The Real Hell – Is There Such a Thing?

lastjudgment_5x10Because sometimes the people of God need a basic lesson in the nature of existence…

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 bulletin 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. Our lives are often quite “hellish” precisely because they are not real, not authentic, not sharing in the common life that can only come from the Lord and Giver of Life.

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 the ontology lesson.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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63 responses to “The Real Hell – Is There Such a Thing?”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Tomorrow is the Sunday of the Last Judgment on the Orthodox calendar. I thought these words might provide some reflection for the day.

  2. Athanasios Avatar

    This calls to mind John 8:35
    “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.”

    Insanity is certainly a hellish experience. For more thoughts on this aspect I encourage you to read God’s Path to Sanity by Dee Pennock. It is recommended by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

    It also reminds me that Christ is truly what a human was intended to be. We become really human when we become more like Christ. “To err is human” is an incorrect understanding of what our humanity was actually intended to be. It is Christ that demonstrated what it means to be truly, really, and fully human while at the same time being fully God. The alternative of not being like Christ is what C.S. Lewis and Fr. Thomas Hopko often speak about as the Abolition of Man.

  3. Jeff Avatar

    Thnx!, I notched that Florovsky and Zizioulas have an understanding of ‘Hell’, ( or lake of fire of which Hell and Death are thrown ), that is outside a platonic necessity of needed oneness, harmony , nonacededence, etc.) …., I know there are variances in this , like quoting Origen for universalism ( which Zizioulas shows was early in Xtian thought and bound to necessary Platonism …), but if ‘ hell is thrown in lake of fire, maybe the lake is where all this ‘ I do not know youness is the question , not hell ?

  4. seraphim Avatar


    Are there any Orthodox statements or good theological speculations about what the experience of Hell will be like for an individual? Will there cease to be subjective experience at all as the damned fall into insanity? Is it possible for the damned to feel pleasure or satisfaction?

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    There are no such theological statements, nor do I think that there could ever be.

  6. seraphim Avatar

    I thought as much. Coming from a western understanding, my greatest struggle with Hell has always been imagining that there will be souls forever experiencing the greatest horrors imaginable. My heart sinks at such a thought.

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It has been a question for me as to why God does not just allow those who choose darkness over light to pass into non-existence.

    At least three answers come to mind:

    Life, no matter the state in which we live it, is preferable to non-existence

    God’s love is so all encompassing that it functionally disallows non-existence. No matter how we try we cannot escape His love

    There is at least the possibility that we will be able to return to Him in the fullness of time.

    The idea that heaven and hell are “real” in the same sense partakes of a dualism and a three storey approach which is a temptation that we humans like very much.

    We cannot seem to accept the reality that God is in ALL places and fills ALL things (seen and unseen) including us. The incredible intimacy of our communion with Him and one another can be tough to bear unless we are unafraid to let the lights come on in the fetid darkness of the septic tank of our souls.

    May God forgive my love of darkness and separation.

  8. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Good teaching, Father! As my Baptist neighbor says, “That preaches.” The sign you refer to suggests a gnostic dualism, definitely not Biblical and not what the Fathers teach.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ontology, the study of being, is at the heart of all of this, and offers answers on some things. We exist, we have being, because God gives it to us. He is the ground of being and the reason things, all things, have any existence. I saw the example recently that compared us to “light bulbs.” If we have electricity, we shine (being). If the electricity is turned off, all of the lights go out (at the same time).

    The universe is like a single bulb – it exists because God gives it being. It is His goodness and His kindness and His generosity.

    Nor does He begrudge us our existence. Hell is not punishment. He is not a God who requires or needs punishment. Hell is a word for the consequences of trying to live in the darkness. He does not “add” anything to make our hell. He doesn’t need to. God “is not willing that any should perish,” the Scripture says.

    I assume that the being we have, even when we’re in a sad state, is good and a gift. God does not take His good gifts away. St. Isaac suggests that eventually that goodness overcomes all things. It is not something we can know – it’s not been given to us to know. But I like St. Isaac’s reasoning and spiritual insight in the matter.

    The first chapter of Ephesians seems to suggest a similar hope.

