1990 (6) On Predestination
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. (John 1:43)
There is nothing as proud or as curious as the human mind. Though sin has severely weakened it, though faith demands of it blind obedience, it nonetheless still spreads one hundred wings in order to fly up to the highest height; it opens one hundred eyes to investigate the greatest secrets. Yet, all would be well, if it strained so in order to investigate the wondrous works of nature on earth, for this is the innate inclination of man through which he is led to the understanding of all that exists. But, the mind attempts to penetrate the very intangible depths of divine judgements, as if to check that the most high providence of God directs everything wisely and deals properly in regard to the affairs of humans. This is obscene arrogance! Divine predestination is one of the most inaccessible mysteries, locked in the abyss of divine reason and wisdom. The human mind, short on comprehension and limited in its ability to grasp concepts, will never be able to understand this mystery even if it studies and investigates it endlessly. Oh, you learned theologians, I know how you deliberate on divine predestination. You say: "predestination is the foreknowledge and preparation of God's good things by which those who are saved are unalterably saved; that it is the ascension of rational creatures to eternal life, and is the process of being chosen to grace and glory." Yet you do not understand that God foresees from the beginning all that people do within time, that this divine foreknowledge is stable, but the works of humans within time are free. How can we reconcile the unchangeability of God's providence with the free self-determination of intelligent creatures? How is it that the immutability of divine decisions does not lead to inevitability? Why is it beyond question and not subject to chance? We must remove ourselves as far away as possible from these questions and quandaries of the scholars. These questions do not edify, but only confuse the mind. These quandaries do not enlighten, but only darken the intellect. Brothers and sisters, in this realm which defies comprehension, we understand only one thing: Predestination is the combination of divine grace and human will of the grace of God which calls, and the will of man which follows this calling.
Once on His way to Galilee, Jesus finds Philip, and saith unto him, ‘Follow Me’. Philip believed and followed Him. We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, declares Philip to his comrade Nathanael. In this way Philip is predestined to the honor of the apostleship and to the glory of the heavenly kingdom. This then, is what I will discuss today. I will attempt to prove two positions: first, that God desires to save each and every human, and second, that each human possesses all the freedom necessary to achieve salvation with the help of the grace of God. God desires, and if man desires also, then he or she is already predestined.
The teaching on predestination is a dogma of faith, based on the Sacred Scriptures. No Orthodox Christian has any doubt in this. For whom he did foreknow, Paul clearly states, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified (Romans 8:29,30). The book of divine foreknowledge is incomprehensible to us. In this book, those whom God loves, He inscribed to life, and those whom He despises—to death. Jacob have I love, but Esau have I hated, (Romans 9:13) says God Himself. Just as a potter can make a worthy vessel or an unworthy one from the very same clay, likewise almighty God glorifies as valuable certain of His creatures, while rejecting others as unnecessary. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth (Romans 9:18). God acts according to His own will. Who can contradict Him? Yet, is there then some sort of falsity in God? No, there is not! In our effort to understand this point, take as an example the teachings of St. Paul. His teachings are deep and exalted. The more we delve into them, the less we understand. But what of this? In the question of predestination, all is incomprehensible: everything which Holy Scripture says on this subject is unfathomable. The writings of the holy fathers on this point are difficult. The opinions of the learned theologians on this are murky. This is because our intellect, weak and blind, cannot reach such heights or seek the invisible. This question was not even understood by Paul himself, who had ascended to the third heaven. At this height of divine revelation he saw only indiscernible depths of divine wisdom surpassing all understanding. This is why, filled with wonder he cried out: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33). St. John Chrysostom continues this thought by saying, "Even if it were possible to figure out this question (of predestination), it would nonetheless be unlawful to desire to do so." For us it is sufficient to know these two clear, understandable, basic precepts: first, God desires that we be saved, for He loves mankind. Second, we can be saved, for we are free. Thus, the will of God and the desire of man make up predestination. God desires, and if man desires also, then he or she is already predestined.
Yes, God, the Lover of mankind, desires that we all be saved. This is confirmed by His three non-contradictory attributes: divine justice, divine mercy, and divine providence.
