Written by Vladimir Moss


Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not My ways equal? Are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways.

Ezekiel 18.29-30. 

When we merely say that we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. 


      Alexander Kalomiros’ 1980 article, “The River of Fire”, has acquired for many English-speaking Orthodox the status of a classic of Orthodox soteriology. However, many also dispute this status, and regard it as a dangerously Protestantizing work. The purpose of this article is to examine whether “The River of Fire” truly reflects the patristic consensus or not.

     Kalomiros’ main thesis is that our salvation depends primarily on ourselves, on our acceptance or rejection of God’s love for mankind. God’s grace shines on the just and on the unjust alike, and is never turned away from sinners, even in the depths of hell. But we experience that grace in different ways depending on our inner disposition: as paradise if we return love with love, and as hellfire if we return love with hatred. God does not punish except pedagogically – at any rate, within the bounds of our earthly life. Even at the Last Judgement God does not punish the unjust – to do so would be pointless and cruel, since it could have no pedagogical purpose. Rather, the “river of fire”, God’s grace, proceeding, as we see on icons of the Last Day, from under God’s judgement seat, enlightens and warms those who love God while burning and consuming those who hate Him. God plays no active part in this: it is we who freely choose heaven or hell for ourselves.[1]

      In support of his thesis, Kalomiros quotes from the Holy Fathers, in particular St. Isaac the Syrian’s Homilies and St. Basil the Great’s Against Those Who Say that God is the Author of Evils.

     From St. Isaac he derives the teaching that since God is all-merciful towards us, forgiving us even when we sin again and again, we cannot speak of His being just towards us – mercy on this scale excludes justice. From St. Basil he derives the teaching that since all the apparent “evils” that God sends upon us – illnesses, calamities, sufferings of all kinds – are in fact designed to deliver us from the only real evil, which is sin, He cannot be said to punish us in any real sense.

     In sum, therefore, Kalomiros’ thesis amounts to the assertion that God is love, but not justice, and that He corrects, but does not punish.

     So I propose to examine his thesis under two headings: 1. Is God Just? and 2. Does God Punish? 

1. Is God Just?

     The answer to this question is so obviously: yes, that readers may be inclined to think that I am being unjust to Kalomiros in asserting that he believes otherwise. Of course he believes that God is just! He simply defines the word “justice” in a different way…

     Yes, that is precisely what he does. He redefines “justice” in such a way as to abolish it in the sense that it is usually understood. Let us examine how he accomplishes this…

     “What Westerners call justice,” writes Kalomiros, “ought rather to be called resentment and vengeance of the worst kind”. This is especially evident, he says, in the western (Catholic) dogmas of original sin and redemption. Thus according to the western dogma of original sin, justice “is not at all just since it punishes and demands satisfaction from persons who were not at all responsible for the sin of their forefathers”. Again, the western dogma of redemption contains “the schizoid notion of a God who kills God in order to satisfy the so-called justice of God” (p. 5). The origin of western atheism, according to Kalomiros, lies in a (healthy) reaction against this false dogmatizing, whose origins go back to Augustine in the fourth century.

     I will not here attempt to examine whether Catholic theologians’ concept of justice is really “resentment and vengeance of the worst kind”, nor whether western atheism really originates in a reaction against it. I will only point out how strange it is that the Holy Fathers said so little about this, and that we had to wait until the appearance of Alexander Kalomiros (and his immediate forerunners, such as John Romanides) before it was revealed that a false conception of justice was the core heresy of the West. The Holy Fathers who spoke most, and most authoritatively, about the western heresies - SS. Photius the Great, Gregory Palamas and Mark of Ephesus – spoke much about such heresies as the Filioque, papal absolutism and created grace, but nothing, to my knowledge, about a false conception of justice in the dogmas of original sin and redemption. This is not to say that there were no distortions in western thinking on these subjects – heresy in one area of theology tends to introduce subtly distorted thinking in several other areas. But evidently the Holy Fathers did not consider these distortions serious enough to make them major stumbling-blocks to union with the West. Nor did they agree with Kalomiros in considering Augustine of Hippo to be the fount of the western heresies. On the contrary, the Fifth Ecumenical Council proclaimed him “holy”, and St. Photius the Great “embraced” him, while not accepting his errors on free will, the baptism of heretics, etc.

