Beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
THE FAITH INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
By Saint Innocent of Alaska
The road into the Kingdom of Heaven was made by the Lord Jesus Christ, and He was the first one who travelled it. The Holy Bible teaches that only he who follows Jesus can reach His Kingdom. But how can one follow Him? Hear what our Savior says about this: "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (St. Mark 8:34).
The words "whoever desires" mean that Christ does not compel anyone to follow Him. He has no need of the unwilling ones, but He desires that each person freely follow Him. Consequently, only those who willingly choose the Savior's path reach the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christian! Your salvation or perdition is entirely in your own hands. In His unspeakable wisdom and love, the Lord has given you freedom to choose what you wish, and He does not force you to do anything against your will. Therefore, if you truly wish to follow Jesus Christ, He will show you the way into the Kingdom of Heaven and will help you along each step. If you do not wish to follow Him, it is your decision. But take care not to disdain the grace of God! Pitying you, Jesus Christ knocks for a long time at the door of your heart, waiting for your decision to save yourself. But woe to you if He, tiring of waiting turns His face away from you, as a hopeless son or daughter of perdition. Then no one, neither the most powerful and influential person, nor all the Angels in heaven, will be able to help you.
That is why it is extremely important to nourish in ourselves the desire and resolve to follow the path of salvation. To make this desire grow in us and strengthen our resolve, we must learn where the path Christ showed us leads and how to follow it. These questions are of such extreme importance we will discuss them in detail.
1. First of all, a Christian must thoroughly study the foundations of the Christian faith. To that end, you must read and reread the Holy Scripture on a regular basis, especially the books of the New Testament. You must not only learn their contents but also develop an interest in their origin, who wrote them and when, how they were preserved and have been handed down to us, and why they are called Divine and Sacred. You must study the Holy Books with simplicity of heart, without prejudice or excessive inquisitiveness, not trying to discover hidden mysteries but trying to learn that which leads us to self-improvement. Certainly all that is necessary for us to know for our salvation is revealed quite clearly in detail in the Holy Scripture.
It is important also to study our God-given faith in detail, since he who is indifferent toward truth is in danger of becoming easy prey for false teachers. It is sad that many Orthodox Christians perish simply because of their disregard for Christ's teachings. Having access to the Light, they wander in the dark.
The studying of the faith should conform to your aptitudes and knowledge. For instance, for the serious student, in addition to studying the Holy Scripture, it is also useful to become familiar with the works of the Church Holy Fathers and with the historical and theological books written by other Orthodox authors. These books will help you to comprehend your faith more deeply, which in turn will give you an opportunity to strengthen others in the Orthodox faith, to whom these books are unavailable.
2. When you become convinced that Our Orthodox Christian faith is based on Holy Scripture and is not invented by people and that the Holy Scripture contain the true Word of God, revealed by the Holy Spirit through Prophets and Apostles--accept it withyou’re your trusting heart. Believe the Holy Scripture without doubt or philosophizing, pushing aside all heretical explanations. If you humbly accept Christ's Truth, then your faith will become strong and will lead you to salvation.
3. Finally, try to nourish a diligence in yourself to follow that which is taught by the Holy Scripture. But if you do not have such diligence, fall down before the Savior and with a sincere prayer ask Him to send you a zealous wish to live according to His Commandments. Then, when the grace of God starts leading you toward salvation, follow it, valiantly repelling the snares of the devil, who will attempt to detract you from Christ's path.
To illustrate what was just said about the path into the Kingdom of Heaven, let's assume that unexpectedly you became the sole heir of a rich relative. This relative, before dying, willed his magnificent mansion on the top of a picturesque mountain to you. Loving solitude, he had not built any roads but reached his mansion by a trail. In order to help you take possession of the property, he left you a map of the mountain, indicating the correct trail on it. The mountain has many other trails, none of which reached the mansion; some lead to a dead end, and others to a steep cliff. Therefore, in order to reach your mansion, you have to take the trail indicated by your loving relative.
Prudence would suggest that, before undertaking such a trip, you should carefully study the map of the mountain, obtaining all the necessary supplies for the climb and being prepared to spend the night on the mountain, if necessary. It would be good to ask a ranger about landmarks on the mountain and how best to avoid losing your way or straying from the correct trail. Certainly, being a person with common sense, you would make all necessary preparations before setting off on this new trail.
