CHAPTER 4 “How Jesus Christ Helps Us to Go the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven, and How We Can Receive His Help”
The Holy Spirit, as God, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, is also almighty, like the Father and the Son. He vivifies, animates, and gives creatures their powers. He gives animals their life, men their mind, and Christians their high spiritual life: that is, the Holy Spirit enlightens man and helps him to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Holy Spirit is not given according to our merits but is a free gift sent by the mercy of God for the salvation of men.
The Holy Spirit assists us in these ways:
1. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a man, He gives him faith and light. Without Him no one can have true, living faith. Without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the wisest and most learned man is completely blind as regards the works and ways of God. However, the Holy Spirit can reveal Himself to the simplest and most illiterate person internally, and directly show him the works of God, and cause him to feel the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom. A person who has within him the Holy Spirit feels in his soul an extraordinary light, previously quite unknown to him.
2. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a man, He produces true love in his heart. True love in the heart is like a pure fire or warmth that sets a person aglow; it is the root that produces within him all good works. For a person animated by true love, there is nothing difficult, terrifying, or impossible; for him no laws or commandments are hard, and all are practicable. Faith and love, which are gifts of the Holy Spirit, are such great and powerful means that a person who has them can easily, and with joy and consolation, go the way Jesus Christ went.
3. Besides this, the Holy Spirit gives man the power to resist the delusions of the world, so that although he makes use of earthly goods, yet he uses them as a temporary visitor, without attaching his heart to them. But a man who has not got the Holy Spirit, despite all his learning and prudence, is always more or less a slave and worshipper of the world.
4. The Holy Spirit gives a man wisdom. This we can see especially in the case of the holy apostles who, until they had received the Holy Spirit, were simple and unlearned men, but afterward, who could resist their wisdom and the power of their word? The Holy Spirit also gives wisdom in works and acts. Thus, a person who has the Holy Spirit always finds means and time for his salvation, and amid the turmoil of the world and in spite of all his occupations, he can enter into himself when it seems impossible to an ordinary man even in the temple of God.
5. The Holy Spirit gives true joy and gladness of heart and imperturbable peace. A person who has not the Holy Spirit can never rejoice with true joy and be glad with pure gladness, and he cannot have that peace of soul that makes life sweet. True, he does sometimes rejoice and is glad, but what kind of joy is it? It is fleeting and impure, and his gladness is always hollow and feeble, and after it he is still more overwhelmed with boredom. And it is also true that such a person is sometimes calm, but this calmness is not peace of soul—it is a sleep or lethargy of the soul. Woe to the person who is listless and who has no desire to awake from such a sleep (Rom 13:11; Eph 5:14; 1 Cor 15:34).
6. The Holy Spirit gives true humility. Even the most intelligent person, if he has not the Holy Spirit, cannot know himself properly. Without God’s help, he cannot see the inner state of his soul. If he does good to others and acts honestly, he thinks that he is a righteous man and even perfect in comparison with others, and therefore he feels that he does not need anything. Oh, how often people perish from a false assurance of their honesty and righteousness! They perish because they trust in their own goodness and do not think about the spirit of Christianity at all or the help of the Holy Spirit, just when they are in extreme need of His help. And because the Holy Spirit is given only to those who ask and seek, and such people not only fail to ask and seek Him but do not even consider it necessary, therefore He is not given to them and, consequently, they remain in error and perish. But when the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of a person, He shows him all his inner poverty and weakness, and the corruption of his heart and soul, and his separation from God, and with all his virtues and righteousness, He shows him his sins, his sloth and indifference regarding the salvation and good of people, his self-seeking in his apparently most selfless virtues, his coarse selfishness even where he does not suspect it. To be brief, the Holy Spirit shows him everything as it really is. Then a person begins to have true humility, begins to lose hope in his own powers and virtues, and regards himself as the worst of men. And when a person humbles himself before Jesus Christ, Who alone is holy in the glory of God the Father, he begins to repent truly and resolves never again to sin but to live more carefully. And if he really has some virtues, then he sees clearly that he practiced and practices them only with the help of God, and therefore he begins to put his trust only in God.
