You Have One Job – Pray – On Behalf of All and for All

The topics of heaven, hell, purgatory, hades, life-after-death, the judgment, etc., are not among my favorites. There is a particular reason for this: everybody thinks they know more about this than they do and most people assume the Church says more about this than it does. Much of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that we torture the faith into geographical shapes, when it belongs in relational dynamics. That is to say, we think that describing heaven and hell (and other such terms) along with the rules for how they work (as places) somehow states something important and explains life-after-death. This is not only not true, but terribly misleading. It has also been a problem within Christianity for a very long time.

The debates between Protestant and Catholic, beginning in the 16th century, often centered on the rules for life-after-death (generally subsumed under the notion of how we are “saved”). That debate tended to press Christians into saying more and more about what they did not know, and forced institutions into hardened positions of dogma where no dogma belonged. Orthodoxy is neither Protestant nor Catholic, nor did it take part in the debates of those centuries. As a result, many things that are treated as hard and fast matters of assurance and dogma by Western Christians are simply not found in a definitive manner within the Orthodox faith.

Many modern Christians are completely taken by surprise when they discover that the early Church was relatively vague about such things when they are so carefully defined in modern traditions. For example, neither Protestants nor Catholics would ever think of praying for someone in hell. For them, however they understand hell, it is a matter of finality. For the Catholic, if you are suffering after death and it is not hell, then it is purgatory. For Protestants, you are either “saved,” and thus go to heaven, or “not saved,” and thus go to hell. No in between and no movement from one to the other. Again, these things are seen as hard and fast rules.

The Orthodox specifically pray for those in hell.

Saying that, it is necessary to say something about the word “hell.” Depending on the translator, the words “hades” and “hell” are frequently used interchangeably. Some, however, distinguish between “hades,” meaning “the place of the dead,” and “hell,” the place of final torment. Those who would press such meanings onto the prayers of the Church will find that “hades” frequently, and most often, contains the notion of torment as much as the word “hell.” For myself, I use them interchangeably for the simple reason that the terms are misunderstood when attached to some sort of geography of place – “this is hades and that is hell.” The point isn’t the place or its name, but loss of communion with God and the torments associated with it.

It would be surprising to most to see the messiness of the various ways in which heaven/hell, etc. are spoken about in the writings of the early Church. The New Testament itself does not have a careful, systematic understanding either. Indeed, “Gehenna,” a term used by Christ that seems to be an equivalent of “hell,” is not fully understood. You’ll find lots of knowledgeable explanations in various articles, all of which pretend to a precise knowledge that simply doesn’t exist. The term is found in Jewish writings dating back to the time of Christ, but is not treated as a place of eternal torments, per se. Careful parsing of the various terms seems almost beside the point when we see the variety of usage in Orthodox language. What the Church preaches is not a doctrine about places, but a doctrine of our relation and communion with God. If place-names are used, they are a matter of convenient imagery rather than a description of the topography of the larger world.

I will try to describe what I see in the prayers of our Orthodox faith. The point of all of our prayers is the salvation of everyone and everything. There is nothing beyond the reach of the Church’s prayers. This is true both in this life and the next. God is the God of all things, everywhere and at all times, and we can ask for anything of Him and make intercessions with boldness, trusting that He is good and that He wills good for us and for all.

For the departed, we pray that their “sins might be forgiven” and that their rest might be in “Abraham’s bosom, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, etc.” This is language drawn from various places in Scripture and elsewhere and is meant to say that we pray that all will be well with them in their eternal relation to God and all others. “May their rest be in paradise,” carries the same meaning.

Even at the funeral of the greatest saint, the Church prays the same prayers: for the forgiveness of their sins and their eternal rest. As the prayer says, “For there is no one who lives and does not sin.” The Church does not make a judgment about the salvation of anyone – that belongs only to God. We do not say that this one is saved and that one is not. When, at certain times, the Church declares someone to be a saint, we are only saying that God has shown us, over time, that this person is with Him, and that their prayers may be sought for our help, etc. We do not “make them saints.” Saints are revealed, not created.

At the funeral of the greatest sinner, the Church would make the same prayers, and they are entirely appropriate. It is true that, in the Tradition, a distinction is made about funerals within the Church (normally, the non-Orthodox are not buried from the Church). But the worst Orthodox sinner would still be buried from the Church as would the greatest saint, with the same prayers.

In that service, there is a particular prayer that should be noted. It is an authoritative act of forgiveness:

May the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, Who gave His divine commandments to His holy disciples and apostles, that they should bind and loose the sins of the fallen, (and we, in turn, have received authority to do the same), forgive you, my spiritual child, whatever transgressions you have committed in life, voluntary or involuntary. And if Your servant has fallen under a curse of (his, her,) father, or mother, or under (his, her,) own anathema; or if (he, she) provoked one of the priests and received from him an unbreakable bond; or if (he, she) incurred excommunication by a bishop, and through indifference and thoughtlessness did not receive forgiveness, forgive (him, her,) Lord, through me, a sinner and Your unworthy servant. This we ask through the intercessions of Your most pure and ever-virgin Mother, and of all Your saints.

I have particularly appreciated the mentioning of our “indifference” or “thoughtlessness.” It is a prayer that illustrates the mercy of God.

And for the non-Orthodox, there are prayers. Though they are not buried from the Church, a priest may still bury them, and we are not told to be shy in our prayers for them. There is a wonderful set of prayers for the departed, the Akathist for the Repose of the Departed, that may be prayed anywhere, and particularly in our private homes. An excerpt illustrates its boldness and trust in God’s mercy:

O Father of all consolation, You brighten with the sun, delight with fruits, and gladden with the beauty of the world both Your friends and enemies. We believe that even beyond the grave Your loving-kindness, which is merciful even to all rejected sinners, does not fail. We grieve for hardened and lawless blasphemers of holiness; O Lord, may Your saving and gracious will be over them. Have compassion upon those wounded by pernicious unbelief, and who have not known You here on earth, that they may know and love You in heaven; O Lord, forgive those who have died without repentance, and save those who have committed suicide in darkness of mind, that the flame of their impiety may be extinguished in the sea of Your Grace.

O Lord of unutterable love, remember Your servants who have fallen asleep!

Terrible is the darkness of a soul separated from God, the torments of conscience, the gnashing of teeth, the unquenchable fire and the undying worm. I tremble at such a fate and, as for myself, I pray: O you that suffer in hades, may our song descend upon you as a refreshing dew: Alleluia!

Your light, O Christ our God, has shone upon those that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and those in hades, who are not mindful of You; having descended into the nethermost parts of the earth, bring out into joy those who have been separated from You by sin, but who have not renounced You; O Lord, Your children suffer, forgive them; for they have sinned against Heaven and before You, immeasurably serious are their sins, but also infinite is Your mercy. Visit the bitter destitution of souls far removed from You; O Lord, have mercy on those who hated the truth out of ignorance, let Your love be to them not a burning fire, but the cool delight of Paradise.

The last phrase within these prayers goes to the heart of the Orthodox understanding of hell (hades), and heaven, etc. “Let Your love be to them not a burning fire, but the cool delight of Paradise.” There is no doubt, whatsoever, that everyone is met with the love of God. That is simply the final state of all the departed: they are in the love of God. How that love is experienced is the matter in doubt. It is wrong, I think, to describe this as mere subjectivity, for subjectivity and objectivity belong to this world and not to that one.

