Heaven, hell, death, and Lent
In Orthodox theology we believe that heaven and hell are actually the same place. We all go to be with God after death. For some of us this is pure heavenly bliss and for others this is eternal hell and torment. Though there are many unknowns about what eternal life is actually like, we know that Christ is risen and death is conquered. According to the last line of St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal homily, “Christ is risen and the demons shutter, Christ is risen and no one is in the grave. Christ is risen and life reins.” Those dead to us are alive in Christ.
My grandmother died recently and her death has left me a lot to ponder. She was Christian, but she was not Orthodox. In fact, only my immediate family is Orthodox. I have been to my share of funerals and have now grieved the loss of all of my grandparents. The more people profess Christ during their lifetime, the more those left on Earth feel certain that they went to heaven. All grieving family members want to have certainty that their loved one is experiencing heaven. We console ourselves that the deceased’s suffering is now over. We would like to think that we too will go to heaven some day to be with God and our departed loved ones. We are all going to the same place, but the unknown is if we will experience it as heaven or hell. The death of a loved one makes us ponder our own mortality. This is also timely to ponder as Lent approaches.
As we start Lent, it is helpful to ponder our sins and make a contrite repentance. The gospel reading for the past Sunday was Matthew 25- The Sheep and the Goats at the Last Judgment. We all want to be sheep. In Matthew 25 we are given three parables that help us to understand the preparations we must make to experience heaven. Reread them while you ponder the coming celebration of Christ’s resurrection and your mortality. Please comment with your thoughts!