Saving the Damned and Praying to Saints

In the material world, we directly perceive the existence of space and time. We witness beginnings, ends, growth, and ultimately, change. Change, or movement as it is properly understood, can only be achieved within time. Without time, there can be no beginning, no growth, and no end. There can be no change.

So change requires time. We witness that change exists in space, so we can understand that time exists in space. But what about in the eschatological landscape?

This is where things become foggy. Clearly, it is difficult to find a basis to claim that eschatological landscapes exist as fixed points, because this assumes a type of Cartesian understanding of matter that can only be applied to the physical world. Heaven is not located at x, y. So space does not exist in Heaven.

So can time exist without space? Perhaps. We witness that angels came into existence at one point, and this beginning within an eschatological landscape denotes some form of time. Regardless if it is how we experience it here on Earth, some notion of temporality is eschatologically extant.

Let’s now shift our gaze to Palamism (specifically the essence-energies distinction). A little drastic, I know. But the energies of God, which we are able to perceive and participate in, direct us to His essence. This “movement” is a change in humanity and requires time. If time exists eschatologically, then movement towards God (if absolute communion has not already been achieved) is possible.

Let’s apply this to Hell. God exists in Hell, to some extent, as nothing could exist without God being present. I’m going to assume that most are my readers are not annihilationists and believe that Hell is an actual place of torment.

If the existence of God is to some degree extant in Hell, then this would obviously mean that God’s energies, however minuscule, exist in the realm of damnation. If time exists in Hell as it does in Heaven, then movement towards the essence of God through whatever perceivable energies are present in Hell is possible.

Therefore, since change is possible where there exists time and because the beginning of the angelic host proves the existence of time in the eschatological landscape, movement towards God by the participation in His divine energies is enabled even in the damned, and Hell is understood to be a plane of purgatorial fire.

But let’s address a different issue. Space doesn’t exist in Heaven, as Heaven is not located at x, y. God is in Heaven, and He is also everywhere and present in all things. These two planes (Heaven and omnipresence) can be taken as synonymous. If the saints are fully present with God, then they would also be with God in the context of His omnipresence, rendering the typical argument that, “The saints can’t hear your prayers because they’re dead/ They can’t see us/ They aren’t concerned with us,” rather nonsensical.

Unless, however, you wish to claim that the saints are not “fully” present with God and that salvation means to only experience God’s presence partially, because while we are in Heaven, God is in Heaven and in another place (everywhere).


7 thoughts on “Saving the Damned and Praying to Saints”

  1. It is my understanding that the energies of God is how He interacts in the created order. His ousia is unchanging and is Love, Good, Truth, and the rest of the attributes ascribed to the Godhead. However, in speaking of his energies we have more liberty: God becomes angry and enacts his wrath on creation. God delights in his people and deals mercy unto them. Both delight and anger pour forth from Love; if you do not love someone then you will not care what they do (contempt). I think it is important to note that in the Orthodox understanding the Love of God is the river of fire (Daniel 7:9-10) that deals out mercy towards those who love Him and wrath towards those who hate Him. Those who have united their body and soul to the Devil, Sin and Death have no place on the Kingdom of Heaven (St. Paul is quite clear on this point). There are many Orthodoxy priests and theologians who teach the possibility of ultimate reconciliation. However, I would be quick to point out that I have never found Scriptural justification for such a belief and only a few Fathers ever taught such a thing. In “Psuedo-Macarius”, Abba Macarius comes across a pagan skull that asks for his prayers. The skull says that the prayers will help ease their pain, though they can never leave. This motiff of praying for the damned repeats itself in many lives of the saints. It is a traditional understanding that those who have united themselves to Christ but have not fully subjected their passions to the Divine Will will experience the torment of Hell before entering Heaven (Homilies of St. Mark of Ephesus against the Latins concerning Purgatory). As I understand it, this is reserved for those who thirst after God but are not yet “saints”. Those who delight in evil choose wrath rather than mercy. Concerning God’s presence in Sheol, I highly recommend “Christ: The Conqueror of Hell” by the Reverend Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev), who received his doctorate from Oxford under the tutelage of the Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). His Eminence uses Scripture, liturgical hymns, and the writings of St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Ephraim of Syria, and others to present diverse ways of speaking of the Harrowing of Hell.

