We just heard, in the order of Sunday Gospel readings for the vigils, a reading according to the Evangelist Mark. This is the first part of the final chapter of his Gospel. In its second part are words on which I wish to focus my attention. There the Lord says to the apostles: "He who believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned."
Often among believers there arise questions and concerns: and what happens to those people who were not baptized and did not become Christians, not because they refused to accept the Christian faith, but because they simply never encountered Christian preaching? St. Theophan the Recluse once answered a similar question thus: "Remember that there are mysteries that have not been opened unto us." In that Gospel verse it clearly states, that "he who believeth and is baptized," that is, who firmly stands on the Christian path, and is saved ‒ "shall be saved," but "he that believeth not shall be condemned." This indicates that those who have encountered the preaching of Christianity and, instead of accepting it and becoming a Christian, reject it, or maybe even become its foe, are faced with condemnation, as the Lord clearly stated.
As far as concerns those who fall into neither category, Bishop Theophan says: "Why do you so concern yourself with people who have so died, not having determined their relationship with the preaching of the Gospel? Remember that we have the Lord, the Savior, of Whom the Apostle Paul said that He is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe," that is, He it is Who came to save the whole human race. Inasmuch as the fate of all humanity and the fate of each individual will be determined by the Savior of the world, your concern is in vain: the Lord, first of all, is supremely just, and secondly, is endlessly merciful! He seeks to save, not to destroy, every soul; this concerns sinners, as well. When a sinner walks in the path of sin, the Lord never ceases instructing him, sending him circumstances good and beneficial for his soul, that his soul might awake and accept the true faith.
One way or another, I repeat, the Lord seeks to save each human soul. It was for this very reason that He came. The Lord once told one of His faithful servants: "I came to save the human race and I brought it salvation, but if what I did were insufficient for even one person, I would once again come to earth and once again undertake my bloody, terrible path to the Cross, that I might save that one soul, so dear to Me."
We must remember that man is God’s dearest creation. The Lord adorned him with His image and likeness, and when man came to walk on the path of sin, He Himself came to earth to redeem and save him. So we can be calm in the sense that the Lord will pronounce no unjust or cruel, if you will, judgment against any soul. Only if one obstinately rejects His truth, sins stubbornly, expresses no desire to abandon his sin, and remains such to the end, then he will be guilty of his own demise.
This is not unlike a man who is dying of thirst who, when drink is placed in front of him, turns away from it, and later cries that he is dying of thirst – but he turned away himself! So it is here, if one but abstains from murdering himself spiritually and remains even mildly capable of accepting the light of truth, then that soul will not perish. As one Orthodox hierarch said, "Hell will welcome the offspring of hell!" – that is, those people who murdered their souls by their way of living, and for whom no other lot exists.
Do you remember what the Lord said when He spoke of the Dread Judgment? He will turn to the righteous and say, "Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." But when He turns with a terrible and sorrowful word to the sinners, He will say, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared (for whom? for you? no!) for the devil and his angels!" The sufferings of hell were not prepared for you – no! For you, God’s Kingdom was opened. You could have walked into it as the righteous, but you made yourselves such, that there is no fate for you but to be with the enemy of God and murderer of man – the devil. You are responsible for your demise! And so, let us remember this. The Lord is just, but He is also endlessly merciful, and if there is a chance to save any soul, even one tangled in sins, remember that He will save it, can save it, and wishes to save it!
Translated from the original Russian by Rdr. Gregory Levitsky
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese