Gregory the Great: Heaven and hell are shut up together Saturday, Jun 20 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistIf He overturn all things, or shut them up together, then who shall gainsay Him?  Or who can say to Him, Why doest Thou so? (Job 11:10).

It very often happens that the spirit already lifts the mind on high, yet that the flesh assails it with pressing temptations.

And, when the soul is led forward to the contemplation of heavenly things, it is struck back by the images of unlawful practice being presented.

For the sting of the flesh suddenly wounds him, whom holy contemplation was bearing away beyond the flesh.

Therefore heaven and hell are shut up together, when one and the same mind is at once enlightened by the uplifting of contemplation, and bedimmed by the pressure of temptation —

— so that both by straining forward it sees what it should desire, and through being bowed down it should be in thought subject to that which it should blush for.

For light springs from heaven, but hell is held of darkness.

Heaven and hell then are brought into one, when the soul which already sees the light of the land above, also sustains the darkness of secret temptation coming from the warfare of the flesh.

Yea, Paul had already gone up to the height of the third heaven, already learnt the secrets of Paradise, and yet being still subject to the assaults of the flesh, he groaned, saying:

But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:23).

How then was it with the heart of this illustrious Preacher, saving that God had ‘shut up together’ heaven and hell, in that he had both already obtained the light of the interior vision, and yet continued to suffer darkness from the flesh?

Above himself he had seen what to seek after with joy, in himself he perceived what to bewail with fear.  The light of the heavenly land had already shed abroad its rays, yet the dimness of temptation embarrassed the soul.

Therefore he underwent hell together with heaven, in that assurance set him erect in his enlightenment, and lamentation laid him low in his temptation.

And it often happens that faith is now vigorous in the soul, and yet in some slight point it is wasted with uncertainty, so that both being well-assured, it lifts itself up from visible objects, and at the same time being unassured it disquiets itself in certain points.

For very often it lifts itself to seek after the things of eternity, and being driven by the incitements of thoughts that arise, it is set at strife with its very own self.

[…] Did not he experience that ‘earth and sea were shut up together’ in his breast, who, both hoping through faith and wavering through faithlessness, cried, Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief? (Mark 9:23).

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 17-18 (on Job 11:10) @ Lectionary Central (slightly adapted).

Macarius the Egyptian: Christ comes into the deep of the heart-hell and breaks through the heavy stones that lie on the soul Saturday, Aug 17 2013 

Macarius3The Lord comes to death, and discourses with him, and bids him bring the souls out of hell and death, and give them back to Him.

Behold then, death, troubled at these things, goes in to his ministers, and gathers together all his powers; and the prince of wickedness produces the bond-deeds, and says, “See, these obeyed my words; see how men worshipped us.”

But God, who is a just judge, displays His justice here also, and says to him, “Adam obeyed thee, and thou didst take possession of all the hearts of him. Humanity obeyed thee.

“What is My body doing here? This is without sin. That body of the first Adam was under obligation to thee, and thou hast a right to keep the bond-deeds of it; but to Me all bear witness that I never sinned.

“I owe thee nothing, and all bear witness that I am the Son of God. […] I purchase the body that was sold to thee through the first Adam; I cancel thy bonds.

“I paid the debts of Adam, when I was crucified and descended into hell; and I command thee, O hell and darkness and death, bring out the imprisoned souls of Adam.”

Thus the evil powers, stricken with terror, give back the imprisoned Adam.

But when you hear that at that time the Lord delivered the souls from hell and darkness, and went down to hell, and did a glorious work, do not imagine that these things are so very far from your own soul.

Man is capable of admitting and receiving the evil one. Death keeps fast hold of the souls of Adam, and the thoughts of the soul lie imprisoned in the darkness.

When you hear of sepulchres, do not think only of visible ones; your own heart is a sepulchre and a tomb.

When the prince of wickedness and his angels burrow there, and make paths and thoroughfares there, on which the powers of Satan walk into your mind and thoughts, are you not a hell, a tomb, a sepulchre, a dead man towards God?

There it was that Satan coined reprobate silver. In this soul he sowed seeds of bitterness. It is leavened with old leaven; a fountain of mire springs there.

Well, then, the Lord comes into souls that seek after Him, into the deep of the heart-hell, and there lays His command upon death, saying, “Bring out the imprisoned souls that are seeking after Me, which thou detainest by force.”