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  2. UPDATE: Despite not having time to research this topic more, I did anyways. Apparently, those who argue for apokatastasis have found a snag in the cannons. There is scholarly debate on whether the 15 Originist anathemas of the 5th Ecumenical Council may have been added by St. Emperor Justinian without the approval of the Council. Even if this holds up, theologians must account for the Church’s acceptance of these cannons even though they were not decided up in Council. As it stands, most Orthodox accept the anathemas, but there is a further question concerning interpretation: Do the anathemas condemn the evolved Originist teaching of the 6th Century or what Origin taught? Does it condemn all forms of apokatastasis or just the popular form of the 6th Century? My own questions: how can one advance a teaching that has been in the minority opinion for over a thousand years? How can one explain the passages of eternal condemnation in the Scripture? How can one be against so many of the great Church Fathers, such as Chrysostom and Augustine, on this point?

    The following is my understanding. Forgive me if I am in error or present the faith incorrectly.

    The view I presented above is based on the interpretation of the Parousia by St. John of Damascus (Glory of God mad manifest to all), and not everyone agrees with this teaching. I was reading some universalist articles on the blog “Eclectic Orthodoxy”. Fr Aidan Kimmel quotes Archimandrite (now bishop?) Irenei (Steenborg), a patristics scholar, who claims that St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, the Apostolic Fathers, and others teach that Heaven and Hell are indeed separate spiritual places. The righteous receive mercy and glory, and the wicked are punished by the wrath of God (see St. Chrys. Homily III on Romans i.18). This teaching is also common in 15th Century Orthodoxy with St. Mark of Ephesus and others (also Elder Cleopa of Romania — 20th Century). The popular understanding, which is often termed THE Orthodox position, is that the ungodly and the righteous are brought into the love of God; the wicked are whipped by love, to paraphrase St. Isaac the Syrian. The problem with this understanding is that St. Isaac was speaking of purgatorial whipping. Another issue with this teaching is that there seems to be a separate fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels, which “anyone not found written in the Book of Life” (Rev. 20:10,14-15; 21: 6-8; 2Pt. 3; Jude 5-7; Is. 65:17-66:24; Dan. 7:9-28; plus the Gospel parables and Rom. 1) will be also “cast” in. The God who embraces all in love does not seem to square with the God who CASTS (active verb) the wicked into the lake of fire (whatever that is). All of these passages must be interpreted, but I still think it is important to note that God is not passive in his Judgement in any of these passages. Also, it may be significant that Daniel is the only passage where the river of fire, which destroys the beast, proceeds from the throne of God, while Isaiah and Revelation have the water of life proceeding form the throne. The latter two teachings that I mentioned may be both correct, but emphasizing different truths: the free will of man and the authority of God. Hence in my previous comment, I tried to follow both in accordance with Fr. Tom Hopko as I understand him (see his podcasts on the Wrath of God).

    Above I wrote that some have “united their body and soul to the Devil, Sin and Death”. You asked me if I thought evil has substance last Sunday (04/09). As I understand it, St. Athanasius coined the idea of non-being versus Being in his “On the Incarnation”. So, what did I mean when I wrote unite? To oppose the commandments of God is to side with the devil: “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who sins is of the devil…the Son of god was made manifest, that He might destroy the works of devil” (1Jn. 3:7-8). John is referring to purging sin in this life through Christ, but if we are of the devil that does not change at death (my opinion, just as all of this is). If the devil can stand in the glory of God and resist, then so can his children. In addition, I used the word unite in order to invoke sexual union. It is no secret that the most common language concerning God and the Church is the Bride and Bridegroom (see Ez. 16). In Proverbs you have the strange woman who tempts men to adultery. If the devil is our father, then we have been united in body and soul to the strange woman of Proverbs. Sin unites the devil with fallen humanity, and by “sin” I mean opposition to the commandments of God. When we oppose God, we oppose Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Life, Love, Being, etc. We drift ever more towards falsehood, ugliness, evil, death, hate (or contempt), non-being, etc. See Psalm 119 (118) about the commandments and 1 John about the Evangelical commandments.

    P.S. I am not sure if you are aware but Christian Classics Ethereal Library has the collection of the Anti-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers as well as many other patristic sources.

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    1. Zach, in the opening of your initial comment, you express an assertion of Palamism, and you and I will certainly find agreement on that. This article, mostly concerning the existence of God in Hell as requiring His energies to (some extent) be present, builds upon Palamist teaching. We should understand that God’s anger and wrath are not part of His energies, and be willing to accept whatever that implies. If they are not His energies, then they are created. God does not hate in the same way that He loves.

      It’s interesting that you bring up the river of fire because it evokes in my mind John the Baptist and the Jordan River, who prophesied that although he baptized with water, One was imminent who would baptize with both the Holy Spirit and fire. This river of fire is essentially a type of the Jordan (or vice versa?), and St. Gregory of Nyssa considers this infernal baptism to carry with it the same purpose as water baptism; that is, to restore all of creation.

