FROM THE GERONTIKON
Abba Macarios the Egyptian related the following incident to his disciples.
Once, while I was walking in the desert, I found a lifeless skull on the ground. I pushed it lightly with my staff and, to my amazement, I heard a voice from this skull. So bravely and without fear I asked the skull: "You, who are you?"
The skull answered me, as though it were a living person:
"I was a high priest of the pagan gods and Greeks who once lived near this place. And you are Macarios, a man of the spirit. Take note, then, that any time that you take pity on those in Hell and pray for them, they receive some comfort."
Abba Macarios once more questioned the skull: "What is the nature of this comfort? And what is Hell like?"
"As far as Heaven is from the earth, such is the depth of the fire below us.
In that fire we stand upright, entirely buried in it. We are so situated that one of the damned cannot see the other, but only his back. But when you pray for us, we are able to see one another's face for a moment. This, then, is the comfort which we experience."
Abba Macarios, on hearing this, sighed deeply and said: "Alas, such misfortune the day of his birth brings upon a sinner that it is better, as the Lord said of Judas His betrayer, had he not been born." After speaking to himself in this way, the Elder once again posed a question to the skull:
"Are there in Hell other torments that are worse than those which you have described?"
"Below us there are even more frightfully hellish things," the skull replied.
"And who is punished there?" the Elder asked.
"We, in the end," the skull said, "enjoy to some extent the mercy of God, since we did not know Him; those, however, who knew God and, despite this, denied Him are below us and suffer far more hellish torments."
This exchange having come to an end, the Elder took the skull, buried it beneath the soil, and went on his way.
Let us heed and fear all that this story tells us. For, if those who deny God suffer more greatly in Hell than unbelievers, we must take care not to deny God by works of darkness, that we might flee this fearful punishment. A denier of God is not just one who rejects Him in word and deed, but anyone who commits sinful acts, even if, with his words, he seems to confess faith in God. And a witness to the fact that what I say is true is the Apostle [Paul], when he proclaims: "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him" (Titus 1:16).
(The Gerontikon is a collection of the Lives of the Fathers of the Church, worthy reading for all who seek to share in the miraculous workings of God through the lives of His saints.)