Conservative Friend

An Outreach of Stillwater Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends

Viewpoints

Friends's Understanding of the Doctrine of Perfection

Kevin Roberts is a member of Stillwater Monthly Meeting, in Barnesville, Ohio. He spends most of his time driving a truck around the country ferrying freight, but occasionally stops at rest areas and truck stops that let him check in. In this piece, he discusses the old concept of "perfection," which caused the first generations of Friends a great deal of difficulty. This essay was published in a recent edition of The Conservative Friend, the hardcopy newsletter of Ohio Yearly Meeting. For subscription information, please visit our OYM Publications Page.

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What is “perfection,” for a Christian Friend? What does it mean to be “perfect?” Does the answer to this question matter? Perfection seems to be something God is concerned about --  Jesus spells it out for us in Matthew 5:48:

 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

And among many other examples, Peter called upon the early church to become “perfect,” as in 1 Peter 5:10:

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”

The English words “perfect,” “perfection” and “perfected” occur over 50 times in the New Testament. What were they talking about? Is this something that we should be concerned with, as Friends? Is there something here that we are we called to do, and to be?

I believe the answer is clearly “Yes.”

“Perfection” has a traditional usage among Friends dating back to the first years of our Society. But where today we might only use the term “perfection” to mean flawless, unblemished, or without error, a 17th century Friend would also use it to express the ideas of being complete, mature, restored, and so on. In the King James Authorized Version, the English word “perfect” is translated from half a dozen Greek words. The two terms used most frequently in the NT are forms of telios and katartizo. Both connote the modern idea of flawnessness, but they also mean more than that. In the first, “perfect” also implies “complete,” indicating maturity, something of final stature, a finished work. In the second, “perfect” also indicates the state of something that had been broken and is now mended.

 George Fox scornfully accused his Puritan opponents of “pleading for sin” when they cried that perfect earthly righteousness was a state beyond man’s reach. He countered by asserting that perfection is not only attainable but is an essential step in our Christian walk of faith. In his Epistles, “perfection” comes up frequently:

“Now what value, price and worth have they made of the blood of Christ, that cleanses them from sin and death, and yet [they] told people that they would bring them to the knowledge of the son of God and to a perfect man, and now tell them that they must not be perfect on the earth, but carry a body of sin about them to the grave?” Fox, Epistle 222

And Fox asserted that “perfection” was attainable, with the help of Christ:

“Therefore comes Christ, the first and the last, to destroy the devil and his works in men’s hearts and sanctify them by his blood, his Life, which was the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world and destroys the devil and his works through death . . . and sanctifies and washes men and women, and presents them back again to God perfect . . . .” Epistle 232.

Robert Barclay points out that perfection comes about in stages in his Apology for True Christian Divinity. For most of us all of the time, and for all of us some of the time, “perfection,” “completeness,” or “maturity” is not a static event, but one of many benchmarks in our Christian growth. Just as all of us have been granted different measures of the Light, all of us have been assigned different levels-- and schedules-- of expectation. In Romans 8:29, Paul tells us to be “conformed to the image of his Son,” but Barclay points out that what that means is clearly different for one believer than for another, and it may be a lesser value at one time in the life of a believer than it may become for him later in the process. Barclay is very careful to emphasize that this is what he usually means by perfection:

“. . . by this we understand not such a perfection as may not admit of a growth, and consequently mean not, as if we were to be as pure, holy, and perfect as God in his divine attributes of wisdom, knowledge and purity; but only a perfection proportionable and answerable to man’s measure, whereby we are kept from transgressing the law of God and enabled to answer what he requires of us . . . “ Robert Barclay, Apology

A very important additional aspect is often forgotten, which is that achieving this Christian righteousness is a gradual process, and not one of an instantaneous, irreversible salvation event based on a single irrevocable event. It is achieved step by step, accompanied by works of faith performed through grace, by being faithful to one’s measure of the Light. And subsequently, by receiving more Light and being faithful to that increased responsibility as well. Fox described his own epiphany in his Journal:

“Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up into the state of Adam which he was in before he fell. . . . And the Lord showed me that such as were faithful to him in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell . . .”