7. The Holy Spirit teaches true prayer. No one, until he receives the Holy Spirit, can pray in a manner truly pleasing to God, because if anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit begins to pray, his soul is distracted in different directions from one thing to another, and he cannot fix his thoughts on any one thing. Moreover, he does not know properly either himself or his own need, or how to ask or what to ask of God; in fact he does not even know what God is like. But a person in whom the Holy Spirit dwells knows God and sees that He is his Father and knows how to approach Him, and how to ask and what to ask of Him. His thoughts during prayer are orderly, pure, and aspire to a single object—God. And by prayer he can do literally anything, and can even move mountains from place to place.
This is a short account of what the Holy Spirit gives to those who have Him within them! And you see that without the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible not only to enter the kingdom of heaven but even to take a single step toward it. And therefore we must seek and ask for the Holy Spirit and have Him within us, just as the holy apostles had Him. But how we can receive or obtain Him, we shall soon see.
Jesus Christ said that “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes” (John 3:8). These words mean that we can hear, feel, and perceive the presence of the Holy Spirit in our heart or His touch upon our heart, but that we cannot tell when or how He will visit us.
We also see that the holy apostles received the Holy Spirit from Jesus Christ, and received Him frequently and at a time neither foreseen nor fixed nor arranged by them, but at the time that was pleasing to Jesus Christ. Only the solemn descent of the Holy Spirit was foretold to them, which followed at the appointed time and in the appointed place. But even then they did not receive Him for any personal merits of their own, but as a free gift, through faith and hope. And the united prayer in which they continued after the Lord’s ascension until the descent of the Holy Spirit was not so much a means of receiving the Holy Spirit as a preparation for it. Consequently, no one can say definitely how or when you will receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the gift of God, and gifts are given unexpectedly when it is pleasing to the Dispenser of the gifts, and He distributes them to whom He wills. Therefore, those who think that they will receive the Holy Spirit in some special manner at some special time are very mistaken, and those who invent their own means of obtaining Him not only will not receive the Holy Spirit, but also take upon themselves a terrible sin.
But before speaking of how we can receive the Holy Spirit, it is necessary to say that only a true believer can receive the Holy Spirit, that is, a person who confesses the holy orthodox Christian faith, and who confesses it aright, without any addition, diminution, or change, but as the holy apostles delivered it to us, and as it was defined and confirmed by the Holy Fathers in the ecumenical councils. All doubt and criticism of the faith is disobedience, and an unsubmissive soul cannot be a temple or house of the Holy Spirit.
The true and recognized means of receiving the Holy Spirit, according to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the experiences of great saints, are the following: (1) purity of heart and chastity, (2) humility, (3) listening to the voice of God, (4) prayer, (5) daily self-denial, (6) reading and listening to Holy Scripture, and (7) the sacraments of the Church, and especially Holy Communion.
Every faithful soul is filled with the Holy Spirit, if she is cleansed of her sins and not encumbered or closed by self-love and pride. For the Holy Spirit always surrounds us and wishes to fill us, but our evil deeds that surround us like a hard stone wall are like evil guards that do not allow Him to come near us and keep Him away from us. Every sin can keep the Holy Spirit away from us, but bodily impurity and spiritual pride are especially repellent to Him. The Holy Spirit, Who is the most perfect purity, cannot possibly be in a man defiled by sins. How can He be in our heart when it is filled and encumbered by different cares, desires, and passions?
Therefore, if we do not want to lose the Holy Spirit Whom we receive in our baptism, or if we wish to receive Him again, then we must be pure in our hearts and must guard our bodies from unchastity, because our heart and body should be the temple of the Holy Spirit. And if a person is pure in heart and chaste in body, then the Holy Spirit enters into him and possesses his heart and soul (if only the person does not trust in his own good works and boast of them or consider that he has a right to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to receive them as a due reward).
But if, unfortunately, you have defiled and corrupted your heart and body, try to cleanse yourself by repentance; that is, stop sinning and, in contrition of heart, repent that you have hitherto offended God, your most loving Father; repent and begin to live with great vigilance, and then even you will be able to receive the Holy Spirit.
