ENGLISH VERSION: On the Narrow Gates: Sermon on the Feast Day of St. Spyridon and St. Herman of Alaska. December 12/25, 2004. By Hieromonk Gregory (Lourie) (Now Bishop of Petrograd and Gdov)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Today we heard in the Gospel reading several short parables about how the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto something small: once something small and precious, and once small and not precious. It is small and precious when it is like unto a pearl, but small and not precious when it is like unto leaven. What do leaven and pearls have in common apart from being small in size? The fact that from this small thing comes something of great consequence. From a small amount of leaven a large amount of dough is leavened, and one pearl contains within itself great riches. It is in this sense, the Lord explains in these parables, that the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto something small.
But there is another point here. Having told these parables, the Lord continued: Strive to enter in at the narrow gate, because the gates that enter into the Kingdom of Heaven are small, and entering them is difficult, for which reason there are few who enter therein. He then continues with this theme, saying that in the world to come there will be those who think that the Kingdom of Heaven should be open to them, but it will be closed to them. When they try to call out to the Lord, He will answer that He does not know them. Then they will begin to remind Him of why, in their opinion, He should know them: We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence. This should be understood in a metaphorical sense; applied to Christians this means: "Did we not Commune of the Holy Mysteries in the True Church?" All the same they will hear the answer: I know you not. It turns out that, even though they seemed to have belonged to the True Church and known the Lord, because they came to the Lord and ate and drank in the spiritual sense – that is, at the Lord’s Table, as the Holy Fathers explain – none of this was enough. Why not? As the foregoing made clear, it is because, although they externally belonged to the Church, they did not want to enter the narrow gate.
But this is not surprising. Because if we remember why we ourselves came to the Church and why people in general come to the Church, then it is surprising that anyone at all is saved. Why do people come to the Church in the first place? Not in order to find the narrow gate, but in order to find the wide gates. Because in life this, that, and the other thing are bad; but if one enters the Church then, first of all, one calms down and, second, we think that if we pray we will receive some worldly goods and earthly happiness. And these hopes are not unfounded. But even if these hopes are realized, they still only relate to earthly things and do not have any relationship to entering the Kingdom of Heaven through the narrow gate; on the contrary, we try to make these gates as wide as we can.
What then should we do? Wear chains or specially try to be beaten and abused? There were, of course, saints who wore chains and thereby spoiled their lives; there were also fools-for-Christ who specially acted in such a way as to be beaten and abused. But these are special ways of life, and if one does not feel oneself called by God to such a life, then the Holy Fathers categorically forbid one to dare to do so; besides, if one feels such a calling one needs to ask oneself a thousand times over whether it might not be false. Generally speaking, for all other Orthodox Christians, all of whom are also called to holiness, such paths of life are not suitable.
What is the general order of Christian life in order to enter the narrow gate? We pray that the Lord would humble us. We genuinely need to pray for this and want this, and when it comes we should rejoice in it. When does this happen? When, without our willing it, various unpleasant, unhappy, and reproachful things happen in our lives; when we are deprived of something dear to us; when we do not get something that we had thought necessary; when certain of our plans can in no way be realized. It is especially helpful, and entirely inoffensive and harmless, when someone offends us or says something hurtful. We should consider this person our greatest benefactor, because when we are offended this is a firm indication of one of our passions. If we find ourselves being internally, or even more so externally (if this happens), outraged against someone, then we should remember that this person is our greatest benefactor, at least in the given period of one’s life. Because they are showing us perhaps not the worst things in us but, at the very least, things that we should now pay attention to and begin to repent of and correct. Because we cannot be offended by anyone, we cannot be irritated by anyone, if we are not afflicted by some passion.
If we think ourselves unjustly wronged we should rejoice; for can a Christian feel himself unjustly wronged? This is unthinkable, because a Christian, if he is a believer, should consider himself subject to much greater wrongs than anyone could accuse him of; therefore, if he is accused of even a portion of these wrongs he should only rejoice that he has received at least some of them here on earth, for purification from his sins. Therefore we should rejoice that such a purification takes place absolutely for free and does not especially harm us, but is all for the good. This, of course, could undermine our nervous system and make us completely psychotic. But in what cases do we become psychotic? Only in one case: if instead of correcting ourselves we keep ruminating and remembering every offense, of how we have been humiliated in one way or another. If we will bear a grudge against somebody or even against no one in particular, but against an abstract form of government or even the world-order – this, then, is essentially anger against the Lord God, Who gave us such a government, such a world-order, such weather, such people around us, such neighbors, what have you, that we dislike. We should remember that God’s Providence did and does everything so that we would correct ourselves. If this hurts us, it hurts us in precisely in those places where demonic horns are sticking in us, which do indeed need to be broken off, however painful that may be, if we are to pass through the narrow gate. This of course is essential. Therefore if we pray that the Lord grant us humility, we should rejoice when these prayers are answered, when the Lord gives us situations in which we can, only if we choose, humble ourselves.
Moreover, we should remember that today we celebrate two saints who for different reasons are especially venerated in the Orthodox Church in our days. St. Spyridon of Trimythous is one of the most highly venerated wonderworkers among the people and the most venerated saint of Cyprus, where he struggled. He lived in the fourth century, was a bishop and, I do not know why, is prayed to by Russians (I do not know about the Greeks) that the Lord might grant them good homes or help them when moving. Today we also celebrate the memory of St. Herman of Alaska. He is one of several saints who connect our Russian Church with its American part. St. Herman was one of the first to bring Orthodoxy to the American continent. Orthodoxy has remained there since without interruption although, of course, the majority of Orthodox there have fallen into the false ecumenism of so-called "World Orthodoxy"; nonetheless, the True Orthodox tradition there has never been interrupted. We can also especially rejoice that in America there are a few parishes of our Church among the American Orthodox. Of course, one must bear in mind that, if our Church in Russia is, in fact, already a Local Church – although from a canonical point of view it is not yet so – and occupies an entirely special position, and no other Orthodox Churches that are represented in Russia have the same position as our ours, in America our Church does not have that position and even should not have that position. There the formation of their own American Church is being undertaken, but is still a long way away. So far the True Orthodox are in different jurisdictions, and several of these are much more numerous in American than ours. But at the very least each of them contributes to the common cause as best they can.
In general, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore we strive to pray especially for Orthodox Americans, and our parish even has special ties with the Orthodox there.
May the Lord grant unity with the Church of Christ on earth, on all the continents on which it is found, and above all in heaven. Amen.