|This weekly bulletin insert complements the curriculum published by the Department of Christian Education of the Orthodox Church in America. This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org.|
As we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and enjoy the festal services, is a good time to think about the deepest meanings of Christ's saving actions for us.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's book "The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of the Orthodox Church" can guide us in this thinking. Originally published in 2002, the book has been offered in a new (2011) edition by Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, with a foreword by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia.
The book's final chapter, entitled "The Life of the Age to Come", discusses death and resurrection, prayer for the departed, the last judgment, and hell.
The Christian tradition, the author writes, inherited its belief in the resurrection of the dead from the Old Testament. A striking example of the Old Testament belief is in the words of the brothers facing martyrdom in the book of Maccabees. One brother addresses the king who is about to execute him: "Thou like a fury takest us out of this present life, but the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for His laws." The mother of the martyred brothers declares that the Creator who made the world "will also of His own mercy give you breath and life again..."
Metropolitan Hilarion writes that the practice of praying for the dead is based on the understanding "that the fate of the soul after death is not clear before the final, universal resurrection, and that the situation of the departed might be changed for the better by the prayers of the living." He cites traditional sources to show that there is a chance—not certainty—that prayer can deliver some people from hell. Saint Gregory Dialogos prayed for the emperor Trajan, a persecutor of Christians, and "received confirmation from God" that his prayers had been heard.
Universal salvation is the subject of several currently popular books. Metropolitan Hilarion summarizes the Orthodox teaching: "It would be a heresy to insist on the necessity of the salvation of all, as if this were compulsory for both God and human beings, but it is not a heresy to believe in the possibility of the salvation of all, and to continue to pray and hope for that."
The words of Saint Silouan of Mount Athos quoted in the book are a warning against hoping that our enemies will burn in hell:
You say that so-and-so is an evildoer, and may he burn in Hell-fire. But I ask you—supposing God were to give you a fair place in Paradise, and you saw burning in the fire the man on whom you had wished the tortures of Hell, even then would you really not feel pity for him, whoever he might be, an enemy of the Church even? Or is it that you have a heart of steel? But there is no place for steel in Paradise. Paradise has need of humility and the love of Christ, which pities all men.