. Many an anti-Christian has been created by the fundamentalist vision of hell.

    I have to thank Fr. Stephen for turning me on to the writing of David Bentley Hart, a name which strangely eluded me over the last 2.5 years of reading Orthodox writers. His vision of evil in “The Doors of the Sea” emphasizes the necessity of not giving it an existence of its own because that would of necessity make God the author of evil. If the movement Godward is the movement toward Reality itself, then it is not very hard to think of hell as a movement toward shadow and unreality. We can throw Bible verses back and forth until Judgment Day and it won’t change the fact that if you don’t get that idea you maintain a very strange idea of God.

  97. Isaac . . . . “The River of Fire” was key in my conversion to Orthodoxy, too, in exactly the same way (though I was never all the way in the Fundamentalist camp). Many, if not most, evangelicals think in largely the same way as the Fundamentalists on this, except that it is a little more soft-peddled, and there are various nuanced positions. I never heard even a hint of the Orthodox insight on this issue in my background. The closest was C.S. Lewis’ statements to the effect that hell is God’s loving provision for those who do not want heaven (which makes absolutely no sense if you believe hell is God willfully torturing the unrepentant) and, of course, his fleshing out of this idea in “The Great Divorce.” I also just finished underlining some of my favorite parts of “The Doors of the Sea” (virtually the first non-Bible I have underlined in since university!). Here is one line I love (regarding theologies that insist that the truth of God’s Sovereignty must mean that He wills evil, suffering, and death):

    “It is a strange thing indeed to seek peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathesome.”

    There’s also a very good podcast by Clark Carlson at, called “Hell: A Modest Proposal” that is very helpful for those struggling to make sense of what the Bible says about this important topic.

    Fr. Robert–thanks, and cheers!

  98. Theodicy, is no unreal thing seeking to defend the goodness of God and omnipotence of God in the face of suffering and evil of the world. The problem of evil and its reality now, are no little subject. I sadly have seen some evil in war myself, death and dying…and being an instrument thereof. This drove me into some monastic time myself. And today seeing many people both old and young revaged by alcohol, drugs and sex. Yes, evil is real! The theorems and theoretical are hard also in the face of this reality! So I am driven to more real answers. I too love the ontological ideas of both God and man, but ultimately I am taken back to the place of God and His revelation and word. Only here can I have any answers!

    Here however, is one of my favorite statements about the only lasting answer I have found: “I have often wondered whether we might not say that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement just meant in Christ God took the responsibility of evil upon Himself, and somehow subsumed evil under good.” (Letters of Principal James Denny to his Family and Friends, p. 187) Denny was an Anglican theologian and evangelical.
    I don’t have all the answers, but God in Christ does..and here I fall!

  99. I am leary of any easy answers or supposed theology that does not work and pray, and in some sense suffer! Even my own theological choice in a certain evangelical place, must be tried over and over! We as Christians can never escape being ourselves some kind of ‘Alien Settlement’ in a fallen world. (1 Peter 1:1) A sort of monastic or place “called” apart for God, but then pressed back into the world. And here the love of Christ must be our only real compel, and nothing else! (See 2 Cor. 5: 14)

  100. Karen,

    I am very happy to hear all of that. I have heard Dr. Carlton’s podcast. Trust me when I say I have scrounged nearly every last scrap of material I can find on Orthodox eschatology – especially as it relates to final judgment. This is another helpful essay in the spirit of “River.”

    a href=Heaven and Hell According to the Bible

  101. What is the mainthrust in the Orthodox eschatology? Only as it relates to final judgment? Or is it mystical reality? Is it Christology? All of this combined? I am finding it hard to get a mental picture here!

  102. Karen,
    Thanks for the site, I also heard some nice music. I was a cantor years ago as a Roman. Like music..thanks again.

  103. Orthodox eschatology is probably largely described as “realized” eschatology or “mystical” or liturgical, though we do indeed believe that Christ will come again at the time of the last judgment and the general resurrection. But it’s somewhat afield from the present article.

  104. I do have a copy of Ultimate Things, etc. S. Rose. I noted now of late books that are somewhat, shall we say Apocalyptic, etc. I was a bit surprised. And one on Anti-Christ, etc. again

  105. I find S. Rose’s work on eschatology or apocalyptic to be more protestant than classically Orthodox. It is not a topic that is generally treated in such a manner. As social commentary of our present culture, it has a usefulness. As speculation about the “religion of the future,” etc., I just find it mostly American.

    I have a posting on the topic of eschatology.

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