      But Kalomiros goes still further back than St. Augustine is his search for the origins of this conception. The Greek word for “justice”, dikaiosunh, is, he argues, pagan in origin and is “charged with human notions which could easily lead to misunderstandings. First of all, the word dikaiosunh brings to mind an equal distribution. This is why it is represented by a balance. The good are rewarded and the bad are punished by human society in a fair way. This is human justice, the one which takes place in court. Is this the meaning of God’s justice, however? The word dikaiosunh, ‘justice’, is a translation of the Hebraic word tsedaka. This word means ‘the Divine energy that accomplishes man’s salvation’. It is parallel and almost synonymous to the other Hebraic word, hesed which means ‘mercy’, ‘compassion’, ‘love’, and to the word emeth which means ‘fidelity’, ‘truth’. This, as you see, gives a completely other dimension to what we usually conceive as justice.” (p. 6).

     It may well give an extra dimension to the understanding of “justice”, but it does not change its essential, root meaning, which remains that of equity and balance. We see this very clearly in the Kontakion of the Ninth Hour: “In the midst of two thieves, Thy Cross was found to be a balance of justice”. Justice means nothing if it does not mean a balancing of good against evil, so that evil is destroyed through its being outweighed by the good. Thus the supremely good work that Christ did on the Cross is balanced against all the evil committed by all men from the beginning to the end of time – and the good outweighs the evil. In that consists our salvation and redemption, the propitiation for our sins, as St. John the Theologian puts it, or our justification, as St. Paul puts it.

     In any case, there is surely no contradiction in meaning between the two words for “justice” - Kalomiros’ conjectural Hebrew word tsedaka and the Greek dikaiosunh. Justice as “the Divine energy that accomplishes the salvation of man” is perfectly compatible with justice as the restoration of a state of balance, that is, righteousness or blamelessness in man's relationship with his fellow man and with God. Sin upset the balance in this relationship, creating injustice. Justice is restored through the destruction of sin: on the part of God, by His perfect Sacrifice and propitiation for the sins of all men, and on the part of man by true faith in that Sacrifice… Paradoxically, there is something western and rationalist and Kalomiros’ attempt to demote the supposedly pagan word dikaiosunh in favour of the Hebrew tsedaka. God the Holy Spirit decreed that the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament should be written in Greek, the language having the greatest philosophical precision and sophistication in the ancient world. The Greek text cannot therefore be said to be in any way a translation of, or derivation from, a supposedly “purer”, more “godly” Hebrew original: it is the original. Hebrew is the original language of the Old Testament. And yet we do not have the original Hebrew text. We have the Massoretic text, which dates from many centuries after Christ and has probably been corrupted by the rabbis. The text that probably corresponds most closely to the original, but now lost Hebrew is the early Greek translation by the Seventy, which remains to this day the official text of the Old Testament in the Orthodox Church.

     Western scholars since Luther have loved trying to unearth the “real” meaning of the Greek Scriptures by going to the Hebrew. Comparisons with the Hebrew are not necessarily illegitimate, and can be genuinely illuminating in the hands of truly Orthodox scholars such as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (see his Commentary on Genesis). But as often as not such comparisons are illegitimate attempts to prove a false theological theory by “getting round” the plain meaning of the Greek text.

      In Kalomiros’ case, he is clearly trying to prove that “justice” does not mean what it quite plainly means in the writings of the apostles, but rather “mercy”, “love” and “truth”, on the grounds that the Hebrew word for “justice” is etymologically related to the words for “mercy”, “love” and “truth”. Now nobody doubts that God’s justice is related in a profound way to His mercy, love and truth. It could not be otherwise, since He is the fount of all good, and of all true values. Nevertheless, it is obvious that “justice” is not equivalent to “mercy”, “love” and “truth”. And it is equally obvious, contrary to Kalomiros, that the root meaning of justice has to do with “equity”, “balance” and “compensation”. The question for the theologian is: how is God’s justice to be reconciled with His mercy, love and truth? By simply redefining “justice” in terms of “mercy”, “love” and “truth”, Kalomiros has not answered this question, merely bypassed it through a verbal sleight of hand.