The old debates of Catholic and Protestant have created a spiritual habit of thinking of all of these things in terms of places and rules and a near mechanical dynamic. Its importation into Orthodoxy is, to my mind, a diluting of the faith and a distraction from the fullness of the Tradition. It teaches us to think and pray in a non-Orthodox manner.

Instead, we pray. Prayer is the consistent and unending response of the Orthodox believer to the death of anyone. We trust in God who is our salvation. Jesus has revealed to us the love of God and done everything that is necessary for the salvation of the whole world. There is nothing lacking. Our prayers do not add to what Christ has done. Rather, they unite our hearts to what He has done and offer to God, with groaning, the prayer of Christ for all: “Forgive them.” If this is not the prayer of our heart, then our heart has become estranged from God, at least in that matter.

But our hope is not in places, nor in mechanical operations of salvation. Our hope is in Christ who has done all that we could possibly ask or think. When we pray, our thoughts should be towards Him, and the infinite goodness of His mercy. The priest stands at the altar, and the people join Him in the union of their lifted hearts. He presents the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, made present on the altar in the Body and Blood of Christ and prays, “On behalf of all and for all.”

This should inform and overshadow all conversations about our life in Christ. Everything else tends to be distraction.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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134 responses to “You Have One Job – Pray – On Behalf of All and for All”

  1. John Dunn Avatar
    John Dunn

    Fr. Stephen, thank-you.

    Please clarify for me about praying the Akathist for the departed and the Canon for the departed and the praying of the Psalms.

    I have been instructed that the AKATHIST is not prayed in the Church with a Priest in service, but is only permissable for non liturgical praying of private prayers. However, I did attend a service of prayer once where the Priest led us in praying the Akathist while walking around the outside of the Church for the departed. Never seen that done again.

    What about praying the Psalms when a person reposes also the Canon?

    Thank-you again.

  2. Robert Avatar

    “Much of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that we torture the faith into geographical shapes, when it belongs in relational dynamics.”

    Wow…just wow. Thank you.

  3. Agata Avatar

    What a wonderful explanation! Thank you especially for the prayers you included.

  4. Hieromonk Gabriel Avatar

    Thank you very much, Father, for your thoughts. Indeed, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, a merciful heart is one that burns with love for all creation, and to acquire such a heart must be the foremost goal of every Christian.

    Yet I wonder if we should not temper our boldness in prayer with the fear of God and humility before His judgments. Indeed, though St. Gregory the Dialogist rescued Trajan from hell through his prayers, he was nevertheless told by God: “I have heard your supplication and shall grant Trajan forgiveness, but I command you to cease your entreaties to Me on behalf of the impure.”

    As in so many things, I think we ought to walk the middle path. Therefore I cling to the advice of Elder Leonid of Optina regarding prayer for those outside the Church, and use his prayer which unites mercy with humility and proper fear before the inscrutable judgments of God:

    “Have mercy, O Lord, if it is possible, on the soul of Your servant (name), departed to eternal life in separation from Your Holy Orthodox Church! Unsearchable are Your judgments. Account not this my prayer as sin, but may Your holy will be done!”

  5. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Hi Fr. Stephen,

    A wonderful and thought-provoking article. Thank you.

    My sense is that much of the over-definitition of heaven and hell comes from fear and an intolerance of mystery, as well as a desire to avoid heresy. Of course the latter is a genuine concern but I fear that by trying to define what we do not understand, we may inadvertently pave the way for new “heresies”, even if they are not always pronounced publicly.

    As a RC, I have sometimes suffered from this. If I spend a bit too much time with the Catholic Catechism, I am sometimes overcome by distress about the notion that my loving God could assign anyone to eternal torment, with no recourse, no matter how sinful they may have been. This description, even if not graphic, presents a notion not only of hell but of a God whom many then imagine to be cruel. (Or worse, justifying their own cruelty as though they were qualified to carry out God’s “justice”.)

    As a result, it is not uncommon to find many raised in the Faith who have left it, considering its proclaimed beliefs as intolerable. Perhaps as dangerous (to the soul) are those who stay in the Faith but decide that they do not believe in hell or the devil or any of that sort of thing. “My God is a God of love”, is the argument. While we can never proclaim God’s love too much, we can place ourselves in peril if we minimize to ourselves the need to be watchful and to repent of any action or attitude that separates us from God.

    Salvation is, indeed, universal, i.e. there is no one for whom Christ did not die. However, paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, it is entirely possible that we can make ourselves too stupid to recognize this. In reality, we are all “too stupid” to fully understand the endless Mercy – but that does not stop us from longing for it, praying that all of us, living and deceased, may come to know it in its fullness.

  6. Victoria Avatar

    Very timely article Father Stephen. Thank you for the second set of prayers – Akathist for the Repose of the Deoarted and that a priest can bury non Orthodox or perform a graveside memorial service.

    It’s not something commonly discussed and in fact more often what I hear is all the reasons why it’s inappropriate – which sort of goes against every grain of the heart for me.

  7. Dean Avatar

    Oh, Father, this was so in time for my heart. Yesterday we buried a precious sister in Christ. She and 2 other ladies began an OCA mission in Merced, CA., in 1988. She was stalwart in so many ways. For years she was the choir director, faithfully there even if only 3 others sang with her. She told me some weeks before she reposed that archbishop Golitzen had brought her to real faith in Christ while he was a priest helping with the mission.
    The priest yesterday prayed the prayers you just mentioned. And gave a wonderful explanation of the prayers and Orthodox funerals. About 60% were non-Orthodox.
    The prayers are directed to Christ and to His love and mercy. We ask Him, I think 5 times, for His mercy and forgiveness upon the departed soul. “God, be who you are, continue showing us your lovingkindness, your steadfast love. We serve and worship and adore you alone,” we the unworthy say in our hearts.
    Our focus is not upon the reposed, but upon our Lord and God and His mercy for the newly departed.. certainly not “a celebration of life.” Oh, how I thank God for our Orthodox Church and her faith/tradition. Knowing that these same prayers will be voiced over me at my death gives me wonderful solace and consolation.

  8. Dean Avatar

    I should clarify, “non-Orthodox” attendees.

  9. Beakerj Avatar

    Hi Father Stephen, I’m back to ask a few more questions, I’m still very slowly chewing over a lot of the differences between Orthodox & Evangelical views of the same things. I suppose my questions are about if we can hope for the salvation after death of those whose faith has failed in this life, often due to terrible trauma or similar? And I wasn’t quite sure what was meant by the bit in the prayer referring to suicide : did it mean save them, i.e, bring them to salvation; or did it mean save them, as in except them, leaving them out? I very much appreciate things being put on an axis of relationship, rather than spacial location…does Orthodoxy teach much about the relationship within the Trinity, & all human life needing relationships due to this?

  10. James Shelton Avatar
    James Shelton

    Good article. Thanks Father.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Generally, the liturgical prayers of the Church (in the Church with a priest) are governed by certain rules or norms – only inasmuch as those actions indicate a doctrinal understanding. The Akathist for the Departed is not appointed for liturgical use in the Church – and is normally used in private prayers in the home. However, an individual could certainly pray that Akathist in the Church as a private individual. Certain aspects of such rules can be confusing or misleading. Prayer is prayer. If I can say something to God at home, I could say it in the building of the Church. God is God and is everywhere the same. So, the problem is not within the prayer itself, as though there were something wrong with it. Rather, it is simply a sort of “fence” that is applied in the public life of the Church lest there be misunderstandings.