This initial event impressed Fox so singularly that it became the turning point of his life. Similarly, when the Apostles were granted the infilling of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), their state of sinless grace didn’t persist uninterruptedly for the rest of their lives. The tongues of fire went away, after all. But the Holy Spirit didn’t leave them, and it returned again and again, working within them again and again.

And it can do the same for us. Have you ever experienced a moment, a minute, an hour or two, when you felt the Light so strongly influencing you to the good that all thought of sin passed away? I certainly have. A time when your soul was so perfectly in time with the rhythms of God that unfaithfulness was not even conceivable? A time when you were inspired to speak in meeting without a thought for your own wants and agendas, but in complete and humble obedience to an outside influence? Moments that you spent in the company of others without a thought or emotion of evil, sin, or separation from God?  Were you “sinning in thought, word, and deed,” even as God breathed the power of the Holy Spirit into you? Or were you rather experiencing the workings of the Light: perfection, sanctification, and holiness, during that time, however long it was? The Friends’ message was that these moments were possible, and may be expected, if we remain faithful. And that they will continue, and continue to build holiness within us. Because over and over, Jesus Christ commands us to live without sin, and for this Gospel to be achievable, we must be able to do it.

Barclay is quick to point out that it would be presumptuous to pronounce himself without sin, and denies that he himself had achieved it. “Others may perhaps speak more certainly of this state, as having arrived to it.” But perfection is the goal for Christians to pursue, as they work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philomen 2:12), the life of holy righteousness that Jesus told us to live when he said, “You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you,” (John 15:14). Friends of the 17th century died in prison for making this command of Jesus their goal.

But the crucial part of a journey is taking the first step, by believing that it can be done. Nothing defeats so surely as the belief that it cannot be done. So Friends, when you feel the Holy Spirit filling you with Light, when the grace of God commands you to rise a-top of sin and overcome it, when you feel both the call to be perfect and the strength to achieve it, don’t reject these gentle promptings in your heart. Receive them, keep them, live them, but never disregard them as unattainable. The belief that perfection in this life is the goal of the Christian is one of the founding beliefs of the Society of Friends, and of the Christian Church.  In the words of the Apostle:

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” (1Peter 5:10).

The Eastern Orthodox View of Heaven and Hell

 For Our God is a Consuming Fire

 

Themistoklis Papaioannou lives in Athens, and is a member of Middleton Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting, and of Athens Christian Friends. His approach to Conservative Quakerism comes with a point of view familiar with the history and theology of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Here he shares some comments about the differences between the Eastern and Western Christian church's views of Heaven and Hell, and how that colors our views of Eternity. Look over Themis's website at C.Q.I.M.

 

 

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:  And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in Hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. --Luke 16:19-16:26 KJV

 

People keep asking me about Hell, citing the parable in Luke 16:23. ("Abraham’s bosom" is used in a symbolic sense for the afterlife of believers.) Some in the West believe in a sadistic god, who perpetually tortures people in Hell. But Christians in the East always knew what the Bible's references to Heaven and Hell meant. They never believed in a sadistic god. The early Church writers teach that God is both Heaven and Hell, according to each person's righteousness. He loves everyone and He will embrace everyone, but not everyone will see Him as light. Some people will be unable to tolerate His Love and they will suffer, because they have learned only to hate.

When we say that God is both light and fire, Protestants often ask us: "Where did you find that in the Bible?" Even though they know that it's irrational to believe that God tortures people, they need quotes from the Bible to be convinced. Of course, we Christians don't need to see something written in the Bible in order to believe it. But we are going to present a few biblical passages that support our opinion. Thus, the Protestants will be able to abandon the western, blasphemous notion of a sadistic God, and they will see that the teachings of the Lord's Church are always true. Let's start with Isaiah 33:

The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with the everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil. He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure. --Isaiah 33:14-16

Notice who will dwell with the everlasting burnings! Not only the unjust, but the righteous as well! Do you see that they are the same? What is feared by sinners is considered “high” by the righteous. And what is the "devouring fire?"

