The Kingdom of Heaven: Heaven and Hell According to Orthodox Christianity

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord, the Only True God and the Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: HEAVEN AND HELL

The Kingdom of Heaven is already in the midst of those who live the spiritual life. What the spiritual person knows is the Holy Spirit, in Christ and the Church, will come with power and glory for all men to behold at the end of the ages.

The Final Coming (Second Coming) will be the judgment of all men. His very presence will be the judgment. Now men can live without the love of Christ in their lives. They can exist as if there were no God, no Christ, no Spirit, no Church, no spiritual life. At the end of the ages this will no longer be possible. All men (people) will have to behold the Face of Him Who "for us men and our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate...Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried..." (Nicene Creed or Symbol of Faith). All will have to look at Him Whom they have crucified by their sins: Him "Who was dead and is alive again" (Revelation 1:17-18).

For those who love the Lord, His Presence will be infinite joy, paradise and eternal life. For those who hate the Lord, the same Presence will be infinite torture, hell and eternal death. The reality for both the saved and the damned will be exactly the same when Christ "comes in glory, and all Angels with Him," so that "God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15-28). Those who have God as their "all" within this life will finally have divine fulfillment and life. For those whose "all" is themselves and this world, the "all" of God will be their torture, their punishment and their death. And theirs will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (St. Matthew 8:21, et al.).

"The son of Man will send His Angels and they will gather out of His Kingdom all causes of sin and all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father" (St.

Matthew 13: 41-43).

According to the Saints, the "fire" that will consume sinners at the coming of the Kingdom of God is the same "fire" that will shine with splendor in the saints. It is the "fire" of God's love; the "fire" of God Himself Who is Agape (Love). For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29) Who "dwells in unapproachable Light" (1 Timothy 6:16). For those who love God and who love all creation in Him, the "consuming fire" of God will be radiant bliss and unspeakable delight. For those who do not love God, and who do not love at all, this same "consuming fire" will be the cause of their "weeping" and their "gnashing of teeth."

Thus it is the Church's spiritual teaching that God does not punish man by some material fire or physical torment. God simply reveals Himself in the Risen Lord Jesus in such a glorious way that no man can fail to behold His glory. It is the presence of God's splendid glory and love that is the scourge of those who reject its radiant power and Light.

"...those who find themselves in hell will be chastised by the scourge of love. How cruel and bitter this torment of love will be! For those who understand that they have sinned against love, undergo no greater suffering than those produced by the most fearful tortures. This sorrow which takes hold of the heart, which has sinned against love, is more piercing than any other pain. It is not right to say that the sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God...But love acts in two ways, as suffering of the reproved, and as joy in the blessed!" (Saint Isaac of Syria, Mystic Treatises).

This teaching is found in many of the Holy Fathers of the Church and spiritual writers: Saint Maximus the Confessor, the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. At the end of the ages God' glorious love is revealed for all to behold in the face of Christ. Man's eternal destiny-Heaven or Hell, Salvation or Damnation--depends solely on his response to this agape (love). [Source: Orthodox Church in America]

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ATTAINING THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
By Metropolitan Joseph [Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese]

How do we attain the Kingdom of Heaven? Where is it to be found? It is very easy for us in the Western world to view this Kingdom as something that one attains as a final destination or ending of a journey. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is Christ Himself, not a physical place or location.

It is within Christ that the Kingdom is to be experienced. For this reason, we cannot think of the Kingdom as something we are either "in" or "out" of. Through baptism and a life of repentance, we participate in the Life of Christ and thus we participate in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is a dynamic state, wherein we grow in perfection through God's grace. Our journey is not to the Kingdom, our journey is in the Kingdom.

As long as we are struggling to be Christ-like, we are assuredly tasting of the Fountain of Immortality. When the struggle ends and the growth ceases, the Kingdom disappears. It is nowhere to be found. The moment we think we have achieved something, that we have earned our place, then we have lost the Kingdom. Our struggles are meaningless without Christ, and vice versa: without struggles, we are meaningless, because we will lose Christ.

Our Lord is only with those who need Him. When we lose our daily need of Him, then our souls become satisfied with the world. A man who does not hunger does not eat, and so one who does not hunger for God cannot partake of His goodness. This is why the Church has always urged us to participate in spiritual exercises (ascesis) like fasting and almsgiving, that we might stir up within ourselves the hunger for God. This hunger, this desire for God, will draw us closer to Him...

"...The Kingdom of God is not a fluffy pillow or a down mattress. It is found by the nun sleeping on a board, or the elderly woman suffering in her hospital bed. The Kingdom of Heaven is a spiritual condition that no earthly situation can overcome. The nun sings hymns, and the afflicted woman offers pure prayers. They both go through hardships that draw them closer to God..."

"...When God sees our struggles to put aside our ego, He will grant us strength. When He sees us acting on our desire to enter the Kingdom of His Love, then He will help us in our time of need. No one shall ever perish form seeking after God."

What will die as we participate in the Kingdom is our sinfulness. Our wretched arrogance and pride will suffer a horrible death in the presence of God's mercy and compassion. We will realize how unworthy we are to be in the Kingdom. And, as we see ourselves as sinners and unfaithful, our Lord shares with us His worthiness and faithfulness...

"...Beloved in Christ, we have been given so very much. It is now up to us whether we will more like Christ, or lose the Kingdom by conforming ourselves to worldly expectations. To grow in Christ, to grow in the Kingdom, means to be more loving, more forgiving, more generous, more supportive of others, more positive, more encouraging, more prayerful."

If we desire the Kingdom, then we desire the will of the King. Our Lord's desire is that His Kingdom be full, and so it is up to us to bring others in and keep those we have. Let us be good hosts and hostesses in the Kingdom. Let us serve the tables of the Lord, that the wedding banquet may be full of joy. There is a whole nation outside to see the Kingdom. Let us all show them what it is like to grow in Christ.

(To be continued)

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George