Orthodox America


  Of the Way Into the Kingdom of Heaven


An Excerpt from "Indication of the Way Into the Kingdom of Heaven" by Bishop Innocent (Veniaminov)

Whoever wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me

       Jesus Christ said: "Whoever wishes to follow Me..." These words mean that Jesus 'Christ does not compel or force anyone to follow Him. He does not want to have as His · disciples those who are unwilling or those who have, no special desire to follow Him, but wants us willingly and without any compulsion to surrender ourselves wholly to Him. Consequently, only those who desire to do so enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Christian, your salvation or perdition depends on your own will! In His unspeakable wisdom and love, the Lord has given you freedom to do what you like, and He does not wish to take this most precious gift away from you. And so, if you wish to follow Jesus Christ, He will show you the way into the Kingdom of Heaven and will even help you along the way. But if you do not wish to follow Him, do as you like; no one is going to compel· you or force you. But beware of despising the call of Jesus Christ and His loving kindness. In His great goodness, Jesus Christ knocks for a long, long time on the door of everyone's heart in order to awaken his soul and arouse in it a desire for salvation. But woe to the man whom He finally abandons and whom He casts out as a son of perdition!

     And so, in order to follow Jesus Christ, first of all you need to have a special desire and resolve to do so; and in order to have a desire to follow Him, you must know whore to go, and what the way is, and what is needed for this way. But how can you know what you don't want to know, or what you have heard only about slightly and superficially!'

     And so, before following Jesus Christ you must do the following:

1)      You must study attentively the foundations of Christianity, i.e., the actual books of Holy Scripture on which our Orthodox faith is founded. You Should know where they come from, who wrote them and when, how they were preserved and have been handed down to us, why they are called Divine and Sacred, and so on. But you must study the Holy Books in simplicity of heart, without any prejudice, without curiosity, impartially and not beyond the limits of your mind; you should not try to penetrate and know what has been hidden from us by the wisdom of God. Such study of the faith is by no means opposed to faith; On the contrary, it is the binding duty of every Christian, when he reaches maturity, to know his faith thoroughly; because anyone who has not got a solid knowledge of his faith is cold and indifferent to it and frequently fails either into superstition or unbelief. How many Christians or, rather, how many people baptized in the name of Jesus Christ have perished and are perishing only because they have and had no desire to turn their attention to the foundations of their faith Whoever despises this duty will be speechless at the awful judgment. But not all people can to the same degree make a study of the faith, but each should do so according to his ability, knowledge and enlightenment.

2)      When you know and are certain that our Orthodox faith is based on Sacred Scripture and not on fictions or speculations, and that Holy Scripture really is the Word of God revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the Prophets and Apostles, then do not pry into what is hidden from us. Believe implicitly, without doubt or reservation, all that Holy Scripture teaches. Do not listen to any natural explanations and interpretations of what ts beyond the human mind. And if you act in this way, your faith will be true and right, and it will be imputed to you as justification and merit.

3)      Finally, try to have and to stir up within you a desire to do what Holy Scripture teaches. And if you have not this desire, fall at the feet of our Saviour Jesus Christ and with fervent prayer implore Him to give it to you. But on no account resist when grace calls you to the way of salvation.

 

     All that has been said hereabout faith let us explain by a parable. For example, you may have heard that in a certain place near you, there is ~a colossal, wonderful building. Its height reaches to heaven itself. The entrance to it is somewhat hidden, and without guidance not everyone can find it. There are many attendants standing by to direct you and guide you further. These attendants are at the same time physicians for the sick and crippled, and dispensers of the food needed for the journey. There are so many ladders for the ascent that nearly everyone has his own. But all the ladders are steep, narrow and poorly lighted so that without a guide and outside help it is impossible even to take a step, especially at the beginning. This' building was the work of the wisest Architect, and it was made for the very purpose of enabling people to ascend to heaven and paradise itself,

     After hearing all this, no doubt you would like to reach where this building leads. But in that case, how are you going to act? First of all, you must, of course, go to the building, examine it carefully, ask the attendants about everything, about the building itself, look at it from all sides and see whether it is built on a strong foundation and whether it can bear the actual weight of the building, as well as the people who enter it. If you are very learned, then examine the materials of which it is made, find out about and investigate all that your eyes can see, and for this purpose you may even use the necessary instruments.

And when you have seen and are certain that the building is sound, strong and can fully

serve its purpose, then give up all further search and leave at the doors all the instruments with which you have made your investigations, because there they will only hinder and not help. And without doubt or hesitation. enter the building itself, and go without stopping and without fearing the difficulty of the ascent, which is really difficult, especially at the beginning. The ascent to heaven is difficult, but on /he other hand, it leads straight to that to which all should aspire and which all should seek all their life.

      Inside this building you will meet fellow travelers with whom you will go hand in hand, and doctors if you happen to fall and get bruised; and you will find dispensers of the food you will need for the journey; you will also find guides and directors and teachers who will tell you all that is necessary, and whom you will find and meet until you meet the Lord and Creator of the building Him self. But in order to reach the end of the journey more quickly and more surely, the best and most hopeful thing to do is to surrender oneself completely to the will of the Builder and Lord.

      But would it not be unreasonable if some one, instead of examining the building at its very foundation and looking at what our eyes can see, out of pride and self-confidence or out of obstinacy took it into his head to examine the very top of the building which must generally be hidden in the clouds and in the vast expanse between earth and heaven? And would it not be stupid for a person who had seen certain parts of the building and had been unable to examine them properly to presume to judge them and to draw conclusions about the whole building, and to find defects or excesses where, on account of the extreme height, the building itself was scarcely visible? Or would it not be unreasonable on his part and even criminal if, without examining it at all and scarcely entering the enclosure of the building, he were suddenly to begin to criticize something or other in it and to assure others that the building was un sound and unnecessary; or instead of the laws and teachings of the Architect and Master of the house, he were to put forward his own ideas and teachings? But perhaps the most foolish of all would be the man who, when he had hardly entered the enclosure, abandoned all desire not only to enter the building, but even to look at it.

      For anyone who has a sincere desire to be where this building leads, it is sufficient if he is convinced that it is sound and established on a firm foundation, and built not by the hands of ordinary artists and workmen, but by the hands of the great Architect Who opened the way into it and cleansed it by His blood and went by it Himself first. It is sufficient to be convinced of this; and all the rest, that is, why it is built as it is and not otherwise, or why it is there and not in another place, and so on--all this is not your business. Your business is to surrender yourself to the will of the Master of the house, and with hope (trust) in His help and with love for Him in your heart to go to Him and follow Him, and to go as He orders.

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