Are Paradise and Hell Places or States?

Schemamonk Constantine Cavarnos 1918-2011

Nowadays, many who speak about Paradise and Hell avoid the term “place”. They say that Paradise and Hell are simply “states” of the soul and not “places”. But the fact is that not only the Fathers, but also the Hymnographers of the Church, refer to both Paradise and Hell as places, and the God-Man Himself speaks of a place in Heaven and Hell. In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Christ says: “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, he refers to Hell, where the soul of the rich man has gone, as a “place of torment”. With regard to Church Hymnography, I will cite the prokeimenon sung at the Funeral Service as an example:

Blessed is the way wherein you proceed today, for there is prepared for you a place of rest.

And I will add that in this same Service the priest says aloud: “O Lord, give rest to Thy departed servant in a place of light, in a verdant place, from whence pain, sorrow, and sighing are fled away.” As regards the God-bearing Fathers, I will note that we can see their characteristic manner of speaking of Paradise and Hell as “places” in the following passage from Abba Dorotheos: “The saints are received into certain places of light and angelic happiness, but sinners are received into places of darkness, full of fear and trembling, as the saints tell us.”

“Space” in the spiritual world, where the souls go and abide after death, is not the same as space in the physical world, where material bodies exist and move about: it is different from this. Likewise, “time” in the spiritual world is of a different nature than time in the material world, the time that is measured by watches.

In regard to the possiblility of a change in the soul’s condition during the interval between the Particular and General Judgments, the Orthodox Church teaches that it is possible for it to change for the better. The God-enlightened John the Damascene emphasizes this in his treatise, Concerning the Departed Faithful: That the Liturgies and Charities Performed for Them are to Their Benefit. He observes how the divine Apostles decreed that “at the dread and immaculate and life-giving mysteries” those who had faithfully departed were to be commemorated and that since then the Orthodox Church has practiced this everywhere, and will continue to practice it until the end of the world. He notes that the commemoration brings them much gain and benefit. He adds that benevolences performed for the poor on behalf of the dead benefit the latter greatly, as also does the lighting of sacred lamps and candles in their memory. In his own words, this divine Father says: “Do not reject bringing oil for the sacred lamp at the tomb and lighting candles there when entreating Christ God, for these are acceptable to God and bring a great return. For the oil and wax are the sacrifice of a burnt offering; the bloodless sacrifice is an expiation; and benevolences extended to the poor are an addition to every good return.” (The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching pp. 34-35)


  1. I would like to repent publicly and ask forgiveness for my wrong-headed argumentation against the holy Tradition (about coverings for women) on this website. Thank you for these life-giving words, and for all your zeal in bringing the patristic mindset to the English-speaking Orthodox. We live in the last days, and it does not behoove us to be silent about the betrayal of the faith and right practice in the Church.

    This post in particular is a profound answer to the “hippy-dippy-doxy” that so many half-converted Anglicans and former Protestants seem to be espousing. There is the blog of a particular priest who is touted as some great speaker, and he has “spoken for Orthodoxy” about how there is no real spiritual geography, because all they describe are states of the soul. The Blessed Constantine Cavarnos answers such childishness unequivocally, here. While in the world, I believe that Cavarnos was at some points connected to the moderate resister synod of the Greek old calendarists, and ended his life in the traditional Orthodox monastery founded by Elder Ephraim. May God grant him a blessed repose in the place where the righteous dwell. Amen.

  2. Cavarnos’ view makes much better sense because the Fathers teach that the human soul and even angelic nature is circumscribed. Therefore, they exist in a “space” and therefore a “place” of some sort.

    St. Gregory the Dialogist: In the same way, their very spirits, in comparison to our bodies, are spirit indeed; but in comparison to the Supreme and Uncircumscribed Spirit, they are body. And again, they are sent and they stand by; for, inasmuch as they are circumscribed, they go forth, and inasmuch as they are always interiorly present, they never depart. Therefore do they always see the face of the Father, while at the same time they do come to us; for they go forth to us externally by their spiritual presence, while, through internal contemplation they remain in service in the place from whence they went forth. (Moral Teaching from Job 2.3.3)

    St. John Damascene: They are circumscribed: for when they are in the Heaven they are not on the earth: and when they are sent by God down to the earth they do not remain in the Heaven. They are not hemmed in by walls and doors, and bars and seals, for they are quite unlimited…Seeing that they are minds they are in mental places , and are not circumscribed after the fashion of a body. For they have not a bodily form by nature, nor are they extended in three dimensions. But to whatever post they may be assigned, there they are present after the manner of a mind and energise, and cannot be present and energise in various places at the same time. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. II.3)

    St. Gregory Palamas: Since angels and souls are incorporeal beings, they are not in a particular place, yet neither are they everywhere. (Note: I take this to mean that angels and souls don’t inhabit space as we now know it) They do not sustain all things, but themselves depend on Him who sustains them. Hence they, too, are in Him who sustains and embraces all things, and they are appropriately delimited by Him. The soul, since it sustains the body with which it is created, is everywhere in the body, although not in the sense of being located in a place or encompassed; but it itself sustains, encompasses and quickens the body, by virtue of the fact that it is in God’s image. (Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts, 61)

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