So He breaks through the heavy stones that lie on the soul, opens the sepulchres, raises up the man that is dead indeed, brings out of the dark jail the imprisoned soul.

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 11,10-11, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

John Chrysostom: Christ is Risen, and the Demons are Fallen! Christ is Risen, and the Angels Rejoice! Christ is Risen, and Life Reigns! Sunday, Apr 24 2011 

If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!

[…] If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.

If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.

If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings.

Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.

If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.

And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first.

He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.

[…] Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord.

Receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.

You rich and poor together, hold high festival!

You sober and you heedless, honour the day!

Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.

The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.

The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.

He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.

And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.

It was embittered, for it was mocked.

It was embittered, for it was slain.

It was embittered, for it was overthrown.

It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.

It took a body, and met God face to face.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.

It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Paschal Homily @ Pravoslavie.

Anonymous: The Bridal Chamber is Adorned, the Banquet is Ready, the Eternal Dwelling Places are Prepared Saturday, Apr 23 2011 

Christ said to Adam:

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.

Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise.

I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.

Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image.

Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.

For your sake…who left a garden, I was betrayed…in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. 

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you.

See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image.

On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back.

See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree. 

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours.

My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you. 

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven.

I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you.

I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God.

The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager.

The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open.

The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. 

From a Holy Saturday homily written in Greek dating back to the fourth century liturgy (PG 43, 439, 462f), from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday @ Crossroads Initiative.

Benedict XVI on Angela of Foligno (3): The More We See the God and Man Jesus Christ, the More we are Transformed in Him through Love Thursday, Oct 14 2010 

Continued from previous post

Understand that, in her mystical journey, Angela understood profoundly the central reality:

What would save her from her “unworthiness” and from “deserving hell” will not be her “union with God” and her possessing the “truth,” but Jesus crucified, “his crucifixion for me,” his love.

In the eighth step, she says: “However I did not yet understand if my deliverance from sin and hell and conversion to penance was a greater good, or his crucifixion for me”.

And the unstable balance between love and sorrow, perceived in all her difficult journey toward perfection.

Precisely because of this she contemplated by preference the crucified Christ, because in this vision she saw realized the perfect balance:

On the Cross is the man-God, in a supreme act of suffering, which is a supreme act of love.

In the third Instruction the blessed insists on this contemplation and affirms: “The more perfectly and purely we see, the more perfectly and purely we love.

“That is why the more we see the God and man Jesus Christ, the more we are transformed in him through love.”

“What I have said of love…I say also of sorrow: The more the soul contemplates the ineffable sorrow of the God and man Jesus Christ, the more it sorrows and is transformed in sorrow”.

To be immersed, to be transformed in love and in the sufferings of Christ crucified, is to be identified with him.

Angela’s conversion, begun with that confession of 1285, came to maturity only when God’s forgiveness appeared to her soul as the free gift of love of the Father, source of love:

“There is no one who can give excuses,” she affirms, “because each one can love God, ad He does not ask the soul other than that He wills it good, because He loves it and is its love”.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On Medieval Mystic Blessed Angela of Foligno (translation byZenit)


Benedict XVI on Angela of Foligno (2): Whoever Wants to Preserve Grace must not Take the Eyes of his Soul off the Cross Thursday, Oct 14 2010 

Continued from previous post

We will now consider only some “steps” of the rich spiritual path of our blessed.

The first, in reality, is an introduction: “It was the knowledge of sin,” as she specifies, “following which the soul has great fear of being damned; in this step she wept bitterly”.

This “fear” of hell responds to the type of faith that Angela had at the time of her “conversion”; a faith still poor in charity, namely, of love of God.

Repentance, fear of hell, and penance opened up to Angela the prospect of the sorrowful “way of the cross” that, from the eighth to the 15th step, would then lead her on the “way of love.”

The friar confessor recounts: “The faithful one now said to me: I had this divine revelation:

“‘After the things that you have written, now write that whoever wants to preserve grace must not take the eyes of his soul off the Cross, whether in joy or in sadness, which I grant him and permit’”.

However, in this phase Angela still “does not feel love”; she affirms: “The soul feels shame and bitterness and does not yet experience love, but sorrow”, and is dissatisfied.

Angela feels she must give God something in reparation for her sins, but understands slowly that she has nothing to give him, in fact, of her “being nothing” before him.