     At this point Kalomiros brings in St. Isaac: “How can you call God just, when you read the passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friends, I do thee no wrong; I will give unto this last even as unto thee who worked for me from the first hour. Is thine eye evil, because I am good?’ How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son, who wasted his wealth in riotous living, and yet only for the contrition which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave him authority over all his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him lest we doubt it, and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice, for whilst we were sinners, Christ died for us!”

      Kalomiros comments on this: “So we see that God is not just, with the human meaning of this word, but we see that His justice means His goodness and love, which are given in an unjust manner, that is, God always gives without taking anything in return, and He gives to persons like us who are not worthy of receiving. That is why Saint Isaac teaches us: ‘Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you.’” (p. 6)

     Now if we take St. Isaac’s words literally and unintelligently, we will be forced to say that he is in contradiction with a vast number of texts from the Holy Scriptures and Fathers that clearly proclaim the justice of God, and that on this point, at any rate, he is not in accord with the consensus of the Fathers. This is a possible conclusion, since not all of the Fathers have always been in accord with the patristic consensus. However, I do not think that we are forced to draw such a conclusion if only we try and put his remarks in the context of the whole of Orthodox soteriology.

      The main point St. Isaac is making is that God gives us abundantly more than we deserve if we consideronly our works. So if we consider only our works, we must conclude that God is unjust. As the saint puts it: “His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you”. No amount of good works by us can merit the Kingdom of heaven. According to the Prophet Isaiah, e ven the righteousness of the saints is “dust and ashes” in God’s eyes. However, if we broaden our perspective to include not only our works, the things concerning us alone, but also the Work of Christ, we must come to a quite different conclusion. For the Work of Christ, His Sacrifice on the Cross, abundantly makes up for the inadequacy of our works. So the saint’s words are perfectly acceptable within the narrow context of our sinful works. But there is no reason to believe that he denied that justice is nevertheless done through the Work of Christ on the Cross.

     However, it is precisely this that Kalomiros denies. He rejects the idea that justice is done by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross; that the inadequacy of our own works is made up for by the Supreme Work of Christ. Similarly, he rejects the idea that the human race was justly condemned to hell through the original sin of Adam and Eve. Both these events offend his sense of justice. But instead of confessing that his own sense of justice is probably narrow and limited, he on the one hand unjustly caricatures the traditional theological understanding of Divine justice as “bloodthirsty”, “vengeful”, etc., and on the other hand decides to abolish the notion of justice altogether by redefining it in such a way as to remove from it the idea of balance and equity.

      The doctrines of original sin and redemption must be seen together, the latter being the reversal of the former, with the apparent “injustice” of the one cancelling out the apparent “injustice” of the other. So we may go along with Kalomiros to this extent; we may concede that the doctrine of original sin, whereby the sin of Adam and Eve is passed on to their descendants, is unjust from a narrowly human point of view. And let us further concede that Christ’s salvation of mankind on the Cross when mankind took no part in His Sacrifice is similarly “unjust”. We neither deserve the punishment for Adam’s sin, nor the salvation that is in Christ. However, the “injustice” of our salvation perfectly balances, matches, and blots out the “injustice” of our condemnation. And thereby justice is achieved in the most perfect way. This balance, or parallelism, between our fall in the first Adam and our resurrection in the second, is the central theme of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. And cognates of the Greek – according to Kalomiros, pagan Greek – word for “justice”, dikaiosunh, occur throughout. Thus: “as through one offence condemnation came upon all men, so through one righteous act [dikaiwmatoV] [the free gift] came upon all men unto justification [dikaiwsin] of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous [dikaioi]” (Romans 5.18-19).