One of the safest means of receiving the Holy Spirit is humility. Even though you are an honest, good, just, and merciful man, in a word, even though you have fulfilled all the commandments of God, always regard yourself as an unprofitable servant and no more than God’s instrument through whom He acts. In fact, if we examine our good works more attentively, and even our greatest virtues, will many of them prove to deserve to be called Christian virtues? For example, how often do we give alms or material help to our brethren from vainglory or self-love like Pharisees, or from self-interest like moneylenders; that is, hoping in return for a nickel given to a beggar to receive from God hundreds and thousands! Certainly a good deed always remains a good deed, so continue to do and increase your good deeds. Every good deed can be called gold, and gold even when unpurified has value; it only has to be put into the hands of a master, and it will receive its true value. In the same way, your good deeds will receive their value if with full trust you commit them to the will and hands of the Great Artist. Continue to be honest, good, just, and merciful and a faithful doer of the law. But if you wish your virtues to have their real value, do not boast of them and do not regard them as pure gold that deserves heavenly treasures. You are not a master, and you cannot value them. Art gives to gold its true value, and love gives true value to the virtues—but Christian love, pure, disinterested love, that only the Holy Spirit gives. Everything that is done not according to Christian love, that is to say, without the Holy Spirit, is not true virtue. And therefore a man who has not the Holy Spirit within him, for all his virtues, is poor and indigent.
There is also another aspect of humility, that is, to bear all the troubles, sorrows, and adversities you meet with patience and without murmuring and regard them as a punishment for your sins, and do not say, “Oh, how unfortunate I am!” but say, “This is much less than I deserve for my sins!” And ask God not so much to deliver you from adversities but rather to give you the strength to bear them.
The Holy Spirit can also be received by attentively listening to the voice of God. The voice of God, Who speaks clearly, distinctly, and intelligibly, can be heard everywhere and in everything, only you need to have ears to hear. God, as your most loving Father, from your very birth daily speaks to you, calls you to Himself, warns, guides, teaches, and enlightens you. For instance, are you unhappy, has someone offended you, has one of your family died, are you ill yourself, or sad, or miserable without any apparent reason (which often happens with everyone)—in all this you can hear the voice of God speaking to you so that you should recover your senses and, instead of hoping in men and seeking help or consolation in diversions and amusements, that you should turn in penitence to God and seek comfort and help in Him alone. Or let us suppose that you are prospering, that is, that you are living in plenty and abundance; all your affairs and circumstances are in the very best state, and you do not feel sorrow and grief, but frequently feel joy, and sometimes even spiritual joy. All this is the voice of God speaking to you, so that you should love God Who is so good to you with all your heart and thank Him according to your strength, and so that while making use of the goods of this world you should not forget to gladden even the least of Jesus Christ’s brothers, the poor; and that you should not forget the true goods and joys of heaven, and Him Who is the Source of all goods and joys. Who of us has not heard and does not hear the voice of God speaking through various occurrences, adventures, or events? In fact, we all hear, and hear clearly and distinctly, but not many of us understand and act according to the voice of God. Usually in our sorrows and grief, instead of entering more deeply into ourselves, we seek distraction in worldly occupations or amusements; and instead of receiving these visitations of God as a great cure and making use of them for the good of our soul, we seek deliverance from them, and sometimes even murmur and lose patience. Or at least, instead of seeking consolation in God, the Source of all consolation, we seek it in the world and its pleasures. And when we thrive and prosper, instead of loving God more and more as our Benefactor, we forget Him; and instead of using the good things that the Lord gives us for the common good and for the help of our needy brethren, we use them for our own whims and for the satisfaction of our own quite useless desires. If it is criminal and terrible to be inattentive and not listen to the voice of an earthly king, how much more sinful and terrible is it not to attend and listen to the voice of the Heavenly King. Such neglect and inattention, after His countless and constant beckoning and calls, may lead to God’s finally abandoning us as obstinate children and allowing us to do whatever we like. Then little by little our mind may get darkened until the most vile and abominable sins seem to us nothing more than the unavoidable weaknesses of human nature. And therefore, just as it is profitable and salutary (saving) to be attentive to the voice of God, so too it is fatal and terrible not to listen to it and to turn away from it (Heb 12:25, 12:3, 12:7).
