Question for Orthodox: Hell and those with Christian faith

I’ve heard that there is an Eastern Orthodox belief that Hell is being in the presence of God, not separated from Him, but because of that person’s hatred of God, this existence is akin to suffering.

However, I’m also pretty sure that the Orthodox do not think merely believing in Christ is sufficient for salvation, the faith must grow in one’s life and the person must work out their salvation as they strive toward achieving theosis.

However, what of those who profess faith in Christ, but do not act on that faith and do not let it grow in their lives? What of those who believe in Christ and accept Him, but do nothing in their lives to reflect that faith and it remains dead?

If these people are not saved, but instead enter Hell, what kind of a loss is that? Surely the person who has faith would still be delighted by God’s presence? How is that a punishment? If someone has faith, but does not act on that faith, it does not mean they will go on to hate God, surely they will be relieved to be in His presence?

Imagine those too who reject God’s true Church, and remain defiantly Protestant or Catholic? If they are not saved, would they truly go on to hate God in Hell? Surely they too would be glad to be in His presence?

As I understand the idea, it will be no picnic to be in the Presence unprepared. For those who are friends of God it will be joy and peace and blessedness as we experience His Presence fully and "“join” with Him. We are Home.

For those who are not prepared His Presence becomes a Fire as those who have rejected Him in life must now endure a grace and love their hearts have no capacity to “enjoy”. There is no peace and joy, no friendship exists…Home is not where they want to be…and yet Home is where they find themselves, experiencing His judgement…realizing their “unpreparedness” with no “filters” of mortality to make it bearable…to dwell in Everlasting Burning of Holiness, to not have fellowship with this Presence they now find themselves in, they suffer.

Have you ever experienced the condemnation of an authority figure like an employer who is giving out awards to some good employees but scorn those bad employees? Not fun…yet those being “dressed down” can’t leave.? How much more uncomfortable it would be in an Eternal setting.

I understand that, but what of those who believe in Christ and actually had some sort of faith, though they didn’t act on it? Surely they would long for His presence?

Long for the Presence of Someone they claimed to love and serve but in reality did not? To be confronted with the depth of clarity of their unfaithfulness? A person who claims faith and yet does not live that faith doesn’t really believe and have faith.

I can understand that this person would be confronted with the depth and clarity of their unfaithfulness, but then are they simply confronted with this for the rest of eternity? Would it not make sense for the person to repent or as Paul puts it be saved “as one through fire”, having their works burned up but still making it? If the person was instead in a state of separation from God this would make more sense to me, but if they are constantly in God’s holy presence in a vivid sense then it seems absurd they would not fall on their knees and repent, and if so would God merely shake His head and deny that person?

As St. Paul says you have to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. The choice for eternity has to be made in this life. We either choose to love and serve God here in love and truth, or we choose not to love and serve God here. Once we have died it is too late for Mercy, we now come before Christ as our judge. While we are still alive we can receive the infinite Mercy of Jesus, but once that time has passed and we die, we come before Him not as the Lord of Mercy, but as the Just Judge.

While I can understand this, my problem is with the idea that the person who didn’t make it to heaven will still be in the holy presence of God for eternity, as if that’s some kind of punishment and as if the Christian would some how feel hatred towards God for it.

If a person dies in the state of grace, not dying with mortal sin on his/her soul, will most likely go to purgatory first for purification of the remaining stains of sin. This is reparation for the sins. It is like I go out and break your window, you may forgive me, but I still have to make restitution for the cost of the window. God forgives us for our sins if we ask him, but we still have to make restitution. In this state of purgatory we are assured Heaven.

However, if we die in a state of unrepentant mortal sin we have severed all ties with God. We have chosen to commit serious offenses against God’s Law and live our life in a state that separates us from God. We choose to love sin over loving God. If we do not repent of these sins before we die, we have chosen to separate ourselves from God and do not want to be in his Presence. God is not going to keep anyone in his presence that does not want to be there. This is why we have free will, and he honors that free will that he gave us.

This is why we strive, as Catholics, to live in a state of grace each day of our life and confess our mortal sins when the Holy Spirit convicts us, as soon as possible. We do not know the hour that Our Lord will call us to him.

I hope this helps some

Yes, I understand all of this and this is the view that makes the most sense to me. My question is for the Eastern Orthodox though, not Catholics, that believe Hell is not separation from God, but is in fact being in God’s presence and our hatred of Him makes it akin to suffering.

Faith is just, well, faith. ‘Even the demons believe’ (James 2). Love is what our justice consists of, which is why the greatest commandments are what they are and which is also why St Paul could say in 1Cor 13:
".…if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.", and later: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Faith doesn’t necessarily lead to love. So Augustine could say: "Without love faith can indeed exist, but can be of no avail."

