In the book of Genesis we read how the Lord creates the world, arranges everything for the good of man. “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed (Genesis 2:8). Then Eve is created; and they both are created with bodies. They are given the commandment to multiply, be fruitful, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. Harmony reigned in everything.
But there people were in their bodies, then they lost paradise, and after the Lord Jesus Christ saved mankind, we already say “the souls of the saved go to paradise”. But how can that be? Paradise implied bodily life, and now we pray for the Lord to place the soul of the deceased in Paradise. So maybe the Kingdom of Heaven and Paradise are different things?
The Lord God initially creates the world in order for the earth to dissolve together with heaven. The Lord creates the earthly world so that it would be connected with the heavenly.
Remember that the first man, our forefather Adam, was formed of the dust of the ground. He was completely earthly, he was taken from the earth, but at the same time he was created by the breath of God. “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). That is, man from the very beginning, although he was formed of the ground, was connected with the heavenly breath. According to the explanation of the Holy Fathers, this is the grace of the Holy Ghost.
And for this reason, man was created in such a way: although he is of the ground, he is partaken of heavenly grace, so that the entire material earthly universe can partake of the heavenly. Actually, paradise was some area, an enigmatic place, a kind of abode of heaven on earth.
Paradise, according to the Holy Fathers, is such a place as the Holy of Holies on earth. When we enter a church, we see an altar. The entire church is holy, but the altar is even more holy. This is the Holy of Holies. And the altar always slightly rises above the common space. Likewise, the first formed world was a kind of God’s temple, which was filled with divine light, divine blessings, where no one destroys each other, there were no manifestations of cunning, meanness, deception, neither in the world of animals, nor in the world of people. And the elements themselves were peaceful. According to Saint Macarius of Egypt, when the Lord created the whole world and brought man into this world, fire never burned him, he could not drown in water, if he tried to jump off the rock he could not break, no element could harm him… And in the midst of this first formed temple of God, the Lord arranges paradise, as the Holy of Holies on earth, the altar of this first formed temple, and places man there as a priest, as a conductor of divine grace.
Through Adam, the whole world was meant to ascend to deification, of course, in the person of man, for only man is called to a mysterious union with the Lord — deification. But through man, the whole world was meant to shine more and more with divine light. And in this regard, the holy fathers say that this was such a place on earth, which, even in a material sense, was above the rest of the world, as if on some kind of elevation. At the same time, paradise as the altar of the first formed temple of the earth, as the Holy of Holies, coincided with the first heaven.
Thus, there was no such strict division: the heavenly world and the earthly world. They were united, because all this was God’s creation and God’s grace and love reigned in everything. And man is a kind of intersection of the heavenly and earthly worlds. Man has both a body and a soul, he was formed of the ground, but there is also a heavenly breath in him — the grace of the Holy Ghost. So he is placed to paradise as the intersection of earth and heaven. Paradise is like the altar of the first formed earth and at the same time it is the first heaven which unfleshly angels live in.
Therefore, we can say that a unique path was intended for humanity. They should have multiplied and filled the earth in an inexpressible, incomprehensible for us way. Their path would not stop there, because people are called to eternity and therefore the Lord gives them such a task — to constantly ascend and acquire deification in the Lord. And the Lord is infinite and eternal, and this path of perfection is boundless and endless.
In this sense, the paradise that we read about in the book of Genesis is exactly that holy place on earth, which was in contact with heaven, with the heavenly angelic world. And when people have already lost paradise, when they broke off their communion with the Lord, believing the evil advice of the serpent, a strict division into earthly and heavenly happened. The earthly fell under the temptations of the devil; and a lot of sin, a lot of evil appeared. And therefore all kinds of injustice reign in our world.
But the world still partly reflects the gleams of the first formed paradise harmony, and we all miss paradise. It is a longing for heavenly things. Because our longing for paradise is not just a longing for some beautiful garden, but it is a longing for the heavenly firstly. Therefore, paradise is originally a communion of the earth with the Kingdom of Heaven. And as it is already destroyed, the Lord comes into our world, suffers for man, conquers death, rises. He says to the righteous thief “today shalt thou be with me in paradise” in the sense that now, through the suffering of the Lord on the Cross, Heaven is returned to people.
If you go to Heaven, then you will acquire this first formed paradise. Yes, the earth is still suffering, it is still in a destroyed state, but man is already being introduced into the Holy of Holies in a spiritual sense. There, where angels live, where a person can have a vision of the inaccessible divine light. And in this sense, the Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples about the second coming: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). That is, the Kingdom of Heaven was prepared from the beginning of creation. In paradise there was already a communion with Heaven, and now this communion with the Kingdom of Heaven is returned to us, if, of course, we live properly and do not the works of the devil, but the works of God.
In fact, a person can be connected with the Kingdom of God while still being here on earth. When in a person virtues – love, humility, meekness — reign, and not sin and sinful passions, bad thoughts, evil wishes, malice, meanness, etc., then this is the beginning of the Kingdom of God already here on earth, created in the human soul. And as soon as he departed, then it will be revealed that his heart is already connected with this Kingdom of Heaven, the Heavenly luminous Kingdom, and therefore the Lord accepts him there. So in this sense, the Kingdom of Heaven and Paradise are identical for us.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds