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On the Various Places of Torment 
and on the Judgement
St. Ephraim, Confessor and Doctor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.
(Vossio S. Eph., Tome I, Sermo 72.)
We know from the Gospel that there are various places of torment.  For it has been revealed to us that there is exterior darkness (Mt. viii. 12), and so it follows that there is also interior darkness (cf. Mk. v).  The fire of Gehenna is another place, the abode of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt. xxv. 30).  Another place speaks of the worm that dieth not (Mk. ix. 43).  We read in another place of the pool of fire (Apoc. xix. 20), and again of tarturus, of unquenchable fire (Mk. ix. 42, 44).  The lower world of destruction and perdition are written of in precise terms (Mt. vii. 13; I Tim. vi. 9).  The depths of the earth is another place.  The hell where sinners are tormented, and the depths of hell, a more fearful place.  The wretched souls of the damned are distributed throughout these places of punishment, each one according to the nature of his sins; fearfully or less fearfully, as it is written: Each one is fast bound by the ropes of his own sins (Prov. v. 22); and this is what is meant by the servant who is beaten with many stripes or with few stripes (Lk. xii. 47, 48).  For just as there are differences of sin so also are there differences in their punishment.

They who foment enmities among themselves, if they should happen to pass from this life in that state, they shall in that same hour undergo the inexorable condemnation of this Judge (Mt. v. 18), and as hateful to God they shall be cast into exterior darkness for having held as of no importance the precept of the Lord that says: Love one another, and forgive one another, even to seventy times seven.  Let every sinner remember that he cannot live in security in this life, or free of anxiety; yet that we are never at any time to despair.  For we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ (I Jn. ii. 1), and He is the propitiation for our sins; but not of the sins of those who live lives free from all concern and anxiety, lives of sloth, of sleeping, of living for pleasure, and laughter and drunkenness, but for the sins of those who grieve for their sins, who do penance for them, calling on Him in the day and in the night.  It is these who shall receive the comfort of the Advocate.

But the sinner who is oblivious of his own sins, and who departs from his body in that state, upon him shall fall that anger which threatened Manasses; who cried: Insupportable, O Lord, is the anger of Thy threatening against those who sin (cf. 2 Paralip. xxxiii; Jer. x. io).  Woe to the fornicator, woe to the drunkard.  Woe to the foul-tongued.  Woe to those who drink with song and dance, with drums, with pipe and thabor, but the works of the Lord they regard not, nor do you consider of the works of his hands (Is. v. 11, 12).  Woe to those who despise the words of Holy Writ.  Woe to gamblers, as often as they shall make themselves strangers to the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; as the Holy Spirit admonishes us through the blessed Apostles (Lk. vi; Jas. iv).  Woe to those who waste the time of repentance in dissipation and folly; for they shall seek for this very time of repentance that they wasted in vain, and they shall not find it.

Woe to those who traffic with sorcerers, and seek to learn from the spirit of untruth; giving their minds to the teaching of demons: for they shall be condemned together with them in the world to come.  Woe to those who bring forward false accusations.  Woe to those who look for strange things, incantations, divinations, the blood of infants, amulets, dyes, protective oracles inscribed on leaves, which bring instead disaster to the body, and damnation to the soul, and all similar things.

Woe to those that deprive the labourer of his wage (Jas. v. 4); for he who deprives the labourer of his wage is as one who sheds innocent blood.  Woe to those who give judgement unjustly.  Woe, I repeat, to those who for a bribe justify the wrong doer, and take away the right of the just.

Woe to those who stain the holy faith with heresies, or who give place to heretics.  Woe to those who are afflicted with an incurable disease; such as are envy and malice.  But to what end need I name so many sins instead of including all in a few words?  Woe to all who in that dread hour shall be placed at the left-hand side: for they shall be in darkness, they shall tremble and they shall weep bitter tears when they hear that most fearful sentence: Depart from me, you cursed.  And some shall hear again that most doleful sentence: The wicked shall be turned into hell (Ps. ix. 18).  Others will hear the words: Amen I say to you, I know you not, whence you are: depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity (Lk. xiii. 27).  Others, the envious, will hear the words: Take what is thine, and go thy way (Mt. xx. 14).  And hearing what He says, the dread word, go, they ask, whither?  There where they also shall be who shall hear the words: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire (Mt. xxv. 41).