God granted the law to all people indiscriminately. He desires that all choose to fulfill it. No one is exempt from God's law. Greek or barbarian, the impious or right-believing, Jew or Christian, the law is required of all. What reward awaits those who fulfill the divine law? Salvation and the kingdom of heaven. By the mouth of Isaiah God promises: If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land (Isaiah 1: 19). Would it not be the utmost injustice if God desired that all people conform to His law on the one hand, while on the other He did not desire salvation universally for all? Would He then predestine one portion for salvation and presentence the other to torment? Does He demand that all serve Him equally, yet does not desire to give all equal recompense? No! God is just, He is Justice itself. In giving the law to all, He wills all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4), as says the Apostle. St. Ambrose explains, "that having granted the law to all, He excludes no one from His kingdom."
What then, compelled God to come down to earth from the heavens and become man? It was His extreme mercy. St. John the Theologian testifies that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). During His thirty-three years here on earth, how much did the God-man toil, how much did He suffer, and how did He die? The fathers of the Church tell us that as a result of the hypostatic union in Christ of humanity and divinity, each action of Christ is worthy of endless honor and praise. Even the slightest suffering of Christ had potential to expiate the universal sin. One drop of His most pure blood could extinguish all the flames of eternal torment. His death alone, had it been natural, without sickness, could have saved the entire human race. Yet when He suffered, He suffered as no one has. When He shed His blood to the last drop, when He died on the cross, enduring such torment and shame, can we possibly think that He did all this to save only part of the human race, leaving the remainder to be damned? He could so easily have saved everyone. Yet, after such an effort, would He desire to save only a few? Did He expend such a priceless treasure in paying for such a small purchase, did He pour forth all the wealth of His divine mercy just to be benevolent to a numbered few? NO! The Divine gift is for all! The wounds of Jesus Christ are healing for all. The blood of Jesus Christ is the miraculous ladder by which we all can ascend to paradise. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as ransom for all, says Paul (I Tim. 2:5). One died for all (2 Cor. 5:14). If He died for all, then He wants all to be saved. "The Sun of Righteousness," we are told by St. Gregory the Theologian, "shone forth for all, lived for all and died and is risen for all."
In addition to all of this, it is an indisputable and immutable truth, that the most high providence of God assuredly applies to all creation. "God foresees and provides for everything," says St. Basil the Great. Providence applies particularly to the human race. This is that divine fatherly concern in which the blessed Apostle Peter commands us to place our trust: Casting all your care upon him; for He careth for you (I Peter 5:7). It is by the command of God that the sun rises as much for believers as for the unjust. God has established a haven in the seas for both the righteous and the unrighteous. He grants health, success, wealth, distinction to those nations that worship Him and to those who know Him not. If God desires to divide among all His creatures those things for which we were not created, the earthly and temporal, then all the more He desires to give to all, that for which we were created, the heavenly and eternal. If our heavenly Father providentially concerns Himself with all, then He also desires that all be saved. This is why He commands the sun to arise upon the evil and the good, and the rain to fall upon sinners and the righteous.
Thus, God, because of His justice, mercy and providence for all, desires salvation for all. Inasmuch as it depends on Him, He does not desire the ruin of anything, even the most minute. This is declared by the Son of God Himself in His holy Gospel: Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14). He calls all to Himself. This is why David says, the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth (Psalm 49:1).
From on high, first by the mouths of the prophets, and in the latter days through His Son, the incarnate Word, God called the whole world to salvation. This is why the heavenly Jerusalem, as seen by John in the Apocalypse, had twelve gates. These gates, grouped in threes, face all the ends of the earth so that we would know that God opened paradise for the entire universe. The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth, for He wants all to be saved.
Yet in actuality, this is only a desire which St. John Damascene (in harmony with the entire choir of theologians) calls preliminary. This desire of God, in and of itself, is not sufficient for the salvation of man. It is only like the pillar of fire which showed the way for the Jews in the desert. It shows the way, but does not force one along the way to salvation. God calls. Yet it is necessary that man listen. The will of God is only one wing. A second wing is necessary for flight to the heavens. This is our will. The will of God and the will of man join to form predestination. God desires; if man desires also, then he is already on the road to salvation.
