Yesterday marks two years since the repose of Russia’s great elder, Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov). In his memory we have translated one of his sermons on a very essential aspect of his own life—a life of reading the Gospel and living according to it.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Dear brothers and sisters! From the time that the Divine Sufferer, our Lord Jesus Christ, spilled His divine and priceless blood on Golgotha for the salvation of the whole world, the foundation of the Christian faith was placed on the earth. The teaching of Jesus Christ, known to us from the Gospel, began to quickly spread throughout the world. And the people who accepted Christ believed in Him as the Son of God, accepted His teaching, and were called Christians. At the present time also many millions of people consider themselves Christians, and that means that they acknowledge the Gospel as the foremost book in the world; as a book which contains the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ about how we must live here on earth in order to be worthy after death, beyond the grave, of eternal, blessed life, as well as have earthly prosperity in this life. But what is amazing and to our great sorrow, very few people actually follow what is written in the Gospel. Most do not even pick up the Gospel and do not test themselves according to the it.
Have you picked up the Holy Gospel with the goal of testing whether you are walking the path that is shown to us by our Lord Jesus Christ? If you do not do this, then you are making a fatal mistake that is perilous for you. By this you show that you do not value the Divine Blood that the Lord spilled for you on the Cross, and denigrate the Gospel He gave us, which is the way, the truth, and the life for the world as a whole and for each person in particular. Just as there is not a single name under Heaven given to us that could save us besides the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:12), so there is no other teaching in the whole world that can show us the direct path to the acquisition of blessedness and earthly well being other than the Gospel teaching.
We amazingly, frivolously and at times even criminally relate to the order of our own lives. After all, no builder begins the construction of a building before making the necessary calculations and estimates, and carrying out other preparations. No bricklayer will place a row of bricks if he has not first measured them. But left and right we build our lives without thinking in the least about what matters and has meaning for us. We have no measuring stick to evaluate the proper course of our lives. That is why the construction of our lives very often crumbles and gravely injures us beneath its ruins. And this will happen; we will not be able to escape these breakups and crushing because we neglected the only true and correct path shown to us by the Lord in His Gospel teaching.
A day does not pass by when we do not look at ourselves in the mirror, even several times in a day do we check whether our clothing is clean or our faces are not dirty. Nevertheless, we can go for years, even our whole lives without checking the cleanliness and purity of our moral countenance, placing before ourselves like a mirror the perfect image of Christ the Savior that is marked for us in the Gospel. If we respect or honor a writer or thinker, we will surely try to know the content of his works; we will take an interest and learn it. His books become, as they say, desktop reference books for us. So why then do we Christians, who are called to love goodness, truth, justice, and brotherly love, disdain Jesus Christ and His teachings? After all, Jesus Christ lived and suffered out of love for the human race. Why do we disdain Him? Why don’t we have even the ordinary curiosity to read the teachings of the Holy Gospel? Why does reading the Gospel seem to have been relegated to sidelines? We want to know the truth, we seek the truth, but we will never find it because we disdain the source of truth—the Holy Gospel.
If we want to look at the sun we have to direct our gaze to the sky. If we want to know the path of our lives we have to turn to Christ. Nowhere else will we find such a clear, complete answer to all the questions of our spirit but in the Gospel, in the teaching of the One Who said: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14:6). The Savior says in the Gospel to the whole human race: You people are languishing under the weight of falsehood and lawlessness—the life that you have chosen for yourselves cannot give you happiness. Evil gives birth only to evil, and truth and happiness—the highest blessing—are born exclusively through love and goodness. If you want to obtain this, if you are burdened by the evil that exists in the world, then come to Me, learn from Me. My words will pour a healing balm on your tormented, sick souls. I will show you the way and give peace to your souls. Give yourselves over completely to My teaching and walk the path that I have placed before you. And you will see that My yoke is truly easy and My burden is light. After a long, dark night, a bright and gentle day has dawned from My coming into the world. The Kingdom of God is nigh. It is right next to you, near you, it only needs to penetrate and take over your hearts—the source of all mental and moral activity, the beginning of human life. Clear a space in your hearts for God. Give way in your lives to goodness and truth, and free yourselves from the lie that oppresses you, from violence and crude vanity (cf. Matt. 11:28–30).
