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Hell became afraid

8 February 2011

On Sunday I posted a kind of digest of my sermon at St Nicholas, because someone had asked me to do so. It was on the phrase “casting away the ancestral curse”, which occurs in the Resurrectional Troparion for Tone 4. This prompted someone else to write:

Thank you so much i did not know that you would give the sermons out the one I wanted was 2 weeks ago when you said that *HELL IS A PERSON NOT A PLACE* , that was mind blowing , would you be able to send that one to me as I needs to get my head around it .

It is not so much that hell is not a place but a person, but rather that Hell is something of both, and is rather a person in charge of a place.

At this point I should perhaps explain that in the Orthodox Church every Sunday is a little Pascha (Easter), a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, and each Sunday has a couple of theme-hymns for this, a Troparion and a Kontakion (sometimes called Apolyiticon). These follow the eight tones of the Octoechos, a set of hymns with proper melodies that are repeated every eight weeks.

These hymns contain a lot of the theology of the church, and so two weeks before I discussed the Troparion and Kontakion for Tone 2:

When Thou didst descend to death, O Life Immortal,
Thou didst slay hell with the splendour of Thy Godhead!
And when from the depths Thou didst raise the dead,
all the powers of heaven cried out:
O Giver of Life! Christ our God! Glory to Thee!

Hell became afraid, O Almighty Saviour,
seeing the miracle of Thy Resurrection from the tomb!
The dead arose!
Creation, with Adam, beheld this and rejoiced with Thee!
And the world, O my Saviour, praises Thee forever.

I discussed the phrase “hell became afraid” and “Thou didst slay hell”, and pointed out that though we often think of hell as a place, in the language of these hymns hell is referred to as much as a person as a place.

The English word Hell is linked to a number of Greek and Hebrew words: Hades, Tartarus, Sheol, and also (among the Romans) Pluto and Dis.

I can’t remember exactly what I said in my sermon two weeks ago, but the gist of it can be found in an earlier post on this blog on  Go to Hell!

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