   There are further paradoxes here. Sin, that is, injustice, is completely blotted out - but by the unjust death and Sacrifice of the Only Sinless and Just One. Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8.3) and died the death of a sinner, though He was sinless. The innocent Head died that the guilty Body should live. He, the Just One, Who committed no sin, took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. When we could not pay the price, He paid it for us; when we were dead in sin, He died to give us life. "For Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust" (I Peter 3.18). And the greatness of this Sacrifice was so great in the eyes of Divine justice that it blotted out the sins of the whole world - of all men, that is, who respond to this free gift with gratitude and repentance.

      For only one work is required on our side – the “work” of faith, of rightly believing in the Sacrifice of Christ – precisely the work that Kalomiros would have us deny, or at any rate reinterpret in such a way as to deny its true nature. For as the Lord Himself says: “This is the work of God – that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent” (John 6.29), that is, on Him “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood… that He might be just and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3.25, 26). If we accept God’s Work of justice with true faith and gratitude, then this faith of ours, like that of Abraham, “is accounted to us for righteousness” (Romans 4.3) - that is, for our justification, our loosing from all injustice, or sin.

     The Church has expressed this paradox of Divine Justice with great eloquence: "Come, all ye peoples, and let us venerate the blessed Wood, through which the eternal justice has been brought to pass. For he who by a tree deceived our forefather Adam, is by the Cross himself deceived; and he who by tyranny gained possession of the creature endowed by God with royal dignity, is overthrown in headlong fall. By the Blood of God the poison of the serpent is washed away; and the curse of a just condemnation is loosed by the unjust punishment inflicted on the Just. For it was fitting that wood should be healed by wood, and that through the Passion of One Who knew not passion should be remitted all the sufferings of him who was condemned because of wood. But glory to Thee, O Christ our King, for Thy dread dispensation towards us, whereby Thou hast saved us all, for Thou art good and lovest mankind."[2]

2. Does God Punish?

     Kalomiros writes: “God never takes vengeance. His punishments are loving means of correction, as long as anything can be corrected and healed in this life. They never extend to eternity…” (p. 6)

     But how can this be true?! What about the sentence of death passed on all mankind, which is called a “curse” in so many church texts? Is that not a punishment?

      What about the terrible deaths of various sinners, such as Ahab and Jezabel, Ananias and Sapphira, Heliodorus and Herod and Simon Magus? How can they be said to have been “loving means of correction”, since they manifestly did not correct the sinners involved, who were incorrigible? And what about the torments of gehenna? Do they not extend to eternity? Will not the Lord Himself say to the condemned at the Last Judgement: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25.41)?

      Kalomiros writes: “Death was not inflicted upon us by God. We fell into it by our revolt.” (p. 6). And he quotes St. Basil: “God did not create death, but we brought it upon ourselves”.

     Certainly God did not create death. And certainly we brought it upon ourselves by our wilful transgression of His commandment. But does this mean that God was completely inactive in His pronouncement of the sentence on Adam and Eve, in their expulsion from Eden, in His placing the cherubim with the sword of fire to prevent their return? Of course not! God did not will our first parents to fall. Nor did He, being Life Itself, create death. However, He allowed our first parents to fall, and He permitted death to enter into their life. Why? Partly in order to correct them, to humble them and lead them to repentance. Partly in order to cut off sin and allow the dissolution of the body for the sake of its future resurrection. And partly because crime requires punishment, because God is the just Judge Who cannot allow sin to go unpunished.

      This is confirmed by St. John of Damascus, who writes: "A judge justly punishes one who is guilty of wrongdoing; and if he does not punish him he is himself a wrongdoer. In punishing him the judge is not the cause either of the wrongdoing or of the vengeance taken against the wrongdoer, the cause being the wrongdoer's freely chosen actions. Thus too God, Who saw what was going to happen as if it had already happened, judged it as if it had taken place; and if it was evil, that was the cause of its being punished. It was God Who created man, so of course he created him in goodness; but man did evil of his own free choice, and is himself the cause of the vengeance that overtakes him."[3]

     So man is the ultimate cause of his own misery: but that by no means implies that God does not punish him.