Others will hear the command: Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into exterior darkness.  Others shall be gathered together like chaff to be burned in the furnace of fire (Mt. xiii. 42).  But just as there are many ways of salvation, so are there also many mansions in the kingdom of heaven.  And as there are many kinds of sin, so are there various ways and places of torment.

Whosoever has tears and compunction of heart let him now weep with me.  For I am mindful, my blessed brethren, of that unhappy separation, and I cannot support the thought of it.  In that terrible hour men shall be separated, the one from the other, in that last and most sorrowful of all separations, and many shall go on their way destitute of all hope of ever returning.  Who is there so stony of heart who will not from this time forward weep at the thought of that hour?  That hour when bishops shall be separated from their fellow bishops, kings from kings, princes from princes, priests from other priests, deacons from the other deacons, hypodeacons (sub-deacons) and readers from their companions.  Then shall they be separated who once were kings, and they shall cry as children, and they shall be driven forward like slaves.  Then shall princes mourn, and the rich who were without pity, and pressed in on every side they shall look here, look there, and find nowhere any one to help them.  Then shall they be separated, to depart like captives into sorrow; where riches will not avail them, nor flatterers stand by them, there shall not be any place for mercy, for they had refused mercy to others; nor will they have sent mercy on before them, so that they might find it when they come, as the prophet says of such people: They have slept their sleep; and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands (Ps. lxxv).

Then shall children be separated from their parents, and friends from friends.  There in sorrow shall husband be separated from wife, because he has not kept his marriage bed undefiled.  And they too shall be separated; they who though virgin in body were yet cruel and without mercy: For judgement without mercy to him that hath not done mercy (Jas. ii. 13).  But I shall leave out many things here: for I am held by fear and trembling from speaking of them, and so I shall conclude in a few words.

Then at last they shall be driven forth from the Tribunal and led away by fierce angels, wretched and beaten, grinding their teeth, and turning back continuously to look once more if possible upon the just, and upon that joy from which they are now for ever cut off.  And they see that ineffable Light, they glimpse the beauty of paradise, and see there amid that joy those they knew and who were once their friends.  They see the great and shining gifts which they have received from the King of Glory; they who have striven lawfully for the mastery (II Tim. ii. 5).

Soon they are led away, separated from all the just, and from those they knew, and hidden from the sight of God Himself, so that they can no longer look upon that joy or upon that true Light.  And now they draw near to those punishments we have spoken of earlier, to be divided from one another among these various places, seeing themselves abandoned on every side, destitute of all hope, of all help, and of all intercession on their behalf by others, abandoned.  For the judgements of God are just.  Thou art just, O Lord; and thy judgement is right (Ps. cxvm. 137).  Then crying and weeping most bitterly they will exclaim: O why did we spend our time in neglect and indifference?  O why have we deceived ourselves?  O how we have mocked at ourselves, hearing the divine Scriptures and mocking them?  There God spoke to us, in the holy Scriptures, and we paid no heed to Him.  Now we cry out to Him and He turns away His face from us.  What has the end of the world brought us?  Where is the father who begot us?  Where is the mother who brought us into the world?  Where are our children?  Where are our friends?  Where now are our riches?  Where are our properties and our possessions?  Where now the throngs of friends?  The banquets?  Where are the endless senseless races?  Where are the kings and lords?  How is it none of them can save us; none can bring us help?  We are utterly abandoned, by God and by His holy ones.  What shall we do?  For there is no more time to repent.  Prayer and intercession no longer avail; there is no help in tears.  They no longer come who sold us oil: they who appear as the poor and the destitute.  Every festival is over.  While we had time, and had the means, and when the oil-sellers were crying out, ‘come and buy’, we stopped our ears and refused to listen or to purchase their oil.  Now we look for it and we do not find it.  There is no more redemption for us unhappy ones; no more mercy.  For we were not worthy.  The judgement of God is just.  We shall no more look up and see the company of the Saints.  We shall look no more upon that True Light.  We are bereft of everything; cut off from everyone.

