HEAVEN, HELL AND THE CYPRIANITES

Written by Vladimir Moss

HEAVEN, HELL AND THE CYPRIANITES

Vladimir Moss

The marasmic family of heresies that I will call “Romanideanism” after its most famous exponent, the new calendarist Fr. John Romanides, appears to be eating its way into the flesh of the True Orthodox and Traditionalist Churches. The latest victim, to judge from a recent issue of Orthodox Tradition (vol. XXVII, 3, 2010, pp. 12-19), is the archdiocese of Etna, California, which is part of the so-called “Synod of Resistance”, otherwise known as the “Cyprianites”. Here, several months after the publication of a generally approbatory article on the life of Romanides, we see a Romanidean article by Fr. George Metallinos on heaven and hell reprinted in full with no commentary – which would seem to imply approval of its content. Similarly, the March, 2009 issue of the Cyprianite journal, The Shepherd, reproduces an article by Romanides. Are we witnessing a gradual acceptance by the Cyprianites of this arch-heretic and his serious distortions of the Orthodox teaching on salvation?

Let us look more closely at the article by Metallinos, an ardent admirer of Romanides. After various scriptural and liturgical references, Metallinos presents his major thesis as follows: “Paradise and hell are not two different places. (This version is an idolatrous concept.) They signify two different situations (ways), which originate from the same uncreated source, and are perceived by man as two, different experiences. Or, more precisely, they are the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man, depending on man’s internal state. This experience is the sight of Christ inside the uncreated light of His divinity, of His ‘glory’. From the moment of His Second Coming, through to all eternity, all people will be seeing Christ in His uncreated light. That is when ‘those who worked evil in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of their life, while those who have worked evil in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of judgement’ (John 5.29). In the presence of Christ, mankind will be separated (‘sheep’ and ‘goats’, to His right and His left). In other words, they will be discerned in two separate groups: those who will be looking upon Christ as paradise (the ‘exceeding good, the radiant’) and those who will be looking upon Christ as hell (‘the all-consuming fire’, Hebrews 12.29).

“Paradise and hell are the same reality…”[1]

If Metallinos wrote these words in order to shock, he succeeded. The common-sense reaction to these words is: “How can it be true that paradise and hell are the same experience, the same reality?! Surely no two experiences or realities could be more different!”

Of course, there is a purpose to this “shock-therapy”. Metallinos is trying, in typically Romanidean fashion, to shock us out of our traditional understanding of heaven and hell, which he considers to be rooted in a western, “scholastic” mind-set. And he thinks he has the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers on his side. But perhaps his ideas have more in common with modern western thinkers, especially the existentialists, and less with the Holy Fathers, than he thinks…

Let us begin with the statement that paradise and hell are not two different places, but two different experiences. Now if he had said that Paradise and hell are not only places, but also experiences, or spiritual conditions, we would not have objected. But Metallinos seems to give a purely subjective, psychological or “noetic” interpretation of heaven and hell that is completely abstracted from anything spatio-temporal or material.

This is clearly false. God planted paradise, or Eden, “toward the east” in a definite part of planet earth which tradition associates with what is now the neighbourhood of the city of Tabriz in North-Western Iran, and “placed there the man that He had formed” (Genesis 2.8). Paradise had (and has) earth, and plants, and rivers, and birds and trees. After the fall of man, the entrance to paradise was blocked by the sword of the Seraphim, and then paradise itself was removed from the earth, in order that it should not be corrupted. But it has only changed place; it has not ceased to be what it was in the beginning. The Apostle Paul was taken up to paradise, which is also called the Third Heaven (II Corinthians 12.1-4) – and he admits the possibility that he was there in body as well as soul, which implies that paradise is physical, as well as a spiritual reality. Again, St. Irenaeus writes that “Enoch of old, having pleased God, was translated in the body, foreshowing the translation of the righteous… The Elders… say that those who have been translated are taken to paradise, and remain there until the consummation of all things, being the first to enter into incorruption.”[2] If Enoch, who has not died, is in paradise in the body, then paradise is a physical place even now, after its translation from the earth – although its physicality is an incorrupt physicality, not like our corrupt earth. Of course, the Fathers also understand paradise in other ways: as the mind in which God dwells noetically, and as a type of future, eschatological realities.[3] But these spiritual interpretations should not be seen as contradicting the physical reality. Even in St. John’s vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, after “the first heaven and the first earth have passed away” (Revelation 21.1), there is still a place “in the middle of its street” for the tree of life, for its leaves and for the river of paradise (Revelation 22.2).