    Goodness, praying the Psalms for anyone is appropriate – and I would have no question regarding the Canon.

    The point, I think, is not to lose our boldness.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hieromonk Gabriel,
    I appreciate your points. I have some doubts about the admonition to Trajan – and suspect it to be a later interpolation into the account by someone who was scandalized by the story. No proof, just suspicions. As for the fear of God, I have the greater fear that I failed to pray with boldness than that I might somehow sin against the judgments of God. The love of enemy is a very difficult thing to cultivate in our hearts.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My late, beloved Archbishop, Dmitri of Dallas, once said in this matter, “The last thing you can do for anyone is bury them.” There is a specific service for the burial of the non-Orthodox – usually done at graveside. It’s a pretty meager thing. I confess to adding a bit more to it to give it proper substance when I’ve been called upon to act in those circumstances. I wonder what it is about prayer that makes us so afraid to do it.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The cult of individualism that has invaded our culture has also colored our modern understanding of salvation. Orthodoxy is pre-modern and does not have the same take on individuals. Salvation is not exactly a “corporate” thing, but neither is it every individualized. None of us are saved alone. Our lives consist not only in our own actions and decisions, but in the actions of others on our behalf. Thus, when someone dies, their existence is not somehow reduced to a private matter – it remains linked to the many lives with which it interacted, etc. The prayers of the living for the departed are, if you will, also part of the life of the one who has died. One of the prayers that I quoted clearly asks for mercy (salvation) for those whose faith failed in this life – for all sorts of reasons.

    Imagine that the departed is your child – how do you not ask for all these things of God? The absurdity of certain versions of Christianity simple crushes the hearts of people – who are told repeatedly what “God cannot do.” That strikes me as patent nonsense.

    “Salvation” is not an external thing – a movement from one place to another. Salvation is the restoration of communion with God, the healing of the heart. If we know anything in our experience, it is that the heart is a far from simple thing. We are foolish and frequently make bad decisions. God is patient and kind. It is for the rest of us to learn to be like God – to be patient and kind – and to pray for all – with boldness and confidence in the goodness of God.

  15. Laurie Avatar

    Father, thank you for quoting from that akathist. I anticipate praying it a lot for the departed I find it difficult to pray for.

  16. Scott Avatar

    I am a long way from home and now live in the Bible Belt. Although I am a mainline protestant I feel like a fish out of water. I am surrounded by “shinny happy people” know as Evangelical. They appear to have little understanding of the hitoric church and nor are they intersted in learning about it. They appear to have all of the answers but none of the questions. One such person asked me why I don’t talk about the second coming of Christ. I told him that I was still struggling to appreciate and come to terms with the first coming of the Christ. Many modern Christians are obsessed with the escaton and are so focussed on life after death that they fail to pay attention to the rralties of this life. I try to keep my head in the clouds but my feet planted firmly on the ground. One of my Christian disciplines is study and prayer. I am convinced that reading is how we learn about God but prayer and meditation are how we get to know him. I greatly appreciate your thoughts on intercesary prayer. The Catholic and Orthodox communities have a wonderful tradition of encouraging the use of thoughtfully theological prayers. Unfortunately the extemporaneous personal prayer that we protestants prefer often leave a lot to be desired. We could learn a great deal from you. Im currently reading a book entitled A Guidebook to Prayer by Mary Kate Morse. It is expanding my understanding of the purpose and diversity of prayer. Please offer more insights on prayer. God bless you. Shalom!

  17. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for this blog post, Fr. Stephen! Thank you for your comments here. God bless you in all ways! Glory to God for All Things!

  18. Maria Avatar

    I think the Orthodox Church is Catholic when I read in the Creed, “I believe in one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” – perhaps it is Ancient Catholic maintaining its Orthodoxy??

    Question: Why is the Creed referred to as the “Symbol” of Faith? It is much more than a symbol – it is a decree of the truths and foundation of the faith. The word symbol makes light of what the Creed is…..

    God bless!

  19. Basem Avatar

    What a wonderful article overflowing with God’s inconceivable unbounded love! Many thanks Father and may the Lord continue to work through you for the glory of His Holy Name!

  20. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Father…what a beautiful post! Thanks so much. My “emotional self” was greatly moved.
    There is nothing so deep, so full of grace, as the greatness of the love and mercy of our Lord upon us sinners. When I read expressions of this as in the prayers you quoted , tears well up. Words can not express here. It is because I know how undeserved my forgiveness is and how profound His mercy, that I can not even imagine not praying for those here now and those departed, especially the “impure”, as I myself am.

    Now for a technical question! What is meant by “if (he, she) provoked one of the priests and received from him an unbreakable bond” in the funeral service prayer. What kind of bond is unbreakable?

  21. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    One of the saints (Silouan, perhaps?) said that he could not imagine being in heaven knowing that any other single person was in hell, and therefore he he could not NOT pray for the salvation of everyone (paraphrase). May our good God grant all of us this divine love for both friends and enemies.

  22. Dino Avatar

    Father Stephen, Hieromonk Gabriel,
    Having, for decades, sought this very matter of boldness in prayer for the salvation of the those poor beings one would describe the most ‘rightfully’ damned for years, one of great poignancy for me for my own reasons, I can understand both sides of the argument being made in your two comments.
    I have seen both the boldness, as well as the humble temperance of such a boldness, in the very recent saints and elders of our days (St Paisios, Elder Evmenios, St Silouan, Elder Aimilianos, Elder Joseph the Hesychast and Elder Ephraim Katounakiotis).
    Also, the direct admonishments of God to St Paisios, Elder Evemenios and Elder Ephraim of Katounakia (when the first two prayed for the salvation of the devil, the last for a departed black magician) are certainly not later interjections but recent, verifiable facts (they recount it themselves).
    At the same time, one could always argue that the kind of prayer of these holy ones at the time it was offered was perhaps on a possible trajectory towards potential impudence, whereas the same prayer, when accompanied by “O Lord, if it is possible” is on a trajectory of greater humility. This is indeed the one matter that invariably comes to occupy all great saints the more they approach Christ-likeness…

  23. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I am not sure if this is from the same akathist Father used (is there more than one?), but I thought I’d share the link:

  24. Maria Avatar

    Paula AZ: Not to intrude on your conversation, but it is the same Akathist I have in my book – Volume1.

    Tks for sharing the link! God bless…..

  25. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Maria…what book is that which you have?
    I have the “Book of Akathists” from Holy Trinity Monastery, but it is not in there!

  26. Maria Avatar

    Paula AZ: I have the Book of Akathists 1994 Volume 1 from Holy Trinity Monastery – Third Printing 2013

    The Akathist for the Repose of the Departed is on Page 379.

    Hope this helps – here is the ISBN: 978-0-88465-059-1

    God bless!

  27. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Maria… had to go back and check….it IS in the book I have! 🙂 Sorry….!