      As for your questions, later patristic forms of universalism differ from Origen’s in their foundation. St. Gregory of Nyssa, who I have grown rather fond of lately, shares Origen’s hope for ultimate reconciliation and developed (and nuanced) many of his ideas; however, non-Origenist theories typically reject the pre-existence of souls and the immaterial nature of the resurrection, thereby rejecting the Origenist understanding of restoration. Whether the anathemas are a later addition or not, they do not conflict with the doctrine of apokatastasis insofar as they are not founded on Origen’s errors. I am hesitant to associate this doctrine as a canonical Orthodox position because as you have said, it is held by a minority of the Church Fathers. Furthermore, I don’t like to pit Father against Father, and let it be understood that I really love Sts. Chrysostom and Augustine, even if I disagree on some parts of their respective theologies.

      You speak of liberty and free will, and I think it is an appropriate topic to address. After all, the Universalist Church that arose out of Protestantism did so because of Calvinist thought (I like to call Protestant universalism “optimistic Calvinism,” because God predestines everyone to be saved despite their natural will). St. Maximos the Confessor is an excellent source to delve into at this point, because of his teaching on what the natural will actually is: perfection. That which we experience now, the “gnomic will,” is subjected to imperfect inclinations and is an unnatural movement in anthropology. For God to restore all things, He must restore the natural will of man from its current suffering state.

      Now, as I also mentioned during our conversation on Sunday, I’m not wanting to dive in headfirst into this doctrine, call myself a universalist, or start buying books written by Rob Bell. It is an interesting doctrine, nonetheless, and as a former Calvinist, I am drawn to it because of its radical opposition to what I now consider defunct. Only time and study will bring me to a better understanding of soteriology, but as for now, I still have a lot of reading to do.


  3. “Without time, there can be no beginning, no growth, and no end. There can be no change.”
    I prefer to take Aristotle’s view, which is precisely the reverse (though perhaps not necessarily incompatible): without change, there can be no time.
    In other words, time is not a “thing;” it is not this sort of “envelope” in which all events can be found. Rather, time is constituted by the very changes that occur in creatures.
    The problem with apocatastasis is that it forgets what Heaven consists in: the Beatific Vision, the definitive union with God. (The idea is from 1 Corinthians 13:12). The saints (even those still undergoing purification) cannot possibly withdraw from that Vision; on the contrary, the damned, regrettably, cannot possibly enjoy it, and don’t want to enjoy it.
    Why is that so? Because when we see God face-to-face, His goodness is so compelling that our wills are constrained to love Him: not violently–God does not force our will, indeed He cannot, without destroying it–but as resting in the ultimate object of its love.
    On the contrary, those who have persevered in habits that render that love impossible will be unable to enjoy that Vision. They will be eternally aware that their happiness can only be fulfilled in God, and yet they will not want that happiness. (Pretty scary.)
    If you like, apocatastasis is (in a way) Calvinism, but without the limited atonement: grace is ultimately irresistible, but (unlike in Calvinism) God gives it to everyone.


    1. So you would say that time is the sum of various contributing factors rather than a contributing factor to occurences themselves? This article presuposses a very Palamistic understanding of God’s presence. I will argue that a restoration of the cosmos, including mankind, cannot be achieved if eternal damnation is true. The only reason why man’s will does not seek after God is because it is negatively influenced by sin and death. If sin and death are purged from the human soul, through water and/or fire, then the will is no longer predisposed against God. On the contrary, just as fire purifies gold, the presence of God revealed to the worst of sinners will purify him of all unrighteousness, however unpleasent the process.

      In short, it would appear that the Incarnation was not cosmic in actually cosmic but only in potentiality if every soul was not restored and purified to be made new.

      Universalism definitely broke loose in Protestantism when groups of Calvinists became overly optimistic about God’s grace, so of course there will be similarities. But this doctrine was taught long before Calvin by certain saints, one of them being St. Gregory of Nyssa, a patristic figure whom both you and I could venerate. I would say that a remarkable dofference between Calvinism and purgatorial reconciliation lies in the understanding of the will (depraved vs. defected), scope of the Incarnation-Atonement, (limited vs. cosmic), and eschatology (infinite punishment for finite evil/infinite rewad for finite good vs. universal restoration of all things, including the defected, to their proper and healed state.


  4. “So you would say that time is the sum of various contributing factors rather than a contributing factor to occurrences themselves?”

    I say that time consists in the very changes that occur, or, if we want to be exact, in the *measuring* of those changes.

    To illustrate: how do we measure time? Nowadays, we make use of clocks (mechanical, quartz, atomic). The only thing a clock does is to perform certain operations (moving the hands of a clock, changing the digits of a display, etc.) at very regular rate. We measure our time in comparison to this movement.