For our God is a consuming fire. --Hebrews 12:29 KJV

This "fiery" God is "light" for other people. According to Isaiah:

For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.--Isaiah 60:17-20


The word "glory" (Greek: doxa) means "brightness." Paul writes:

 

 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory --1 Corinthians 15:41

But the passage from Isaiah mentions materials. It is obvious that God will replace the lesser materials with materials that are more valuable and more able to endure fire. What does this mean? The apostle Paul explains:

 

 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. --1 Corinthians 3:12-15


It is important that in this passage various materials symbolize each person's actions. Good actions are like valuable materials that can't be harmed by fire. On the other hand, evil actions are mentioned as materials that can be burned. Then, the fire of God's grace will burn the unworthy deeds and he who committed them shall be damaged, because he won't have anything valuable to show. Both good and evil actions, both righteous and unjust men will go through this fire... The prophet Zechariah says that the fire purifies valuable metals. The fire doesn't burn them, but it cleans them and it illuminates them. When a metal stays in the fire, it too becomes bright as fire. But the fire also makes wood black and burns it:

And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God. --Zechariah 13:9

The next passage also shows us that the righteous and the unjust will go through the same flame. Although the sinners will feel burned by the fire, the just shall rest in the fire of the presence and the glory (brightness) of the Lord:


And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. --2 Thessalonians 1:7-9


In the Revelation to John, we read about the river of the Grace of God that springs from His throne. This river is the river of life for the righteous:

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. --Revelation 22:1-2

But this river is also described as "fire":

A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him... --Daniel 7:10

We see the difference between how the righteous and how the unjust perceive the Grace of God. This is because, according to the author of the Psalms, the fire of the Lord is divided by Him into illuminating and burning energy:

The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire. (Psalm 29:7; Masoretic Text)

When that day comes, are we going to feel God's grace as "fire" or as "light?" The decision is ours… (Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries)

 

I believe that the Greek Orthodox Church explains best the truth about Heaven and Hell.

On the Last Sunday of Lent "we commemorate the Second and Incorruptible Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The expression "we commemorate" of the Book of Saints confirms that our Church, as the Body of Christ, re-enacts in its worship the Second Coming of Christ as an event and not just something that is historically expected. The reason is that we are transported to the Celestial Kingdom, to meta-history. It is in this Orthodox perspective, that the subject of Paradise and Hell is approached.

In the Gospels (Matthew, Ch.25), mention is made of  "the kingdom" and of  "eternal fire." In this excerpt, which is cited during the Liturgy of this Sunday, the "kingdom" is the divine destination of mankind. The "fire" is "prepared" for the devil and his angels (demons), not because God desired it, but because they are impenitent. The "kingdom" is "prepared" for those who remain faithful to the will of God.

"Kingdom" (the uncreated glory) is Paradise. "Fire" (eternal) is Hell (eternal Hell, "everlasting punishment," 25:46). At the beginning of history, God invites man into Paradise, into a communion with His uncreated Grace. At the end of history, man has to face Paradise and Hell. What this means, we shall see, further down. We do however stress that it is one of the central subjects of our faith--it is Orthodox Christianity's philosopher's stone.

Mention of Paradise and Hell in the New Testament is frequent. In Luke 23:43, Christ says to the robber on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise." However, the robber also refers to Paradise in Luke 23:42, when he says: "Remember me, Lord … in your kingdom." According to Theofylaktos of Bulgaria (P 123, 1106), "…for the robber was in Paradise, in other words, the kingdom." The Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12: 3-4) confesses that, while still in this lifetime, he was "swept up to Paradise and heard unspoken words, which are inappropriate for man to repeat." In Revelations, we read: "To the victor, I shall give him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of my God." (Rev.2-7). And Arethas of Caesaria interprets: "Paradise is understood to be the blessed and eternal life." (PG 106, 529). Paradise-eternal life-kingdom of God, are all related.

