Marc Guindon - Notes on Metr. Ephraim's teaching on Sheol/Hades
Notes on Metr. Ephraim's teaching on Sheol/Hades
and the possibility of the "dead" converting to the Christian Faith
In what follows we shall endeavor to follow the admonition of our Father in the faith, Saint John of Damascus who exhorted us:
All Scripture, then, is given by inspiration of God and is also assuredly profitable. Wherefore to search the Scriptures is a work most fair and most profitable for souls.
Regarding the article by His Eminence Metropolitan Ephraim, we find nothing in "Sheol Delenda Est" that teaches that Christ continues to preach the Gospel to those who are in Hades waiting for Judgment Day. We believe that what Metr. Ephraim (His Eminence M.E. afterward) teaches from his proof texts rests on a novelty built upon the slimmest of interpretations.
His quotation of second Peter: "And in the spirit He went and preached to the spirits that were imprisoned [in Hades], who formerly had not obeyed…." fails to see that Saint Peter using the past tense does not refer to a future event. Furthermore, he errs in not respecting the context as demonstrated hereafter.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him" (1Peter 3:18-22).
The exalted Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father having finished the work He was given to do by His Father. It would be so easy to present several passages from the Holy Scriptures but we will refrain, referring to just one, Hebrews 1:3. Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to accomplish in and through the Church the work He had begun with His disciples while in His former state of humiliation.
His Eminence M.E asks: "But what did the early Church believe?" and then he quotes St. Romanos the Melode. I don't think he is from the "early" Church. Early Church would be saints from the first three or four centuries. Others may have a different idea but "early" does mean early, does it not? And in fact, I believe that St. Romanos, in his Third Kontakion on the Resurrection is referring to those who rest in Christ in the hope of the resurrection. It has nothing to do with Christ leaving His throne and continuing to visit "spirits in prison." See the following from St. John of Damascus on Christ preaching to the captives in Hades:
Concerning the Descent to Hades
The soul when it was deified descended into Hades, in order that, just as the Sun of Righteousness rose for those upon the earth, so likewise He might bring light to those who sit under the earth in darkness and shadow of death: in order that just as He brought the message of peace to those upon the earth, and of release to the prisoners, and of sight to the blind, and became to those who believed the Author of everlasting salvation and to those who did not believe a reproach of their unbelief, so He might become the same to those in Hades: That every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth. And thus after He had freed those who had been bound for ages, straightway He rose again from the dead, shewing us the way of resurrection.
After reading the above can one really believe that after the Lord Jesus Christ finished His work, He continues to descend into Hell, Sheol or Hades, to give people a second chance to believe in Him? Personally, we don't think so. As for the rest of his article, including his quotations from Holy Scripture, it adds nothing to his hypothesis that Christ continues to enlighten the dead in Hell, leading them to faith and conversion.
His Eminence's article "Awake Sleeper"
His Eminence M.E. writes:
Essentially, what Saint Philaret (and the Church Fathers) say is that, in order to judge mankind fairly, our Saviour will give every person who ever lived on earth the opportunity to espouse or reject His teaching. Whether this happens while the person is still living or in Hades ― whenever it happens ― he or she will have the opportunity to make that choice.
How many have fallen for the idea that we must reason with people and tell them that God is just. We often appeal to human rationalism in doing so. This is like saying God will give the Chinese or the Indians a second chance because they never heard the gospel. It is similar to what Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses try to do, i.e. make things understandable and reasonable to those they are instructing. For example, M.E. states:
...our Saviour will give every person who ever lived on earth the opportunity to espouse or reject His teaching. Whether this happens while the person is still living or in Hades ― whenever it happens ― he or she will have the opportunity to make that choice.
This is what the Holy Scriptures and our Holy Tradition teach us (see our previous article, "Sheol Delenda Est!"). Whether all choose to believe and accept that message is a question we cannot answer, of course. But, in general, the Saints of the Church are generally optimistic about the success of the Christian message.
Such thinking sounds too close to universalism; we can only hope that a desire to be open and just and to exhibit a love for all is not unduly influencing our beloved Metropolitan. We are saddened to say that the example of a Methodist minister and his cited passages from the New Testament are nothing but wishful thinking.
Regarding the many levels or degrees of heavenly blessings and rewards we have no doubt and we agree as he writes on page four, "our reward...will be 'customized'." But this is far from saying the Fathers and the Holy Scriptures teach that those in Hades will hear "the true message" or have "a fair trial." Nothing he has quoted so far teaches what he is reading into it.
His Eminence M.E. next quotes Saint Paul in Ephesians 5:14 which reads: "Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Again this says nothing pertinent to our Metropolitan's treatise because Saint Paul is exhorting Christians to good works, to walk in the light of the truth of the faith in view of a future resurrection where all shall be judged. We give here and in context an "early" Church Father as support for what we write:
65. Moreover, concerning the resurrection and the kingdom of the saints, Daniel says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall arise, some to everlasting life, (and some to shame and everlasting contempt).” Esaias says, “The dead men shall arise, and they that are in their tombs shall awake; for the dew from thee is healing to them.” The Lord says, “Many in that day shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” And the prophet says, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” And John says, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power.” For the second death is the lake of fire that burneth. And again the Lord says, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun shineth in his glory.” And to the saints He will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But what saith He to the wicked? “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, which my Father hath prepared.” And John says, “Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever maketh and loveth a lie; for your part is in the hell of fire.” And in like manner also Esaias: “And they shall go forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me. And their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be for a spectacle to all flesh.”
66. Concerning the resurrection of the righteous, Paul also speaks thus in writing to the Thessalonians: “We would not have you to be ignorant concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive (and) remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice and trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive (and) remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
67. These things, then, I have set shortly before thee, O Theophilus, drawing them from Scripture itself, in order that, maintaining in faith what is written, and anticipating the things that are to be, thou mayest keep thyself void of offence both toward God and toward men, “looking for that blessed hope and appearing of our God and Saviour,” when, having raised the saints among us, He will rejoice with them, glorifying the Father. To Him be the glory unto the endless ages of the ages. Amen.
One last quotation from the New Testament will suffice to give a little more context to the theme passage in Ephesians:
"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:11-14)
Is this not similar, even a parallel passage, to the author's theme text in Ephesians 5:14? Is it not an exhortation to good works and to avoid evil and evil-doers because we shall be judged for our manner of living now, in this life? Need we say more?
Yesterday, March 20, 2010, we read from by Joanne Manley, The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, (1999), pages 773-777. The reader of this paper is invited to read those pages for confirmation of the position that there is no conversion after death, "For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation," (2 Cor 6:2). The author, Joanne Manley, gives many quotations with references from the Holy Fathers relative to the topic discussed in this paper which follows.
 Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. IX (p. 89).
 Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. IX (pp. 72–73).
 Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. V : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 (sections 65-67, pp. 218–219); [Eph. 5:14, bold added by myself MG].
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