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April 27, 2015


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D.L. Jones

Regarding St. John Chrysostom, no one that I am aware of, past or present, believes him to be a universalist as you recognize yourself. Therefore what did he mean by the phrase you refer to. It needs to be seen in the light of thought by other Church Fathers in the East. This is where Metropolitan Hilarion's thought is helpful.

I think one of the key things I draw out of Hilarion's lecture is that many of the Eastern Church Fathers believed Christ preached the Good News to all in Hades. Some chose him but others rejected him, as they did/do on Earth then and now. This is what the consensus of the Church Fathers believe. Is that consistent with what Caleb is proposing?

One of the main problems of universalism as I see is that of determinism, maybe soft determinism, but determinism never the less. It does not respect the free will of man. Can man reject God's love and mercy, either now or in the afterlife? The consensus of the Church Fathers said yes he could.

caleb miller

Good thoughts David. I'm wondering where you get that the Orthodox church doesn't teach the 'harrowing of hell' as this is the point of Chrysostom's paschal homily? As Brad has mentioned, I'm taking creative license with some of the wording I'm using, as does David, Habakuk, Isaiah, and many of the new testament writers. Most of my thoughts stemmed from the teaching of Jesus transforming the womb of Mary into the holy of holies. Granted, I took it a little far for the sake of the story, but then again, I don't feel as though I'll get to heaven and have the Father tell me "well done thou safely playing servant" or "you know, you made me out to be much better than I actually am".

As for the points in your first comment, I think you've greatly misunderstood what you're read regarding the Orthodox stances on a few things, though I'm not fully there either. Paul says that Jesus "led captivity captive" and made a spectacle of death, to me, that is harrowing hell.

D.L. Jones


I would love to hear Caleb's own thoughts on this matter. After all it is his article that we are discussing.

I always learn from our own conversations though. Thank you my friend. I do see that some Eastern Orthodox do teach this concept of the "Harrowing of Hell" but use just different vocabulary to describe it. I have found Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's works on these matter to be most helpful. Refer to this lecture of his on this topic.

Christ the Conqueror of Hell - The Descent of Christ into Hades in Eastern and Western Theological Traditions

His book, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, goes into even great detail on this topic.

What does Archbishop Lazar teach regarding the "Harrowing of Hell"? By my reading of his many books on this topic it seems to me that he (& the author who gives an appendix to in one his books, i.e. Peter Chopelos) holds the traditional view of the Ante-Nicean (Early) Church Fathers on this topic. Everyone, including the saved, remain in Abraham's Bosum/Paradise until the Second Coming of Christ where they will be physically resurrected and be judged. Only at that point will the saved go to Heaven or Gehennna for the damned.

Here are links so folks can go directly to referenced lecture and book...

Brad Jersak


While the Apostles Creed is not the standard Eastern creed per se, it is in the West and does describe Christ's victorious descent into hades. We would agree (and Caleb too) that this 'hades' was never intended to describe 'hell' ... but then again, no Greek word was meant to be translated that way, including gehenna (a travesty for another day). Nonetheless, the earlier English translations did use 'hell' in the Apostles Creed, and while technically a mistake, can be and has been used and prayed poetically. But to literalize or dogmatize that translation would certainly be as mistaken as dogmatizing Dante (which has sadly happened so very often).

While not a creed per se, Chrysostom's Paschal Homily is certainly at the core of Orthodox teaching and maintains nearly the same stature. It uniquely combines doctrine and poetry. Again, unfortunately, some translations say 'hell' rather than 'hades,' but in any case, proclaims that with Christ's decent, 'not one dead remains' there. If we took that literally and dogmatically, all Orthodox would have to be universalists, which we aren't (nor, I think, was Chrysostom). So it seems he's using some poetic licence. BUT, and I see this in Caleb's piece: the poetry is NOT vacuous. It means something.