The Holy Spirit can be received by prayer. This is the simplest and surest means, and one that everyone can always use. It is well known that prayer can be outward and inward; that is, whoever prays and bows with his body either at home or in church prays externally, whereas whoever turns to God with his heart and soul, and tries to have Him always in his mind, prays internally. Which of these prayers is better, more effectual, and more pleasing to God, everyone of you knows. You also know that you can pray to God at any time and in any place and even when sin overwhelms you. You can pray at work and without work, on a feast and on an ordinary day, standing, sitting, and lying down. You know all that. But here it needs to be said that although internal prayer is the most powerful means of receiving the Grace of God, yet we must not give up external prayer either, and especially common prayer. Many say, “Why should I go to church? I can pray at home just as well. There (at church) one sins more than prays.” But what do you think makes people speak like that? Do you think it is justice or prudence? Certainly not! It is laziness and pride that makes them speak in that way. Of course, sometimes it happens, unfortunately, that just when you are in church you sin. But that is not because you went to church, but because you did not go to church in the right spirit and you stand in church not to pray but to do something quite different. And look at those who do not go to church for the said reasons. Do they pray at home? Not at all! And even if some do pray, in the case of most of them their prayer is pharisaic, for all their prayers can be expressed by the very words the Pharisee used: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers” (Luke 18:11). So, go and take part in the common prayers of the Church, and pray at home before the holy icons, and pay no attention to the reasoning of the rationalists.
It was said above that a person who has not the Holy Spirit within him cannot pray true prayer. This is perfectly true. We need to make considerable use of toil and suffering to be able to pray holy prayer. We cannot suddenly or quickly attain such a state as to be able to raise our thoughts and hearts to God. Not only with us ordinary people, but even with many who have consecrated their whole life to prayer, it happens that you go to turn your thoughts to God and you find them distracted in different directions and taken up with various matters; you want to have God in your thoughts, and something quite different comes to you, and sometimes it is even something terrible.
True prayer brings with it a sweet consolation of heart, so that many holy fathers stood for whole days and nights in prayer, and in their sweet rapture they did not notice the time or the length of their prayer. For them, prayer was not a labor but a pleasure. But it is not easy to reach such a state, especially for anyone who from childhood has given free rein to his passions and stifled his conscience. But what in the world, what science or art, or what consolations are acquired by us easily, quickly, and without toil? And, therefore, pray, in spite of the fact that you do not experience in prayer any consolation or pleasure but only toil—pray, and pray diligently with all possible fervor, train yourself in prayer and in conversation with God; try as far as possible to collect and control your wandering thoughts, and little by little you will feel that it is becoming easier and easier for you, and then you will experience delightful consolations. If you are sincerely in earnest, the Holy Spirit, seeing your efforts and the sincerity of your desire, will soon help you, and then He will enter within you and will teach you to pray true prayer.
It is easiest to pray in our troubles and adversities; so do not miss such opportunities, but make use of them to pour out your sorrow before God in prayer.
Jesus Christ orders us to pray without ceasing. Many say, “How can we pray without ceasing when we are living in the world? If we spend all our time praying, when shall we do our work and attend to our business?” Of course we cannot pray without ceasing outwardly; that is, we cannot always be standing at prayer, because we must do other duties as well, and work. But whoever feels his inner poverty will not cease to pray even amid his occupations; whoever has an ardent desire to enter the kingdom of heaven will find time and occasions to pray both internally and externally. A fervent soul will find time to say a word to God and worship Him even amid the hardest and most exacting kinds of work. Only those who have no desire to pray can find no time to pray.
It is also said that God does not listen to sinners; that is, sinners do not receive from God what they ask. That is true. But to what kind of sinners is it that God does not listen? God does not hear those who pray to Him but do not think of their conversion, or those who ask God to forgive them their sins but do not want to forgive others for anything. Certainly God does not listen to such sinners and will not answer their prayers. And so when you pray to God for the forgiveness of your debts, forgive the debts of others yourself, and have a resolution to abandon your sins. If you want God to be merciful to you, be merciful to others, and then God will listen to you.
Some think that it is possible to pray only by the books. Certainly it is good if you are able to pray and glorify God in psalms and spiritual songs. But if you are illiterate, it is enough for you to know the most important prayers, and especially the Lord’s Prayer (i.e., “Our Father”), because in this prayer, given us by Jesus Christ Himself, all our needs are expressed. And when circumstances do not allow you to pray longer, then say the ordinary prayers, such as “Lord have mercy!” or “God, help me!” or “O Lord, blot out my sins!” or “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
One of the holy fathers said, if you want your prayer to fly up to God, then give it two wings, that is, fasting and almsgiving.