A person who turns to Christ just at the moment before death (and I believe there are many if not all who fit that category) doesn’t have time to work out his/her salvation. They don’t even have time to choose which denomination to join. Yet these are saved.

We work out our salvation throughout our lifetime in faith, good works and forgiveness, but we have the Mercy of God in forgiveness up until our last breath if we choose to call out to him. He will not spurn a contrite heart.

Orthodox theology regarding the afterlife is fairly undeveloped (this goes with our general perspective that you can’t really know it). There is a famous icon depicting what you mention. It isn’t doctrine, but it also isn’t contrary to doctrine.

Do you believe those in mortal sin are incapable of loving God?

Many times I have failed God and have fallen short, even turned away for long periods of time. But throughout the moments, I always loved Him and will continue to do so. What of those people who love Christ, how will the Orthodox understanding of Hell affect them?

I see, thanks. Are there Orthodox who have a similar view to Catholics then, that Hell is a state of separation from God?

Mortal sin, by its nature, is an act against love of God and neighbor:
**1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.130**

Persistence is also required:
**1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:

Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen**.

I do not think anyone who can love would ever be sent to Hell. There has to be a certain condition in a man or woman that completely rejects this love if this Hell remains. I do not think a mortal sin is this condition. A mortal sin once is committed does not automatically condemn you. I would never enter into this kind of thinking. God may have left you (when the sin is committed) but He is still present. He awaits for an opportunity to come in again. Let me put it this way. If God can give anyone His grace to lift them up from for instance a state of Hell would you deny to give this person this Grace before they die? Now if you are God I am certain He would give you this Grace so that you will not carry this state of Hell into the next life. God cannot refuse anyone this Grace if the Grace is able to do its work! However there may be certain persons who have willfully committed mortal sins one after the other so that they might not be able to respond to the Grace of God. If God gives to them this Grace and they spurn it what is God to do to help them? It is this state we must try to avoid for not all conditions of people even though they might have committed mortal sins are deserving of this continual state of Hell.

All I can do is point to the gospels. We are called to be profitable servants, we should not aim to be the slave who buries his gold and the ground and makes no profit, he was condemned. At the same time we recognize those whom are last will be first and those whom are first will be last, salvation through true repentance can be found at any time. Only God however knows the perfect balance in which to judge us and assign us to our places, the Orthodox dares not presume anything about himself or others.

Yes Theosis plays a part in the orthodox faith and as Christians we have a job to do. Even though we fail, even though we constantly sin and we are reminded of this in our prayer life. The morning prayer in the Orthodox prayer tradition usually consists of Psalm 51, a deeply penitential psalm which all us really ought to pray daily.

As for hell and the presence of God not being a torture, I look at what is described and I see the resurrection of the just and unjust. I see a new heaven and a new earth, the two becoming one and that in the resurrection life those whom have been rejected by God and those that have been chosen by God will seemingly be in the same place when the great judgement occurs. will there be a place within the universe at that time, in that reality where the presence of God is not felt? Will God not fill in all things with his spirit? That spirit will condemn those whom God has condemned and will be life for those God has accepted.

That being said, I cannot condemn the protestant or the Catholic. Nor does my view represent the Orthodox churches view in any official capacity (as far as I am aware there is no general view except that some will be damned, some will be saved, there will be a judgement and a Resurrection a new heaven and a new earth). I am reminded of “He who is not against us is for us.” There was a man doing things in the name of Jesus outside of the authority of the apostles and this might apply to those who are not part of the true church which is the orthodox church.

No, I don’t think you quite have it right. God’s glory (His manifest presence, in other words), presents itself to the worthy as light and gladness, but to the unworthy as fire and vengeance, just as the Eucharist is spiritual burning and death for those who partake unworthily but spiritual healing and light for those who partake with the fear of God.

Without having reoriented our own mode of existence to be in accordance with human nature (as created by God, but not as corrupted by sin), we will exist in an eternal state of discord (which St. Maximus the Confessor calls ‘ill being’). The glory of God gives eternal being to all, and those who acquired ill-being in life are rewarded with eternal ill-being, which is hell.

That is not for us to know. If some should live very unchristian lives and then repent even at the eleventh hour, we believe that God will accept them, and supply with extraordinary grace what was lacking in their lives (whether that was being joined to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, or just a lack of spiritual diligence in the case of those who were joined to the Church by baptism, chrismation, and the eucharist), but without repentance, no salvation is possible. But beyond our Christian duty to reprove others who have fallen into spiritual laziness or who are not joined to the Church, it is really quite unhealthy to focus on the sins of others, as it distracts us from our own sins, so it would be far better not to think of these things in general.


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