  28. Maria Avatar

    For several years now, I have thought when I am upset with someone who annoys me or they are just impossible to get along with, that when I die and talk to God about these persons, He will ask me,
    “Did you pray for them?” This always kept me in line as to how far my thoughts of upset and anger would go as well as remembering their soul is just as important to God as mine is. (and of course, I’m not perfect!)

    I think Fr is right – our job and responsibility is to pray and not try to figure everything out – as God is unfathomable and we will never comprehend it all – He gives us what we need and what we need to know…

    God bless…..

  29. Maria Avatar

    Paula AZ: The Holy Spirit wanted you to find it!! God bless…..

  30. Maria Avatar

    PaulaAZ: Just to let you know since the day is so close – on the Orthodox Calendar, St John the Baptist is on Monday June 24th – in your Akathist Book, this is Page 245. God bless!

  31. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Very good! Thank you Maria!
    Our Church prints out a monthly liturgical and event calendar for us. But the thing is to remember to look at the calendar! Appreciate the reminder.
    So nice to honor our Saints in reading an akathist on their behalf.

  32. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    The Saint Paisius Orthodox Monastery in Safford, Arizona also publishes (as a single small booklet) an “Akathist for a Loved One Who Has Fallen Asleep” which my priest prefers as far as translations go. I’ve never compared them side-by-side.

    There is also “A Prayer for the Reposed” in the back of The Psalter According to the Seventy published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, MA.

  33. Maria Avatar

    Paula AZ: We are all drawn to different Saints for our prayer purpose and even though I don’t pray all the Akathists, I do have my favorites. Some would not be so important to someone else but they would have their favorites too! God bless…..

  34. Janine Avatar

    Where do I start? How about, Thank you Father!

    You wrote:
    “Its importation into Orthodoxy is, to my mind, a diluting of the faith and a distraction from the fullness of the Tradition.” I simply agree very much.

    Plus, on some level, no matter what we think privately, the Judgment is a complete mystery. We just can’t know what God will choose.

    I also think that “Forgive me” is another good prayer. There are ways in which I have no idea if I harmed someone, so why not add that message to God regarding another who has passed?

    I confess I feel that freedom means we are free to reject God as possibility, forever… but that is a theory, an abstraction, and not a certainty at all. God bless, thank you and everyone again. It occurred to me, if there are ways to baptize in emergency for those who have not been baptized even by a layperson, why not a funeral service of some sort? Don’t know if that makes sense to others.

  35. MamaV Avatar

    The monastery that Esmee refers to, St Paisius, also prints an Akathist to the Martyr Varus for those who died outside of the church. I find it quite encouraging, especially since most people close to me who have reposed were outside the Orthodox Church.

  36. Maria Avatar

    I found out recently that there are the 15 Salutations to Theotokos that can be prayed at home as well. I see on the internet, that what is prayed during Lent is not the same as the info that has been passed along to me from an Orthodox friend. Apparently, the 15 Salutations are from the early Church and St Athanasius revised them thus praying them if one desires, using the Jesus Prayer Rope, announcing the 15 mysteries and then Our Father, Jesus Prayer, followed by 10 – “O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice Mary full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls.”
    I will link the one used at the Parish during Lent and see if I can link the other one I use at home now.
    If anyone has a comment about the 15 Salutations, I would be happy to hear it. Thankyou and God bless!

  37. Byron Avatar

    Question: Why is the Creed referred to as the “Symbol” of Faith? It is much more than a symbol – it is a decree of the truths and foundation of the faith. The word symbol makes light of what the Creed is…..

    Maria, the secular idea of “symbol” is that it points to, or generally speaking “represents”, something else. In this view, the symbol itself is empty; the only importance is to that which it points.

    A correct view, as I understand it, is that a symbol embodies or makes present that which it symbolizes. A symbol is Iconic; it brings us face-to-face with what it embodies. The Creed therefore embodies the Faith, making it present for us in an Iconic manner. Stating it as the Symbol of the Faith proclaims that it is more than an idea or set of ideas. Rather it is our very Life in God; in what He has done, does, and will do (as we tend to understand it). It is Christ made present in all things: God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, creation, the prophets, the Church, baptism, resurrection, “…and the life of the age to come.”

    I hope this helps and, if it needs correction, may others feel free to do so.

  38. Maria Avatar

    Byron: Saying it is “Iconic” and “points to” helps me to understand why the word Symbol is used. Something like a roadmap or way to or in – would that be correct? Thankyou!
    God bless…..

  39. Janine Avatar

    Maria wrote:
    “O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice Mary full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls.”

    I use this prayer quite frequently, although I also pray the Jesus Prayer regularly. What I find with the Jesus Prayer is that somehow when the things that come up in my mind from my life “show up,” the Jesus Prayer is a way of handing it over to God and asking for Christ’s presence within the thing that trouble or distract me. They don’t call it Prayer of the Heart for nothing. This has even worked to let go of shoulder pain from a pinched nerve! Actually it was a Cistercian (who became a Diocesan Priest in my neighborhood), who had studied extensively mystical prayer, who suggested to me that I allow myself to feel the pain rather than fighting it, and “pray into it” with the Jesus Prayer. (No, I am not Roman Catholic.) At some point I had to realize that Christ on the Cross asks us to bring our pain to Him, not some pretty picture dressed up to look nice. I also find that praying the prayer to Mary is my “go to” when relationship troubles — especially in my family — are too much for me to know how to approach.

  40. Byron Avatar

    I tend to think of it the same way as when, during the baptism of an infant, the priest goes to the front of the Church with the child and then holds him/her up before everyone. It is not so much “pointing to” or a roadmap of sorts for the child, as it is a proclamation of their life in which we now take part (as my priest says, we are required to pray for them for the rest of their life). The Creed is our proclamation of the life of Christ in all things, in which we take part. In this way, it does not so much “point” as it proclaims Christ in all things.

    Perhaps someone else can offer a better explanation.

  41. Maria Avatar

    Janine: Interesting about “praying INTO the pain” and not just physical, but emotional as well – thankyou!

    God bless!

  42. Hieromonk Gabriel Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply! I very much agree with you in that if one is to err, it is far better to err on the side of mercy rather than austerity. As you pointed out, our tendency often runs in the other direction… although for some of us, especially those of us who have been wounded by the more juridical conceptions of Christianity which dominate our society, I worry that there can sometimes be a temptation to unconsciously believe that we are more merciful than God.

    In any case, forgive me if I have come across as contentious, and in your charity remember me, a sinner, in your prayers.

  43. Maria Avatar

    Byron: I like that – “Proclamation of our Faith.” God bless….

  44. Fr. Paul Yerger Avatar

    Well said — “Preach on, brother!”

  45. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Byron…you well describe what is hard to describe!… the iconicity of words.
    Maria, here is a link to a post that expounds on Byron’s thoughts:

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hieromonk Gabriel,
    Not at all. I understood your cautions. You’re very right about people’s assumption that they are more merciful than God. I think that sometimes they fail to understand just how much mercy they themselves have received. I once heard a Bishop say, “We sing, ‘Glory to Thine economia (dispensation), O Christ’ – we do not sing, ‘Glory to Thy akrivia.” Everything God does for us is His “economy.” There is only mercy. The trouble is never the lack of mercy, but our resistance to receiving it.

