The blessed condition of the righteous in the future life

A great reward is prepared for the righteous in the future life (Matt. 5. 12). They will be brought to the most perfect and beautiful place, which the Holy Scripture calls Paradise (Luke 23. 43), Heaven (Matt. 6.9), the Kingdom of God (Luke 13. 28-29), the heavenly Father's house (John 14. 2), the city of the living God and the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12. 22-23).
According to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, "no matter which of these names one apply to this place, one will not sin: only let him know that the departed righteous dwell in God's grace in the Heavenly Kingdom or, as the church songs proclaim, in Heaven" (The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church, part I, reply to question 67).

The blessed condition of the righteous in their blessed dwelling, the Paradise, is given various names by the Holy Scripture: eternal life (John 3. 15), rest (Heb. 4. 9-10), an inheritance incorruptible that fadeth not away (I Peter 1. 4), joy that no man taketh away, a full joy (John 16. 22, 24), and many similar names. To sum up, the condition of the righteous in the future life may be called blessedness (Matt. 5. 3-12).

The greatest and highest source of this blessedness will be communion with God and the possibility of seeing Him. "God is the source of our blessedness," says the blessed Augustine. "He is the goal of all our aspirations. While we are searching for Him... we aspire to Him in our love in order to reach Him mid find rest. We are blessed only insofar as we progress toward this goal. We have no other good except union with God" (Augustine, The City of God, 60. 3). The Prophet Isaiah prophesies that the Lord Himself will be eternal light for the righteous. 'The Lord says: "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem" (Is. 66.13). In the New Testament Jesus Christ Himself promises that the pure in heart will see God (Matt. 5. 8). The Holy Apostle John the Theologian says that "our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1. 3), and that the blessed kingdom of glory will be "the tabernacle of God... with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21. 3).

We thus see on the evidence of the Holy Scripture that all who love Christ will be united with Him forever in the eternal Kingdom of God. This union with Him will undoubtedly be the highest and most perfect degree of their blessedness. If the saints love Him not yet having seen Him and, believing, "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (I Peter 1. 8), how much greater will their joy be when they will see the never-.setting Sun of Truth in all His beauty and greatness! Of course they will see the human nature of Christ the Saviour by means of the bodily sense of vision, while His divine nature together with that of God the Father and the Holy Spirit will be per­ceived spiritually, insofar as this is possible for a limited being like man. The close communion of the saved souls with God will consist not only in their spiritual union with Him through the most intense love, but according to the words of the holy Apostle Peter, it will also consist in partaking of the divine na­ture (II Peter 1. 4), which in this world is possible only through the most holy Sacrament of Communion, while in the never-ending day of God's Kingdom such a communion will be more true and real, so that God, in the words of the holy Apostle Paul, will be "all in all" (I Cor. 15. 28). As St. John the Theologian says, He will be the spring that gives water to the thirsty, the light that illuminates the just, and the tree of life that feeds them (Rev. 21. 6, 22-23). So close a communion with God, in­expressible and unintelligible to us now, will be the highest good of all the good things that are prepared for the righteous by the endless love of our Saviour and which they will enjoy in the bles­sed kingdom of glory. "What a glory, what a joy there will be," says St. Cyprian, "for those who are found worthy of seeing God and who, together with Christ, our Lord God... will taste the joy of salvation and light eternal!" (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epist. 4).

In having perpetual communion with God and in seeing Him all the time, the blessed souls will find a full and unceasing source of happiness. They will be happy in a consciousness of high perfection in themselves and of close agreement between their spiritual and physical powers. By their very nature, the bles­sed will have a perfect intelligence, a perfect will, and perfect senses. All parts of their being will be in perfect harmony, Thus they will reach the perfect development in them of the image and likeness of God, which man had when he was created by God (Gen. 1. 26-27).

St. Gregory the Theologian says that, as he understands it, future blessedness "is the most perfect cognition of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (St. Gregory the Theologian, Against the Arians). In the cognition of God we shall find also cognition of all that has been created by Him. Our failure to understand the seeming imperfections of the world will then be resolved, and the great plans of God concerning the whole creation, not only man, will be revealed. The world of spirits will then stand before man in the purest light; he will clearly see many other beings, will recognize their qualities and purposes and their place in the order of creation. In the future life, according to St. Ephraim of Syria, "the unknown treasures of wisdom and knowledge are opened" (St. Ephraim of Syria, About the Second Coming of the Lord). In the future life the real activity of the, human intelligence will only begin, and in it he will find always an unceasing source of blessedness.

The moral condition of the inhabitants of the kingdom of glory will also be excellent and perfect. Their will being free of all impurity and sin, there will be no temptations to sinful actions and to deviation from the law of God, and sin will no longer exist (I Cor. 15. 56-57). Nothing impure will enter Paradise (Rev. 21. 27). The righteous will be filled with the righteousness for which they only thirsted here on earth (Matt. 5. 6), and the love which, according to the Apostle, never fails (I Cor. 13. 8) will then reveal itself most perfectly to them and give their will an unswerving direction to the good, so that they never will be in danger of swaying aside from this direction. Their conscious­ness of all this will fill the hearts of the righteous with greatest satisfaction. Their conscience will be bright and pure, as was the conscience of the first man before the fall, and no recollection of the past will disturb their joy and serenity, for the Prophet records the words of God: "The former troubles are forgotten, and... they are hid from mine eyes. For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remem­bered, nor come into mind" (Is. 65. 16-17). In their love for God, the righteous will with all their soul direct themselves to the Source of all that is exalted, good, and beautiful, they will desire and do only that which pleases God and thus will continuously approach Him in holiness and come into the closest spiritual union with Him, the kind of union for which Christ prayed to His Father before He left this world (John 17. 21-23).

