The Protestant and Catholic traditions have a long history of believing that hell is a material fire and is a state of separation from God. This is not what the Eastern Rite Orthodox Church believes.
Psalm 139:8: ‘Even if you make your bed in Sheol (hell), I (the Lord) am there.’ I could only come up with this verse to prove the reality that hell is not a place, but a condition of the soul.
To quote Archbishop Lazar Puhalo of the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), ‘God doesn’t send anybody to hell. God doesn’t punish us either in this world or the world to come. And as St Anthony the great says, “It would be great error to think that God could love people in hell any less than He loves people in heaven.” Because hell is your condition, it’s not a place. The malice we feel is the fire that burns. The malice within our own conscience.’
St Isaac the Syrian describes the state of the sinners in hell as a state in which they are ‘scourged by the whip of God’s love.’
I shall give you an example from my own life. Each time I attend the divine liturgy at my Greek Orthodox church, I feel as though I am in hell, I feel the fire that burns. I feel the malice and rancor of my tendency to judge others, even my fellow parishioners in the temple of the Lord.
I am not looking forward to my day of judgement, where I will have to face the Lord. The Lord will not accuse me of anything. My own conscience, the basic input-output system of our morality, will accuse me, where I will feel the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Luke 13:28).
One of the Saints, in his deep humility, said, ‘I will go to the place where the devil will be condemned.’ If I were to say that about myself, it would not be humility, it would be a fact.