  47. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Janine… re: an emergency sort of funeral service. Just some thoughts…
    Not sure if this is what you have in mind, but if we were to encounter a situation of sudden death, fatal wounds, overdose, and the like, I think the most likely thing we would do is take a moment (or more, if time allows) kneel at their side and intercede for that person. I think that is about as close as one would come to offering up funeral prayers. If there would be the possibility of an actual funeral service (I am thinking non-orthodox here), I suppose anyone (lay or clergy) could take it upon themselves to preside. Still in the end, even as we pray for mercy, as always, it is in God’s hands.

  48. Maria Avatar

    Paula AZ: Thankyou; I read the link you sent re: Icons and Words. In short I would say that what I took away from the article, was there is something deeper and not fully attainable in everything – words, icons, creation, nature, people etc. We Orthodox do not take words so literally, but look at the deeper meaning and purpose it presents to us individually although sometimes as a group too. Jesus spoke in Parables so there would be a message for each one reading or listening – then and now. If one was just to read the words and leave it at that, then there would be a lot of mis-understanding. Parables were made to be comprehended by everyone, and yet to each his own so to speak. We can read a scripture passage today and find a deep meaning and closeness with what we read, and 2 years from now, read the same passage and it will present another or deeper meaning. but still God with us/speaking to us. Would it be wrong to say, “Everything seems to have revelation in it?” It certainly does give us a new and deeper way of looking at everything and everyone! Like living IN the Divine! God’s purpose; not ours! (sorry I wasn’t that short in my thoughts) God bless!

  49. Greg Avatar

    It seems like there is an uptick in internet postings focused on the centrality of hell, the wrath of God, etc recently. This post is like a glass of water needed to put out those flames (and cool the passions that militate against God’s love). Thank you.

  50. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Maria…sure, it is said that everything, as in all creation, is revelation, in that God, as our Creator, fills all things. So “things” created are not mere things, but have their origin, therefore, their existence, in the Giver of Life. Each particular person is an icon/image of God. My particular dog is an icon/image/re-presentation of ‘dog’, that was created and lives through, or because of, Christ, thus not merely a dog. She, as a dog, gives praise and honor to God by being who she is, a perfect dog! (yes I am biased!) The cactus in my yard, an icon/image of ‘cactus’, the plant that lives through/because of Christ, which in its own existence, gives Him honor…and so on. As Father said in the linked post: “They are means by which we encounter the Represented “. The name Maria is more than just a generic name. It is the name of a person (you and all Maria’s) who is the very image of Christ. Here is the depth of “things” and “words”. The name of Jesus, well….the particular Person to Whom we pray and give all honor and glory, the Name above all Names!

    Father…this is my understanding. Please correct if I misspeak here. And I apologize for veering off topic!

  51. Matt Avatar

    Thank you for this, Father. I needed this reminder.

    But that said, there’s one thing in the quoted prayers that seems to go against the main point of this article:

    “O Lord, forgive those who have died without repentance, save those who have committed suicide in darkness of mind, that the flame of their impiety may be extinguished in the sea of Your Grace.”

    Is this an exception for those who have committed suicide? Or is there a missing “and” before “save” (which is thereby an imperative and not a synonym for “except”)?

  52. Maria Avatar

    Paula AZ: thanks for the detailed explanation – yes we need to look for God in all things and people! 🙂

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matt, an “and” would clarify. I’ll fix it later.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The Orthodox funeral service is a great blessing. I have often told serious inquiries, catechumens and newly Chrismated that attending a funeral is an important part of being Orthodox and entering more fully into the Church. The prayer of absolution is a critical part but so is the section where we weep and wail.

    The funeral service recognizes the natural grief of those left behind and that grief is also lifted up and the transformation of it begins.

    At the funeral of my departed wife I experienced a catharsis that is still ongoing as I too was lifted into a temporary place of brightness, a place of repose where all sickness sorrow and sighing have fled away.

    It seems to me that as we go more deeply into repentance the interelationship we have with our family who have passed can also change perhaps lightening the share burden of sin such ties often contain.

    Life and salvation are not linear. Neither are they chronological.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would underline that I think the mechanics of heaven and hell are a distraction. For me, they are not really germane. What matters is that we can clearly pray for all. And I think it is this that God has given to us – not to manage the afterlife. I do not have to know the outcome in order to take part in the battle. That is enough.

  56. Scott Avatar

    Hmk. Gabriel,

    “I command you to cease your entreaties to Me on behalf of the impure.”

    Forgive me for doubting St. Gregory the Dialogist, but I don’t think the God that supped with the impure and forgave His murderers from the cross would say that.

    “I worry that there can sometimes be a temptation to unconsciously believe that we are more merciful than God.”

    “Cease your entreaties…” makes it a cinch to believe that.

  57. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “It seems to me that as we go more deeply into repentance the interelationship we have with our family who have passed can also change perhaps lightening the share burden of sin such ties often contain.”
    This is so worth remembering. Thanks Michael.

  58. Salaam Avatar

    Yes, of course, Dino, how could we forget the story of St Paisios’ prayer for the devil to be saved.
    Thanks for your comment.

  59. Janine Avatar

    “I do not have to know the outcome in order to take part in the battle.” Thank you for that, too, Father.

  60. Jonathan Avatar

    Thank you for this post, Father! It gives much food for thought, especially to someone who was raised Lutheran and considered himself such for the first quarter century of his life.

  61. Karen Avatar

    Wow! What a prayer! I am Orthodox because it encourages this kind of heart, and I want no other. Glory to God!

  62. Janine Avatar

    Please forgive me for wading into things I don’t know about (I haven’t read about Trajan). But regarding this command: “I have heard your supplication and shall grant Trajan forgiveness, but I command you to cease your entreaties to Me on behalf of the impure.”
    In my experience, my most difficult lesson has been that I can’t change others. That is, if someone is going to be saved, there is the particular matter of their own volition. This is not a question of my mercy. It’s not even a question of God’s mercy. God doesn’t compel anybody to love God. I can imagine a circumstance in which such words in response to prayer reflect a concern and correction regarding, for instance, oversentimentality in such matters. Sometimes I think we romanticize prayer. It may reflect a command to dwell on those things which are actually in our power and necessary for us which we avoid by dwelling on things which distract us from where God would like us to be and to focus. Such is my own experience, that the more painful realities I need to face or struggle through can frequently be avoided by focusing on something that’s not my bailiwick. I think of the ending of John’s Gospel, and Christ’s response to Peter’s question about what someone *else* is supposed to do (John 21:22) — I seem frequently to need to be taught to mind my own business spiritually, because God gives us our own specifics to do and that is always plenty, our own cross to bear.

  63. Janine Avatar

    PS Such an admonition in response to prayer does not negate our own need to use forgiveness and leave judgment, vengeance, etc. to God.

  64. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My concern is that deep intercessory prayer tends to connect us to those for whom we pray. Yes, in prayer that connection is also in Christ but we should not pray out of our own hubris and desire to change things.

    The prohibitions may not have anything to do with the end result, but rather with God saying there is a point where the intercessor is putting himself in spiritual danger.

  65. Maria Avatar

    Michael Bauman: I understand what you are saying here – sometimes we can offer a simple prayer and then leave it in God’s hands. Many things are bigger than us and it would be humble to accept that.

    God bless!