Similarly, hell has always been understood to be a place, albeit not an ordinary place. And just as heaven and paradise have always been understood to be “up”, above us, so hell has always been understood to be below us, in the bowels of the earth. Thus St. Paul’s words have a definite spatial connotation: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth” (Philippians 2.9).

A sophisticated rationalist will mockingly reply: “Do you mean to say that if you go far enough up from earth in a spaceship you will someday reach heaven, or if you dig a hole far enough into the earth you will eventually reach hell?!” No, we do not mean that. Clearly, when Christ descended into hell and then ascended into heaven, he entered a region that is in some sense beyond our normal space-time continuum. Of course, modern physics has revealed that space-time is very far from what it seems to be to our normal, unsophisticated sense-perception. We experience it in four dimensions, but modern string-theory physicists believe it has eleven! So the question arises: could paradise and hell be in one of the seven dimensions that we do not normally experience? Or even in a twelfth dimension not yet discovered by scientists? Even if we give negative answers to these questions, and conclude that heaven and hell exist in some completely different kind of reality, we must nevertheless accept the fact that heaven and hell must in some way interact with our familiar four dimensions of space and time. For when Christ ascended into heaven, he definitely went up in relation to the observing Apostles, and not down, or to the right or left. And again, when He descended into hell, he definitely went down, and not in any other direction.

As C.S. Lewis writes, referring to the “New Nature” of Christ’s resurrection Body, “the New Nature is, in the most troublesome way [for sophisticated rationalists], interlocked at some points with the Old. Because of its novelty we have to think of it, for the most part, metaphorically; but because of the partial interlocking, some facts about it [the local appearances, the eating, the touching, the claim to be corporeal] come through into our present experience in all their literal facthood – just as some facts about an organism are inorganic facts, and some facts about a solid body are facts of linear geometry.”[4]

Again, Fr. Seraphim Rose writes that, in reacting to an over-materialist understanding of heaven and hell, “many Christians… have gone to the opposite extreme and declare that heaven is ‘nowhere’. Among Roman Catholics and Protestants there are sophisticated analogies which proclaim that heaven is ‘a state, not a place’, that ‘up’ is only a metaphor, the Ascension of Christ… was not really an ‘ascension’, but only a change of state. The result of such apologies is that heaven and hell become very vague and indefinite conceptions, and the sense of their reality begins to disappear – with disastrous results for Christian life, because these are the very realities toward which our whole earthly life is directed.

“All such apologies, according to the teaching of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, are based on the false idea of the modern philosopher Descartes that everything that is not material is ‘pure spirit’ and is not limited by time and space. This is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Bishop Ignatius writes: ‘The fantasy of Descartes concerning the independence of spirits in space and time is a decisive absurdity. Everything that is limited is necessarily dependent on space’ (vol. III, p. 312). ‘The numerous quotations from the Divine service books and the works of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church decided with complete satisfaction the question as to where paradise and hell are located… With what clarity the teaching of the Orthodox Eastern Church indicates that the location of paradise is in the heavens and the location of hell is in the bowels of the earth’ (vol. III, pp. 308-9; the emphasis is his). Here we shall only indicate just how this teaching is to be interpreted.

