A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH

Paradise is not a place, it is rather a state of the soul. Just as Hell is a suffering on account of the impossibility to love, Paradise is bliss that derives from the abundance of love and light. He who has been united to Christ participates completely and integrally in Paradise. The Greek word paradeisos signifies both the garden of Eden, where primordial man was placed, and the age to come, where those people who have been redeemed and saved by Christ taste eternal blessing. It can also be applied to the final stage of human history, when all creation will be transformed, and God will be ‘all in all’. The blessing of Paradise is also called in Christian tradition ‘the Kingdom of heaven’, ‘the life of the age to come’, ‘the eighth day’, ‘a new heaven’, ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’.

There are many descriptions of Paradise in hagiographic and patristic literature, some of them are very picturesque, and include trees, fruit, birds, villages, and so on. Certain Byzantine saints, such as Andrew the Fool and Theodora, were ‘caught up to the third heaven’ (2 Cor 12:2), and, upon their return, described what they saw there. The authors of their lives, however, emphasize that human words can explain the experience of participation in the divine only to a limited degree. The concept of Paradise, as that of Hell, must be detached from the material images with which it is usually connected. Moreover, the idea of ‘many rooms’ (cf. John 14:2) ought not to be understood too literally: the ‘rooms’ are not places, but rather different degrees of closeness to God. As St. Basil explains, ‘some will be honored by God with greater privileges, some with lesser, for star differs from star in glory (cf. 1 Cor 15:41). And as there are many rooms with the Father, some people will repose in a more supreme and exalted state, and some in a lower state’. According to St. Symeon the New Theologian, all images relating to Paradise, be they ‘rooms’ or ‘mansions’, woods or fields, rivers or lakes, birds or flowers, are only different symbols of the blessing whose center is none other than Christ Himself.

St. Gregory of Nyssa advances similar idea of God as the sole and integral delight of the Kingdom of heaven. He himself substitutes all transient delights of mortal life: ‘...While we carry on our present life in many different ways, there are many things in which we participate, such as time, air, place, food and drink, clothing, sun, lamplight, and many other necessities of life, of which none is God. The blessedness which we await, however, does not need any of these, but the divine Nature will become everything for us and will replace everything, distributing itself appropriately for every need of that life...’

Thus, according to St. Gregory and to certain other Fathers of the Church, the final outcome of our history is going to be glorious and magnificent. After the resurrection of all and the Last Judgment, everything will be centered around God, and nothing will remain outside Him. The whole cosmos will be changed and transformed, transfigured and illumined. God will be ‘all in all’, and Christ will reign in the souls of the people whom He has redeemed. This is the final victory of good over evil, Christ over Antichrist, light over darkness, Paradise over Hell. This is the final annihilation of death. ‘Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’. ‘O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?.. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor 15:54-57).

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