  10. Dean Avatar

    Matthew Galltin on Ancient Faith Radio has an excellent podcast on the annihilation of the soul as espoused by his former denomination (Seventh Day Adventists) and other groups. He answers why this doctrine cannot be true from his perspective as an Orthodox Christian philosopher. It’s found in his series on Sola Scriptura #19.

  11. Dean Avatar

    Should read Matthew Gallatin.

  12. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    “Hell is not punishment. He is not a God who requires or needs punishment. Hell is a word for the consequences of trying to live in the darkness.”

    Fr. Stephen – this is marvelous line in the simplicity and profundity of its teaching. You should put it on a billboard by the roads leading into your small city. 🙂

    I fear it is we humans who want a hell that is punishment – for others, of course. Yet I have been reading St. Silouan and his emphasis on love of enemies as essential to Christianity. If we accept this gift of the Holy Spirit and truly love our enemies, we could never want hell for them.

    May God have mercy on us.

  13. Jeff Avatar

    If any if you have Zizioulas’s book ‘ Communion and Otherness’…, he attacks this on page 279, ‘ the theme of the immortality if the soul ‘, Hell is the place of the dead precisely because what is absent is the personal identity which personhood gives , our being recognized as beings by God ……,,, it is this relationship itself that endows man with hypo static reality , ( relationship to Personhood), the soul needs to be enhypostasized, . If it is not ‘saved’ by acquiring this new identity on the level of personhood , not of nature.,,it will fall away from the memory of God ….Annihlation is ‘spiritual death ‘ in relation to the Memory of God

  14. Alan Avatar

    I guess I’m confused. I realize that in this day in age, it’s fashionable to believe that all dogs go to heaven. But wasn’t Origen condemned by one of the Ecumenical Councils for teaching that all will go to Heaven?

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, thank you. My question comes, of course, from my own darkness–what is logical from a human logic.

    God loves us. That I know. He longs for all of us to be with Him as He is with us. It takes, IMO, a lot of continuous, concentrated effort on our part to ignore Him. As soon as we let up–there He is tapping us on the shoulder and reminding us He is still right there.

    His love makes it impossible to disappear and always gives hope even for the cantankerous, contrarian crumudgeons like me and even for those whose hearts seem to have been stolen by the evil one.

    It is far more simple than we tend to make it.

  16. Josiah Avatar

    It is fashionable indeed. I hate the idea of even one going to hell. But I have to trust that God knows true justice and I don’t. I can’t handle the thought of it, if I dwell on it too long, but I can rest by trusting that His wisdom, justice and goodness can not be but infinitely greater than any of my best sensibilities. It is the height of arrogance and completely illogical that the created should consider himself superior, in morality, justice, or compassion, to the source of all good things. Where would we have gotten such sensibilities? Did we somehow evolve to surpass Him with ideas that come from…. apparently nowhere. Thus, in my emotional inability to deal with hell I must be wrong, either on the facts of hell, or on the nature of justice, or on the extent of human sin and the extent of the need for punishment, not just correction.

    The first prospect seeming to be raised here, if the Bible teaches universalism or annhilism, or something like a slow fading to nothingness, I’d like to see a rigorous account of it through the scriptures, as well as handling of all of the scriptures that easily read as eternal conscious torment. I don’t know many people who love the idea of their fellowman going to hell, and for me at least, that is not why I believe in it. It just seems to be the most direct and least convaluted reading of scriptures.

  17. Floris Avatar

    What I sense around me, as a Dutchman, is that we highly focus on Jesus his offer for us. His offer as our ticket to the father / heaven, which saves us from tornment in hell. In the conversations I have with others about heaven and hell there is one thing that fascinates me. If I raise questions about the excistens of hell (as a place where people go to and burn forever, fade away, etc), there is always this one question in reply. What is the offer of Jesus worth if there is no such thing as hell? Father, do you have any thoughts on this question / issue?

  18. […] (The Real Hell – Is There Such a Thing?) […]

  19. guy Avatar

    This is basically a re-posting of a previous article by Fr. Stephen. His comments in the previous article are cogent and might answer some concerns here:


  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I am told that Jesus made more references to hell than to heaven. Clearly He is warning us. It is impossible for me to read the Scripture and get true universalism out of it.

