It is striking just how many verses of the central hymn of the most widely attended service in the Orthodox Church assert that Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection provide salvation to everyone—yes, everyone. If hymnography reflects the prayer and thinking of the community, what might this contribute to the millennia-long debate about Universal salvation?
Technically, the Good Friday service that contains the Lamentation is a Saturday morning (Matins) service that was moved to Friday evening for practical reasons. The Lamentation, as appears in the Triodion service book, consists of 185 short independent hymns, the Praises, which are interspersed with verses from Psalm 118 (119), the longest of the Psalms. The Lamentation is divided into three sections, or Stases. Usually, only a part of the 185 hymns are performed in parishes, chosen by the chanters at will. While the Lamentation likely reflects much older theological ideas, it is noteworthy that the service, like all of the Holy Week services, was developed after the fall of Byzantium.
The publication of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved has provoked no small amount of controversy since its release. Though Hart’s argument for universal salvation encompasses diverse arenas of thought—theological anthropology, the moral meaning of creatio ex nihilo, the phenomenology of human volition—it is his treatment of the Scriptures that has provoked some of the most interesting pushback. When he was challenged a few weeks ago by one critic to consider whether the violent actions of YHWH in the Old Testament might not make us question our moral certainties about the immorality of eternal torments, Hart provided a reading of the Old Testament depiction of God which not only surprised but even scandalized many. Based on the conclusions of scholarship on the development of ancient Israelite religion, Hart concludes that YHWH is depicted in the Old Testament as exhibiting signs of moral development up to the period of Second Temple Judaism, when the marriage of Hellenistic philosophy and Judaism gives us a picture of God as Goodness Itself. And so the violent actions of the developing God in the Old Testament cannot be taken as totally determinative for a Christian understanding of God’s character, which finds its definitive revelation instead in Christ.
For this Hart was immediately accused of being a Marcionite, despite the fact that he explicitly rejected Marcion’s attempt to separate the God of Israel form the Father of Jesus Christ. What explains this severe reaction? Continue reading →
People really like Hell. Or at least they really like the idea of Hell. And many are positively gleeful at the notion of some or another of their fellow human beings being tormented forever in its fiery furnaces (that’s right, forever, for eternity, for an expanse of time the human mind cannot fully comprehend). Oddly enough, it is clear that, pious professions aside, even eternal damnation’s most ardent supporters do not believe themselves in line for torments everlasting.
I suppose I always knew this. I grew up in Colorado before Colorado was cool, in a time when the state’s political and cultural life was dominated by Focus on the Family and evangelical megachurches. And I have known plenty of people who believe that unless you are “born again” in a rather specific way, you are damned for all time. None of these people, to be clear, believed that the Orthodox baptism I received as an infant was of any effect and feared (one cannot help but believe honestly) for the state of my immortal soul. And let’s not kid ourselves. Though we Orthodox, in general, might take a slightly less legalistic approach to the question of salvation and damnation, the immense popularity of the idea of aerial toll houses over the past few decades gives proof to the fact that we are just as morbidly obsessed with God’s impending judgement and wrath as your run-of-the-mill televangelist.