The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence.
As the narrative suggests, an active life requires struggle on our part and a persistent exercise of free will.” The gate and the narrow way that leads to life… Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7, 14. 21 ) We are forced to balance each other in complementary truths: without the grace of God, we cannot do anything, but without our voluntary cooperation, nothing can God.
“Human will is the basic condition without which we God cannot do without.” (Homily of St. Macarius) Our salvation depends on the concurrence of two factors, unequal in importance but equally necessary: the divine initiative and God’s actions are incomparably more important, but human participation is similarly essential. In a world of sin, the human response to God’s love is spontaneous and full of joy. In a fallen world, the element of spontaneity and joy remains. Still, as a primary, there is also the need to fight resolutely against deeply ingrained deep-seated habits and inclinations arising from sin.
One of the most necessary qualities is godly perseverance. The perseverance required of those who aspire to the highest physical achievements is also needed for those who ascend to the heights of God. Man must inflict violence upon himself – his fallen self – for the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and “the violent after he reaches out” (Mt 11:12). This is repeatedly stressed by our guides on the road and is said to Christians living in marriage and religious men and women. “God he asks of man and all – his mind, reason and all..his deeds… Do you want to be saved when you die? Go and deliver yourself, go and work, go and seek and find, wake up and knock, and it shall be opened unto thee.” (From Stories of the Desert Fathers )
“This present age is not a time of rest and sleep; it is a time of struggle, marketplaces, schools, and wandering. For thou must give yourself up and not be discouraged and lazy; devote yourself to the saints to holy works.” (Elder Nazarius of Valam) “Nothing comes from
effort. God’s help is always ready, but it is given only to those who seek and work and those who, after giving all their strength in trials, cry out from the bottom of their hearts: Lord, help us. “Where there is no pain, there is no salvation.” (St. Seraphim of Sarov). “To rest is the same as to flee.” (Tito Colliander) However, so that this severity may not so dishearten us, we also say, “The fullness of life is opened every day to those who work hard.” (From the Stories of the Fathers of the Desert )
And what do all these words mean about effort and suffering in practice? They suggest that our relationship with God is renewed daily through living prayer, and prayer, as Agathon’s father reminds us, is the most challenging task. Suppose I do not find prayer difficult, perhaps because we have not yet begun to pray earnestly. It also means I must renew my relationship with others through compassion, sharing suffering, and refusing arbitrariness. It means taking up the cross of Christ, and not just one in some grand gesture, but all the time, every day: “If you want to come with me, deny yourself, not with your cross every day and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 )
And if this daily carrying of the cross is also a daily sharing of the Lord’s transfiguration and resurrection, then “We are unknown, and yet everyone knows about us; they know we are alive; we are abused, and yet we are not, and yet we are not given over to death; we have something to be sorry for, and yet we are still we rejoice; we are poor, and yet we enrich much, nothing we have nothing, and yet we have everything.” (2 K 6, 9-10 ).
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