    Yet, the lake of fire is not prepared for us but for Satan and his angels. We are not destined to hell.

    Some will remain in outer darkness weeping and gnashing their teeth.

    The rest is speculation except that we are not “sinners in the hand of an angry God”. His love and mercy exceed anything we can imagine. By the Incarnation He has taken on all of our suffering.

    I For 3:12 gives great hope.

  21. Catholic facing east Avatar

    To use a metaphor coined by Fr. John Behr, Pascha is a pure, white (and ordinarily) unseen light that only becomes visible “after” it passes through the prism of Church. In this way the created and uncreated universe is recapitulated in the Person of the Father, through the Holy Spirit (blessed be He) and in the hypostasis of Christ, the eternal and Incarnate Logos. The consubstantial and indivisible God also becomes the visible God at Pascha.

  22. Alan Avatar

    The quote below is taken directly from the Antiochian Archdiocese website. Interestingly, the first line seems to answer the question posted in the title of this blog post.

    HELL, unpopular as it is among modern people, is real. The Orthodox Church understands hell as a place of eternal torment for those who willfully reject the grace of God. Our Lord once said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched­ where `Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’ ” (Mark 9:43, 44). He challenged the reli­gious hypocrites with the question: “How can you es­cape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33). His answer is, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). There is a Day of Judg­ment coming, and there is a place of punishment for those who have hardened their hearts against God. It does make a difference how we live this life. Those who of their own free will reject the grace and mercy of God must forever bear the consequences of that choice.

  23. Catholic facing east Avatar


    If I may: As anyone can quote (or misquote) scripture (cf. Matt 4:3), the Church wisely decided to communicate her eternal glories through the divine liturgy….

  24. Andrew_C Avatar

    Imagery is not doctrine, but apparently the idea of Hell as an unpleasant place is not unknown to eastern Christianity. Patrick Leigh-Fermor describes frescoes at the Zographos (Bulgarian) monastery at Mount Athos:

    The most macabre frescoes, … showing the afterlife of the damned, with an intricate network of ladders and chutes from the hall of judgement to the bottomless pit, where swarms of little black and red demons await them, with forked tongues and pigs’ and wolves’ heads, serpent tails and eagle claws; they pile the wicked among the flames with tridents and pokers, or fling them to lions, bears and dogs… The delight and cunning in the demons’ faces show they have their hearts in their vocation, thrusting firebrands into the navels of the fallen, or, crowning indignity, defaecating upon them from above. … I scan these scenes of beatification or damnation with a zest that can’t be altogether healthy. [PL-F, The Broken Road]

  25. Catholic facing east Avatar

    P.S. Wonderful icon Fr. Stephen and so right that it should be “read” on Sunday of the Second Coming!

  26. Jeremiah Avatar

    I think Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos says it best: “[St Gregory of Nyssa] teaches that Paradise and Hell do not exist from God’s point of view, but from man’s point of view. It is a subject of man’s choice and condition.”

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My priest’s homily today was reducible to 15 words:

    “Do not be led astray” (Luke)
    There will be a judgement
    Some people won’t make it.

    “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”

    Lord have mercy.

  28. Catholic facing east Avatar

    Elder Paisos says much the same thing. There are he says, only two kinds of people. The first are like flies, who by nature only recognise corruption and filth, though they be in paradise. Then there are the bees, who, though surrounded by filth will only ever tell you where the flowers and sweet things are. These are the ones who know just the good. They are ignorant of evil (cf. Wisdom 1:3, Matt 18:1-3). It is, as Fr Stephen and the Church Fathers teach, a matter of ontology.

  29. Catholic facing east Avatar

    My comment at 2:35pm in reply to Jeremiah…

  30. lazarus Avatar

    Okay so let me get this straight (sort of):

    Being vs. non-being — Is non-being a possible choice someone can make? It does not sound that way in light of the statement: “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.” The choice of non-being is not one we can make. We can make a choice regarding the condition of our eternal in-being.