      Again, St. Photius the Great writes: “Let us comprehend the depths of the Master’s clemency. He gave death as a punishment, but through His own death He transformed it as a gate to immortality. It was a resolution of anger and displeasure, but it announces the consummate goodness of the Judge…”[4]

      Thus the truth is more complex than Kalomiros would have it. Death is both a punishment and, through Christ’s own Death, a deliverance from death. It is both judgement and mercy. Nor could it be otherwise; for God is both love and justice. As St. John of the Ladder says, “He is called justice as well as love”.[5]

      Turning now to the question of eternal torments, we note that Kalomiros does not deny their existence, but denies that they are inflicted by God because “God never punishes” (p. 19). Rather, they are self-inflicted. “After the Common Resurrection there is no question of any punishment from God. Hell is not a punishment from God but a self-condemnation. As Saint Basil the Great says, ‘The evils in hell do not have God as their cause, but ourselves.’” (p. 16).

      Kalomiros here deliberately confuses two very different things: the crime of the criminal, and the sentence of the judge. If the judge sentences the criminal to prison for his crime, it is obvious that the primary cause of the criminal’s being in prison is his own criminal actions: it is the criminal himself who is ultimately responsible for his miserable condition – this is clearly the point that St. Basil is making. Nevertheless, it is equally obvious that the judge, too, has a hand in the matter. It is he who decides both whether the criminal is guilty or innocent, and the gentleness or severity of the sentence. In other words, there are two actors and two actions involved here, not one.

      Kalomiros also deliberately confuses the free acts of the criminal and his coerced, unfree submission to his sentence. Thus, corrupting the words of Christ in Matthew 25.41, he writes: “Depart freely from love to the everlasting torture of hate” (p. 20). But the sinners do not freely depart into the everlasting fire! On the contrary, they “gnash their teeth” in the fire, witnessing, as the Fathers explain, to their fierce anger and rejection of the justice of their punishment. We may agree that they have been brought to this plight by their own sinful acts, freely committed. But they do not freely accept their punishment for those acts! The God-seer Moses and the Apostle Paul were willing to be cast away from God for the sake of the salvation of their brethren, the Jews – here we see the free acceptance of torture and punishment, but out of love. The condemned at the Judgement, however, will not be like these saints, but will be cast against their will into the eternal fire.

     Again, Kalomiros distorts the nature of heaven and hell. In a thoroughly modernist, rationalist manner he reduces them to psychological states: a state of supreme joy and love enlightened by the fire of God’s grace, on the one hand, and a state of the most abject misery and hatred, burned but not enlightened by the fire of God’s grace, on the other. “This is hell: the negation of love; the return of hate for love; bitterness at seeing innocent joy; to be surrounded by love and to have hate in one’s heart. This is the eternal condition of all the damned. They are all dearly loved. They are all invited to the joyous banquet. They are all living in God’s Kingdom, in the New Earth and the New Heavens. No one expels them. Even if they wanted to go away they could not flee from God’s New Creation, nor hide from God’s tenderly loving omnipresence…” (p. 20).


     Like all heretics, Kalomiros mixes truth with falsehood. So let us first freely admit what is true in his account. It is true that a large part of the torment of hell will be the hatred and bitterness that continues to seethe in the sinner’s heart – together with remorse, shame and the most soul-destroying despair. It is also true that that bitterness will be exarcebated by the thought of the “innocent joy” of the blessed in Paradise. (This was an insight granted also to the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people”, he said.) It is true, furthermore, that in a certain sense it is precisely God’s love that torments the sinners in hell. For, as Archbishop Theophan of Poltava writes: “In essence the wrath of God is one of the manifestations of the love of God, but of the love of God in its relation to the moral evil in the heart of rational creatures in general, and in the heart of man in particular” (On Redemption).

