We must pray for all

Silouan the Athonite is a saint in the Orthodox Church who died in 1938. He left his native Russia to reside at the holiest monastic location in Orthodoxy: Mt. Athos. The following snippet of conversation Silouan had comes from Archimandrite Sophrony’s book on him.

[Silouan’s companion said,] “God will punish all the atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.”

Obviously upset, the Staretz [Silouan] said, “Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire — would you feel happy?”

“It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,” said the hermit.

The Staretz answered with sorrowful countenance:

“Love could not  bear that,” he said, “We must pray for all.”

Notice how the hermit dodged the question. He did not answer how he would feel, he assigned blame. One of the central problems in eschatology (i.e., theology of the end of time and judgment) is reconciling God’s love with (eternal) punishment. Origen was later condemned for asserting the salvation of all people on the basis that Christ could not be sorrowful eternally because of the souls in hell.

Silouan’s answer is interesting. He turns the question back onto how we regard other people. That someone might burn in hell-fire prompts us to pray that this is not the case. In doing so, he highlights a fundamental theological truth when it comes to how we think about how things end: how we think about heaven, hell, and judgement affects how we treat people now. How does your eschatology affect how you treat people? What does it say about how you should treat people?

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