    Real vs. unreal — Truth is real. Untruth is delusion. It too is real but the delusional version of real. That then would be the unreality of sin and the unreal character of “eternal death.” Eternal death is not death but broken life.

    Have I got it right?! (Probably not LOL)

  31. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen
    As in every liturgy we pray for a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ. Many see Romans 1:28 as a judgment from God as He gives us over to what we want. In effect it seems God is saying, “If you want to live a debauched and depraved life without me then that’s exactly what you’ll have.” But it seems as if many are “content” with that lifestyle. If that is so then in what way would it be a dreadful judgment seeing that people are getting exactly what they want? (Right before I hit “submit” I had this thought. Perhaps because they would be burning with their passions forever with no way of having them assuaged?)

  32. Catholic facing east Avatar

    My comment at 5:45pm is in response to Lazarus.

  33. lazarus Avatar

    Catholic facing east,

    Of course, truth is a capital “T” and is a person not a concept. Got it. But that begs the point if I may be so bold.

    Hell is not “non-being” relationally speaking. It is a condition of relationship and therefore a state of “being.” So Hell is real in that sense. The non-reality of Hell is the “non-Truth” of it in the sense of Truth as personhood in The Truth the person of Christ Jesus.

    Oh well… Never mind.

    I think I will just strive in grace to live in The Truth — Christ Jesus — with integrity in the company of as many as possible and let God take care of the rest of this…

  34. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’ve eliminated some of the comments since they seemed to be beside the point.

    Non-being is a choice we can make, but not an actuality we can cause. Being is not something we create either – it is the gift of God. We can embrace it (paradise) or reject it (hell). But we are real (our existence is real). Heaven, paradise is the real Real, Being, known and participated in as a fullness. Hell is an ongoing effort not to participate in the fullness of Being (life) in God. As such, it describes us, but not a “something else.” But there is not much language for these sorts of things. We use metaphors and images as the best way we can describe or convey these things.

    The weakness in the use of this imagery is the tendency to objectify these things. The objectifying of these things can tend to make people reach wrong conclusions.

    One of those is to see hell as extrinsic to us – something we are sentenced to with problems of justice, etc. Equally problematic is to objectify heaven – making it similar to our empty, secularized experience of the world, only much better.

    “Is there golf in heaven? Good news and bad news. Good news. There is golf in heaven. Bad news. Your tee time is 2 o’clock tomorrow.”

    Cute. But it doesn’t preach.

  35. Jeff Avatar

    Lazarus, that’s making sense, since relationally is what it’s all about ( never mind the differences fathers put on the soul and human being , since they are treated differently , ), it’s a bit of a modern trap to treat both the same , but I follow …,

  36. JWM Avatar

    My understanding is that we as Orthodox Christians do not believe in “hell”. Hell or Hel is a Norse goddes of the underworld. The bible speaks of Hades and Gahenna. Hades is the place of the dead consisting of positively paradise or elysian fields or the embrace of Abraham, and negatively tartarus or the abyss. After the return of Christ, the devil, the beast, the prophet of the beast, death and hades are cast into Gahenna. No one else is named as going there. I think if we keep the terms straight, we get rid of a lot of error.

  37. Dean Avatar

    The last verse of the passage you cite reads…” and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life he was thrown into the lake of fire. ” (Rev.20:15)

  38. JWM Avatar

    Dean, that is what I mean, no one else is named as being cast into Gahenna. I think we cannot and do not know. We have to trust in God’s mercy. Also a lot of evil is created by people who think they know who will or will not be.

  39. Alan Avatar

    @ Catholic Facing East, if you don’t like the quote, then I would advise you to take that up wtih Metropolitan Philip.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    For anyone interested, the most complete treatment of Hades, Hell, Gehenna, etc. from an Orthodox perspective is Met. Hilarion Alfeyev’s Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective. His title is quite revealing. English-speaking Orthodoxy does not make much distinction in the words for Hell, Hades, Gehenna in actual usage or doctrine. Frequently they are treated rather interchangeably.

    Christ enters whatever you call it to get us out. If human beings can go there, then He is there.