What is there left for us to say?  Farewell!  Farewell all ye just!  Farewell Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs.  Farewell to the company of the holy Patriarchs.  Farewell to the hosts of monks.  Farewell, O precious and life-giving Cross!  Farewell to the kingdom of heaven which is to be without end!  Farewell to the spiritual Jerusalem; the mother of the Firstborn! (Gal. iv. 26).  Farewell to the joy of paradise!  Farewell to You Lady Mother of God; Mother of the Lover of Mankind!  Farewell fathers and mothers, sons and daughters: we shall never see you again.  And after that each one will go to the place of torment that was prepared for him because of his evil works; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished (Mk. ix. 43).

You have heard me, my blessed brethren.  I have fulfilled your request to me for knowledge of the judgement; I have fulfilled your desire.  See now if you understand for what we are preparing ourselves?  You have learned what they gain who are negligent, who are slothful, who scorn repentance.  And you have heard for what reason they are mocked at who here on earth mocked at the commandments of God.  You have learned how the evil one deceives the many, how he leads this world, wicked and rejoicing, astray.  You have learned how those who laugh at the Scriptures are themselves laughed at.  Let no one be led into error, dearly beloved.  Let none of you be deceived, my blessed brethren.  Beware of any one saying that they are but mere words; these that we speak to you of the judgement.  Rather let us all firmly and carefully believe in Christ as He preaches to us of the resurrection of the dead, of judgement, of the rewards of the good and the wicked, according to the Holy Scriptures (Jn. v. and vi; I Cor. xv).

Rather, despising all earthly things, let us with earnest care give thought to rendering an account of these same things; and let us be resolved to go in fear of that Tribunal, and that in that dread and fearful day and hour we shall be prepared.  For that is an hour to grieve over, one filled with anguish, and with pressure that shall shake the whole world.  Of that day and hour the holy prophets and Apostles have spoken (Job xix. 2o; Is. ii. 13, 30; I Cor. iii. 55; Mt. xxiv. Lk. xii. 13; Apoc. iii).  And of this day the Holy Scriptures cry out from end to end of the earth, through all the churches, in every place, and gives testimony to all men, and warns all men, saying to them: Take heed, Watch, Pray, Be sober, Show mercy, Be prepared, You know not the day nor the hour in which the Lord will come.  Let all men therefore, as I have already said to you, cry out with tears and with grief, proclaiming that inevitable day.

Of that day the prophet Isaias has said: Behold the Lord shall come, to lay waste the whole earth, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it (Is. xiii. 9).  And the same prophet says again: Behold thy saviour cometh: behold his reward is with him, and his work before him (Is. lxii. 11).  And another prophet cries out: Behold the Lord cometh, and who shall endure the day of his coming?  And who shall stand to see him? (Mal. iii. 2).  And another prophet cries to us: Lord, I have heard thy hearing, and was afraid, and fear has entered into my bones (Hab. iii. 1).  And yet another prophet cries to us, in the person of the Lord, and says to us: Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time (Deut. xxxii. 35).  And again: I will deal vengeance to my enemies, and repay them that hate me.  And there is no one can deliver out of my hand (vv. 41, 39).

Of this day the prophet David has also spoken.  God shall come manifestly: our God shall come, and shall not keep silence.  A fire shall burn before him; and a mighty tempest shall be round about him (Ps. xlix. 3, 4).  Of this day the Apostle Paul also speaks.  In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel (Rom. ii. 16).  And again he says: See therefore how you walk circumspectly; not as unwise; It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Eph. v. 15; Heb. x. 31).  And Peter, the Head and Summit of the Apostles, says of that day: The day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat (II Pet. iii. 10).