Before speaking of what fasting is let us see why fasting has been appointed. The end and purpose of fasting is to quiet and relieve the body, and so to make it more obedient to the soul, because a full and well-fed body requires luxury and rest, and disposes one to indolence, and prevents one from thinking about God; it, as it were, binds and oppresses the soul and is then like a self-willed, spoiled, and capricious wife who lords it over her husband. And now, what is fasting? Fasting varies greatly. For a person brought up in luxury, fasting can be one thing, whereas for a person brought up in simple and rough conditions, it is another thing. Therefore for one person, it is nothing to use the roughest food and be healthy, or to live without food for a number of days, whereas for another, a big change of food can be very noticeable, and even harmful. But for everyone in general fasting is above all temperance and strict moderation in the use of food. Consequently, you should use food in moderation, and try especially to bridle the desires of the body, and not satisfy its lusts at all, for they are unnecessary for the preservation of health and the prolongation of life; and then your fast will be true.
But while fasting physically, it is necessary at the same time to fast spiritually as well, that is, to restrain your tongue from evil and not speak ill of anyone or talk needlessly, to moderate your desires and root out your passions. Thus, for example, do not do today that unbecoming or unnecessary thing that you had thought of doing; tomorrow, if circumstances dispose you to be angry with anyone, calm yourself and control your heart and tongue; the day after tomorrow, if you have a desire to go to some amusement or entertainment, and especially if it is one where you may see or hear something bad, do not go there. And in this manner continue to overcome yourself. After this, begin to control and order your thoughts so that they do not wander where there is absolutely no need, because thoughts are the cause of much evil. There is nothing more difficult than to stop one’s thoughts and bring them under control; in fact, it is impossible all of a sudden to order and purify one’s thoughts, just as it is impossible suddenly to break and tame horses that have been running wild for a long time and have never known a bridle. In the same way, it is quite impossible for a person who has given his will and desires freedom and let them run wild all his life to reduce them suddenly to order. And moreover, when you live like an ordinary man engaged only with your worldly duties and little thinking of your duties as a Christian, then it seems to you that your thoughts are in order and even pure. But as soon as you begin to think and care about your salvation, your thoughts will at once become fuddled, just as ditch water that has stood for some time seems bright and clean as long as you do not touch it, but the more you clean out the ditch, the muddier the water becomes. It is the same with our thoughts; and finally the devil himself will stir them up. But in spite of all this, struggle with your thoughts, be strong and courageous, and never despair and think that it is quite impossible to still and purify one’s thoughts. However, as far as you can, struggle and ask God for help. And the Holy Spirit, seeing your sincere desire, will dwell in you and help you.
What is almsgiving? By almsgiving, we usually mean giving to the poor. But under the term almsgiving we should understand all acts of kindness and mercy, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, and helping them and also giving hospitality to the homeless, looking after orphans, and so forth. But so that your almsgiving may be true, all this must be done without boasting, and without desiring praise from people for your benefactions, or gratitude from the poor. If you do as Jesus Christ Himself says, that is, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt 6:3), then the heavenly Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly.
The Holy Spirit may be received by reading and listening to Holy Scripture as the true Word of God. Holy Scripture is a great treasury from which we can draw both light and life—light to enlighten and inform every man and life to quicken, comfort, and delight everyone. Holy Scripture is one of the greatest of God’s blessings to man, and it is a blessing that can be enjoyed and used by anyone who wishes to do so. And it needs to be said that Holy Scripture is divine wisdom, and wisdom so wonderful that it can be understood and comprehended by the simplest and most unlearned person; that is why many simple people, by reading or listening to Holy Scripture, have become pious and have received the Holy Spirit. But there have also been people, and even educated people, who read Holy Scripture and erred and were lost. This is because the former read it in simplicity of heart without sophistry and rationalization and did not seek learning in it, but grace, power, and spirit, whereas the latter, on the contrary, regarding themselves as people who were wise and knew everything, sought in it not the power and spirit of the word of God, but worldly wisdom, and instead of humbly receiving all that Providence was pleased to reveal to them, they tried to discover and learn what has been hidden; and that is why they fell into unbelief or schism. It is easier to pour the whole sea into a tiny cup than for a man to comprehend all the wisdom of God.