    One of the difficulties about heaven/hell etc. in Orthodoxy is that this is not really much of an issue for us. It was a huge issue between Catholic and Protestant during the Reformation/Counter-Reformation, and so both tended to refine their readings and statements on these things. Orthodoxy didn’t have a dog in that fight, thus we never found it necessary or interesting to become quite so refined about these things. In fact, Orthodoxy is quite “sloppy” about all of this.

    Traditionally, Catholics and Protestants argued with each other while Orthodox jumped up and down sang and danced that “Christ has trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.”

    If someone is in hell (whatever it is), we pray for them and tell stories from the lives of the saints about how it was revealed that so-and-so was released from hell through the prayers of St. so-and-so. Again, it’s doctrinally sloppy, but existentially compelling and centered convincingly on the certainty of Christ’s triumph.

    I think we have the better end of the deal.

    I also think that we do well to stay out of the West’s fights.

  41. Dean Avatar

    What an Orthodox combination! Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Met. Alfeyev and Christ the Conqueror of Death by St. Nikolai. Father…thank you so much for your clear and concise writings. What you have written here and in other blogs have been of tremendous help to me. Coming from a fire and brimstone childhood upbringing I well remember the first time I heard the teaching on the river of fire flowing from Christ’s throne; the bedewing fire for the righteous and the scorching fire of His love for those rejecting that love. In that very instant I indeed felt bedewed by a renewed sense of God’s overwhelming mercy shown to us sinners…I being first.

  42. JWM Avatar

    Father, I like your quote:” Christ enters whatever you call it to get us out. If human beings can go there, then He is there.” Maybe it’s better to keep things simple. Thank you.

  43. Syed Silas Spear Avatar
    Syed Silas Spear

    In order to live in heaven or hell eternally, we need eternal life. We cannot have eternal life without the Son (John 3:16).
    How can anybody exist forever without the source of existence that is God.
    St Athanasius of Alexandria was on the dot when He said that Incarnation took place to save us from drifting to non-existence or no being because we were created from nothing. Christ, through His Incarnation restores us to life/existence.
    If and only if, at the end there will be an eternal heaven and an eternal hell then there will be two Eternals, good and evil existing side by side. Do we Orthodox believe in realism? I would like to hear what Fr Stephen has to say about this,
    Heiromonk Silas

  44. Syed Silas Spear Avatar
    Syed Silas Spear

    Correction: Do we Orthodox believe in dualism.

    realism was wrong in my post.

  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    We do not believe in dualism. Whether Hell has an eternal quality to it, God alone knows. But, part of noting what we mean by a true existence – is to say there is no duality, or equivalence between heaven and hell.

    Hell is a movement – towards non-existence (we never just don’t exist). Heaven is an eternal movement towards God, ever more real, ever more true. At least that’s the way St. Gregory of Nyssa viewed it.

  46. John Avatar

    Dear fellow student of the Word,
    Please excuse me in not addressing you as “father”, and not for the reasons you might think. You’ll have to accept my respect for you as an equal by “faith”. My question concerns a quote on the subject of Hell that elicits a question from the following statement :
    “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.”
    Could you give me EXPLICIT teaching from the Bible as to such a perception as that given here by Athanasius? I’m concerned about what I perceive among Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelicals, as giving perceptions of what they hope hell might be (or become) and what will become of people who go there and…are consumed (burned up, gone, disappear). It’s as though in our minds we’ve made the assumption that eternal suffering for having rejected Christ and for the sins committed is FAR too unjust for such a “loving” God. Just out of curiosity, the word LOVE in the King James version appears 286 times from Genesis to Revelation. HOLY, though, appears 557 times! Is God maybe trying to tell us something, not that we’ve overestimated His love–God is love–but that we’ve downplayed his holiness. If “eternal” judgment for sin moves toward “non-being”, then in the end, it means we have no real concern about eternity or how we live now. The sinner will be a “non-being” after all.

  47. fatherstephen Avatar

    Forgive my boldness, but you misunderstand the Scriptures and their proper use. First, I suspect you misunderstand the verse regarding “call no man father,” but being a Protestant of some sort, you probably were taught the incorrect meaning of this verse.