Perhaps to take the conversation forward, rather than citing why this or that is wrong (because we know that's a bottomless pit, however enjoyable the conversation), could you share your thoughts on how you understand those lines in Chrysostom: "Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!"

Some would surely say, 'All will be raises from the tomb (one day, but not then) and they will be judged, and then sent to heaven or hell.' Easy enough to prove from our Lord's own words. But in context, Chrysostom is clearly talking about a redemption, a rescue in which death is overthrown, demons are fallen and life reigns. It seems obvious that rescuing someone from hades only to thrown them into hell does not constitute rescue, redemption or life reigning!

So I don't take the Paschal homily as scholastic dogma, but its stature does require that I take it seriously, that it means something ... and perhaps something not altogether different than dear Rev. Miller. How would you teach it in a catechism, for example, or would you dismiss it as error?

D.L. Jones

Well if we are going to discuss poetry, I encourage folks to read Dante on the afterlife. Other notable poets who were orthodox in their art which are worth mentioning are Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot. No one would deny they wrote beautiful poetry. Poetry does not excuse one to teach error or speculate on matters the Church has clearly defined for generations.

What do the historical apostolic Churches (Eastern Orthodox or Catholic) believe occurred in Christ’s descent to Hades? This is not a poetic matter. This is basic doctrine/dogma of our universally accepted Creeds.

Did Our Lord descend into the damned area of Hell or not? Show Me any Biblical or Patristic evidence for that theological speculation and that the universal Church accepted that and requires it for belief.

Show me where the Eastern Orthodox Church even teaches and requires for belief this concept of the "Harrowing of Hell".

Show me who in the Church has embraced Apocatastasis since St. Gregory and how it was then or is now an universally held belief requiring ascent.

I am not denying Caleb’s desire or ability from departing from universally held beliefs regarding the Creed or what the Church requires for belief. What he should not do though is give the impression his theological speculation has ever been or is now accepted by the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church.

Brad Jersak

I suspect, David, that on some of these points, your scholastic theology is crossing wires with Caleb's poetic / prophetic lyricism. And on this front, Caleb is not altogether far away from the biblical texts of Jeremiah, for example, who envisions 'hell' (the Valley of Hinnom) being renovated under the New Covenant victory of Messiah into a garden. In fact, 'the Garden.'

The balance here is not to mistake poetry and doctrine ... while letting them speak to each other.

D.L. Jones

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

I appreciate Caleb’s ministry. I want to ensure to say this upfront so I do not to give the wrong impression.

I encourage this discussion of afterlife issues. This is something I share with him, Dr. Jersak and many others. These are good discussions to be having as people of faith.

I do believe though his most recent article is deeply flawed for a number of different reasons.

1. Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as Roman Catholicism, considers universalism a condemned heresy. Apocatastasis was formally and officially condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of Constantinople, in 553 AD. Caleb is free to promote universalism if he so desires but he should not give the impression that Eastern Orthodoxy, or any of the historic apostolic churches, embraces it as doctrine or dogma.

2. Eastern Orthodoxy does not teach the belief of the “Harrowing of Hell”. Frankly, that is more a Roman Catholic belief than an Eastern Orthodox one which I will describe in the next point. From an Orthodox perspective, Christ descended into Hades to preach the Good News to the saved as He did all those living on Earth. All those in Hades, the saved and the damned, will wait for his Second Coming for their physical resurrection and Judgement. Only at that time will the “Harrowing of Hell” occur when the saved go to Heaven and the damned to Gehenna with their physical bodies.

3. Even if one accepts the belief and concept of the “Harrowing of Hell” on Holy Saturday, it does not mean anything close to what Caleb describes in his article. Christ descended into the saved portion of Hades known as Abraham’s Bosum or Paradise. Christ did not descend into the damned portion of Hades. His “Harrowing of Hell”, if there was one, was of all the saved, the minor and major prophets, etc. To claim Christ descended into the damned area of Hell can be and is considered a heresy as well. He simply did not do that. This is basic Creed 101.

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