Scripture tells us that with the final condemnation of evil, the resurrection of Christ, and the Last Judgment, the end of this present world will come and the new one will begin.
The throne of God will appear in all its brilliance, and before the face of God, the earth and heaven will disappear.
As the doctrine of the Orthodox Church teaches, earth and heaven will not be destroyed entirely, but their polluted nature, deteriorated by sin, will disappear.
"The form of this world will change as if by fire, but not its substance" (2 Peter 3:10-13; 1 Corinthians 7:31). Nothing is really lost in the world; things only change. St. John the Theologian states that everything has become new: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).
When St. Paul was evangelizing on this earth, he was given the opportunity to see what heaven would be like. His response: "He was caught up into heaven and heard things that cannot be told, which no one can utter" (2 Corinthians 12:4).
Seeing God: St. Symeon, the New Theologian and Orthodox Saint, in expanding on this Scripture passage, tells us that what cannot be told is nothing other than the Most Holy Body of the Lord, the Son of God our Father, Himself. The New Heaven, then, is the vision of God, face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12). "And his servants shall worship him and see his face" (Revelation 22:2).
The Lord says, "The angels forever gaze upon the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10), because they do not have material bodies. Just as the angels "forever gaze upon the face of God," so shall true believers look forever upon the Lord in the new heaven to come, because the material body will become spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:35).
The Old Testament begins with the creation of heaven and earth. The New Testament ends with bringing together the new heaven and earth.
This is the foundation of the Orthodox Christian faith: God re-creates and recapitulates all things in Christ. How God will refashion this new heaven and new earth we cannot imagine, just as we do not know how he created the world, or how the world will appear. (1 Corinthians 3:3-4, 15:34-38).
Here on earth the faithful are being prepared as stones for a building (1 Peter 2:5): "And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:2-4, 9-10).
Perfect world: Everything becomes new. Even the church, the New Jerusalem, is new. It, too, comes down from heaven, as a new creation and a gift from God. God gives the last great glory to the church. Every perfect gift comes from above, from God (James 1:17).
St. John's Book of Revelation sees the church as "the bride of the lamb," coming down from heaven prepared and adorned for the wedding with Christ the Lamb.
Marriage here represents perfect faith and perfect communion of the faithful with Christ in the kingdom of God (John 3:29). This was the dream of ancient Israel, and this is what we all desire: a close relationship with God.
God's great voice from heaven confirms this relationship: The dwelling of God is with his people. There is no more wall of separation; no more a wall of sin that separates mankind from God. The name of Christ is Emmanuel -- God with us.
The church is a true dwelling place of God in the Holy Spirit; it is the people of God, the sons and daughters of God the father. Indeed, it is only in the Holy Spirit that one can see the church in its divine origin and character.
The voice of the one sitting on the throne of Heaven confirms this: "Behold, I make all things new. ... It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 21:5-6).
Where the kingdom of God will be -- in heaven or on earth -- what the nature of the new heaven and new earth will be, are questions whose answer we will know when we see the Lord face to face. We are talking about God and eternity and should not ask for precise definitions in accordance with the standards of our present life. We should always focus on the vision and experience of the church.
At the second coming of Christ, heaven and earth will be one; one eternal Parousia, the presence of God to men and women.
"The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face and his name shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign forever." (Revelation 22:3-5).
It is this eternal blessedness for which we await and work.
XThe Rev. Daniel Rohan is pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.