  66. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Janine, Michael,
    Good points you make.
    Not to negate what you have said…it is noteworthy. I’d just like to add another thought…
    Such is the primary focus and importance of prayer in our life, in our concern to “do it right” and considering all the do’s and don’ts, that it may result in a shrinking back from boldly approaching the Throne, if you will. The Saints were admonished for going in the wrong direction in their prayer (praying for the devil, etc). Still prior to that they boldly prayed. Point is, they prayed and God somehow corrected them. He will also correct us in one way or another (which can include such conversations we are having now). Still, I am concerned that if we begin to over-analyse our prayers, the focus will turn onto us, thus off our union with God. Again, not to say that we should ignore another’s attempt to warn. But in the event that it become too self-serving, perhaps it is best to continue to pray unabashedly. God knows the heart. We pray because we love and trust Him. With attention on Him, the one who prays will press further on into prayer and it will be refined by His grace.

  67. Karen Avatar

    Janine and Michael,

    Your observations about the admonition to cease certain kinds of prayer seems spot on to me. It doesn’t reflect anything about the possibilities to answer such prayer for God, but about the danger of distraction from Christ for the one praying. God knows our hearts, and where they may lead us to stray either into despair or to hubris.

  68. Scott Avatar

    “Stop praying for the impure” demands we judge who’s pure and who ain’t.

  69. Janine Avatar

    Scott, I would suggest that depends on whether it is given as a general commandment to all of us, or a personal experience within a narrow and specific frame of action. Within the fullness of the Church, we pray all the time for the “impure” including ourselves. Perhaps there are even those saintly enough as to have the hearts of others revealed to them.

  70. Dean Avatar

    I have pointed this out before in a comment. I once asked my godly priest how he prayed for someone. He replied, “Lord Jesus, save (so-and-so) and have mercy on them.” And if they’re sick? He replied with the same prayer. The publican prayed the very same way for himself. And Jesus said that he went home justified. Apparently the humble and contrite heart speaks even louder than our words. Karen, I agree. Let’s not over complicate and parse our prayers.

  71. Don Duane Daunis Avatar
    Don Duane Daunis

    I always enjoy your posts. I am a convert from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism and frankly found the Catholic embrace of mystery to be both a surprise and to be something I resonated with. Protestants of my previous tradition invariably could not stomach mystery and always seemed to want to draw very clear distinct answers to all issues. Depending as we did on the bible alone we tended to do so often with very thin evidence but despite this we were always very “sure” of our conclusions. You are right that historically these debates resulted in RC Church and the Protestant church becoming very dogmatic about issues that had previously been left shrouded in vageories and mystery with no one seeming to feel the need to make a position clearly held. Even while still a Protestant I observed that much mischief is created by demanding too much of your own systematic theology.

  72. Dino Avatar

    Perhaps the spiritual danger you are talking about is what CS Lewis alludes to when he separates between the two different froms of ‘pity’ (‘passion & action’)
    ACS Lewis masterfuly explains in ‘The Great Divorce’ (chapter 13), that ‘pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery’. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity.
    Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenceless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? The damned make themselves really wretched. But they can no longer communicate their wretchedness as everything becomes more and more itself and as the eternal joy that cannot be shaken swallows up their darkness.

    It is interesting that the exchange goes on later in this manner:

    “You do not love me,” said the Tragedian in a thin bat-like voice: and he was now very difficult to see.

    “I cannot love a lie,” said the Lady. “I cannot love the thing which is not. I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.”

    There was no answer. The Tragedian had vanished.

    And when CS Lewis poses the question:
    “What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.”

    “Ye see it does not.”

    “I feel in a way that it ought to.”

    “That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.”


    “The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

    “I don’t know what I want, Sir.”

    “Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”

    “But dare one say-it is horrible to say-that Pity must ever die?”

    “Ye must distinguish: The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty-that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”

    “And what is the other kind-the action?”

    “It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.”

    “You say it will go down to the lowest, Sir. But she didn’t go down with him to Hell. She didn’t even see him off by the bus.”

    [..] a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see.”

    “Then no one can ever reach them?”

    “Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend-a man can sympathise with a horse but a horse cannot sympathise with a rat. Only One has descended into Hell.”

    “And will He ever do so again?”

    “It was not once long ago that He did it. Time does not work that way when once ye have left the Earth. All moments that have been or shall be were, or are, present in the moment of His descending. There is no spirit in prison to Whom He did not preach.”

    “And some hear him?”


    “In your own books, Sir,” said I, “you were a Universalist . You talked as if all men would be saved. And St. Paul too.”

    “Ye can know nothing of the end of all things, or nothing expressible in those terms. It may be, as the Lord said to the Lady Julian, that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. But it’s ill talking of such questions.”

    “Because they are too terrible, Sir?”

    “No. Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see-small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope-something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all.
    That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality.
    But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn’t is itself Freedom. They are a lens. The picture is a symbol: but it’s truer than any philosophical theorem (or, perhaps, than any mystic’s vision) that claims to go behind it.
    For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn’t Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill Time, are the definition, and it must be lived. The Lord said we were gods. How long could ye bear to look (without Time’s lens) on the greatness of your own soul and the eternal reality of her choice?”

  73. Maria Avatar

    Don Duane: Your comment reminded me of a Saint (can’t remember which one) who said, “We are not called to think much, but to love much!” God bless…..

  74. Beakerj Avatar

    Dear Father,

    Thank you so much for your answer. More to think about! A corporate aspect to salvation is certainly not something that has been a feature of the Christian life I’ve known so far.

    ‘Imagine that the departed is your child – how do you not ask for all these things of God? The absurdity of certain versions of Christianity simple crushes the hearts of people – who are told repeatedly what “God cannot do.” That strikes me as patent nonsense.’ Absolutely! I’ve often been horrified by the coldness of various Pastors & Preachers who are incredibly harsh about these things, & pile burdens on the grieving that portray God as merciless.

  75. Scott Avatar

    “What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.”

    “Ye see it does not.”

    C.S. Lewis’ fictional Scottish Gentleman who said above, “Ye see it does not.” was based on an actual Scottish Gentleman who wrote instead:

    “And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a diminished hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven?”

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I preached on the corporate nature of salvation this morning. Today is All Saints’ Day on the Orthodox calendar. Throughout our services, we make mention of the Saints, and the Mother of God in particular. If this corporate nature of salvation were not understood, it would be easy to not understand what the service is saying and why. Even so, many Orthodox have yet to “hear” that part of the service, in that no one has pointed it out to them.

    An article that speaks about this can be read here.

  77. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Indeed. Lewis’ fictional Scottish Gentleman, was the character of George MacDonald. MacDonald was a deep inspiration to Lewis – he read one of MacDonald’s sermons every day – and later edited an edition of them. MacDonald was, famously, a universalist. Lewis is addressing that aspect of MacDonald’s stuff. It is Lewis’ own take on the matter – his attempt to reconcile a problematic point for a non-universalist. It is essentially using a form of forgetfulness and ignorance to solve the conundrum. It works in his little book. I’m not at all sure that it works in reality. It is one of those things about which the Tradition is silent.

    My intent in my article is to sidestep the question which I cannot answer, and to point to what the heart should and must do – which thing we can answer in abundance, both from Scripture and from the prayers of the Church.

