Striving for the Kingdom of God

St. Isaac the Syrian (7th Century AD) marveled that humans are willing to endure almost anything and suffer greatly to attain some worldly goal, yet when it comes to following Christ, people often are looking for comfort and ease.  However, we have been warned by Christ about constantly looking for the easy way or the path of least resistance in the spiritual life.

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”(Matthew 13:20-21)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”(Matthew 7:13-14)

St. Isaac writes:

“[…] to show how we must always establish in our thinking the aim of tribulation in any matter by means of which we are about to start on the path to the Lord, and how right at the beginning we must diligently press on with all our strength in order to reach its end.

How often does man raise questions when he wants to make a start in something for the Lord’s sake, saying, ‘Is there really comfort in this?’ Or, ‘How can I easily make headway in this without toil?’ Or, ‘Perhaps there is tribulation in this, which causes the body pain?’ Do you not observe how high and low we seek in the name of comfort? What are you saying, O man? You wish to ascend to Heaven, and to receive that Kingdom, communion with God, the consolation of the spiritual goods of yonder blessedness, the fellowship of angels, and immortal life, and you ask if this path requires toil? Great is this marvel!

Those who yearn after the things of this perishing world pass over the terrible waves of the sea, and they brave journeying on rough roads, and for all that, they never ask whether there is any labor in this, or any affliction in what they desire to do. But we search everywhere after comfort! If, however, we always keep in mind the path of the crucifixion, we shall think that every other affliction is lighter to bear than this.” (The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, pp. 356-357)

In the sayings of the desert fathers we learn how difficult it is, even for monks, to fully follow the Gospel.   Here is a story, told with a little bit of humor, about how hard it is to follow Christ.

Certain brethren came to Abba Anthony, and said unto him, “Speak to us a word whereby we may live.”

The old man said to them, “Behold, you have heard the Scriptures, and they are sufficient for you.”

The brethren said, “We wish to hear a word from you also, O father.”

Abba Anthony said to them, “It is said in the Gospel, ‘If a man smites you on one cheek, turn to him the other also’ (Luke 6: 29).”

They said to him, “We cannot do this.”

Abba Anthony said unto them, “If you cannot turn the other cheek, at least allow yourself to be smitten on the one cheek.”

They said to him, “And this we cannot do.”

The old man then said to them, “If you cannot do even this, do not pay back blows in return for the beating you have received.”

They said, “We cannot even do this.”

Then the old man said to his disciples, “Make then for the brethren a little boiled food, for they are ill,” and he added, “If you cannot do even this, and you are unable to do the other things, prayers are necessary immediately.”   (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 770-77)