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! Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE FAITH INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (Part VI)
By Saint Innocent of Alaska
Fasting and works of mercy and prayer. The Holy Fathers of the Church recommend: "If you want your prayer to fly up to God, then give it two wings, fasting and almsgiving (charity).
What is fasting and why is it necessary? Fasting is a voluntary self-restriction in food, drink and pleasure. The purpose of fasting is to quiet or calm and lighten the body and to make it obedient to the soul. Overfilled flesh demands comfort and rest, disposing us to laziness, which hinders prayer and meditation. In the manner of an unbridled servant, the well-fed body rises up against its master, the soul, and wants to rule over it. While fasting, you should limit not only the type of food (dairy and meat products) but also the amount, restricting yourself to the minimal needs of the body. Then your fasting will become useful.
While fasting outwardly you should also fast internally, restraining your tongue from sinful, idle chatter and moderating your desires and you anger while driving off unkind thoughts and impure fantasies. Experience shows that there is nothing harder than to stop the wandering of thoughts and to direct your mind to thoughts of God and prayer. This may be likened to the taming of wild horses who have long been stubborn and unruly.
Non-spiritual people do not even suspect how difficult it is to control the wandering of thoughts. Being occupied with worldly affairs, they consider their thoughts to be busy with worthwhile concerns. Only when they begin to strive toward a spiritual life and try to reflect on spiritual topics, do they begin to notice that their thoughts are murky. This is somewhat like the waters of a shallow lake. As long as its surface remains undisturbed, it looks clear, but when it is stirred, the silt from its bottom darkens the water, making it appear murky. Likewise, in the depths of our heart there lay various passions. Like silt, they rise and darken the soul when a Christian attempts to expose and struggle with them. As the Holy Fathers have explained, when people turn to God, the devil strives to darken their soul with bad thoughts and feelings in order to confuse them and distract them from their good intentions. But do not yield to his snares, and do not stray from the path of salvation. Remember that no one can simultaneously think about two subjects. If you occupy your mind with good thoughts (reading spiritual books or studying some worthwhile subject), the bad ones will not be able to linger in your mind.
Love reveals itself in works of mercy. Among such works are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit and help the sick and the imprisoned, to give refuge to the homeless, and to be concerned about orphans. All this should be done with sincere and unselfish love, without any boasting or expectations of gratitude. The Savior teaches regarding this: "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father Who sees will Himself reward you openly" (St. Matthew 6:3-4).
The Holy Spirit may be received by piously reading and listening in the Holy Scripture. Being the Word/Logos of God, they hold a great treasury of spiritual enlightenment and wisdom. The Holy Scripture are one of God's blessings, which can be used by anyone wishing to do so. In them, the Divine wisdom is presented in such an easy, approachable manner that even the simplest and most uneducated person can understand it. Many cases are recorded throughout Church history and in the lives of the Saints, in which the simplest of people, while studying the Holy Scripture, were enlightened, became pious, and received abundant Gifts of the Holy Spirit even while some scholars and intelligentsia read the Holy Scripture and became confused and fell into heresy. The difference was that while the first reads it with simplicity of heart, seeking in it spiritual direction, the second approached it with criticism, attempting to uncover inconsistencies. Considering themselves wise and all-knowing, these last succumbed to pride and even became false teachers. Be aware that our small and imperfect intellect cannot encompass God's wisdom. God enlightens those who with a pure and kind heart turn to Him in search of enlightenment. Therefore, in reading the Holy Scripture, and beseech Jesus Christ to enlighten you and show you the path to salvation.
There are many other books besides Holy Scripture that are beneficial for reading: the works of the Holy Fathers, the lives of the Saints, inspirational stories, sermons, and other praiseworthy writings of Orthodox authors. From the books available to you, read those that are based on Holy Scripture and are in accord with the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Beware of those poisoned by heresies and non-Christian ideas.