    As to the “Holy” God and the “God as love.” There is no contradiction or balance in God. The holiness of God is love and not something different, though you seem to think they are. But again, it’s not your fault that you were taught improperly on these things.

    You asked for specific scriptures regarding the teaching of St. Athanasius – which again misunderstands the use of the Scriptures. A man, certainly a holy man, is able to reason based on certain givens without citing a specific scripture verse everything he says.

    Indeed, your insistence on having a verse in Scripture for this is itself a use and insistence on an idea that is itself reason-based and rooted in a Protestant “tradition” that is invented by men rather than revealed by God.

    But I think you don’t understand my article, which is either because I didn’t write it well (quite possible), or that the idea was new and different and therefore you reached wrong conclusions based on false assumptions (most likely), or something else.

    I do not say that Hell is “factual” or something like that. Rather that “being” and “non-being” have meanings that are far more important than most people think. “Moving towards non-being” would be one way of describing what sin is. When a person tells a lie, for example, that have moved towards non-being, made an alliance with something that isn’t real or true. It’s not just “morally” wrong (breaking a rule), we sin against the very gift of our existence when we lie. And if we keep lying, we will be moving in the direction of murdering the universe and ourselves (or “attempted” murder, since we cannot actually make anything not exist, including ourselves).

    The fire of such a movement is deeply tormenting. Or do you prefer to think of the fires of hell as burning our souls, or our resurrection bodies?

    Frankly this “God loves you, but He is so holy and righteous that He must burn you if you are not holy,” is a deeply flawed, even heretical belief. It is very common, and is taught because so many people have departed from the teachings of fathers of the faith and imagine that they can interpret the Scripture with no reference to them.

    There can be no “God loves you but…” All that means is that you think something is greater than God’s love. I have found over the years that it indicates a deep sickness in the human heart – we believe this “but” because there is darkness in our heart and we cannot see the light of God. Thus we introduce our own darkness into our understanding of God and pervert the Gospel.

    “This is condemnation…that Light has come into the world and men preferred darkness…”

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. forgive me but I think you dismiss the heart of John’s question.

    As I see it, he us asking about the nature of the punishment which is vivid in the Bible.

    Granted his approach is flawed but I think his question is deeper and reflects the confusion people have about the nature of God’s “dread judgement seat”.

    As much as I love the “River of Fire” I think it can easily become too comfortable and risks trivializing the nature and reality of the judgement we have, are, and will face in the fullness of time, in our hearts now and at the hour of our death.

    Perhaps you can comment on I Cor 3:12-17

  49. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Fr. bless:

    I appreciate both John’s question, your response and our brother Michael Bauman’s. I think one of John’s fears may be that people can console themselves by thinking they’ll just “go out of existence” and that won’t be so bad. But, of course, in light of the Incarnation and Resurrection such non-existence isn’t going to happen, is it?

    It may be helpful to John that you said in your response to him that “we can’t make anything (including ourselves) not exist.”

    These other comments spoke to me:

    To JMW you said: “Christ enters [hell, hades, Gehenna] whatever you call it to get us out. If human beings can go there, then He is there. . . Catholics and Protestants argued with each other while Orthodox jumped up and down sang and danced that “Christ has trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.”

    An to Lazarus you said: “Non-being is a CHOICE we can make, but not an ACTUALITY we can CAUSE (empahses added). Being is not something we create either – it is the GIFT of God. WE CAN EMBRACE it (paradise) or REJECT it (hell). But we are real (our existence is real).

    “Heaven, paradise is the real–Real, Being, known and participated in as a fullness. Hell is an ongoing effort not to participate in the fullness of Being (life) in God. As such, it describes us, but not a “something else.” But there is not much language for these sorts of things. We use metaphors and images as the best way we can describe or convey these things.

    “The weakness in the use of this imagery is the tendency to objectify these things. The objectifying of these things can tend to make people reach wrong conclusions.”

    “One of those is to see hell as extrinsic to us – something we are sentenced to with problems of justice, etc. Equally problematic is to objectify heaven – making it similar to our empty, secularized experience of the world, only much better.”