The hearts of the righteous, which thirsted for happiness here on earth, will be fully satisfied there. They all will enjoy the blessedness of cognition of God (I Peter 1. 8). Through their love they will be found worthy of the closest communion with God Himself, the source of happiness. The Apostle says: "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (I John 4. 16). How great this blessedness of the heart will be, we can neither feel nor understand now, and even less can we express it in words. St. John Chrysostom says: "What words can describe what will be then? Communion with Christ will result in sweetness and joy indescribable. It is impossible to say what pleasure the soul experiences after it has regained its nobility and has come to the condition which allows it to see its Lord; it not only finds pleasure in the possession of good things but also is certain that these good things will never end. Thus this joy can neither be fully described in words nor understood by reason" (St. John Chrysostom, To Theod.).

Set free from the destructive action of the powers of nature, the bodies of the righteous will be free from illness and death: "And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21. 4). The imperishable body will not make the holy soul heavy in its aspirations, will not prevent the soul from fulfilling what it may desire, but will be the best and most effective instrument for realizing and fulfilling the pious and exalted desires of the soul. The body will be like a beautiful palace in which the soul will be totally occupied with the exalted aspirations of its godlike nature.

The blessedness of the denizens of Paradise will be yet deeper because they all will always be in perpetual communion with one another. The Scripture says: "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Mtt. 8. 11). We see then that every blessed inhabitant of the kingdom of glory will enter into communion with those with whom he was united on earth by the close spiritual bonds of pure love, kinship, and friendship. It is particularly wonderful that there he will see and recognize all the saints of God: the first men, the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, the fathers of the church, the hermits, and all the righteous, and will communicate with them. No doubt the saints will there also be in communion with he angels and all the pure spirits. The holy Apostle Paul says: "Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" (Heb. 12. 22-23). St. John Chrysostom says about future blessedness: "What is most important of all is the unceasing pleasure in communion with Christ, with the angels, the archangels, and the heavenly powers... There will be no confusion, no struggle, for the unanimity among the saints will be total, since they will all think alike" (St. John Chrysostom, To Theod.). St. Ephraim of Syria says about the future state of blessedness: "There are multitudes of angels, the triumph of the firstborn, the thrones of the apostles, the first seats of the prophets, the scepters of the patriarchs, the crowns of the martyrs, praise of the righteous: there rewards are reserved and something is prepared for each principality, power, and rank" (St. Ephraim of Syria, About the Second Coming of the Lord). The righteous will, moreover, be closely united by their common activity, which will correspond to their blessed condition and will consist of contemplation of God and His endless perfections, in presence and worship before the throne of God (Rev. 19. 4), in serving God and fulfilling His will (Rev. 7. 15), and finally in ceaseless praise given to God (Rev. 5. 9-13).

All the saved will, in accordance with the Lord's promise, enter the blessed kingdom of Jesus Christ, but not all of them will enjoy there an equal state of blessedness. Each will be blessed according to the measure of his labors and accomplishments on earth. The Apostle says: "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (I Cor. 3. 8). Some souls will occupy a higher level of spiritual perfection and holiness, others a lower one, but all will be satisfied and blessed. Even the lowest degree of future Blessedness will far transcend MI. that we here can express, understand, and feel.

The blessedness prepared for the righteous in their new life will be eternal. The Word of God so clearly assures us of this that a real Christian can have no doubt of it. The holy Apostle Paul says that the dwelling of the just in heaven will be eternal (II Cor. 5. 1). The holy Apostle John reveals that the just will "reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 22. 5). St. John Chrysostom says: "Our best condition lies in the hereafter, and we must act always in such a way that we may shine forth there, rejoice with the angels, and stand before the Heavenly King always, to all -the endless ages. Our soul is created immortal so that the body too may be immortal and that we may enjoy endless good" (St. John Chrysostom, Sermon on the Gospel of John 31). St. Ephraim of Syria speaks of the future good in exalted language and describes it as endless and eternal. "There," says he, "will be a great gift, an incomparable joy, unfailing rejoicing, unceasing singing, never silent praise, endless thanksgiving, incessant theology, kingdom without end, riches uncountable, limitless ages, an abyss of generosity, an ocean of mercy and love. (St. Ephraim of Syria, On the Second Coming of the Lord).

Thus the rghteous will receive the inheritance of eternal life and will there enjoy all goods in the full measure of their perfection. All the sources of true and pure joys that we can only imagine will there form one ceaseless stream of blessedness which will flow through the entire eternity and nourish the heart and the spirit. (From S. S-ky.)

From Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave, compiled by Archimandrite Panteleimon (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1996 [1968]), pp. 253-258.