Following on parts one and two, this is the final in the presentation of my notes from the discussion Building the Body of Christ given by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) at my parish church, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland. Please keep in mind that these are notes, and only seldom verbatim; I don’t write that quickly. As in the other sections, I’ve made an attempt to track down and present in full various quotations. Likewise, the “I” in these notes is Metropolitan Kallistos, not myself. We continue and conclude with this installment.
Saturday afternoon, 23 February: “Eternity in the Present: Baptism and Eucharist”
Last night there was a question that still needed answering, about the salvation of all. Will it happen that the majority are not save, and would that mean God has failed?
Answer: We cannot answer this. First Timothy [2.4]: God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The offer of salvation is made to all. In extreme forms of Calvinism, some are predestined to hell. The Orthodox have never believed that. The offer of salvation is to all. But in creating man with free will, God took a risk. He is a God of love and love requires freedom. Desiring a world of love, humans are all created with freedom of conscience. God’s love is infinite. But we are free. We can say Yes to God, or say Not to God forever, which is hell. God doesn’t wish anyone to go to hell. Some Christians have theorized that all would be saved, like Origen, an idea called apokatastasis. He was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Gregory of Nyssa believed the same. Isaac the Syrian hoped for the same, saying God does not requite evil, but sets evil aright. He found it a mystery. He couldn’t believe that God’s love would fail. It is false to say, with Origen, “All must be saved.” But it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. In this we are confronted with something beyond our imagining. From Father Sophronius in his book on St Silouan:
I remember a conversation between him [St Silouan] and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, “God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.”
Obviously upset, the Staretz [St Silouan] said, “Tell me, supposing you were in 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 him with a sorrowful countenance. “Love could not bear that,” he said. “We must pray for all.”