Serbian Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica said, “[Whoever] has the Kingdom of God within himself will imperceptibly pass it on to others. The atmosphere of heaven will radiate from us even when we keep silence or talk about ordinary things.”
Of course, the great obstacle preventing me from inheriting the Kingdom of God is me; not the me that is “hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3) who comes into being relationally in obedience to the Holy Spirit in response to the presence of Christ, but the me that is hid from Christ, wrapped in the fig leaves of my vainglorious illusions driven by the pride of my insistence on perfection.
My problem is that like Adam and Eve, I have eaten devil’s food. I seek perfection not as a gift of divine grace in receptive relationship to the love and goodness of my Father in heaven, but like a rich young religious CEO who by asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk. 18:18) reveals a secret belief that by his own efforts he can do whatever is necessary to inherit eternal life, like earning a paycheck or fulfilling the terms of a contract. But only sons and daughters inherit their Father’s Kingdom and only as a gift of love.
The Lord “looked upon the rich young ruler and loved him” (Mk.10:21). Therefore, he gave that blessed man a holy wound to the heart which opened the door to deeper repentance and soul-saving self-knowledge. He invited him to leave his attachment to the solitary confinement of the “me” of his own making, and come and be in continuous relationship with Him.
This was an answer to the prayer hidden in his heart; an invitation to inherit eternal life through relationship with Christ. Discipleship of this kind is possible only to the extent that we are willing to dispossess of all that we accumulate in our place of exile in the temple of self-love. Romanian Elder Arsenie Papacioc recognizes the value of this when he says, “We need a state of continuous presence more than an ascetic state of body.”
The shortest path to salvation is the hardest and most obvious. It does not involve knowing it all or having to do it all or acting like the most pious of all. The shortest path to salvation is to get real about our human situation so that we can remain forever a beginner in the presence of Christ.
Elder Leonid of Optina says if we would be
“simple-hearted like the Apostles and not conceal our human shortcomings or pretend to be especially pious, [and] if we would walk free from hypocrisy, then that is the path. While it is easy, not everyone can find it or understand it. This path is the shortest way to salvation and attracts the grace of God. Unpretentiousness, guilelessness, frankness of soul – this is what is pleasing to the Lord, who is lowly of heart. Except ye become like little children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of God (Mt. 18:2). “
icon is from Sanders, K. “A New Icon Composition: Christ and the Rich Younger Ruler” Orthodox Arts Journal, Oct. 9, 2015