    I don’t know if John saw these comments, but they spoke to me. I think he just wants to make sure that what we Orthodox teach is not something at odds with our Lord’s own teachings–and some of the language He uses and which the Evangelists report.

    Thank you for putting such time, thought and energy into this blog. Many souls are being saved and hearts turned by what is expressed here day after day.

    Christ is in our midst and making His presence felt.

  50. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen
    Thank you for pointing out that God’s love and holiness are one and the same…not juxtaposed. To piggy-back on Michael’s question I too would like to hear your comments on “the dread judgment seat of Christ.”
    Robert…your words are encouraging to me.:o)

  51. Betty Avatar

    I recently read a book titled, “Held By The Hand Of God: Why Am I Alive” by Joe Laws One thing I learned by reading about his NDE as well as some of the other NDE stories I have read, is that by doing good in life, we will be rewarded in our afterlife, and vise-versa for those who don’t.

  52. Jeremy Avatar

    Well said. It is true we can be more focused on ‘hell’ than the light of Heaven. Although I do know people who don’t believe that hell is a real place, which makes them doubt Heaven even more. But by presenting the light to them I believe will open their eyes to the truth. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I will check out your book recommend as well, Betty. Thank you for sharing.

  53. Betty Avatar

    You’re welcome Jeremy! Enjoy!

  54. Antonio Arganda Avatar
    Antonio Arganda

    Fr. Stephen,

    Would you give the me permission to distribute this excellent article in Mexico? I am a deacon of the OCA , living in Cuernavaca and serving in our cathedral in Mexico City.

  55. Antonio Arganda Avatar
    Antonio Arganda

    Fr. Stephen,

    Would you give the me permission to distribute this excellent article in Mexico? I am a deacon of the OCA , living in Cuernavaca and serving in our cathedral in Mexico City. I have translated it into Spanish.

  56. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Hi Fr. Stephen,

    My name is Jp Esnouf from South Africa.
    I have very recently come across Orthodox Christianity [by chance or by divine appointment I don’t know yet]

    You are the first Orthodox Christian I have heard of and I’m busy going through your blog posts and teachings – I’m hooked! There is something about the Old School [Orthodox] that scares me and excites me at the same time.

    I have been saved for about 18 years now and have been in a few churches/denominations and never heard of Orthodox Christians – or maybe I have but due to bad teachings just ignored anything that seems to have any form of religion or tradition.

    I don’t really know why I’m writing to you or if I have a question or a point.

    I guess I’m tired of all the overnight changes of the churches, all the opinions and cleaver methods of controlling people. The new revelations that are all basically old but preached like new truths or something – I’m sure you catch my drift.

    There is a statement you made that keeps ringing in my head or heart – “..So many people have departed from the teachings of fathers of the faith and imagine that they can interpret the Scripture with no reference to them.”

    I have no idea who the Fathers of the Faith are!?
    I have been taught to use scripture only and the Holy Spirit will teach me all things. That everything must be filtered through the Cross and read in context to Gods redemptive plan for man through Jesus. That there is a difference between the Word [Jesus] and the Letter [Bible/Scripture]…ect

    I’m just curious/hungry/thirsty for Truth and tired of being scared to learn new things that might cause deception or religion in my life – at this stage I don’t really attend church anymore due to a constant feeling of pastors making servants for their ministries instead of sons. building church instead of body. Judgments and condemnation towards all who differ.

    If you could refer me some good books or teachings that you feel might get me on the right path for what I’m desiring it would be great!

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.


  57. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    (Father, I hope you don’t mind me answering Jp’s question to you!)
    Dear Jp Esnouf,
    Welcome to Glory to God for All Things! It is wonderful that you found this blog…and it is wonderful that you were led to inquire about the Orthodox Faith! The height, depth, length and breadth of Orthodoxy will bless and keep you “hooked” for the rest of your life, not by coercion, but by the beauty and truth of it. Father Stephen’s ministry here is a blessing beyond words. God has granted him the ability and the means to reach out to the world and speak about the Orthodox Way in such a way that us ‘moderns’ can understand.