From the beginning God created man totally free. The Holy Spirit by the lips of the most wise son of Sirach tells us: He Himself made man from the beginning and left him in the hand of his (man's own) will (Ecclesiastes 15:14). God leaves man to live according to his own will and places no constraint upon his freedom. He left him in the hand of his will. God is omnipotent in His authority. Man is omnipotent in his freedom. The entire difference lies in that God does all that He desires, and no power can impede Him in this, while man does nothing that he desires not to, and no power can force him. It is impossible that God not do what He desires. It is also impossible that man do what he does not desire. Thus, just as man cannot be saved without the grace of God, likewise God cannot save man without the free will of man.
"Grace," says the divine Chrysostom (St. John), "though it is grace, yet it saves only those who desire." "Salvation," according to the words of the Theologian (St. Gregory), "must be our work and God's." Rain falls on the ground. Yet the earth does not produce fruit if the husbandman does not labor. The sun shines everywhere. Yet, one who desires to accept its light must open his eyes. This means that God grants all the grace and help, yet the will of man must cooperate with this grace. God desired to save Noah during the flood in which the entire world perished, but He required that he build the ark with his own hands. God wanted to cleanse Nehemiah from leprosy, but He required that Nehemiah himself go and wash in the Jordan. He wants to open the eyes of the one born blind. Yet here again He requires that the blind one wash himself in the pool of Siloam. God desires salvation for all people, but requires that each cooperate in his or her salvation. Man is free and must choose between water and fire, life and death. Man is rational, he is directed by his mind. He can discern good from evil, light from darkness. Written on the heart of each person is the natural law, showing the true way to salvation. Therefore, what is necessary for predestination, if not the freely granted grace of God and the free will of man? God desires; if man desires also, then he is already on the way to salvation.
Yet I know what sort of misunderstanding the question of predestination can evoke in people. They will tell me that it is evident from Sacred Scriptures that even at the time when they were unable to do good or evil, not having yet been born, God loved Jacob and despised Esau. He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. From the very same clay God created two vessels, one for honor the other for dishonor. This means God generously grants grace to one, while not the other. Here God is completely free to do as He wants. For who, says Paul, hath resisted his will? (Romans 9:19). How can it be that God wants salvation for all, if He pours all His love on one side, and all His wrath upon the other? If God despised me before birth as He did Esau, if He hardened my heart like Pharaoh's, if He created me a vessel for dishonor with a corrupt disposition—after all this, where is my freedom to do good, or conduct my salvation? I must admit, dear Christians, that the portion of the Sacred Scriptures, referred to above, can give birth to such perplexity, such bewilderment. Yet it has a different meaning. The mystical blessing given by the Patriarch Isaac to his children did occur according to divine arrangement. If we look at it strictly along lines of human understanding we come to erroneous conclusions. Esau and Jacob are the children of Isaac. Esau is the elder, Jacob the younger. Naturally Esau should have been the first to receive the blessing of his father. But, as it happened, Jacob received it first. Three factors, three great mistakes contribute to this. And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see... (Genesis 27: 1) Thus, because of blindness, not having checked with whom he is dealing, he gave his blessing to the one who pretended to be the firstborn. This was the first mistake. Next, in order to grant his blessing, Isaac first requested a gift He desired to eat of meat hunted by his son. Go out to the field, and take me some venison; And make me savory meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat (Genesis 27:3,4). Thus he sold his blessing, whereas he should have given it freely. This was the second mistake. Further, Isaac was tricked by his wife Rebecca. Loving Jacob more, she dresses him in the clothes of Esau. Thus Isaac blessed Jacob, taking him to be the firstborn Esau. Later, when he found out, Isaac was astounded And Isaac trembled very exceedingly (Genesis 27:33). In this matter of utmost importance, the patriarch is so easily tricked by his wife. This was the third mistake. Thus being blind, it was for food and through the slyness of another that Isaac gave Jacob the blessing which belonged to Esau. Yet who is Isaac? He is an ordinary man. Yet a man quite often gives a blessing, grants an honor or makes a choice, all the while being blinded by ignorance, or overcome by avarice, or tricked because of innate simplicity. But divine decisions do not resemble decisions of humans. For my thoughts are not your thoughts (Is.55,20). As far as the earth is from the heavens, so differ the judgements of men from God's judgement. God predestines differently, God gives His grace differently, grants