Similarly, to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, we should determine which path leads to it, how not to falter, what we must beware of, etc. Our map is the Holy Scripture and other Orthodox Christian books; the rangers are the pastors (priests) of the Church, whose duty it is to help the faithful on their way toward Paradise. The provisions are the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, which reinforce our spiritual strength. Sometimes the path leading to Paradise may become narrow, steep and overgrown with bushes, whereas other paths may seem wider and easier to travel. It is very important not to stray from the correct path. The Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Apostles repeatedly warned that there is but one path that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven, the one given in the Gospel. All others, especially the wide and comfortable, lead to perdition.
Let us now examine more closely the path indicated to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ. He said: "Whoever desires to come after Me must:
Take up his cross
Thus, a follower of Christ must begin by denying himself. This means that you must disown all bad habits, free your heart from sinful bonds (like hunger for money, luxury, fame, power over others, etc.), squelch impure thoughts, harbor no lustful desires, distance yourself from situations leading to sin, and, in general, do nothing because of stubbornness or ego but do all for the love of God and with the desire to contribute to the glory of His Holy Name. In other words, to deny yourself is "to be dead to sin but alive to God," as Saint Paul has explained in Romans 6:11.
Then, it is necessary for a disciple and follower of Christ to "take up his cross." The Cross means the various difficulties and sorrows associated with a Christian life. Crosses may be external as well as internal. To take up your cross means to tolerate everything without complaining, regardless of how unpleasant things might become. For example, if someone has insulted you or laughed at you or provoked you, bear it all without anger or resentment. Similarly, if you helped someone and he, instead of showing gratitude, made up deceitful tales about you or if you wanted to do something good but were unable to accomplish it, bear it without despondency. Did some misfortune befall you? Did someone in your family become ill, or despise all your efforts and tireless labor did you repeatedly suffer failure? Has some other thing or person oppressed you? Bear all with patience in the name of Jesus Christ. Do not consider yourself punished unjustly, but accept everything as your cross.
To "bear your cross" means not only to accept patiently all difficulties that befall you but also to strive for spiritual perfection, as the Holy Scripture teach us. For example, we must be good to others: work for the prosperity of your parish, visit the sick and imprisoned, help the needy, collect money for the poor, and assist in spreading spiritual enlightenment. In other words, we must seek out tasks which will lead to the salvation and welfare of those around us and then, with perseverance and meekness strive in that direction by our actions, words, prayer and advice.
Should the prideful thought arise that you are better or smarter than others, quickly cast it aside because it will undermine all your good efforts. Blessed is he who carries his cross with prudence and humility, because God will never allow such a person to perish but will guide and strengthen him with His Holy Spirit.
(To be continued)
Please note: Saint Innocent of Alaska explains and directs all Christian believers to the true and blessed path leading us to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is imperative and necessary that we, Orthodox Christians, pay attention and implement his holy advice in our lives.
It is not correct or wise to follow certain traditions and practices blindly and without understanding. The Holy Scripture is our map leading us to salvation, to Christ. Why are Orthodox Christians not turning to the Holy Scripture for spiritual guidance, for inspiration, for nourishment, for edification, for spiritual strength and encouragement? How can any follower and disciple of Christ go through life without ever turning to the Holy Scripture? How can one practice the faith without knowing what one believes in? Our Holy Church does not ever subscribe to the so called "blind faith". The Church has always encouraged the faithful to learn as much as possible about the Faith and to inquire and to seek answers.
Don't be content with yiayialogy! There is a lot of superstition, misinformation, confusion and hearsay floating among our people. There is no need to be ignorant on what we believe. All of us are educated, have access to genuine Orthodox Christian sources, i.e., libraries, Orthodox bookstores, Orthodox websites, etc. We must strive to be well informed on such topics as, Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, Holy Canons, Dogma, History, Mysteries (Sacraments), Spirituality, Divine Services, Prayer, Ascesis, Divine Liturgy (worship), Social issues, etc.
There can be no spiritual life, or progress, unless, we understand and live by, the Divine Teachings of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and His commandments. The decision of course is always ours to make.
Orthodox Christian parents and godparents absolutely need to know the faith, so as to convey it, to their children and godchildren. Currently we have baptized Orthodox children growing up in a supposedly Orthodox Christian homes and do not know who Christ is, what the Church is, who the Saints are, what the Sacraments are, what the Divine Liturgy is all about, etc., etc. They are not taught anything! What is the problem?
We are losing our young adults to secularism, atheism and other religions.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God