And why do I speak only of the prophets and Apostles?  The Sovereign Lord Himself has given testimony to it in many places, saying: Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be overcharged, with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly.  For as a snare shall it come upon all that sit upon the face of the whole earth (Lk. xxi. 34, 35).  Watch ye therefore, because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come (Mt. xxiv. 43).  Strive to enter by the narrow way that leadeth to life (Lk. xiii. 24).

Let us walk by this way, Brethren, that we may attain to the inheritance of eternal life.  For he who enters in by this way will beyond doubt be the inheritor of eternal life.  For this way is life.  And though few there are who find it, yet let us, dear Brethren, not be deprived of it.  Let none of us walk outside this way; lest we take the road to perdition; as was said by the prophet: Lest the Lord be angry and you perish from the just way (Ps. ii. 12).  Let us listen to the Lord speaking to us. I am the Light.  I am the Good Shepherd.  I am the Life.  I am the Door.  By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved.  I am the Way.  He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Let us therefore follow Him on this blessed way which all have walked who have loved Christ.  Its entrance is linked with tribulation and with torment; but there is blessed peace there.  The gates of this way are narrow and forbidding; but its reward is joy.  Its entry is strait, but the place of rest within is wide and spacious.  The gates of this way are fasting, prayer, compunction, vigils, humility of soul, poverty of spirit, contempt of the flesh, care of the soul, sleeping on the ground, eating of dry food, lack of comfort, harshness, hunger, thirst, nakedness, mercy, tears, grieving, poverty, groanings, genuflexions, humiliations, persecutions, revilings from others, to be hated and not to hate, to hear evil and to render good for evil, to forgive debts to our debtors, to lay down our lives for our friends.  Lastly, to shed our blood for Christ when the occasion calls for it.  These are the narrow gates, and the strait way; these are the steps, the approaches, which lead to a most blessed reward, the Kingdom of Heaven itself, of which there will be no end.

Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to destruction; whose steps are now joyous and gay, but beyond the gates they are sad; here they are sweet, there they are more bitter than gall; here the steps are quick, there they are slow and encumbered with pain.  Here they seem as nothing, there they shall surround him like wild impenitent beasts attacking; as the prophet says: In the evil day the iniquity of my heel shall encompass me (Ps. xlviii. 6); that is, the evil of this life, that is, the wide gate and the broad ways of which the Apostle speaks, numbering them one by one; and of which are: fornication, adultery, shamelessness, idolatry, witchcraft, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, and such like (Gal. v. 20), which are the steps of the wide way.  And akin to these is immoderate laughter, rioting, lute playing, spectacles, piping, dances, the baths, soft clothing, sumptuous eating, flattery, uproar, prolonged sleep, soft beds, varieties of food, an insatiable desire for food, fraternal hate, and what is worse than all this, impenitence, and never to recall to mind our departure from this life.  These are the steps of that dangerous way along which so many now walk.

And such as these shall come to a fitting inn.  They shall find hunger in place of delights, thirst for their drunkenness, pain for their repose, mourning in place of laughter, weeping for piping, the worm for their swollen bodies, grief for their ease and sloth of mind, for their witchcrafts association with the devil, for their gaming tables they shall be given over to the company of the demons, for their incantations and divinations they will be given over to the authors of these and other evil practices, exterior darkness, the gehenna of fire and similar things, which are the wages of Death, where he feeds his sheep, his own disciples, his own friends, who have entered in by the wide and broad gate, according to the saying of the holy prophet: They are laid in hell like sheep: death shall feed upon them (Ps xlviii. 15).

But we, dearest Brethren, turning aside from this perilous and troubled way, let us listen to what Christ says to us.  Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able (Lk. xiii. 24).  Many things such as these the Lord cries out to us, and many others also who have God within them.  Remembering these things the holy martyrs of God had no compassion on their own bodies, but submitted them to every kind of torment, rejoicing in the hope of their crowns.  Some strove in the deserts, in mountains, and in caves, in fasting, in virginity, and they still strive, and not only men but women also, the weaker sex, and these entering in by the narrow gate, and by the strait way, have seized the kingdom of heaven.  Who then will not be shamed when in that hour women shall be crowned and many men condemned?  For there will be no more male and female.  But each one shall receive his due reward, according to his labours.