His glory differently, chooses differently. God beholds everything. He sees the smallest detail, knows the hidden. God is just and judges each according to his or her worthiness. He regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward (Deut.10:17). God is all-wise and is not deceived by craftiness, is not overcome by passions, does not betray because of weakness. Thus, the all-wise, all-just, omniscient God loved Jacob, for He foresaw the God-pleasing disposition of his heart. He hated Esau (saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau [Malachi 1:2,3] Trans.) for He foreknew his evil disposition. He is merciful to whomever He wishes, for He foreknows that the person will be good and of an obedient will. He hardens whom He wishes, for He foresees that he will be a person of an evil and unrepentant disposition. On the one hand, God makes a vessel of blessing, such as Paul. On the other, He makes a vessel of dishonor, such as Pharaoh, for He foresees that he in actuality is a vessel of wrath, doomed to perdition. This is how we must understand the blessing of Jacob. This is how it is interpreted by the Holy Fathers, especially St. John Chrysostom in his sixteenth homily on the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Therefore, the mentioned text does not prove that God supposedly does not have a full desire to save you, nor that you lack the full freedom to be saved. The man-loving God always calls you. Freely desire as well, and you will be predestined. We profess that God does what He pleases for He is omnipotent Yet we also know that God does only what is appropriate, for He is just. And even if we do not know the judgements of the Lord, for this is a deep abyss, we nonetheless believe that in God there is no partiality.
When Jesus Christ approaches Jerusalem, James and John the sons of Zebedee come to Him with their mother Salome. They bow down before Him and ask: Grant that one may sit on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom (Math. 20:21). To this strange request Christ answers: Ye know not what ye ask... This is not mine to give. How is this? Is He not almighty God Who can do what He pleases? Who can contradict Him? Who hath resistedhis will? (Romans 9:19). James and John were actual apostles, as were the others. But of all the apostles they had the additional gift of being related to Christ. Granted. But in God there is no partiality. God does not regard solicitation, nor relation. Rebecca could trick Isaac with a lie into performing an injustice. He was a man. But Salome could not convince Christ to be partial. Ye know not what ye ask.. But it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared (Mark 10:38,40). It is as if He says: "On My part just as I do not deny anyone My glory, likewise I do not single out anyone." The one found most worthy will receive preference. The words for "whom it is prepared" explains the Theologian, mean," it will be offered to the truly worthy one, which not only received these attributes from (God) the Father, but also have developed them in themselves." And so, God is not partial. He calls all to enter into His Kingdom. He singles out no one, and prefers only those who are worthy. Be found to be worthy and you will be predestined.
Now you will tell me: "Me, be found worthy? How is this? God knows ahead of time if I am predestined for paradise or doomed to torment. If I am predestined for paradise, to attain it there is need for no further toil. If I am sentenced to torment, it is completely futile for me to try to escape it. Neither in the first case, nor in the second am I free. The foreknowledge of God is exact; that which God foresees most definitely must happen. If I am free to do that which God does not foresee, then God is mistaken, which is not possible." What are you saying, oh man? You say, "If I am free, then God is mistaken?" But I will argue that if I am not free, then God deceives me. If I am not free then He leads me astray, for by the mouths of the prophets and apostles, even by His very own lips, He calls me to repentance, though He knows very well that I most definitely lack the freedom to repent. If I am not free, He deceives me, for He calls me to take up the cross and follow Him. Yet He has bound up my will. He deceives me, for He orders me to adhere to His commandments; yet with His predestination He deprives me of power. And so, if I am not free, then is not our faith a mistake? Is not the Gospel a joke? No! God does not err, for He is Wisdom Itself. He does not deceive others for he is Truth Itself. You do not understand what divine foreknowledge is and what it accomplishes. So listen. This is definitely a stumbling block upon which many have tripped and fallen. Yet, one who thinks as you do is sorely mistaken and very far from the truth. If you are ill, does not God know whether you will recover or die? But just because of this is it true that you should not call a physician, refuse any medicines, and sit with your hands folded and await either health or death? In such a case you would be very unwise, even foolish. It is one thing that God foresees your healing or death (and this is certainly true). It is completely another thing to assume that God's foreknowledge grants you health or death (and this is certainly false). If you take care of yourself, you will be healed, and in the opposite case you will die. God