There are three main petitions that are addressed to God during the Divine Liturgy: a) that the Lord gives us the grace to worship the Triune God with complete faith and love; b) that we may come to Holy Communion with purity and repentance, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ; and c) that we will be found worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven (see the ending of the Second Prayer of the Faithful).
The final destination of humanity is the Kingdom of Heaven, to regain Paradise. But what does this mean? As we all know, in the beginning, Adam and Eve were happy in Paradise. But when they listened to the devil and accepted his lies, they rejected God and Paradise. We can see the sad consequences of this separation from God, and the continuing influence of the devil. This tragic event is the focus of the Church today, the 3rd Sunday of Triodion (know also in the Orthodox world as the Sunday of Forgiveness). In one of the Church hymns of the day is a mourning Adam, sitting outside of Paradise, in a state of indescribable sorrow and wretchedness, lamenting: “Alas! What have I, the miserable one, done?” (Verses from the Cheesefare Vespers Service).
The loving God could not bear to see His creation under this tyranny, and as we know, He moved to save humanity from this corruption, and return us to Paradise. This Paradise is not a material one, as it was originally, but is something far greater (and eternal): His own heavenly kingdom.
But what is the Kingdom of Heaven?
The Lord called His heavenly kingdom Paradise (Luke 23:43), which recalls the joy and prosperity that Adam and Eve had enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, in communion with God. It is in the heavenly kingdom where the presence of Christ is the source of unending happiness and eternal fulfillment.
In the words of the Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared by God “from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34), so that all those who have done the will of God may live there, in communion with Him. As to knowing the will of God, God’s own love provided: He sent His Son to the world, our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ, at the start of His mission, wonderfully declared: “I must preach the joyous message of the Kingdom of God …because it is for this purpose that I have been sent by the Father” (see Luke 4:43). Do we understand what He is saying? That the coming of Christ, with everything that He said and did (along with His suffering), was for one purpose only: to prepare us for eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
And how did the Lord manage to open the Kingdom of God to us, and be present in our midst? By establishing His Church! The Lord Himself, and through His Apostles also, spread the joyous message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7, and Mark 1:15). Meaning that the Church would soon be established on earth, and with it the proclamation of the Gospel. With the grace of the Holy Sacraments, the divine life of the heavenly kingdom is given to those with faith. In this way, Christians gain a foretaste of the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven in this life.
We can say that the Church militant is the Kingdom of God in its earthly form. The Church triumphant is the future one, after the Second Coming, which is the perfect and glorious form of the Kingdom of Heaven. For now, the Kingdom of God transfigures the lives of the faithful in an imperfect world. We must wait for eternal life in the glory to come.
True believers are a reflection of the blessedness of the Kingdom of Heaven. That is why St. Paul the Apostle calls Christians “sons of light”, or “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8) and “fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). He also calls them “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, who will be glorified together with Him” (Romans 8:17).
It is they, the people of the Kingdom of God, who are struggling for their sanctification. This is done by using the spiritual means that the Church provides (like Great Lent, which starts tomorrow), along with faith, love, kindness, tolerance, prayer and repentance.
My dear brothers and sisters! Having said all of this, let us not forget that our lives on this earth are temporary. Our permanent home is not here, as St. Paul writes, but “we seek the one to come” (see Hebrews 13:14), the eternal one. Remember that the first one whom Christ led into Paradise was a robber- who repented! Why not us, too? We should seek and desire the Kingdom of God more than any other thing (Matthew 6:33). No matter how sinful we may be, if we wholeheartedly keep our focus on the Kingdom, then the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father will come, along with the Holy Spirit, making “intercessions for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). In doing so, we can be certain that we will be found worthy of Paradise. Amen.