But there is also some nuance in St Athanasius' writings to temper even these statements. Firstly, the heavenly kingdom and eternity are no more akin to the soul than the body, since the whole human person, body as well as soul, has been created for both.
St Diodochos of Photiki wrote, "Just as the senses of the body impel us almost violently towards what attracts them, so the perceptive faculty of the intellect, once it tastes the divine goodness, leads us towards invisable blessings. Everything longs for what is akin to itself: the soul, since it is bodiless, desires heavenly goods, while the body, being dust, seeks earthly nourishment. So we shall surely come to experience immaterial perception if by our labours we refine our material nature."
"Divine knowledge, once it is awakened in us, teaches us that the perceptive faculty natural to our soul is single, but that it is split into two distinct modes of operation as a result of Adam's disobedience. This single and simple perceptive faculty is implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit; but no one can realize this singleness of perception except those who have willingly abandoned the delights of this corruptible life in the hope of enjoying those of eternity, and have caused every appetite of the bodily senses to wither away through self-control."
As a created entity, the soul is no more eternal than the body, save that it has a more obvious eternal dimension, since it is not given to the material corruptibility / decay of the body.
St John Chrysostom says, "In order to prevent the human intellect from thinking that it is God (my note: exactly what Satan used to 'beguile' Eve), God has subjected it to ignorance and forgetfulness, so that in this way it may acquire humility." He also says that the Creator willed that there should be a separation in their natural intermixture of soul and body. The diaform soul, as St John Klimakos says, either ascends upward to heaven, or goes downward to hades, while the earthly body returns to the earth from which it was taken. But through the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ these two separated are once more joined together at His second coming, so that each of us may receive the due reward for his works. Who can grasp but an inkling of this mystery without being astonished? God raises man again from the earth after he has committed so many terrible crimes, despising the devine commandments, and He bestows on man the same immortality that he possessed originally, even though man has disobeyed the commandment which preserves him from death and corruption, and in his arrogance has brought death upon himself. (Note: St Peter of Damaskos fully agrees with St John Chrysostom on the above).
So while compared with the flesh, the soul appears 'eternal' (and Athanasius calls it this from time to time), nonetheless in an ultimate sense, the soul is as finite as the body, since it is a created thing, brought into being and thus bound to pass out of being unless sustained by something greater (i.e. the eternity of God).
This is true, however the soul can also operate quite freely from the body's influence. St Symeon The New Theologian says, "It is not always both the soul and the mind that are perturbed by the body. Sometimes it is the soul alone that suffers, while the mind says to it, 'What is wrong with you?' and comforts it. At other times the mind is blinded and covered with a veil, while the soul remains free and by the power of the divine fire expels the darkness, removes the veil, and makes the soul see clearly."
I agree that the soul is not eternal because it had a beginning when it was created, but it is immortal, since it has no end. The body we have in this earthly life is mortal. Though we who become citizens of heaven will have a transfigured body which, will be a transfiguration of our earthly body, it will not be the same in many ways. It will not be flesh and blood but much subtler. It will not show the signs of age as we know them. Disabilities and illnesses will be entirely absent. The senses will be vastly superior to what we have on earth, for example, the sense of sight will be such that one could see vast distances and discern minute details to boot.
The Lord performed a miracle that was greater than could be realised in the past. Modern science has only recently produced proof of the profundity involved in that miracle. I am referring to the miracle of giving sight to a man born blind. Recently, a man who lost his sight when six years old had it restored after he was married and had two school aged children. Stem cell science was used. After the sight of one eye was restored, the man found it more difficult to find his way about than when totally blind. He started getting lost in his neighbourhood which, previously he managed to navigate through quite well. He could not recognise his family members until they spoke, even weeks after the restorative surgery.
It was then discovered that the mind and the eyes make connections in childhood which cannot be made in adulthood. The man felt more blind with eyesight than he did when truly blind.
Think of Christ's miracle in that context. He GAVE, not restored, sight to a man born blind, a man of age, a fully responsible adult. Now if Jesus was simply a great physician with a medicine that restored sight or even gave sight to those born blind, a medicine that worked almost instantly, requiring no surgery and no recovery time, then a miracle would still be required because the period of years required for the brain and the eyes to make their connection to facilitate sight had passed. Even if it hadn't passed and the person was a young child, it still could not have given him normal sight in minutes or seconds.
In heaven, no one remains blind. They will have a new body.
the soul's inclinations are effected by sin. So while the soul should seek after such things, in point of actual fact, it most often does not. St Athanasius describes this as the soul, out of habit, 'preferring those things closer to itself' - i.e. the lusts of the world.
St Isaiah the Solitary says, "When the intellect rescues the soul's senses from the desires of the flesh and imbues them with dispassion, the passions shamelessly attack the soul, trying to hold its senses fast in sin; but if the intellect then continually calls upon God in secret, He, seeing all this, will send His help and destroy all the passions at once."
In Christ Victor