If we truly want to relate seriously to the question of how we should live, then we simply cannot pass over the Gospel. For only in it can we find the answer to the question of the meaning of life. Christianity shocked the Judeo-pagan world with the novelty of its moral teaching. The novelty consists in the fact that Christianity shows the only way to obtain salvation—a righteous life as the necessary condition. But this righteous life depends upon faith in our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, belief in His redemptive service, which the Lord carried out by His suffering on the Cross, and His light-bearing Resurrection. Without this no human righteousness can give us salvation. There were also righteous ones in the Old Testament, before the coming of Christ. They also sought salvation, strove for salvation and did good works. But they did not receive salvation. Salvation came only with the coming of Christ the Savior to the world. Without the sufferings on the Cross there could not have been any remission of sins for people. Only after the sufferings on the Cross, only after the glorious Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord to Heaven, only from that moment were people granted eternal life, and were delivered from the danger of eternal death.
Therefore if we wish ourselves good, if we seek salvation for ourselves, then first of all we need to be true followers of Christ. And for this we need to fulfill His commandments. And in order to fulfill His commandments we have to know Christ’s teaching; that is, the Gospel teaching, and be faithful, constant, and worthy disciples of Christ. We have to have a constant thirst to seek divine truth. If we will constantly and persistently strive toward Christ, seek justification with Him, and do His will—this is what will number us among His disciples, His chosen. Becoming a disciple of Christ means taking on a great responsibility and seriously, scrupulously relating to your entire life and your every deed. The Kingdom of Heaven, says the Lord, suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12). Do you see that without effort, without labor it is impossible to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? An inner struggle is needed, a struggle with every bad attraction, inclination, and passion. Because if we are not vigilant over ourselves we can easily have an accident. You yourselves know that when a large building is built, every brick is accounted for, so that it will be properly placed. If it is not properly placed, it can serve as the cause for the destruction of the whole building.
That is how it is in the life of a Christian. If a person does not practice sobriety and vigilance and so places in the edifice of his soul some incorrectly formed brick, some bad deed, then this can become the cause of his crumbling, his destruction. After all, we know from life experience that if a tiny drop of swamp filth falls into a stream of pure water, it may not be detectable by the eye, but having dissolved into the water it spoils it and makes it the source of various illnesses. This is a law in the physical world and the spiritual world as well. No matter how small the dose, poison is still poison. It is the same with evil. No matter what amount of evil there may be, it still remains evil and causes great harm to the soul. Therefore I will repeat, that we have to be attentive and relate seriously to the paths of our lives, especially to the building of our soul’s salvation. Without this inner concentration, without this inner struggle there can be no fruits, no success in our spiritual life.
We are talking about the meaning of the Gospel, about its importance. And now we can look at how beneficially the Gospel influences the human soul. Let us take our ancestors, for example. Our country was called, “Holy Rus’” Why? Because our ancestors were raised and taught on—what? On the Psalter and the Gospel teachings. Therefore did piety flourish. People were pious. How many people left the world to join monasteries! There were floods of those desiring to labor in asceticism, to serve in the monastic rank. There were over 1500 monasteries in Russia. And they weren’t enough—there were so many people who wanted monasticism that the monasteries couldn’t take them all. And now? Now the monasteries are being reborn and restored, but there aren’t enough people to fill them. This is the result, that if then people were raised in pious teaching and therefore had a yearning for piety, now people are “raised” by the television—and just look at the fruits! We honor our instructors, we honor St. Sergius [of Radonezh]. They also drew their piety from Christ’s teaching. It is told of St. Seraphim [of Sarov] that he always had the Gospel with him. He always carried it in on his chest behind the folds of his robes, or in his satchel on his back. And in his instructions St. Seraphim especially points to the importance of reading the Gospel. He says, “You need to know the Gospel so well that your mind as if swims in it.”
My friends, if we want to be saved and inherit eternal life, we have no other path than the path of the Gospel commandments, the path of attentiveness to ourselves, the strict trial of ourselves before God. In this world there are many things and teachings that people cling to and follow, but the truth is only in the Gospel, for only the Gospel is the teaching of the Lord Himself, His word. And the Lord will judge us according to the Gospel on the Day of His Dread Judgment; our eternal lot will depend upon whether we fulfilled what is written in it or neglected it. The Lord Himself said, He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him (Jn. 14:21). Let us love the Lord, brothers and sisters, let us fulfill His commandments. And knowing this, let us make the Gospel the most important book in our lives; let us never part with it, but always learn from it, remembering that it is the Word of God, the will of God, the fulfillment of which is eternal life. And not fulfilling it is death. Amen.