References on Hell include Matthew 25:46 ("to eternal damnation"), 25:41 ("eternal fire"), 25:30 ("the outermost darkness"), 5:22 ("the place of fire"). 1 John 4:18 ("…for fear contains Hell"). These are ways that express what we mean by "Hell."

Paradise and Hell are not two different places. This is an idolatrous concept. They signify two different situations or ways, which originate from the same uncreated source, and are perceived by man as two different experiences. Or, more precisely, they are the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man, depending on man's internal state. This experience is the sight of Christ inside the uncreated light of His divinity, of His "glory." From the moment of His Second Coming, through to all eternity, all people will be seeing Christ in His uncreated light. That is when

 

Those who worked good deeds in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of their life, while those who worked evil in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:29)

 

In the presence of Christ, mankind will be separated ("sheep" and "goats," to His right and His left). In other words, they will be discerned in two separate groups: those who will be looking upon Christ as Paradise (the "exceeding good, the radiant") and those who will be looking upon Christ as Hell ("the all-consuming fire," Hebrews 12:29). Paradise and Hell are the same reality. This is what is depicted in the portrayal of the Second Coming. From Christ a river flows forth: it is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the saints are. At its lower end, the same river is fiery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant ("the never repentant" according to a hymn) are depicted. This is why in Luke 2:34 we read that Christ stands "as the fall and the resurrection of many." Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life, for those who accepted Him and who followed the suggested means of healing the heart; and to those who rejected Him, He becomes their demise and their Hell.

Patristic testimonies:

  • Saint John of Sinai (of the Ladder) says that the uncreated light of Christ is "an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light…"
  • Gregory Palamas (E.P.E. II, 498) observes: "Thus, it is said, He will baptize you by the Holy Spirit and by fire: in other words, by illumination and punishment, depending on each person's predisposition, which will bring upon him that which he deserves."
  • Elsewhere, (Essays, P. Christou Publications, vol.2, page 145): The light of Christ, "albeit one and accessible to all, is not partaken of uniformly, but differently."

Consequently, Paradise and Hell are not a reward or a punishment (condemnation), but the way that we individually experience the sight of Christ, depending on the condition of our heart. God doesn’t punish in essence, although, for educative purposes, the Scripture does mention punishment. The more spiritual that one becomes, the better he can comprehend the language of the Scripture and our traditions. Man's condition (clean or unclean, repentant or unrepentant) is the factor that determines the acceptance of the Light as "Paradise" or "Hell." The important thing, however, is that not all people respond to this invitation of Christ, and that is why not everyone partakes in the same way of His uncreated glory. This is taught by Christ, in the parable of the rich and the poor Lazarus (Luke16:19-31). Man refuses Christ's offer, he becomes God's enemy and rejects the redemption offered by Christ (which is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because it is within the Holy Spirit that we accept the calling of Christ). This is the "never repentant" person referred to in the hymn. God "never bears enmity," the blessed Chrysostom observes; it is we who become His enemies; we are the ones who reject Him. The unrepentant man becomes demonized, because he has chosen to. God doesn't want this. Gregory Palamas says: "For this was not My pre-existing will; I did not create you for this purpose; I did not prepare the pyre for you. This undying pyre was pre-fired for the demons who bear the unchanging trait of evil, to whom your own unrepentant opinion attracted you." And, "The co-habitation with mischievous angels is arbitrary (voluntary)." (ibid.) In other words, it is something that is freely chosen by man.