Nor does this happen only in the deserts and in the mountains; much more does the multitude of those who shall be saved shine out in cities and towns and islands and in the churches.  Each one in his own order who observes the commands of God: bishops, priests, deacons, and the other orders of the Church, kings, princes, rulers, governors, and those who live in palaces and castles.  For the Lord God said there shall be no differences, but that there is one place that is above others: Where there are two or three gathered together in my name; that is, in the deserts, in the mountains and in caves, or in cities, towns or islands, or in any place of My dominion, there am I in the midst of them (Mt. xviii. 20) and with them, unto the consummation of the world, and then in the world to come I shall pasture them for all ages.

Dwelling within himself upon that tremendous judgement, and upon that Incorruptible Judge, the great and blessed David watered his couch with tears each night, and called upon the Lord, saying to Him: Enter not into judgement with thy servant; for in thy sight no man shall be justifed (Ps. cxlii. 2).  Enter not upon a reckoning with me; do not, Most kind Lord, pass judgement on me; for I am destitute of defence.  And therefore I implore Thy goodness, Lord, enter not into judgement with thy servant.  For if you will do this, there is not a man in Thy sight will be justified.

Behold, Brethren, the holy and blessed prophet David, beseeching the Lord because of that dread day and hour, and making ready for his defence.  Let you also do this, Brethren and Beloved in Christ, before that day or hour comes, before the wedding feast, before the Lord comes openly, and comes upon us unawares.  Let us come before His face with confession, with repentance, in prayer.  Let us come before His face in fasting and in tears, and in hospitality.  Let us come before His face, I say, before He comes openly to us, and find us unprepared.  Let us not cease to pray without ceasing, doing penance, prepared for your meeting with tile Lord, all alike, women as well as men, rich and poor, bond and free, old and young.  Let no one say: I have sinned in many ways and so there is no hope of pardon for me.  He who says this does not know that God is the God of the repentant; Who came into this world because of those who were sick; Who has said: There shall be joy in heaven on one sinner doing penance; Who has said: I am not come to call the just, but sinners to repentance (Mt. ix. 13).

This is true repentance; to cease from sin, and to hate it, according to His words: I have hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved thy law (Ps. cxviii. 163); and to His words, saying: I have sworn and am determined to keep the judgements of thy justice (cxviii. 106).  It is with joy therefore that God receives whoever comes to Him.  Beware also of saying: I have not sinned.  For he who says this is blind, groping with his hands, seducing himself, and knows not how Satan is seducing him, in word and deed, by hearing, by touch, by sight and in thought.  For who has ever been able to glory that his heart was pure, and that all his senses were free of every stain?  So there is no one among men who is wholly without sin save Him alone Who because of us took Flesh from the Holy Mary, Who is really and truly the Mother of God; Who being rich became poor, for our sakes (II Cor. viii. 9).

He alone is free from all stain of sin Who takes away the sins of the world; who will have all men be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. ii. 4); Who wishes not the death of the sinner; Who is sweet and mild, and plenteous in mercy (Ps. lxxxvi. 5); Who is clement, good, the lover of souls, Almighty, the Saviour of all men, the Father of orphans, and the judge of widows, Who is the God of the repentant, the Healer of souls and bodies, the Hope of the despairing, the Deliverer of those who are tossed to and fro in the tempest, the Help in every way of the destitute, the Way of life Which leads all to repentance, and rejects no one doing penance.

Let us fly to Him, Brethren; for as often as sinners have turned to Him they have been saved.  And therefore let us not despair of our salvation, Dearest Brethren. We have sinned; let us repent.  We have sinned a thousand times.  Let us do penance a thousand times.  The Lord rejoices in every good work; especially in a soul doing penance.  For upon this He is wholly intent; receiving such as these with open tender arms, and calling to them He cries: Come to me, all ye that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you, in the Heavenly City, where all My angels are refreshed with great joy.  Come to me, all of you, to that ineffable and unending joy, to these delights on which the angels desire to look (I Pet. i. 2), and where are gathered the choirs, the hosts, of the blessed.

