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PARADISE AND HELL

Homily on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus

 

There are people, dear brethren, who doubt the existence of hell. Their doubts are based on the fact that no one has ever come back from there to bear witness to the existence of hell. And it is not only people of various faiths who believe so, but also many Orthodox. And all of them are absolutely wrong.

Recently we have heard the Gospel reading about the good seed and various types of soil. We heard about the rocky soil, which, having had the good seed planted in it, rejected it. Today the Gospel gives us a concrete image of a man with such a rocky soil in his heart, rejecting the good seed, i.e. the word of God. And hearing today the existence of paradise and hell being confirmed, we are able to understand what happens to those who hear the word of God, but deliberately reject it.

Today we see two people – the merciless rich man and the poor Lazarus. The rich man lives it up: he eats, drinks, and makes merry, without thinking about death and the future life. The sick Lazarus patiently lies at the gates of the rich man and does not ask to share his wealth, but only hopes for some small crumbs from the rich man’s table. However, he does not get even those, because the rich man’s heart is made of stone. But time passes, and they both die: first Lazarus and then the rich man. And at this point the existence of paradise and hell is revealed to us.

Look at who finds himself where. Lazarus, who suffered so terribly on earth, was taken to Abraham’s bosom, that is, into paradise. And the rich man, whose earthly life was comprised of excessive enjoyment, went into hell. And what a difference between them now: Lazarus lives in the eternal joy of paradise, while the rich man suffers the torture of the flames of hell. The rich man himself tells us about it, as he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to wet his finger in water and cool the rich one’s tongue. This means that hell is not only a place of darkness and despair, but of flaming torment. This is an eternal fire which burns all the sinners who come there.

If anyone doubts the existence of hell, that person should remember that it is the Lord Himself Who tells us about it. The Holy Gospel and everything that is written in it – these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the Vigil prokimenon in the first tone tells us that “the words of God are pure words,” – i.e. everything that the Lord tells us is the absolute truth.

Thus, in today’s parable the Lord Himself confirms to us the existence of paradise and hell, and the fate which awaits every one of us in accordance with the soil of our hearts. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus adds to the parable of the good seed by showing us a concrete example of its action on people. Let us listen further: the rich man, finding himself in such horrible conditions and realizing how gravely he had miscalculated in life, belatedly feels a surge of charity towards his fellow-man. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his remaining brothers on earth, in order to save them from eternal perdition by warning them of the dire fate that awaits them. And what does Abraham say in reply? He says: they have Moses and the prophets, – that is, he clearly points out that the rich man’s brothers were also provided with the good seed, they heard the word of God spoken through Moses and the prophets. But what did they do with this good seed? Obviously – nothing, obviously their hearts contain the same rocky soil as the rich man’s, and nothing can help them now. If they do not have faith in the word of God, they will be unable to believe even in the Resurrected Christ.

This situation applies not only to the Jews of Christ’s time, whom the Lord had in mind as He said His parable, but it applies equally to us, dear brethren. We have been given so much more than the rich man’s brothers. We now have not only Moses and the prophets, i.e. the Old Testament, but also the entire New Testament, all the divine words of the Lord Himself and of His apostles, and all the divinely-inspired writings of the Holy Fathers. All of this has been given us… but what we do with this treasure depends solely on us, as does our future fate.

The Lord has revealed to us that there is paradise and there is hell; has given us some idea of the two places; has told us which kind of life leads where; has described to us the types of soil which pave these two different paths… but the Lord does not force us: we must choose the way ourselves, we ourselves must want to attain paradise, we must come to the Lord voluntarily.

Let us heed the pure words of the Lord, dear brethren, let us receive these good seeds into the good soil of our faithful hearts, let us follow the example of Lazarus’s patience and humility, in order to escape the bitter and tormented fate of the rich man, and instead of barren merriment on earth – let us rejoice in the eternal bliss and joy of paradise. Amen.

 

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

 



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