And so, when you read or listen to Holy Scripture, lay aside all your human wisdom and submit yourself to the word and will of Him Who speaks to you through Holy Scripture, and ask Jesus Christ to instruct you Himself, to enlighten your mind and give you a desire to read Holy Scripture and do what it says.
There are many books in the world called profitable and soul saving, but only those are really worthy of this description that are based on Holy Scripture and that are in agreement with the teaching of our orthodox Faith. Such books can and should be read, but in choosing them you need to be careful, lest what seems to be a salutary book should turn out to be one that can ruin your soul.
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” (John 6:56, 6:54). That means that he who worthily partakes of the holy sacrament is mystically united to Jesus Christ. In other words, whoever receives the Body and Blood of Christ with true repentance, with a clean soul, with the fear of God, and with faith at the same time receives the Holy Spirit Who enters the soul and prepares a place there for the reception of Jesus Christ Himself and God the Father, and consequently the person becomes a temple and habitation of the living God. But he who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily, that is, with an unclean soul, with a heart full of malice, revenge, and hatred, not only will not receive the Holy Spirit but will become like the traitor Judas, and, as it were, crucifies Jesus Christ a second time.
The Christians of the first centuries, feeling the importance and profit to the soul of the Holy Mysteries, used to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ every Sunday and every festival; and that is why among them there was, as we are told in the Book of Acts, one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32). But what a difference there is between them and us! How many nowadays have not taken communion for several years! How many people there are who have no intention of doing so!
And so, for God’s sake, have a desire to communicate of the Holy Mysteries, at least once a year; every one of us should do this without fail. For those who are worthy, the Body and Blood of Christ is a true cure for all infirmities and sicknesses. And who of us is perfectly healthy? And who does not wish to obtain relief and healing? The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is food for the journey to the heavenly kingdom. Is it possible to go on a long and difficult journey without food? The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is the visible holy of holies, bequeathed and left to us by Jesus Christ Himself for our sanctification. Who would not wish to be a partaker of such holiness and be sanctified? And so, do not be too lazy to approach the cup of life, immortality, love, and holiness. But approach with the fear of God and with faith. And whoever does not wish to approach, but neglects to do so, does not love Jesus Christ and will not receive the Holy Spirit, and, consequently, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
These, then, are the ways of receiving the Holy Spirit: that is, purity of heart and integrity of life, humility, attentive listening to the voice of God, prayer, self-denial, reading and listening to the Word of God, and communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. Of course, each of these means is effectual for receiving the Holy Spirit, but the best and surest way is to use them all together; then you will undoubtedly receive the Holy Spirit and become holy.
Here it needs to be said further that if any one of you receives the Holy Spirit and then somehow falls and sins, and thereby loses the Holy Spirit, do not despair and think that all is lost; but quickly and fervently fall down before God with penitence and prayer, and the Holy Spirit will return to you again.
Now, as far as I could, I have shown you the way into the heavenly kingdom, and you can now see for yourselves that the following are true:
1. Without faith in Jesus Christ, no one can return to God and enter the kingdom of heaven.
2. No one, even though he believes in Jesus Christ, can be called a disciple of Jesus Christ or live with Him in heaven, unless he acts and lives as Jesus Christ acted and lived on earth.