Both the rich man and Lazarus were looking upon the same reality, i.e., God in His uncreated light. The rich man reached the Truth, the sight of Christ, but could not partake of it, as Lazarus did. The poor Lazarus received "consolation," whereas the rich man received "anguish." Christ's words, that "They have Moses and the prophets …"--for those still in the world--signifies that we are all inexcusable. This doesn't imply that faith, or man's faithfulness to Christ is disregarded; faith is naturally a prerequisite, because our stance towards each other will show whether or not we have God inside us … the (seemingly pious) Pharisee justifies (sanctifies) himself and rejects (derogates) the Tax-collector … the elder brother(a repetition of the seemingly pious Pharisee) is sorrowful at the return (salvation) of his brother. Likewise seemingly pious, he too had false piety, which did not produce love. This stance reaches Christ's seat of judgment, and is evidenced as the criterion for our eternal life. The experience of Paradise or Hell is beyond words or the senses. It is an uncreated reality, and not a created one. The Franks created the myth that Paradise and Hell are both created realities.

 

It is a myth that the damned will not be looking upon God; just as the "absence of God" is equally a myth. The Franks had also perceived the fires of Hell as something created (e.g., Dante's Inferno). Orthodox tradition has remained faithful to the Scriptural claim that the damned shall see God (like the rich man of the parable), but will perceive Him only as "an all-consuming fire." The Frankish scholastics accepted Hell as punishment and the deprivation of a tangible vision of the divine essence. Biblically and patristically however, "Hell" is understood as man's failure to collaborate with Divine Grace, in order to reach the "illuminating" view of God (Paradise) and selfless love (per 1 Corinthians 13:8): "love … does not demand any reciprocation"). Consequently, there is no such thing as "God's absence," only His presence. That is why His Second Coming is dire … It is an irrefutable reality, toward which Orthodoxy is permanently oriented ("I anticipate resurrection of the dead …")

The damned--those who are depraved at heart, just like the Pharisees (Mark 3:5: "in the callousness of their hearts")--eternally perceive the pyre of Hell as their salvation! It is because their condition is not susceptible to any other form of salvation. They too are "finalized"--they reach the end of their road--but only the righteous reach the end of the road as saved persons. The others finish as damned. "Salvation" to them is Hell, since in their lifetime, they pursued only pleasure. The rich man of the parable had "enjoyed all of his riches." The poor Lazarus uncomplainingly endured "every suffering." The Apostle Paul expresses this (1 Corinthians 3:13-15): "Each person's work, whatever it is, will be tested by fire. If their work survives the test, then whatever they built, will be rewarded accordingly. If one's work is burnt by the fire, then he will suffer losses; he shall be saved, thus, as though by fire." The righteous and the unrepentant shall both pass through the uncreated "fire" of divine presence, however, the one shall pass through unscathed, while the other shall be burnt. He too is "saved," but only in the way that one passes through a fire. Efthimios Zigavinos (12th century) observes in this respect: "God as fire that illuminates and brightens the pure, and burns and obscures the unclean." And Theodoritos Kyrou regarding this "saving" writes: "One is also saved by fire, being tested by it," just as when one passes through fire. If he has an appropriate protective cover, he will not be burnt, otherwise, he may be "saved," but he will be charred!

Consequently, the fire of Hell has nothing in common with the Frankish "purgatory," nor is it created, nor is it punishment, or an intermediate stage. A viewpoint such as this, is virtually a transferal of one's accountability to God. But the accountability is entirely our own, whether we choose to accept or reject the salvation (healing) that is offered by God. "Spiritual death" is the viewing of the uncreated light, of divine glory, as a pyre, as fire. Saint John the Chrysostom in his Ninth Homily on 1 Corinthians, notes: "Hell is never-ending … sinners shall be judged into a never-ending suffering. As for the 'being burnt altogether' it means this: that he does not withstand the strength of the fire." And he continues: "And he (Paul) says, it means this: that he shall not be thus burnt also--like his works--into nothingness, but he shall continue to exist, only inside that fire. He therefore considers this as his 'salvation.' For it is customary for us to say 'saved in the fire,' when referring to materials that are not totally burnt away." Scholastic perceptions-interpretations, which, through Dante's work (Inferno) have permeated our world, have consequences that amount to idolatrous views. An example is the separation of Paradise and Hell as two different places. This has happened, because they did not distinguish between the created and the uncreated. Also, the denial of Hell's eternity, with their idea of the "restoration" of everything, or the concept of a "good God" (Bon Dieu). God is indeed "benevolent": (Matthew 8:17), since He offers salvation to everyone. ("He wants all to be saved …" (1 Timothy 2:4) However, the words of our Lord as heard during the funeral service are formidable: "I cannot do anything on my own; just as I hear, thus I judge, and my judgment is fair." (John 5:30). Equally manufactured is the concept of  "theodicy," which applies in this case. Everything is finally attributed to God alone (i.e., if He intends to redeem or condemn), without taking into consideration man's "collaboration" as a factor of redemption.Salvation is possible, only within the framework of collaboration between man and Divine Grace.