She understands that it will not be her will that will give her love of God, because it can only give her “nothingness,” “non-love.”

As she will say: only “true and pure love, which comes from God, is in the soul and makes one recognizes one’s defects and divine goodness.

“[…] Such love bears the soul in Christ and she understands with certainty that no deceit can be verified or exercised. Together with this love nothing can be mixed that is of the world”.

To open oneself only and totally to the love of God, which has its highest expression in Christ:

“O my God,” she prays, “make me worthy of knowing the most high mystery of your most holy incarnation for us. “[…] O incomprehensible love! Above this love, that made my God become man to make me God, there is no greater love”.

However, Angela’s heart always bore the wound of sin; even after a well made confession, she found herself forgiven and still prostrated by sin, free and conditioned by the past, absolved but in need of penance.

And even the thought of hell accompanied her because the more the soul progresses on the way of Christian perfection, all the more it will be convinced not only of being “unworthy” but of deserving hell.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On Medieval Mystic Blessed Angela of Foligno (translation by Zenit).

John Tauler: Let Us Contemplate with the Eyes of Our Heart Tuesday, Mar 30 2010 

O my soul, and all ye who love God, come, and let us follow now Christ Jesus with sorrow of heart and inward devotion, and with tears and pity, into the garden.

Let us contemplate with the eyes of our heart, Jesus, that is, our Saviour, the Lamb without spot, how He bore therein all our sins; how heavily, all alone, He trod the wine-press, that like the grape that is pressed with all care, He, too, might be pressed in the wine-press of His Passion, and might pour upon us richly, and give us to drink, the red wine of His precious Blood, so as to make us drunk with His love.

Let us see, I pray you, how the glory of the angels became sorrowful even unto death, that He might carry us into joy everlasting.

For, in order to rescue us from the torments of hell, He bore in Himself all the pains which we had merited; and He, the Lord of might, at Whose look the angels tremble, and every knee is bowed, appeared not as God, but as the poorest, and most abject, and most desolate man, whom the world possessed.

See how He lies with His Face upon the ground, in much anguish of spirit, covered with a bloody sweat, forsaken even by His Father as well as by all men.

There He lies, I say, and prays, not as God, not as a just man, but, as it were, a public malefactor, as some dreadful sinner, as if He were not worthy to be heard by His Father, or, at least, as if He were ashamed to lift up His eyes to heaven.

Does it not seem as if He had been cast away by God, and were held to be God’s enemy, that we who were, of a truth, God’s enemies, might be made His friends and elect children?

It is written: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. Yet see, how our sweet Jesus, of His own free will, gave Himself up into those Hands, and gladly suffered all the wrath, and vengeance, and punishment of God His Father, which we had deserved, to fall down upon Himself.

[…]Let us also do somewhat for the sake of our salvation; when we see how zealously Christ Jesus, in every member of His Body, and in every power of His Soul, is busied about us.

John Tauler (c.1300-1361): Meditations on the Life and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 7.

Ephrem the Syrian: In Christ Life Swallowed Up Death Wednesday, Feb 24 2010 

But our Lord was trampled on by Death; and in His turn trod out a way over Death.  This is He Who made Himself subject to and endured death of His own will, that He might cast down death against his will.

For our Lord bare His cross and went forth according to the will of Death:  but He cried upon the cross and brought forth the dead from within Sheol against the will of Death.

For in that very thing by which Death had slain Him [i.e., the body], in that as armour He bore off the victory over Death.

But the Godhead concealed itself in the manhood and fought against Death, Death slew and was slain.  Death slew the natural life; and the supernatural life slew Him.

And because Death was not able to devour Him without the body, nor Sheol to swallow Him up without the flesh, He came unto the Virgin, that from thence He might obtain that which should bear Him to Sheol….

With the body then that was from the Virgin, He entered Sheol and plundered its storehouses and emptied its treasures.

He came then to Eve the Mother of all living.  This is the vine whose fence Death laid open by her own hands, and caused her to taste of his fruits.  So Eve the Mother of all living became the well-spring of death to all living.

But Mary budded forth, a new shoot from Eve the ancient vine; and new life dwelt in her, that when Death should come confidently after his custom to feed upon mortal fruits, the life that is slayer of death might be stored up therein against him….