“It is certainly true, as Bishop Ignatius’ numerous citations indicate, that all Orthodox sources – the Holy Scripture, Divine services, Lives of Saints, writings of Holy Fathers – speak of paradise and heaven as ‘up’ and hell as ‘down’, under the earth. And it is also true that since angels and souls are limited in space…, they must always be in one definite place – whether heaven, hell, or earth…

“Heaven, therefore, is certainly a place, and it is certainly up from any point on the earth, and hell is certainly down, in the bowels of the earth; but these places and their inhabitants cannot be seen by men until their spiritual eyes are opened… Further, these places are not within the ‘coordinates’ of our space-time system: airliner does not pass ‘invisibly’ through paradise, nor an earth satellite through the third heaven, nor can the souls waiting in hell for the Last Judgement be reached by drilling for them in the earth. They are not there, but in a different kind of space that begins right here but extends, as it were, in a different direction…”[5]

Returning to Metallinos, we can agree that heaven is “noetic”; but we cannot deny that it is also in some real sense a place, because we humans, in both our souls and our bodies, are located in space and time; we are circumscribed. Even the angels are circumscribed; they cannot be in two places at once. Only God and His Grace are completely uncircumscribed, not bounded by space and time. So when our souls are sent by God to heaven and hell, they are sent to places, because they cannot be in a non-place, so to speak. True, the space and time of the other world, as Fr. Seraphim says, are different in some ways from the space and time we know. That is, the images of heaven and hell that we formin our earth-bound imagination are more or less inadequate to the reality. And yet both the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the experiences of many who have been to the other world and come back, agree that they are places, even if they are much more than merely places...

Let us turn to Metallinos’ statement that heaven and hell “are the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man”. As it stands, this statement makes no logical, let alone theological sense. An experience is an event in one man’s subjective consciousness. If it is an experience in heaven or of heaven, then it must be joyful; if it is in hell or of hell, then it must be painful. But a joyful experience cannot be the same as a painful experience: they must be different experiences. The experience of Uncreated Grace as described by the saints could be called an experience of heaven on earth. In any case, it cannot be described as an experience of hell…[6]

As for one and the same experience being "perceived differently", this is possible, but only later, in recollection. But this is not what Metallinos is saying. He is saying that at the Second Coming of Christ, the righteous will look upon the Uncreated Light – the Divine Fire that will sweep through the whole universe – and rejoice, being enlightened but not burned, while the sinners will look upon It and grieve, being burned but not enlightened. This is true, as the patristic references cited by Metallinos prove. But the truth of this statement by no means proves that heaven and hell are one experience. Rather, it demonstrates that the righteous and the sinners have two, completely different experiences in relation to one and the same event – the Appearance of Christ in all His Majesty at the Second Coming.

All spiritual experiences, insofar as they involve an interaction between the uncreated God and created man, have a dual nature. It is a characteristic of Romanides and his followers that they tend to emphasize the uncreated, Divine aspect of these experiences at the expense of their created, human aspect. This “eschatological monophytism” has the effect, as Fr. Seraphim Rose noted, of making our ideas about heaven and hell vague and indefinite, with disastrous consequences for the spiritual life. In view of this, it would be advisable for the Cyprianites not to publish the works of Romanides, Metallinos and other new calendarist heretics, or at any rate publish them with a spiritual health warning and with clear refutations of their less reliable parts. Otherwise, we might begin to think that they actually believe the same as the modernists…

Vladimir Moss.

September 17/30, 2010.



[1] Metallinos, “Paradise and Hell in the Orthodox tradition”, Orthodox Tradition, vol. XXVII, 3, 2010, pp. 12-19.

[2] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, 5:1; cf. V, 36:1.

[3] St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: “Paradise He planted afterwards as a sign of the age to come” (First Ethical Discourse).

[4] Lewis, Miracles, London: Fount, 1974, p. 162.

[5] Rose, The Soul after Death, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1980, pp. 129-131.

[6] For example, St. Gregory of Sinai writes: “The energy of grace is the power of spiritual fire that fills the heart with joy and gladness, stabilizes, warms and purifies the soul, temporarily stills our provocative thoughts, and for a time suspends the body's impulsions. The signs and fruits that testify to its authenticity are tears, contrition, humility, self-control, silence, patience, self-effacement and similar qualities, all of which constitute undeniable evidence of its presence.”

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company