    I understand the various caveats that are being suggested in the comments. I find them to be a bit beside the point – addressing a problem that I’ve rarely or never seen. What I have seen instead, is the hardness of heart that comes from a doctrinal position that fears to pray in the manner that the Church actually prays. We’re not told to know the answers – we are told to pray. We cannot seem to resist leaping ahead.

  78. Dino Avatar

    Would you say that a believer’s expected drive towards praying on behalf of all and for all is actually wholesome, healthy and enduring to the extent that it is driven not by egotistical attachment but by the Holy Spirit? (when constructed upon their desire for God’s desire “that all be saved”?)
    I cannot ignore that a most pressing temptation, towards a type of ‘blasphemy’, is almost earmarked for those straining towards a prayer-for-all that is actually not of the ‘wholesome variety’, who become consumed in such intercessory prayer yet lack a trust in God’s love-no-matter-what and fall back from wholesomeness into the ‘passion’ variety of pity, attachment and personal opinion – constructed upon their very own desire (as if it surpasses God’s desire) “that all be saved”, somehow turned cunningly into a deep complaint at God which comes to even overwhelm their being in a sneaky fashion.
    Of course this needn’t be understood as an ‘eschatological’ issue (of eventual salvation/damnation) alone, but can be also grasped as an issue springing up from our human/natural identification with any suffering of others – once this empathy of ours becomes exploited by the adversary to slander God.

  79. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There’s is never a safe path forward. I can think of nothing salutary in our lives that does not come with some ready-made temptation from our adversary. That said, it is always safe to bury the talent in the ground. I would, and do, counsel anyone in the life of prayer to move forward a step at a time. We’re not St. Silouan when we start out. Start by praying for those directly around you – there are always enough enemies for us to pray for without having to resort to strangers. The same is true of suffering. If our union with suffering of others only moves us to activities of prayer and not more than that, then it is fairly wasted.

    For St. Silouan, to continue with his example, he not only prayed for those in hell, but mystically entered into their sufferings in a measure than we simply cannot fathom – it was the gift of God. And, no doubt, he did not get there by starting with the suffering. He went where God took him and he learned how to be there in union with Christ.

    To make a beginning, my most common advice is to begin by giving thanks in the midst of one’s own suffering – always and for everything. Without this mystical union in Christ, we will never be able to bear the greater sufferings of others with the proper heart that does them benefit.

    A world of people complaining is of little value – in fact – they do it all the time without ceasing and mostly to their own detriment.

    The prayers I’ve quoted in the article, I think, provide a model of the path forward. The commandments of Christ outline the path. Pray for your enemies. Forgive those who hurt you. Share what you have. Begin to do what you are asking God to do. And then be patient (God is patient).

  80. Santosh John Samuel Avatar
    Santosh John Samuel

    Very cogently written; thanks again Father, especially for including those prayers.

  81. Jack C Avatar
    Jack C

    Um, Catholics don’t judge who is in Heaven or Hell either. We hope that everyone will be saved

  82. Dino Avatar

    Thank you Father. St Silouan is whom I had, mostly, in mind – regarding that path’s salutary trepidation.

  83. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I did not say anything about Catholics judging who goes where. My references were to the classic debates between Catholic and Protestant and their results. But, having noted that, I will say that much has changed within Catholicism since then.

  84. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father….I appreciate the points brought forth in the comments between you and Dino, and very much appreciate your response. It is from a pastoral perspective and one that we desperately need as we so desire to have a proper understanding of the fullness of Orthodoxy.
    It is a challenge to comprehend this fullness amidst contemporary American culture. It is one thing to learn about tradition, and it is another to apply it to our life. Some people may have the benefit of, for example, having a spiritual guide, having their church in close proximity, living near a monastery, having like-minded relationships. But the actual reality is that many of these benefits are beyond our reach. And it seems that I frequently run into those who place that burden upon the shoulder of one who carries a heavy load already…and worse, imply it is their fault and do not think to lift a finger to help.
    Still for what we have, we give thanks, and God always blesses. Even in the most trying of situations, where support and edification is hard pressed to find, still Goodness is always present. I have found this to be true, in people and things, and events in life.

    Thanks so much Father. You are very encouraging.

  85. Janine Avatar

    Paula, the sincerity of your heart, which I always read in all of your comments, surely is huge asset in finding what it is you seek. God bless, and thanks to everybody for the conversation.

  86. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    There is an early history (in the period before the year 1054) that Orthodox and Roman Catholics were “one Church”. There is some correspondence between the Orthodox theological and life way expressions because of that early history. But the schism brought on by the Roman Catholic clergy, and the resulting changes in the Roman Catholic ‘thought’ and the subsequent interchanges between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant theologies have brought different meanings to words that “sound” (because the same words might be used) like the same words used among Orthodox.

    The distinction between Orthodox and the Roman Catholic /Protestant theologies (particularly Roman Catholic post Reformation) are not so clear to those wishing to enter into the Orthodox Church (particularly those people who have been inculcated in these other theologies and life ways). As an Orthodox convert who hadn’t had such induction into the Roman Catholic/Protestant theologies and had rejected them (although still influenced by them in some fashion as they shape western culture), the Orthodox distinctions are a wonderful and striking contrast to what I had been exposed to briefly and rejected. Fr Stephen’s article attempts to make the distinction more clear and salient for those who have converted to the Orthodox Church and inquirers in general, who might not be aware of the distinctions. I’ve had frequent discussions among converted Orthodox, particularly from Protestant backgrounds who retain Protestant interpretations of “heaven and hell” and “salvation”.

  87. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    There is some correspondence “with” (not between!) the Orthodox theology and life ways expressions because of that early history.
    [ second sentence snafu]

  88. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Forgive me I’ll add one more comment.

    Neither Roman Catholics nor Protestants are particularly welcoming to the idea that their theologies contain heresies. Among Roman Catholics there is a recent interest to diminish the distinctions between Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and life ways. In some cases those distinctions that Fr Stephen discusses are trivialized by Roman Catholics as mere ‘interpretations’ that Roman Catholics have, rather than mainstream theological dogma (or doctrine) and ethos. An important facet of Fr Stephen’s work is to highlight such distinctions in order to help clear the fog created by such trivialization.

  89. Janine Avatar

    I wanted to comment on the issue of time which was part of the CS Lewis excerpt which Dino provided for us (thank you Dino). Relationships with complexity — misunderstanding, unfinished business, insecurity, etc. – may need time on our part for the maturity to realize what our love is and means for that person, even a connection of the heart. We may not even understand our grief for years. Perhaps we aren’t ready for the deep prompting that constitutes a fully heartfelt prayer. I just feel that so often our own journey has specifics and stages to go through. Again, just my experience.

  90. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed! thank you for your reflections Janine!

  91. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    A fellow parishioner and friend of mine used to be an RC priest, although influenced by Lossky since seminary. He told me once, while still an RC priest that he originally stayed with the RCC because he thought the office of the Papacy was a better safe guard for the truth than Holy Tradition. The longer he was an RC priest the less he believed that. Eventually he became an Orthodox layman.

    What Father Stephen does here is articulate the continuity of Holy Tradition despite the many changing norms of human history. That continuity is a great witness. It was a major part of becoming Orthodox for me.

    In fact it is the only real protection against the ever present scent of heresy that wafts through all of our noses and can smell so sweet at times.

