February 23, 2020

"This Is How My Thoughts Perceive Judgment Will Take Place" (St. Paisios the Athonite)

Saint Paisios the Athonite was asked:

- Elder, how will the Last Judgment take place?

- On the Day of Judgment, each person’s state will be revealed in an instant and each one will move on to where he deserves to be. Each person will observe his own wretched state like on a TV screen, as well as the other’s state. He will see himself reflected against the other and will bow his head in shame and thus move on to the place that he deserves.*

For example, a daughter-in-law who used to sit indifferently cross-legged in the presence of her mother-in-law, who although suffering a broken leg, was nevertheless taking care of her little grandchild, will not be able to say, “Why, O my Christ, are you putting my mother-in-law in Paradise but not me?” because that precise scene will appear before her eyes [during Judgment]. She will be recalling the scene of her mother-in-law standing on her broken leg to attend to her little grandchild, and she will know she doesn’t deserve to go to Paradise – and neither will there be any space for her there.

Or, when monks who have seen the difficulties and the trials that secular people have been undergoing and how they were confronted - but they themselves [as monks] had not lived accordingly - they will hang their heads in shame, and head for where they deserve.

Nuns who had not pleased God will see there all the hero-mothers - who had taken no vows nor had the blessings and opportunities that the nuns had - and how those mothers struggled and to what spiritual state they had reached - when they as nuns had preoccupied and tormented themselves with all those petty matters - will be ashamed of themselves.

This is how my thoughts perceive Judgment will take place. Christ is not going to say: “Hey you - come here! What have you done?” or “You: you are going to Hell!” and “You: you are going to Heaven”; but rather, each one of us will compare himself to the others and will proceed to where he knows his place is.**

The amount of joy experienced by each person in Paradise will vary. One will have a thimble full of joy, another a glassful, and yet another, an entire reservoir. But all of them will feel complete and no one will know the other's extent of joy and delight. The Benevolent God has so ordered these matters, for if one knew that the other had more joy, then it would not be Paradise because then there would be questions like: "Why should he have more joy than me?" In other words, in Paradise, each person will see the glory of God in accordance with the purity of the eyes of his soul. The degree of visibility will not be determined by God, but will depend on each person's purity.

- Elder, some do not believe that Hell and Paradise exist.

- They don't believe that Hell and Paradise exist? Since they are souls, how is it possible for the dead to remain in non-existence? God is immortal and man is immortal by grace. Consequently, man will be immortal even in Hell. Moreover, Paradise and Hell are experienced by the soul, to a degree, even in this life, analogous with the inner state of each person. When someone experiences the pangs of remorse in his conscience and feels fear, distress, anxiety, hopelessness, or is overcome with hatred, envy and so forth, then he experiences Hell. But when he's full of love, joy, and peace, gentleness, kindness and so forth, then he experiences paradise. The whole basis is the soul, for it is the souls that experiences both the joy and the pain. Go to a dead person and tell him the most pleasant things. Tell him, for example, "You brother has come from America!" he will not understand or feel anything. If you break his arms or his legs, again, he will not feel a thing. Therefore, it is the soul that feels and understands. Don't the doubters wonder about this? Or let's say, you have a beautiful and pleasant dream; you rejoice and your heart so delights in it, that you don't want it to end. You wake up and are disappointed because you woke up. Or you may have a bad dream, wherein you fell and broke your legs, causing you much pain and suffering. Full of agony, you wake up crying; then you realize you're all right, and you say, "Thank God, it was only a dream!" In other words, it is the soul that is participating in these things. From an unpleasant dream, one can suffer more than he would in reality, just as a sick person suffers more at night than during the day. By the same token, when one dies and goes to Hell, it will be a far more painful experience. Try to imagine living through and eternal nightmare and being tormented eternally! Here, we can hardly endure a bad dream for more than a few minutes. Try to imagine enduring it eternally--God forbid--in grief and sorrow! So, it's better that we do not go to Hell. What do you think?

- Elder, we have been struggling for such a long time not to go to Hell...are you saying that we may end up there?

- If we have no brain, that is where we will go. I pray we all go to Paradise or on one goes to Hell! Isn't this the right thing to say? It is a very grave thing, after all that God has done for us humans, to go to Hell and grieve Him. May God so protect that not only people, but also not one creature, not even a bird, go to Hell.

May the Benevolent God grant us a sincere and full repentance, so that death finds us in a good spiritual condition, and may we be established in His Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.


* Saint John of Damascus writes: "Let no one believe that there will be no recognition of one another on that terrible gathering. Yes, indeed, each one will recognize the one near him - not by the form of his body, but by the discerning eye of the soul." (PG 95 276A)

** Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes: "And quite simply, every sinful person will see opposite him on that terrible day of Judgment, in eternal life and in that ineffable light, the one who is like him, and he will be judged by him." (On Repentance, Discourse 5, Sources Chr├ętiennes 96, 434)