According to the blessed Chrysostom, "the utmost, almost everything, is God's; He did however leave something little to us." That "little something" is our acceptance of God's invitation. The robber on the cross was saved, by "using the key request of  'remember me …'" Also idolatrous is the perception of a God becoming outraged against a sinner, whereas we mentioned earlier that God "never shows enmity." This is a juridical perception of God, which also leads to the prospect of "penances" in confessions as forms of punishment, and not as medications (means of healing) … The mystery of Paradise-Hell is also experienced in the life of the Church in the world. Besides, this lifetime is evaluated in the light of the twin criterion of Paradise-Hell. "Ask first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness," our Christ recommends (Matthew 6:33). Vasileios the Great tells the Young (Ch.3) "Everything we do is in preparation of another life." Our life must be a continuous preparation for our participation in "Paradise"--our community with the Uncreated (1 John 17:3).

 

And everything begins from this lifetime. That is why the Apostle Paul says: "Behold, now is the opportune time. Behold, now is the day of redemption." (2 Corinthians 6:2) Every moment of our lives is of redemptive importance. Either we gain eternity, the eternal community with God, or we lose it. This is why oriental religions and cults that preach reincarnations are injuring mankind: they are virtually transferring the problem to other, (nonexistent, of course) lifetimes. The thing is, however, that only one life corresponds to each of us, whether we are saved or condemned. This is why Vasileios continues: "… those things therefore that lead us towards that life, we need to say should be cherished and pursued with all our might; and those that do not lead us there, we should disregard, as something of no value." This is the criterion of Christian living. A Christian continuously chooses whatever favors his salvation. We gain Paradise or lose it and end up in Hell, in this lifetime. That is why John the Evangelist says: "Whomsoever believes in Him shall not be judged; whomsoever does not believe in Him, has already been judged, for not having believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God." (John 3:18) Consequently, the work of the church is not to "send" people to Paradise or to Hell, but to prepare them for the final judgment. The purpose of the Church's offered therapy is not to create "useful" citizens and essentially "usable" ones, but citizens of the celestial (uncreated) kingdom. Such citizens are the Martyrs, the true faithful, the saints.

 

However, this is also the way that our mission is supervised: What are we inviting people to? To the Church as a Hospital/Therapy Center, or just an ideology that is labelled "Christian?" More often than not, we strive to secure a place in "Paradise," instead of striving to be healed. That is why we focus on rituals and not on therapy. This of course does not signify a rejection of worship. But, without ascesis (spiritual exercise, ascetic lifestyle, act of therapy), worship cannot hallow us. The Grace that pours forth from it remains inert inside us "… to prepare man, so that he may forever look upon the Uncreated Grace and the Kingdom of Christ as Paradise, and not as Hell." (Paradise and Hell According to Orthodox Tradition, by George Metallinos Dean of the Athens University School of Theology)

Jesus told this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man before his death. Jesus had not died yet. Sin's debt had not been paid "once and for all." This passage therefore does not show where a New Testament believer in Christ will go, but rather where Old Testament believers would temporarily exist. Remember that Abraham obeyed God, and it was "accounted to him for righteousness." This parable gives us an insight to the waiting place of the Old Testament believer; not the New Testament. This is not a proof text for the "now Hell" view. This does not relate to a present-day Christian. Looking at the parable, I find several interesting points:

  1. The rich man and Lazarus were in the same place. Yes they were separated by a "great gulf fixed," but they could see and recognize each other.
  2. Being able to see one another, we see that they must have had bodies that were visible to one another. The rich man could still see, speak (to God), and feel the pain of his torment.
  3. However, although their physical senses are functional, they do not still have their physical bodies. Luke 16:22 is clear in explaining that the rich man's physical body was indeed buried! (based on an article by B.D. Means).

