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)