  92. Christopher Avatar

    ” Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time…But ye can see it only through the lens of Time…The picture is a symbol: but it’s truer than any philosophical theorem (or, perhaps, than any mystic’s vision) that claims to go behind it.”

    Thank you Dino for reminding me of this dialogue.

    I must be misunderstanding you Father Stephen. Lewis is not “…using a form of forgetfulness and ignorance to solve the conundrum…”, at least not the usual “form” of forgetfulness and ignorance. Rather, he is asserting a *mystery*. Mystery is not the same thing as forgetfulness/ignorance, and I agree with Dino and Lewis that there is a form of universalism that has at its core an assertion of will (in the form of “pity”) and for which *humility* (of rational mind yes, but also deeper in the whole(some) soul) is the only cure. Lewis perception that the mystery of Time is central is also apt – something for which the characteristic mind of the East, couched as it is in Greek thought, does not emphasise. You might believe we in the west are too encumbered by a “mechanistic” view of Time and I agree with you to a certain extent, but I Lewis was aware of this as well and this particular dialogue is not weighed down by this as far as I can tell -quite the opposite.

    I also do not see as “silence” in the Tradition around Hell as you do (see the hymns sung on the Sunday of the Last Judgement for example), even if I grant your point about the theology of the Eschaton in the west and the danger of a mechanistic view. Allow me to be perfectly honest: I don’t *trust* your attempt to “sidestep” the question, because I don’t really believe you are sidestepping it at all.

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    By “the question,” I assume you mean universalism. I have made it clear repeatedly that I do not teach universalism. It is not a doctrine that has been given to me to proclaim. I do teach (as in this article) that we should and must pray for all – and that is clear from the texts of the Church’s prayers. You are correct that there are also texts in the prayers of the Church regarding hell and the judgment. I do not doubt the existence of either (this article would make no sense if there were no hell).

    However, I readily admit that I do not offer a solution to the tension between what we pray and the texts on hell and judgment.

    The “silence” that seems to surround hell seems to surround St. Isaac of Syria and St. Gregory of Nyssa and any number of Fathers who have suggested that it has an end. I do not know what to make of those suggestions – and I mean by that that I do not dismiss what the Church does not seem to have dismissed, bothersome as that might be for some.

    I suspect that what you mean to say in your lack of trust is that you think I’m a crypto-universalist or something. All I can say is that I’m as transparent on this topic as is possible. I make no secret that, along with many, I hope St. Isaac and St. Gregory are right. But hope is not the same thing as teaching something as doctrine. I merely think it is the sign of a damaged heart not to have such a hope and that in our Calvinized culture, too many are too quick to condemn a hope that is generously permitted in the Church and even breathed in her prayers. For how can we pray if we have no hope?

    I do not find “Time” to be the issue. The mystery is found in the imponderables of the human will as well as the imponderables beyond the grave which have not been revealed.

    I will say, in response to your “honesty,” that suggesting that I am not telling the truth lacks charity. It gives offense.

  94. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would readily agree with both you and Dino that there are many forms of universalism that would be inadequate and false. I simply never found Lewis’ treatment of the damned somehow not being able to torment the saved to be inadequate. That inadequacy is expressed in a few of the Fathers (St. Silouan, for example) who would speak of being in hell together with the last one there. It’s not about their will, or their intransigence, only about the love of God that does not quit.

    Outside of Time, we are talking about a state of being rather than a process of being. Thus, “giving up” would be an absurd notion. There would be no point at which God is other than He is. I have not and do not offer any solution to the conundrum. I simply recognize it and pray in hope. I think that is enough. More than that is more than we can know.

  95. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Again Father, thanks so much.
    I am at a loss to understand what the problem is with “pity”. Should we not pity those who are in torments? And I do not understand how one could say that if there is pity there is in turn lack of humility. That is just too presumptuous. What makes a person question how another person prays and what they hope for?
    I just don’t get it. I really have to leave it at that. All should pray as they are led to. And it is a pity that a person’s prayer before God is even questioned.

  96. Dino Avatar

    I also agree with Father Stephen (that due to figures like St Isaac and St Gregory) there is a hope, …while also defending the ‘majority’ view – which is quite the opposite – founded on the imponderables of the human will (in time)…
    [The imponderables of the angelic will in eternity are a different kettle of fish altogether!]

    Father, by the way, St Paisios the athonite is amongst those who share Lewis’ treatment of the damned not being able to torment the saved. I found this inadequate too, being tremendously steeped in Silouan myself, but it is not something I could discard, I have to (humbly) take it into account, especially as it was one of his most ‘authoritative’ pronouncements…

    It’s worth noting however that figures like Isaac, Gregory, Porphyrios (who towards the end of his life told eldress Gavriillia Papagianni that God will find an unfathomable way to save all which we cannot talk of), or Origen, all speak of Gehenna that is practically asfearful, as unbearable and even as “eternal” (in its “experience”, even though it clearly has an end of eternal salvation for them experiencing it) as the ‘classic’ version of Gehenna…

  97. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you, Dino. I agree.

  98. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino…your words to “All” are like all my hopes being blessed “on a silver platter”…no answers, but blessed.
    And St Porphyrios told Mother Gavriillia God will save all in an unfathomable way, “which we can not talk of”?! Well, I feel like I’ve just been privy to some amazing information. Of course this can not be spoken of. Some people would burst apart at the seams. Worse, many would see no need for our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Thank you Dino…I was a bit beside myself there, for a moment…

  99. Christopher Avatar

    As for my lack of charity, forgive me. I believe I have said this before but I don’t think our own experiences and limited understandings of Universalism are commensurable. You may not be able to view the following as anything other than “broken hearted”, but it is the existence of an eternal Hell, which means there is indeed a Final Judgement and not an ‘eternal process of becoming’ that gives me hope – hope to pray and hope for everything else. If the damned can torment the saved, then there are no limits to sin – love is “held hostage” by sin. This eternal process of becoming also could mean that the Love of God is limited – He Himself is circumscribed (and Love itself) by a necessary outcome that just so happens to be framed in a neoPlatonic key (terms, atmosphere and emphasis), which means that God and creation and each of us is but a cog in a process of a grand reconciliation between good and evil. There are limits to the Greek mind. I hope St. Gregory is wrong (on Universalism) because his is a *metaphysic* (a “mechanism”) of being just as is Calvin’s – choose your poison. I don’t know about St. Isaac, whenever I have been able to follow through and look up what he says in context he never seems to be saying exactly what folks say he says. Same with St. Silouan.

    In any case, yes I think we both suffer from a lack of trust. Is there a man who lives who is not broken hearted? If there is no safe way forward, do any of our “little theologies” stand the test of life, death, resurrection, and judgement? I will contemplate your June 23, 2019 at 6:32 pm post some more…

  100. Christopher Avatar

    “Father, by the way, St Paisios the athonite is amongst those who share Lewis’ treatment of the damned not being able to torment the saved…”

    How could “eternal well being” be part of sin – what does it mean for something that *is* ontologically complete (well being) to be suffering process, change, and in this case literally “ill being”? Mystically, is Time (metaphorically, the “container” of a process of becoming) never redeemed? If all creatures including Time are redeemed then there are limits, and one of those limits is a “river of fire” or Hell or the Love of God…

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