foresees both cases, yet neither is brought into existence by God's foreknowledge. You will either get better or die. Only one of these two is true, but not determined definitively. Try to understand this more fully. God definitely foresees whether you will be in paradise or in hell. In a mirror we are reflected just as we are in reality. The beautiful are beautiful and the reverse. Likewise in God's pure foreknowledge we appear as we are in actuality, either written in bright letters in the book of life or inscribed in the eternal book of death. If we are righteous, then we are among the ranks of the righteous who are saved. If we are sinners, then we are on the list of condemned sinners. A mirror reflects our appearance. God's foreknowledge reflects our will. This is the view of St. Gregory of Nyssa: "The righteous judgement of God takes into consideration our disposition. He grants to us according to our inner feelings." A mirror, which reflects both the beautiful and the horrid, does not make them so. Likewise the foreknowledge of God, in which one is predestined for paradise, and another is condemned to torment, in actuality does not force one to salvation and the other to condemnation. "Foreknowledge of God, the Theologian tells us, is intuitive and not active." This means that you are saved or condemned, not because God foresees your salvation or condemnation, but that either by your good works you cooperated with God's grace and God foresees your salvation, or that by your evil deeds you avoid the grace of God and will suffer for it, and God foresees your torment. Thus Judas betrayed Christ not because Christ foresaw his betrayal, but rather Christ foresaw the betrayal of Judas because he intended to betray Christ. Ibis is how the wise Justin, philosopher and martyr speaks about this: "The cause of future events is not foreknowledge, but foreknowledge is the result of future events. The future does not flow forth from foreknowledge, but foreknowledge from the future. It is not Christ who is the cause of the betrayal of Judas. But the betrayal is the cause of the Lord's foreknowledge." If you live in a way which is pleasing to God, you will be saved. If you lead a corrupt life you will perish. God foresees both the first and the second. But neither the first nor the second predetermine God's foreknowledge. You will either be saved or perish. One of these is definitely true, yet not determined beforehand.
Well, and what if I were to tell you that it was already predestined, that it was already decided that you were either saved or would perish? Is it then possible that because of this you no longer need to go to church, or you no longer need to turn to your spiritual father for help, or that you will no longer try to fulfill Christian duties, no longer repent, do nothing on your own and simply wait for either salvation or condemnation? In such a case you would be the most foolish person. Take another look in the mirror, would you please. Today you are healthy and the mirror shows your fine appearance. Tomorrow you may be ill, then it will show your sickly appearance. When you are well again, it will again show the first. Just as your face changes its appearance, so the mirror changes your image. Now then, when you live a God-pleasing life, God foresees you in paradise. Tomorrow if you sin, God will foreordain you for torment. You again repent again you are foreordained for salvation. As you change your life, so God changes His decision. God's judgement conforms to our will and conforms to our disposition.
I will finish with two illustrations from Divine Scripture. The blessed Paul, while bound, sailed to Italy on a certain Alexandrian ship in order to stand before the Emperor. Suddenly in the middle of the deep night, a great storm arises. The wind blows strongly, the sea is turbulent. There is great mortal danger, no hope for salvation. Yet God, desiring to preserve His servant, sends him His angel with the message: Fear not, Paul... God hath given thee all them that sail with thee (Acts 27:24). Hearing this divine promise, the sailors were somewhat heartened that they would be saved and intended to leave the vessel and reach shore by boat. No, says Paul, except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved (Acts 27:3 1). What are you saying Paul? Did not God ordain to save all? Does it not matter, if they stay on the ship or not? No, God determined to save them, but requires that they cooperate in this. If everyone does not stay on board and do their job, they perish. Will those perish whom God has destined to be saved? Does God's destination change? Yes, it can be no other way. Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
Here's another example: The King Hezekiah became ill. God destines him to die and sends the prophet Isaiah to say: Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live (II Kings 20: 1). The unfortunate Hezekiah turns his face to the wall, sighs, cries, pleads. What are you doing, oh hapless king?! Has not God appointed you to death? Is it not in vain that you cry and plead? Can one whom God has ordained to die, live? Does God's decision change? Yes, brothers and sisters, this determination also changed! God had pity on the tears of Hezekiah and determined that he live. He even granted him fifteen years of life. Thus saith the Lord. I will add unto thy days fifteen years (II Kings 20:5,6).