     However, it is stretching traditional theological understanding far too far to say that those condemned in the eternal fire of gehenna are at the same time “all living in God’s Kingdom, in the New Earth and the New Heavens”! There is no place for the damned in God’s Kingdom! As was revealed to St. John in the last chapter of Revelation: “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For outside are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” (22.14-15). In other words, the New Earth and the New Heavens, Paradise and the City of God, will not be accessible to the condemned sinners; they will not be living there!

     Nor is it true that even the damned will be “invited to the joyful banquet” and that “no-one will expel them”. In this life, yes, even sinners are invited to the joyful banquet of communion with God in His Holy Church. But on the last Day, when the sinner is found to have no wedding garment, the King will say to His servants: “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness: there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22.13).

      God is not as passive as Kalomiros makes out. He acts – and acts to expel the unrepentant sinner from His presence. Thus to the “inner darkness” of the sinner’s hate-filled, graceless soul will be added the “outer darkness” of the place that is gehenna, where the river of fire will consume his body as well as his soul. This outer aspect of the eternal torments appears to have been ignored by Kalomiros in his over-psychological, over-abstract and over-sophisticated understanding of the torments of hell.

      And if he were to object: “There is no space or time as we understand it in the life of the age to come”, I would reply: “As we understand it, in our present fallen and limited state - yes. And yet we cannot get rid of the categories of space and time altogether. Only God is completely beyond space and time. The idea of a body burning in hell is incomprehensible if it is not burning somewhere. Nor is the idea of our earth being transfigured into Paradise comprehensible if it not located in any kind of space…”

     Kalomiros makes all these errors and distortions of Holy Scripture because he refuses to admit that God punishes, not only pedagogically, to correct and rehabilitate the sinner, but also retributively, as a pure expression of His justice. Since retributive punishment does not lead to the rehabilitation of the sinner, he considers it pointless and cruel, and therefore unworthy of God. In other words, he sees no value in justice in itself, independently of its possible pedagogical effect.

     And yet Holy Scripture is full of the idea of retributive justice as being the norm of existence, proceeding from the very nature of God. Thus: “The Lord is the God of vengeances; the God of vengeances hath spoken openly. Be Thou exalted, O Thou that judgest the earth; render the proud their due” (Psalm 93.1-2). And again: “They [the martyrs] cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy and true, doest Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6.10). It goes without saying that in neither of these quotations are God or the saints understood as being vengeful in a crudely human and sinful manner, as if they were possessed by a fallen passion of anger. As the Venerable Bede writes: "The souls of the righteous cry these things, not from hatred of enemies, but from love of justice."[6] So the desire that justice should be done is not necessarily sinful; it may be pure, proceeding not from the fallen passion of anger, but from the pure love of justice. Indeed, when the Lord says: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”, He is not saying that justice – and clearly it is retributive justice that is meant here - should not be desired, but rather that it should be sought, not through the exercise of the fallen human passions, but through God, Who always acts with the most perfect and passionless impartiality.

      Even St. Basil the Great, upon whom Kalomiros relies so heavily, does not deny the idea of retributive justice in God – and precisely in the context of the river of fire. As he writes, commenting on the verse: “The voice of the Lord divideth the flame of fire” (Psalm 28.6): “The fire prepared in punishment for the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord. Thus, since there are two capacities in fire, one of burning and the other of illuminating, the fierce and punitive property of the fire may await those who deserve to burn, while its illuminating and radiant part may be reserved for the enjoyment of those who are rejoicing.”[7]

      So the river of fire is punitive – for “those who deserve to burn”. And it is punitive in a retributive sense, as expressing the pure love of justice that is part of the nature of God. Of course, God longs to have mercy even on the most inveterate sinner. But if that sinner does not wish to believe and repent, He wills that the sinner should be punished - even though the punishment can have no rehabilitative effect…

3. Love and Justice

      If we seek for a deeper cause of Kalomiros’ heresy, we may find it in the very modernist error of disconnecting, as it were, the values of love, truth and justice. Modern man believes in love, but it is a false, sentimental kind of love because it is not linked to truth and justice. More precisely, modern man thinks that it is possible to sacrifice truth and justice for the sake of love. We are familiar with the sacrifice of truth for the sake of “love” in the modern pan-heresy of ecumenism. Kalomiros’ heresy may be described as an analogue to ecumenism; only the value that he wishes to sacrifice is justice.