Holy Communion is another source for receiving the Holy Spirit. Regarding it, Jesus Christ said: "He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, abides in Me, and I in him. (He) has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (St. John 6:54-56). When Christians partake of Holy Communion they unite inexplicably with Jesus Christ and start partaking of His Divine Life. Therefore, you must go to communion with faith, having cleansed your soul by repentance, with a realization of your unworthiness, and with the hope of God's mercy. Since God is one and indivisible, when Christians accept Jesus Christ into their heart, they accept the Holy Spirit and the Heavenly Father at the same time and thus become a living temple of God.
In summary, these are the means of receiving the Holy Spirit: purity, chastity, humility, listening to the voice of God, prayer, accompanied by fasting charity, reading the Holy Scripture, and partaking of Holy Communion. Of course, each of these individually is effective for receiving the Holy Spirit, but it is best to resort to all of them for our salvation.
To this it is necessary to add that if we somehow fall into sin and thereby distance ourselves from the Holy Spirit, we should not despair and think that we have irrevocably lost all blessings, but let us quickly prostrate ourselves before God with deep repentance and prayer, and the All-Merciful Holy Spirit will again return to us.
Without faith in Jesus Christ no one can return to God and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. No one, even though he believes in Jesus Christ, can regard himself to be His disciple and share His glory in Heaven if he does not act as Jesus Christ did. And no one is able to follow Christ if he does not receive the help from the Holy Spirit.
To receive the Holy Spirit, we must use the means granted us by God.
We should remember that the path into the Kingdom of Heaven that has been opened to us by Jesus Christ is the only one, and there never was and never will be another path that leads to salvation. At times this path may appear difficult, but again, you should remind yourself that this is the only one that leads toward your objective. At other times the Christian will encounter such consolation and delights on this path as cannot be found in any worldly thing. The Lord Jesus Christ assists us on this path. He gives us the Holy Spirit, He sends His Angel to protect us, He provides instructors and leaders, and even He Himself takes u by the hand and leads us to salvation.
If the path into the Kingdom of Heaven seems difficult, then consider how incomparably more dreadful are the eternal torments in fiery Gehenna. If the path toward heavenly bliss seems difficult, compare it with the path toward earthly happiness, and you will see that the path toward earthly happiness is not really easier at all. Just observe how much people toil to amass earthly things, how many disappointments, fights, sleepless nights and deprivation they bear. Or remind yourself of how much effort and expense it takes to achieve some meaningless and fleeting pleasure! And for what? Instead of the expected happiness, you are left with disappointment and weariness. When you carefully examine the heart of the matter, it becomes evident that people stay away from the Heavenly Kingdom not because the path to it is more difficult than the other paths of this world, but because it appears that way to them. Besides, the devil, an experienced and crafty deceiver, misleads people into believing that the path to salvation is difficult and the paths to perdition are easy and he often succeeds in this.
So, my brethren, in order to avoid eternal perdition, let us definitely concern ourselves with our future. We know that beyond the grave there awaits one of the following two outcomes: either the Heavenly Kingdom or everlasting perdition in hell. There is no middle state, only everlasting bless or everlasting torment. "As there exist only two conditions past the grave, so there exist only two paths in this life. The one that seems wide and easy is taken by the majority. The other that seems narrow and thorny is taken by few. These who follow the narrow path will be a hundredfold more happy than those who do not."
Brethren, if any of you who walk the wide path should suddenly die, what will happen to you? To whom shall you turn? To the Lord? You refuse to listen to Him now, so you must expect He will refuse to listen to you then. Now he is your Merciful Father; then He will be your Righteous Judge. Who will defend you against His righteous rage? Ah! How faithful it is to fall into the hands of the Living God! Therefore, concern yourselves now with the salvation of your soul while you still have time!
Work for your salvation while it is still daylight, for the night will come in which there will be no chance to change anything. Strive for the Heavenly Kingdom while you can still walk. Walk even a little bit, even if by crawling, but do it in the right direction. Then in eternity you will truly rejoice for every step you have taken!
May the All-Merciful Lord help us all in this! Glory and thanksgiving be to Him throughout the ages of ages. Amen
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in Our Divine and Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God