    Before clocks existed, we did much the same thing, except that we relied on other movements: the day/night cycle, the phases of the moon, the position of the sun, the seasons, and so forth.

    If there were no movement (i.e., change) in the world, the measurement of time would be impossible.

    My point is, time depends for its existence on the things that are in the universe, and their transformations, not vice versa.

    As for universal salvation:

    I venerate St. Gregory of Nyssa, but like so many saints and doctors (Bl. John Duns Scotus, Bl. Antonio Rosmini, even St. Augustine), I don’t always agree with everything they say. (That selection of saints and blesseds has nothing to do with the current discussion, except that all of them–despite being wonderful and holy persons–have, in my opinion, significant problems in their doctrine, on a philosophical level.)

    Unfortunately, I am not sufficiently well versed in Palamism as I would like, but I do see a difficulty with what you have stated here:

    “The only reason why man’s will does not seek after God is because it is negatively influenced by sin and death.”

    I think, respectfully, that this is an over-simplification. First of all, man is incapable of seeking after God (supernaturally) without grace; it is simply not within his power. If he stubbornly places an obstacle to that grace (i.e., through persistent grave sin), then God can do nothing for him.

    This is not a “limitation” on God’s part; rather, it has to do with very nature of a free will. First of all, the will cannot possibly act except “sub ratione boni”–that is, when it perceives something good to be obtained. Even in the case of sin: a sinful act has to be seeking something that is truly (albeit only relatively) good. It is sinful precisely because, in seeking this lesser good, the sinner sacrifices an even greater good, one that is absolute.

    Now, how does God bring about the conversion of a sinner? There are theoretically two ways.

    There is the way that He actually uses, which is to make His own presence felt (i.e., by giving grace–I believe that this is the sort of thing that Palamas has in mind when he speaks of the “Energies” of God, but please correct me if I am wrong). The important point to take home is that this manner of effecting conversion is not *violent* to the will. Rather, it presents to the will a good that is *greater* than the relative and lesser good that the sinner has twisted to his purposes by sinning. In this way, the sinner is rendered capable of loving God and thus restoring theological charity in his soul. Note that while we are still here on earth, God, in a certain sense, restrains Himself from manifesting His presence fully: if He did not do so, since His goodness is so compelling, we would be unable to resist Him, and sin would be impossible. (That is the state of the Blessed in Heaven.)

    The other possibility is that He could try to force our will. It would entail opposing something thing that the will has already determined to do. This is actually a logical impossibility: it would mean changing what the will has determined to something else that the will has *not* decided. But if the will has not decided it, it is not an act of the will.

    Now we come to the condemned souls: God would be more than willing to give them the grace they need to repent and return to union with Him. That is not the issue. (And in case we needed to have the point driven home further, He even became man and died on the Cross to show us that this is so.) The problem is that *the damned do not want to be saved*. God can purify them all He wants, but He cannot force their wills. They have opted for some lesser good, despite having been offered the Beatific Vision, and seeing all of the consequences of rejecting it. At that point, there is no remedy. In fact, all attempts at trying to bring them to conversion would be counterproductive, since it would only cause them to sin more and thus make their eternal separation from God more painful.

    As for affirming that the continued existence of condemned souls is somehow a privation in the Cosmos, I think there are several issues here.

    The most important one is that (at least in my opinion) the “Cosmos” (like time, actually) is not a “thing.” Rather, it consists in all the things that are in existence.

    Therefore, whereas I totally agree that *the condemned* do not (obviously) reach their fulfillment, it does not therefore follow that the *saved* are somehow missing something.

    Again, maintaining every respect and veneration due to St. Gregory of Nyssa, if he is affirming things like this (disclaimer: I am not an expert on St. Gregory), then I am afraid his reliance on Platonism is showing through a little. (Platonists of whatever stripe tend to think that the universals are more real than the individuals that make them up; this is, in my opinion, a philosophical error.)

    The other aspect is that, unfortunate as the situation is, damnation is not a blot on the glory of God. Rather, it shows forth the fact that God is so good, that He takes the “risk” of allowing us to have real freedom, even the freedom to reject Him. Or said in different terms, just as salvation for the elect shows forth the greatness of God’s mercy, damnation for the reprobate shows forth the greatness of His justice.


  5. A clarification: “This is actually a logical impossibility: it would mean changing what the will has determined to something else that the will has *not* decided. But if the will has not decided it, it is not an act of the will.”

    For example, God could force someone to behave well. He cannot, however, force someone to *want* to behave well.


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