Orthodox Saints Explain: Sufferings in Hell are Real

"the following belief is beginning to spread: that eternal sufferings are incompatible with the infinite mercy of God; therefore, the sufferings are not eternal. Such a misconception stems from a misunderstanding of things..."

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Christianity

We think of the sufferings in hell too abstractly and therefore we forget about them. Those living in the world have completely forgotten about them. The devil has instilled in us the belief that neither he (i.e. the devil), nor sufferings in hell exist. But the holy fathers teach that our bond with hades, or likewise our state of blessedness, begin here on earth; that is, sinners while still on earth begin experiencing the sufferings of hell, and the righteous—bliss… The only difference is that in the age to come both will be experienced incomparably stronger. St. Barsanuphius of Optina

The sufferings in hell without a doubt exist, and these sufferings will be of a corporeal nature. The souls of the righteous and sinners even have clothing. For example, holy hierarchs at times appeared in bishops’ vestments. Perhaps there will be cities there and the like. The sufferings in hell are seen by all in the conditions of our earthly existence, except that there we will not have such a gross body, but a more refined, sort of gaseous-like one… St. Barsanuphius of Optina

An incorrect understanding of the sufferings in hell is greatly widespread now. They’re understood too spiritually and abstractly, as the pricking of one’s conscience. Of course, the pricking of the conscience will also be present there, but there will be bodily sufferings as well; not for the body we presently have, but for the new body which we will obtain after the Resurrection. And hell has a specific location and is not some abstract concept. St. Barsanuphius of Optina

Three of the holy Optina Elders. Photo: shamordino-m.ru     

At present, not only among the laity, but also among the young clergy, the following belief is beginning to spread: that eternal sufferings are incompatible with the infinite mercy of God; therefore, the sufferings are not eternal. Such a misconception stems from a misunderstanding of things. Eternal sufferings and eternal blessedness are not just something that come from without, but are, first of all, inside of a person. The kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21). Whatever feelings a man instills in himself during his life, with those will he depart into eternal life. A sick body is tormented on earth, and the stronger the disease, the stronger the suffering. So the soul, when infected with various diseases, begins to suffer strongly during its transition to eternal life. An incurable bodily disease ends with ones death, but how can a spiritual disease end when there is no such thing as death for the soul? Malice, anger, irritability, fornication and other spiritual illnesses are like snakes which crawl after a person into eternal life. Hence, our goal in life is to crush these snakes here, on earth, in order to fully cleanse our soul and before death say together with our Savior: the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me (Jn. 14:30). A sinful soul, not cleansed by repentance, cannot abide together with the saints; and even if it were taken into Heaven, it would be unbearable for it to stay there, and it would strive to leave. St. Barsanuphius of Optina

The kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21), said the Lord; that is, in the heart. Therefore, it is necessary to seek it out in the heart, cleansing it of the passions and assaults of the enemy, judging and reproaching no one… St. Macarius of Optina

I ask you to postpone your journey for the time being, for the Kingdom of God should not be searched for outside of ourselves, but within; that is, in the heart. Question: “What is the Kingdom of God?” Answer: “The Kingdom of God is a virtuous life in God. Meaning, you must in humility, silence, and patience work on your soul; and continuing to do so, you will behold within you the peace of God, that is, the Kingdom of God; and after your repose you will behold yourself in the Kingdom of God”. St. Anthony of Optina

The Word of God speaks of both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. What is the difference? The Kingdom of Heaven is received by those who are worthy of it after death in the future life, while those who firmly believe and are diligent obtain the Kingdom of God within themselves in the present life—in their soul and heart—as it is said in the Gospel: The kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21). How and by what means is the Kingdom of God to be obtained within us? According to the Apostolic word, it is obtained, first of all, by truth, or righteousness, which consists in the fulfillment of the commandments of God and a merciful and compassionate disposition towards our neighbor; second, by having peace with our neighbor, peace from passions, peace with our conscience, and peace with God through repentance and humility. When the Christian forces himself to work on acquiring such a state, then he receives help in the form of grace, and with the help of the Holy Spirit will be joyful even among tribulations, believing firmly in the Apostolic word that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed (Rom. 5:3-5); that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18); and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). —St. Ambrose of Optina

Translation by Feodor Nemets / Shamordino.ru