There they shall be received into the bosom of Abraham who here have borne tribulations, as the poor Lazarus was once received.  There the treasury of My graces shall stand for ever open; there, in that Jerusalem which is above; the mother of the firstborn (Gal. iv. 26).  There is the blessed land of the meek.  Come to me, all of you, and I will refresh you.  There where all things are at rest, and there is no discord, and all things are revealed.  Where there is no tyrant, no oppressor, no sin, no spot or blemish, where there is light inaccessible, and joy that cannot be told.

Blessed are they that mourn.  Mourn, do penance, be converted, and come to Me and I will refresh you; where there are waters of refreshment and a place of green grass, and wine that is prepared by the Lord of all things; to that blessed land of the meek, in which I the True Vine, and my Father is the husbandman, as you know (Jn. xv. 1).

Come to Me all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you; where there is immortal life and the fount of every mercy.  Come to me, all of you, and I will refresh you; where there is love alone, perennial joy, and everlasting happiness, where the light does not fade, nor the sun go down.  Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you; where there is perfect life, and the fount of every good.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls; where there is ever the sound of festival days, and where the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge shall be revealed.

Come to Me, all of you, and I will refresh you; where there are wondrous gifts, and joy without compare, rest unchanging, happiness without end, unceasing melody, perpetual glory, unwearied giving of thanks, loving absorption in divine things, infinite riches, a kingdom without end, through all ages and ages, deeps of compassion, an ocean of mercy and kindness, which the human tongue cannot describe, but makes known only through figures.  There shall be the myriads of the Angels, the multitudes of the Firstborn, the Thrones of the Apostles, the dignities of the prophets, the sceptre of the Patriarchs, the crowns of the Martyrs, the praises of the Just.  And there is laid up the reward of every order, of every Power and Principality.

Come to Me all you that hunger and thirst after justice, and I will fill you with all that you desire, and which the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive.  These things have I prepared for those who love Me.  These things I have prepared for those who have done penance for their wayward life.  I have prepared them for the merciful; for the poor in spirit; for those who mourn in repentance.  I have prepared them for the peacemakers.  I have prepared them for those who suffer persecution, hate, reproaches, for My Name’s sake.

Come to Me all you that labour; and shake off and cast from you the burden of your sins.  For no one who comes to Me remains burdened, but casts off his evil way of life, and unlearns the conduct he had evilly learned from the devil, and learns of Me a new way of life.  Those that deal in witchcraft, coming to Me they cast away their abject arts and learn the secrets of God in the knowledge of Him.  The public farmers of taxes leaving their customs booths build churches.  Persecutors ceasing from persecuting others suffer persecution themselves.  Harlots ceasing from fornication have become lovers of continence and modesty.  The Thief, putting an end to killing, putting away his life of robbery, received a true faith and became a dweller in paradise.

Come therefore to Me; for he who comes to Me I shall not cast forth.  You have heard, Dearest Brethren, the perfect hope, the sweet promises, the words of the Saviour of our souls.  Who has ever seen so kind a Father to His children?  Who has seen so good a Physician?  Come, therefore, let us adore and fall down before Him (Ps. xciv. 6), and let us confess our sins.  Glory to His goodness!  Glory to His loving kindness!  Glory to His longanimity!  Glory to His care for us, to His tenderness!  Glory to His words of pity!  Glory to His Kingdom!  Glory, honour, adoration to His Holy Name for ever and ever!

Again I say to you: I shall not cease from saying it: Let us not lie slothful in our sins lest we perish in our sloth.  Let us not delay.  Let us not cease from crying out with tears to the Lord, in the day and in the night.  For He is merciful, and lieth not (Tit. i. 2); the Defender of those that call upon him by day and by night.  For He is the God of those who repent: to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be glory and honour throughout all ages.  Amen.