Not being with God is the real punishment

Now, it’s true that most people who don’t have much sense expect to be content with avoiding hell. But I say it’s a far worse punishment than hell to be excluded from the glory of the other world. I think that someone who has failed to reach it should be sorry, not so much because of the miseries of hell, but because of his rejection from heaven. For that by itself is more dreadful than any other kind of punishment.

Often now when we see a king with a large bodyguard entering the palace, we say that the people near him are fortunate to have a share in what he says and thinks, and to partake of the rest of his glory. And even if we have countless other blessings, we can’t see any of them, and think ourselves miserable when we look at the glory of those who surround the king—even though we know that glory like that is slippery and insecure, both because of wars and plots and envy, and because apart from these things it is not worthy of any consideration.

But when it comes to the King of everything seen and unseen, the One who owns not a piece of the earth but the whole globe, or rather who holds it in the palm of his hand, and measures the heavens with a span, who upholds everything by the word of His power, who counts the nations as nothing, like a drop of saliva—when it comes to a King like that, wouldn’t we think it the worst punishment possible to miss being numbered in the company that surrounds Him? Would we be content if we merely avoided hell?

Based on St. John Chrysostom

A moment from a vigil in Katholikon