3. No one can follow Jesus Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit.
4. Whoever wishes to receive the Holy Spirit must use the means given us by the Lord for that purpose.
And I shall again repeat that the way into the heavenly kingdom revealed to us by Jesus Christ is unique and that there is not and was not and never will be another way besides the one that Jesus Christ has shown us. The way is difficult, but, it leads straight to true and eternal happiness. Although the way to the kingdom of heaven is difficult, yet not only along the way but even at the very beginning of it one meets with such consolations and delights as are never found on the path of worldly life. Trying and difficult is the way into the heavenly kingdom, but the Lord’s help is ever at hand. Our Lord Jesus Christ is always ready to help us to follow Him. He gives us the Holy Spirit, and sends His angels to guard us on the way, and supplies us with teachers and guides. And He is even ready Himself to take us by the hand, so to speak, and to support us. The way into the kingdom of heaven is difficult and there are bitter labors on it, but he who has not seen and experienced what is bitter cannot know the value of what is sweet. The way into the kingdom of heaven is difficult, but while suffering here on earth we can always pray and in prayer find comfort and strength, and God always hears our prayer. But when we die not as Christians, even if we could pray there, God would not hear us. The way into the kingdom of heaven is difficult, but the eternal sufferings and torments are incomparably greater and more grievous than earthly sufferings. Even our most grievous sufferings here below, in comparison with the sufferings of hell prepared for the devil and his angels, are so small that they are like tiny drops in comparison with the whole ocean. The way to heavenly beatitude is difficult, but are the ways to earthly fortune or happiness easier? Look how those labor and sweat who make money and seek earthly honor and glory, and how often we willingly and gladly undertake labors and cares for some empty pleasure. But what is the result? Instead of receiving pleasure we only lose time, waste money, ruin our health, and destroy our soul. Therefore, if we examine ourselves more attentively, it becomes clear that it is not because the way is difficult that we do not go into the heavenly kingdom but because we have no real desire or inclination to do so, and do not want to trouble ourselves about it. Whoever ardently desires anything will always seek it, in spite of all difficulties and obstacles. Of course, there is no one who would not desire to be in the heavenly kingdom, but this desire is feeble and is only a certain inborn desire for happiness. And indeed, some of us do labor for the heavenly kingdom. But how few labor with full faith and surrender to God and true self-denial! But how many of us there are who think that however you live in this world, you only have to repent at the end of your life and you will be in the kingdom of Heaven! Oh, how terribly mistaken are those who think thus! Certainly the mercy of God is great and infinite. Jesus Christ took into paradise even a robber, who repented only when he was actually dying. But was it without suffering and without affliction that the robber entered paradise? No! He was hung on a cross. Before that he had been judged; he was locked up in prison, and perhaps he was scourged, too. True, he suffered as an evildoer and criminal. But who of us has not broken both the divine law and human laws? If we do not kill people such as robbers, yet how many people do we kill by our word, by our cruelty, and by our negligence concerning their well-being and salvation? Certainly the Lord can show us the same great and unspeakable mercies; He can regard our last sufferings as a purification and as a kind of struggle on the way to the heavenly kingdom, especially when, as with the robber, we at the same time offer repentance for our sins and receive with faith the last sacraments. But who can be sure that when we die we shall suffer and that in our suffering we shall have time to repent? How many people die suddenly and without any suffering? How many die without repentance and the last sacraments?
And so, brethren, if you do not desire eternal perdition for yourself, you must attend to your soul and take thought for your future lot. We know that there beyond the grave one or the other future awaits all alike and that there is no intermediate state, that is, that either the kingdom of heaven or hell awaits us, eternal beatitude or eternal torment. There are only two different states beyond the grave, and also only two ways here on earth. One way is broad, smooth, level, and easy, and many follow it; the other way is narrow, thorny, and difficult. Happy, a thousand times happy, is he who treads the narrow way, for it leads to the kingdom of heaven. But how few there are who go by this way! If we do not go by the difficult way, and if we die without any purification and repentance, what will happen to us? To whom shall we have recourse? To the Lord? But we do not wish to listen to Him here, and He will not listen to us there. Now He is a most merciful Father to us, but there He is the just Judge. And who will defend us from His just anger? O brethren, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31)! And so, look to your salvation, while you still have an acceptable time; work and labor for your salvation while it is yet day, for the night will come, and then no one can work. Do not put it off from day to day, but hasten to the heavenly kingdom while it is still possible; for death will come, and then it will be too late. Get going somehow or other to the kingdom of heaven, and then you will gradually be getting nearer to it, even though it is slow work—just as when a person who is going somewhere takes a step forward, he gets nearer his destination.
Whoever wishes to follow Jesus Christ can make use of the following counsels:
Do not take any notice of how other sinful people live, and do not justify yourself by their example, and do not speak as many do: “What am I to do? I am not the only person who lives like this, and I am not the only one who does not carry out Christ’s commandments, but practically everyone does the same.” But even if you truly knew that all who live around you, and even those who ought to be an example of virtue and piety, do not live in a Christian manner, what good would it be to you? Their perdition will not save you. It will be no defense for you at the awful judgment that not only you lived badly on earth. And therefore it is not your business whether they are on the way to the kingdom or not; it is not your business. Attend to yourself and to those whom God has given you to instruct. We see people sinning often enough, but we hardly ever see them repenting and purifying themselves of their sins; that is why we can so often be mistaken as to who of our neighbors is following Christ or not.