"I would also agree … that the last part of the passage is a key that Jesus wanted to drive home to the Pharisees. He wanted to kind of plant the seeds in their minds that they wouldn't believe even if someone were to come back from the grave and smack them up-side the head and say 'Look, I'm ba-ack'" (Witness of Grace)

 

Now I have answered all this using various sources from Christians of various denominations with ORTHODOX Christian views. God Bless! I hope this message was a Blessing to you.

 

In Christ Jesus,

Themis




 

A further note from Robert Barclay's Catechism and Confession of Faith


Question, What saith the Scripture of the Resurrection of the Dead?

A. And have Hope towards God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a Resurrection of the Dead, both of the Just and Unjust [Acts 24:15].

Q. To what different End shall the Good be raised from the Bad? and how are they thereunto reserved?

A. Marvel not at this; for the Hour is coming, in the which all that are in the Graves shall hear his Voice, and shall come forth; they that have done Good, unto the Resurrection of Life; and they that have done Evil, unto the Resurrection of Condemnation [John 5:28-29]. But the Heavens and the Earth, which are now, by the same Word are kept in store, reserved unto Fire against the Day of Judgment, and Perdition of Ungodly Men [2 Pet. 3:7].

Q. What must be answered to such as ask how the Dead are raised; and with that what Body?

A. Thou Fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it dye: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that Body that shall be; but bare Grain, it may chance of Wheat, or some other Grain: But God giveth it a Body as it hath pleased him, and to every Seed his own Body.All Flesh is not the same Flesh; but there is one kind of Flesh of Men, another Flesh of Beasts, another of Fishes, and another of Birds: there are also Celestial Bodies, and Bodies Terrestrial; but the Glory of the Celestial is one, and the Glory of the Terrestrial is another: there is one Glory of the Sun, and another Glory of the Moon, and another Glory of the Stars; for one Star differs from another Star in Glory; so also is the Resurrection of the Dead; it is sown in Corruption, it is raised in Incorruption; it is sown in Dishonour, it is raised in Glory; it is sown in Weakness, it is raised in Power; it is sown a Natural Body, it is raised a Spiritual Body: There is a Natural Body, and there is a Spiritual Body [1 Cor. 15:36-44].

Q. The Apostle seems to be very positive that it is not that Natural Body, which we now have, that shall rise, but a Spiritual Body?

A. Now this I say, Brethren, That Flesh and Blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither doth Corruption inherit Incorruption. Behold I shew you a Mystery, We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed in a Moment, in the Twinkling of an Eye, at the last Trump (for the Trumpet shall sound) and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed:For this Corruptible must put on Incorruption, and this Mortal must put on Immortality: So when this Corruptible shall have put on Incorruption, and this Mortal shall have put on Immortality, then shall be brought to pass the Saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in Victory: O Death where is thy Sting? O Grave where is thy Victory? [1 Cor. 15:50-55]" There shall be a Resurrection of the Dead, both of the Just and Unjust [Acts 24:15] They that have done Good, unto the Resurrection of Life; and they that have done Evil, unto the Resurrection of Damnation [John 5:29] Flesh and Blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither doth Corruption inherit Incorruption [1 Cor. 15:50]Nor is that Body sown that shall be; but God gives it a Body as it has pleased him, and to every Seed his own Body: It is sown in Corruption, it is raised in Incorruption; It is sown in Dishonor,it is raised in Glory; It is sown in Weakness, it is raised in Power; It is sown a Natural Body, it is raised a Spiritual Body. [1 Cor. 15:37-38,42-44]"

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