     However, love and justice, mercy and judgement, are inseparably related in God’s economy. As we have seen, God condemned man to death in Eden both because that was the just punishment of his sin and because through death, paradoxically, the spread of sin would be cut short, man would be led to repentance and Christ would descend into hades to save mankind. Again, Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross was both a supreme act of love for fallen mankind and the restoration of justice in God’s relationship with man.

      The obverse of God’s love for mankind is His wrath and hatred of the sin that tears mankind away from eternal life in Him. St. John of Damascus writes: “By wrath and anger are understood [God’s] hatred and disgust in relation to sin, since we also hate that which does not accord with our thought and are angry with it”.[8] Now hatred of sin is the same as the love of justice, since justice is the destruction of sin and the restoration of the state of sinlessness. It follows that he who does not love justice for its own sake does not hate sin. And he who does not hate sin does not love God, Who hates sin so much that He gave His Only-Begotten Son to die in order that sin should be destroyed and man restored to his original condition of sinlessness.

      In conclusion, let us listen to the words of St. Gregory Palamas, who can in no way be accused of “scholasticism”, but who emphasizes, as if anticipating the debates of our time, the critical importance of justice: “The pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Word and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man. He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority. According to Job, He can do everything and nothing is impossible for Him. The strength of a created being cannot withstand the power of the Creator, and nothing is more powerful than the Almighty. But the incarnation of the Word of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him Who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice. As the Psalmist and Prophet says, ‘God is righteous and loveth righteousness’ (Psalm 11.7), ‘and there is no unrighteousness in Him’ (Psalm 92.15). Man was justly abandoned by God in the beginning as he had first abandoned God. He had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him. In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death came into the world. Because of the devil’s overwhelming evil, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.

      “As we had been justly handed over to the devil’s service and subjection to death, it was clearly necessary that the human race’s return to freedom and life should be accomplished by God in a just way. Not only had man been surrendered to the envious devil by divine righteousness, but the devil had rejected righteousness and become wrongly enamoured of authority, arbitrary power and, above all, tyranny. He took up arms against justice and used his might against mankind. It pleased God that the devil be overcome first by the justice against which he continuously fought, then afterwards by power, through the Resurrection and the future Judgement. Justice before power is the best order of events, and that force should come after justice is the work of a truly divine and good Lord, not of a tyrant….

      “A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on High with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified, sinless priest… It was clearly necessary for Christ to descend to Hades, but all these things were done with justice, without which God does not act.”[9]

      “Justice before power”, the Cross before the Resurrection. And “all things done with justice, without which God does not act.” Clearly, justice is no secondary aspect of the Divine economy, but its very heart and essence…

     As the Holy Church chants: “When Thou comest, O God, upon the earth with glory, the whole world will tremble. The river of fire will bring men before Thy judgement-seat, the books will be opened and the secrets disclosed. Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand on Thy right hand, Judge most righteous".[10]


September 21 / October 4, 2007; revised January 28 / February 10, 2014.


[1] I shall be quoting from the text to be found at,%20THE%RIVER%2...

[2] Menaion, September 14, Great Vespers of the Exaltation of the Cross, “Lord, I have cried”, “Glory… Both now…”

[3] St. John of Damascus, Dialogue against the Manichaeans, 37.

[4] St. Photius, Letter 3, to Eusebia, nun and monastic superior, on the death of her sister; translated by Despina Stratoudaki White.

[5] St. John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 24.23.

[6] St. Bede, On Genesis 4.10.

[7] St. Basil, On Psalm 28.6.

[8] St. John of Damascus, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, book I, ch. 11.

[9] St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 16, 1,2,21; in Christopher, The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, South Canaan, PA: Saint Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002, pp. 179-180, 194.

[10] Triodion, Kontakion of Meatfare Sunday.

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