When you go by this way, many people, and perhaps even your nearest and dearest, will laugh at you. Do not pay any attention to that and do not worry. Remember that they also laughed at Jesus Christ. But He did not show enmity toward them; He was silent and prayed for them. You should act in exactly the same way.
There are many educated people who do not view aright the way into the heavenly kingdom shown us by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and say that even without this way it is possible to attain to the heavenly kingdom, and this way is not for all, but for a few. But if you happen to meet a person of this sort and he stops you and gives you advice, do not listen to him; and even if an angel were to descend from heaven and tell you that it is not necessary to go the way Jesus Christ went, do not listen to him either. But do not quarrel with deceivers and enemies of this kind; rather, pity and pray for them.
When you are firmly following Jesus Christ, perhaps you will meet people who will revile you on account of the Word of the Lord or will slander, insult, and despise you. Be patient and endure it. Rejoice and leap for joy on the day you receive any offense or wrong for the name of Christ, for great is your reward in heaven.
When you are truly going this way, the devil himself will rise up against you and tempt you with various temptations; he will suggest bad thoughts to you, or doubt concerning the faith itself and revealed truths, or even blasphemy. Do not be afraid of him, because the devil can do nothing to you without God’s permission, and you have only to pray to the Lord and the devil will fly from you like an arrow.
You should take note that what is regarded as useful and just, and is actually so, does not hinder the true Christian. Such is, first of all, hard work, which not only does not hinder the salvation of the soul but even assists it. It is well known that idleness is the mother of vices. What, for instance, causes people to become drunkards? Idleness. Who are thieves and robbers? Idle people; and so forth. And it can be said for certain that a person who does nothing and has nothing with which to occupy himself, even though he seems good, is a bad Christian and a bad citizen; and if he is not a great sinner, that is only because of God’s special care of him. And so, be industrious, accustom yourself to work, toil and labor, and do all that is useful and necessary for your home, and all that is your duty to your king and country. If idleness is the mother of vice, industry may be called the father of virtue. This is so, first, because an industrious person is certain to have fewer sins, simply because he has no time not only to do evil but to think of evil; for he is either working and busy doing his duty or he is occupied with his salvation and his duties as a Christian. Second, it is true because a person who is in the habit of being industrious will sooner agree to go the way to the kingdom of heaven than a person who leads an idle life, and it is easier for an industrious person to go the way to the kingdom of heaven than for an idle person. To be industrious is always and everywhere profitable. But to be industrious, you must train yourself and accustom yourself to work from childhood.
There is another perfection just as valuable as diligence to which you should train and accustom yourself even before diligence. This is patience or endurance. Patience is always and everywhere useful, but for a person who wishes to go into the kingdom of heaven, patience is a most indispensable perfection. Without patience, you cannot even take a step on this way, because at every step you are bound to meet roughness and unevenness and thorniness. And so, train and accustom yourself to patience, first bodily and then spiritual. Then it will be easier for you to be both an industrious member of society and a good friend, and a good housekeeper, and a good citizen, and a good Christian.
Now I have told you all I can concerning the way into the heavenly kingdom. I shall only add that a person who goes the way into the heavenly kingdom fervently, for every labor, for every sorrow, for every victory over himself and for every restraint of himself, for every act and even for every good desire and intention, will be rewarded seventy times sevenfold even in this life, and what awaits him there cannot be told or imagined. And so, do not be afraid to follow Jesus Christ; He is a powerful Helper; follow Him, hasten and do not delay. Go while the doors into the heavenly kingdom are still open to you. And even while you are still a long way off, our heavenly Father will come to meet you on the way, will kiss you, will put on you the best garment, and will lead you into His bridal-chamber where He Himself dwells with all the holy prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the saints, and where you will rejoice with true and eternal joy. But when the doors of the heavenly kingdom are closed to you, that is, if you die without repentance and good works, then however much you may want and however much you may try to enter, you will not be admitted. You will knock at the doors and say, “Lord, open to us! We know Thee, we were baptized in Thy name, we are called by Thy name and have even worked miracles by it.” But Jesus Christ will say to you, “I do not know you, you are not Mine! Depart from Me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Math 25)