My 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 (Part II)
By Saint Innocent of Alaska
In following Jesus Christ it is not enough to carry an outward cross. Indeed, external crosses are borne not only by Christians but by everyone; there exists no person free from one or more sorrows. He who wishes to become a true disciple of Christ must also carry his own inner cross.
An inner cross comes more readily than an outer one. For instance, reflect on how you were created and what is the purpose of your life. Are you living according to Christ's teachings, are you accomplishing something good, are you growing spiritually? Meditate about this in some depth, and soon you will come to realize that you are failing in many important areas. God created you so that with all your works, life and being you should contribute to the spreading of good and the strengthening of His Kingdom. You, however, have not only failed in this, but, by your sins, you have rejected and even insulted Christ. Reflect on what awaits you beyond the grave and on what side you will find yourself at the Last Judgment, with the righteous or with the evildoers? And if you seriously reflect on all this, you will naturally become distressed and will regret your many words and deeds--and these painful feelings and the desire for repentance will become your inner cross. If you continue attentively to study yourself, you will find many other inner crosses. For instance, hell, which you have so carelessly avoided considering until now, will suddenly appear to you as a very real threat. Paradise, which the Lord has prepared for you and which has barely crossed your mind, will vividly present itself to you as it really is: a place of eternal and pure joy from which you have deprived yourself by your careless way of life.
If, in spite of the inner turmoil brought about by such reflections, you firmly resolve to repent and amend your ways and, if, instead of controlling yourself with earthly enjoyments, you diligently pray to the Lord to save you and you decide to surrender yourself totally to His will, then the Lord will reveal to you more clearly the state of your soul so that you may be totally healed. Our problem is that the actual condition of spiritual sickness is hidden from us under a thick mantle of self-love and passions. Only occasionally, thanks to our conscience, do we get a glimpse of our major and most obvious spiritual wounds.
Usually the devil, knowing how good it is for us to recognize our moral illness, uses all his wiles to prevent us from doing so and tells us that all is well and there is no need to worry. But when he sees that we are really serious about becoming True Christians and with God's help are on the way to restoring our spiritual health, then the devil uses craftier means: he presents to us our internal illness in such a hopeless condition that we become bewildered and despair of our salvation. If the Lord permitted the devil to use this trick on all of us, few of us would find the strength to continue the struggle. However, the Lord, as a knowledgeable Physician, protects us from despair. He heals us from our spiritual ulcers and encourages us as we heal.
Therefore, as the Lord restores your spiritual sight, you will begin to comprehend more clearly that your heart is corrupt and that our passion obstruct your path to God. You will begin to understand also that the little good you have to your credit so far is damaged by your selfishness and conceit. Then you will certainly grieve, and you will become frightened and saddened; frightened because you are in danger of perishing forever, saddened because you have declined for so long to listen to the gentle voice of God Who was calling you to salvation, and saddened because you have accomplished so little good.
Although these inner crosses present themselves as burdensome, do not despair and do not think that the Lord has abandoned you. No! He is always with you and invisibly sustains you, even when you forget Him. He will not burden you with trials beyond your capacity. Fear nothing, but with total humbleness and devotion bear your cross and pray. He is the gentlest of fathers that could be wished for. If on occasion He allows His faithful servants to be tempted, it is only to remind them of their feebleness and to completely cleanse their hearts of pride. In our hearts is where He intends to reside with His Son and His Holy Spirit.
In time of sorrow do not seek comfort from people. Most people are not experienced in affairs of salvation and are poor advisors. Make the Lord your only helpmate, comforter and tutor, and from Him alone ask help. The man to whom the Lord sends afflictions is blessed a hundredfold, because it is afflictions that cure our souls. In enduring sorrows, a Christian is likened to Jesus Christ, Who suffered for us. We should consider sorrows a gift from the Lord and a sign of His care for our salvation.
If you bear your cross with perseverance and seek comfort only from Him, then He, through His mercy, will not abandon you but will touch your heart and will impart to you the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is then that you will feel an indescribable delight, a wonderful inner peace and joy such as you have never experienced before, and at the same time you will feel an influx of spiritual strength; prayer will become easier and your faith stronger. Then your heart will be kindled with love of God and all people. All these are gifts of the Holy Spirit.
When the Lord decides to honor you with such gifts, do not consider them as rewards for your labors, and do not think that you have attained perfection. Such thoughts come from pride. The comforts and grace of the Holy Spirit are not rewards but gifts of divine mercy. Occasionally the Lord allows us to get a foretaste of future blessings so that we will put forth a greater effort in seeking His Eternal Kingdom.
Finally, a disciple of Christ must follow Him. This means that in all deeds and actions we must try to be like our Lord Jesus Christ in His virtues. We must strive to live and act as He lived and acted. For example, Jesus Christ always thanked His Heavenly Father and constantly prayed to Him. Thus we also should constantly thank God and pray to Him in all circumstances, whether successful or difficult.
Jesus Christ revered His Mother and submitted to lawful authority. Thus we also should revere our parents and educators, we too should respect those in positions of responsibility--provided their requests are not in conflict with God's Commandments.
Jesus Christ loved everyone and did good to all. So should we love our neighbor and do good to as many people as possible. Jesus Christ did everything possible for the salvation of mankind. So must we do good to others, not sparing our own well-being and time.
Jesus Christ voluntarily suffered and died for us. Therefore we too must not grumble when some unpleasantness befalls us but be ready to make sacrifices with humility and devotion to God. Jesus Christ not only forgave His enemies their ingratitude and animosity but wished them well. So we also must forgive our enemies, repaying them with good for their evil while blessing those who revile us.
Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven and earth, lived in poverty and obtained His daily necessities through His own labor. So we also must be industrious and content with what God has given us and not be consumed with desire for riches for their own sake. In the words of the Savior: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom" (St. Matthew 19:24).
Jesus Christ, being meek and humble of heart, never strove for adulation but directed all toward the glory of His Father. We also must not parade ourselves or seek recognition. For instance, do you help your neighbor, do you give alms, do you live more piously than those around you, are you wiser than your friends, or are you in some way above others? Do not brag about it. Remember that all your praiseworthy attributes are not yours but gifts of God. Yours are the weaknesses, mistakes and sins.
Following Jesus Christ means accepting with faith and submitting to all that Christ taught without question and with simplicity of heart. He who accepts Jesus Christ's words becomes His disciple, but he who fulfills His Commandments with complete devotion becomes His True and devoted follower.
This is the meaning of denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus Christ. This is the only straight path into the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ walked the path and calls us to follow Him. There never was and never will be any other path to salvation but this one, shown to us by Jesus! To the beginner this path may seem too narrow and steep. But it seems this way only because our understanding of divine blessings and happiness has become distorted. Many of us regard the bitter as sweet and the sweet as bitter. However, as we come closer to God, much of what seemed difficult or bitter before will become easy or sweet, and what seemed to please before will come to seem boring and harmful.
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in our Resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God