For He Who is the Medicine of life flew down from heaven, and was mingled in the body, the mortal fruit.  And when Death came to feed after his custom, the Life in His turn swallowed up Death….

So then, by one fruit which Death swallowed hungrily, he vomited up many lives which he had swallowed greedily….

For while One was dying on the cross, many that were buried from within Sheol were coming forth at His cry.

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Homily on Our Lord, 3.

Ephrem the Syrian: His Grace Is Abundant Without Limit Monday, Feb 15 2010 

Glory to Thee Who didst depart from one dwelling to take up thy abode in another!

That He might come and make us a dwelling-place for His Sender, the only-begotten departed from being with Deity and took up His abode in the Virgin; that by a common manner of birth, though only-begotten, He might become the brother of many.

And He departed from Sheol and took up His abode in the Kingdom; that He might seek out a path from Sheol which oppresses all, to the Kingdom which requites all.

For our Lord gave His resurrection as a pledge to mortals, that He would remove them from Sheol, which receives the departed without distinction, to the Kingdom which admits the invited with distinction; so that, from the plan which makes equal the bodies of all men within it, we may come to the plan which distinguishes the works of all men within it.

This is He Who descended to Sheol and ascended, that from the place which corrupts its sojourners, He might bring us to the place which nourishes with its blessings its dwellers; even those dwellers who, with the possessions, the fruits, and the flowers, of this world, that pass away, have crowned and adorned for themselves there, tabernacles that pass not away.

That Firstborn Who was begotten according to His nature, was born in another birth that was external to His nature; that we might know that after our natural birth we must have another birth which is outside our nature.

For He, since He was spiritual, until He came to the corporeal birth, could not be corporeal; in like manner also the corporeal, unless they are born in another birth, cannot be spiritual.

But the Son Whose generation is unsearchable, was born in another generation that may be searched out; that by the one we might learn that His Majesty is without limit, and by the other might be taught that His grace is without measure.

For great is His Majesty without measure, Whose first generation cannot be imagined in any of our thoughts.

And His grace is abundant without limit, Whose second birth is proclaimed by all mouths.

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Homily on Our Lord, 1.

Elder Sophrony: Communicating in the Divine Being through Prayer Tuesday, Jan 5 2010 

SophronyOften one can remark a disposition [in some people] to draw a parallel between prayer in the Name of Jesus and yoga or “transcendental meditation” and the like.

[…] All contemplation arrived at by [these other] means is self-contemplation, not contemplation of God.

In these circumstances we open up for ourselves created beauty, not First Being. And in all of it there is no salvation for man.

The source of real deliverance lies in unquestionable, wholehearted acceptance of the Revelation, “I am that I am…I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last”. God is Personal Absolute, Trinity One and Indivisible.

Our whole Christian life is based on this Revelation. This God called us from nonbeing into life.

Knowledge of this Living God and discernment of the manner of His creation releases us from the obscurity of our own ideas, coming  from beneath, about the Absolute; rescues us from our attraction unconscious but for all that ruinous to withdrawal from existence of any sort.

We are created in order to be communicants in the Divine Being of Him Who really is. Christ indicated this wondrous way: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life”.

Apprehending the depths of the Creator’s wisdom, we embark on the suffering through which Divine eternity is to be attained.

And when His Light shines for us we unite in ourselves contemplation of the two extremes of the abyss on the one side, the darkness of hell, on the other, the triumph of victory. We are existentially introduced into the province of Uncreated Divine Life.

And hell loses power over us. We are given grace to live the state of the Incarnate Logos Christ Who descended into hell as Conqueror.

Then by the power of His love we shall embrace all creation in the prayer: “O Jesus, Gracious Almighty, have mercy upon us and Thy world”.

Revelation of this Personal God imparts a wondrous character to all things. Being is not some determined cosmic process but the Light of the indescribable love between Divine and created persons.

It is the free movement of spirits filled with wise knowledge of all that exists, and consciousness of self.

Without this there is no sense in anything but only death. But our prayer becomes a living contact of our created persona and the Divine Person that is, something absolute.

And this is expressed when we address the Word of the Father: “O Lord Jesus Christ, Unoriginate Word of Thine Unoriginate Father, have mercy upon us. Save us and Thy world”

Elder Sophrony (1896-1993; Orthodox): On Prayer p.168-170 (taken from a more extended version at

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