    To answer your question on where to begin…well, you have begun in a very good place! There is a wealth of information on this blog. With specific topics you’d like to learn more about, use the tabs on top of the page, or the search bar to the right.
    As for an “introductory” book, I suggest three…Father Stephen’s “Everywhere Present”, and two of Met. Kallistos Ware’s: “The Orthodox Way” and “The Orthodox Faith”. Also, online is Fr. Thomas Hopko’s The Orthodox Faith:
    There is a section where Fr. Hopko speaks about the Fathers of the Church.
    There is a lot of info online on the Fathers, about them, and their own writings.
    I suggest you take your time in the readings…absorb as much as you can. It is important to do this prayerfully. God will show you!
    One more thing…if and when you are ready, and if there is an Eastern Orthodox Church in your vicinity, it would be very helpful to go talk to the parish Priest. Or you can go to a service, then talk. I warn you though…the hook will go deeper, Jp!!
    There is no describing what you will experience at the Divine Liturgy…it is truly Heaven on Earth!
    May I add…I was “hooked” three years ago…like you. didn’t know what Orthodoxy was. Each person’s experience with Orthodoxy may differ in some details…some may have to “chew on it” for a while, where others may know immediately they have found their home. Then there’s the range in-between. No matter. You give your heart and trust to the Lord and He will guide you. Don’t be disturbed by any bumps you may encounter. That happens. And no matter where you find yourself in your life’s journey, know that God is with you and all that you encounter is meant for your salvation.

    The fullness of God’s blessings to you, Jp!

  58. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Thank you Paula for the encouraging reply!

    I did not realize my email would feature on this page – meaning it doesn’t really relate to the topic of the chat, apologies to anyone finding it non-relevant I thought my email would go to a separate section or something.

    I will check out all the info and books you proposed…thank you!

    Is there another email address or blog i can write to for questions not relating to this topic? Just general questions that i have and might have in future regaring Orthodox Christianity? I highly doubt there is any Orthodox churches near where i live.

    Thanks again!

  59. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Really nice to hear back from you Jp!

    Yes, your comment will always show on the page in which you post a comment/question, even if it is an older post. This is ok.
    At January 5th, 2019 @ 7:48 pm Father Stephen mentioned this:
    “People do not see the constant stream of private emails that come to me – people who would prefer to comment apart from the blog. Always ok.”
    Aside from your parish Priest (which is not an option for you at this time), at this stage of the game I hesitate to refer you anywhere else. Not that there isn’t other places to pose questions online. But out of the number of Orthodox websites that are online (there are many!), Father Stephen’s is one of the “safest”. And he has offered in the past the same invitation to contact him via email. He speaks the truth, even on the difficult topics, and does so where it is very peaceable…easily intreated.
    Go to the top of the page and click on Ancient Faith Ministries (blue print) and do a search for Father Stephen Freeman. They do offer the email addresses of the clergy and laypeople that have blogs on AFR. And btw, although it may sound like I am partial to Fr. Stephen (I am!) don’t hesitate to check out the other Ancient Faith blogs, podcasts, etc. AFR is most definitely one of the “safe” Orthodox places online.

    Jp, you mention that you doubt there are any Orthodox Churches near you. Perhaps you live in a remote area…I don’t know. Forgive me if I press too far, but here is a link to Orthodox Churches in South Africa….just in case : 🙂,28083887,13328&tbm=lcl&ved=2ahUKEwie-PzAtNzfAhXKg1QKHcbyCKUQtgN6BAgAEAQ&tbs=lrf:!3sIAE,lf:1,lf_ui:4&rldoc=1

    Blessings my friend!

  60. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames


    There is a faithful Orthodox deacon, Stephen Hayes, near Pretoria; he is also very knowledgeable about Christianity in South Africa. Here is his contact info page:

    I’m sure he would be happy to correspond by email with you, or speak with you in person if you’re nearby.

    Do keep reading this blog, glory2god; there is much here that is good, as you have discovered.


  61. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Thank you Paula and Dana!

    I do feel the thirst for truth growing when i read through Fr. Stephens posts and understand why you recommend him so highly. Thank you for all the other info.

    Dana i will definitely get in contact with Stephen Hayes thank you for the reference.


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