I desire, brothers and sisters, that there be a determination concerning your salvation. But I must add, that if you do not concern yourselves with this, and do not live a God-pleasing life to the very end, firm in the grace and love of God, despite all decisions about salvation, you will die. And even if your demise has been decided, I tell you that if you will turn back and repent you will be saved despite the determination of your torment. Just as your win goes from good to bad and the reverse. Likewise God's decisions go from salvation to retribution and the reverse. The righteous judgement of God takes into consideration our disposition. He grants to us according to our inner condition. Thus God's foreknowledge and His determinations are not an obstacle to God's desire to save you, nor for you in your freedom to be saved.
Yet (as I stated in the very beginning), it is best for you not to understand anything in this elevated question concerning predestination. In order not to be swayed by some sort of misunderstanding, remember well the following points: God always wants your salvation, for He is the Lover of mankind; and you can always be saved, for you are free. God's grace and your will form predestination. God desires (your salvation): desire (salvation) also, and you will be predestined.
In order to emphasize all that I have said thus far, I ask you to listen to what God says to Jeremiah the prophet: Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear My words (18:2). The prophet went to the house and found the potter making vessels. A certain pot fell from his hands and became deformed. But, he picked it up and returned it to the form which he desired. Then God spoke to Jeremiah: Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand (18:6). Just as the vessel being made fell was ruined, then being ruined, it was again corrected by the skill of the potter, likewise you, oh man, fall into sin; then, having repented, you are corrected by the grace of God. If you are a vessel of honor, nonetheless, you can become a vessel of dishonor. Likewise, from a vessel of dishonor you can turn back into an honorable vessel. But God continues even further and tells you through the prophet: If (a nation) do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them (18:10). If that nation, against whom I have pronounced (to pull down, and to destroy it), turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them (18:8). See how God changes His decision according to how man changes his disposition? God has decided to save the righteous and grant retribution to the sinful. Are you righteous? Watch out that you do not fall, for the determination about your salvation will change into determination about your retribution. If you are sinful, try to repent, and the decision concerning punishment will turn into a decision for your salvation. The righteous judgement of God takes into consideration our disposition. He grants to us according to our inner feelings. Because of this, it does not concern you what God has decided about you, or what God foresees; this is neither helpful nor harmful. You want to know what predestination is? It is the grace of God and the will of man together. God desires, for He is the Lover of mankind: if a man desires also, for he is free, then that man is predestined.
But, oh my soul, what is prepared for me? Are you meant for paradise or hell? Who can tell me this and convince me of it? Brothers and sisters, we are all wanderers in this life of sorrow; therefore none can know what will take place in the future. That will be revealed in the end. According to whether we are found righteous or sinners, we will receive from the Righteous Judge the crown of glory or the sentence of torment: And (all) shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:29). However there is something I can tell you in order to finish my sermon with a story which is very appropriate concerning the question at hand.
Once an evil man came to Apollo of Delphi with a sparrow in his hands, covered with a piece of clothing. He requested them to tell him whether the sparrow was living or dead. This man was sly. If the oracle said that it was lifeless, he intended to show the living sparrow. If he was told that it was living, he intended to suffocate it and show that it was dead. Thus, he wanted to trick the oracle. But his trickery was discovered and he received the following answer: It depends on you to decide, to show what you hold as living or dead. You too, oh Christian, ask whether eternal life or eternal death is in store for your soul. It depends on you to decide. Your predestination depends on the will of God and your will. The will of God is always ready. This means that things are determined only by your will. God desires (your salvation); if you desire this also, then you are predestined for eternal life.
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 40, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 1990), pp. 27-36. Translated by Priest Gregory Naumenko. Originally from Orthodox Life (in Russian) May 1987.