Fr. George Morelli is the President of the Society of St. John Chrysostom - Western Region
A little noticed but quite important event took place in 2008 which both reflects the fruit of the Eastern and Western Churches to understand each other, and also serves as an incentive and model for further engagement. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the Chairman of the World Mercy Congress international executive team, invited Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev to present the Orthodox theological perspective on hell and God’s mercy. Archbishop Hilarion, based on the writings of the holy spiritual Church Father
St. Isaac the Syrian pointed out:"God does nothing out of retribution. Even to think that way about God would be blasphemous. Even worse is the opinion that God allows people to lead a sinful life on earth in order to punish them eternally after death. This is a blasphemous and perverted understanding of God, a calumny of God."
Thus, “the image of God as Judge is completely overshadowed in [St] Isaac by the image of God as Love (hubba) and Mercy (rahme).” Archbishop Hilarion points out that Hell (Gehenna) is a mystery, but created by God to perfect those who had not reached it during their lifetime. Actually, St. Isaac’s view of hell is closer to the Western Church’s view of purgatory. The separation of the “sheep and the goats” (Mt 25: 32-46), need not be final. Archbishop Hilarion comments on this understanding of St. Isaac: “Thus, the Parable should not be understood as a dogmatic statement concerning the final destiny of the righteous and sinners, but as a prophetic warning against not having and manifesting love for one's fellow humans during one's earthly life.”
This is not a promise of universal salvation, because those in Gehenna will still have to turn toward God. It does indicate, however, God’s disposition to always await those, angels and men, who have fallen away: God is even in hell awaiting those there to turn to Him. I pray that understanding God’s mercy is another step in the efforts of the Eastern and Western Apostolic Churches to heal their separation. I pray this enlivens the members of the Society of St. John Chrysostom to see the divine value of their calling by God to be part of this ministry of ‘working toward unity.’ “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."” (Mt 19:26)