Who Can Close Paradise if the Lord Opens It?

Photo: Feasting with the Three Patriarchs in Paradise, Nevyanskaya, c. 1830s. Photo: iconreader.files.wordpress.com Photo: Feasting with the Three Patriarchs in Paradise, Nevyanskaya, c. 1830s. Photo: iconreader.files.wordpress.com     

By the grace of God, brethren, we are already standing beyond the final limit of the Holy Forty Days. As before the ancient Israelites who wandered for forty years in the wilderness, the spiritual Canaan is now before us—the sufferings, death, and Resurrection of our Lord. What hasn’t the holy Church done to prepare us to worthily enter into this land of promise? It has thundered a curse against rebellious sons, it has fed the obedient with the manna of various prayers and hymns and the very Body and Blood of Christ, it has sweetened the bitter waters of repentance by the tree of the Cross for those who were dragging along the way, and in these last days, it has opened wide the book of the New Testament before all, showing us all the acts of our Lord.

After such a long and varied fertilization of the land and sowing, there must be a rich harvest. So, where are Joshua and Caleb now—those who undertook the good labor of fasting? May they cease their forty-day journey, pass through the Jordan as on dry land, and go directly to the Upper Room, where the immortal table is being prepared! There their gallant feet will be washed of the finest dust of earthly thoughts; there they will hear the last testament of the Lord going to His suffering, and they will receive the peace and promise of the Spirit; from there they will follow Him, without our guidance, to Gethsemane and Golgotha, to suffer with Him and be co-crucified with Him in spirit.

But what is to be done, brethren, for those of us who, during the spiritual journey through the desert of Lent, ceased not to turn our hearts and faces to Egypt, murmured at the bitter waters of repentance, and while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Law, perhaps worshiped the golden calf at the foot of the mountain? (Ex. 32:1-6). Ah, but the Jordan will not open before such people, the walls of Jericho will not fall, the sun will not stand still upon Gibeon (Jos. 10:12). Such do not have a place at the tomb of the Savior, but at the graves of the people that lusted (Num. 11:34).

But what do I see? At the right hand of the Lord hangs a thief. What do I hear? The Lord tells him: Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise (Lk. 23:43). Who can close Paradise if the Lord opens it? Thus, brethren, whoever you are, no matter how great your sins may seem, may you all come to Calvary: The crucified Lord is calling you. Despite our uncleanness, He doesn’t want to exclude anyone from His blessed covenant. He wants us all to partake of the Heavenly Kingdom, acquired by His merits. Leave all your dark deeds, brethren, and hasten to our Savior while He is still on Earth, lest He give up His spirit to His Father without you. Leave, I say, your dark deeds—Do you dare appear before the Lord with them? To show them at His Cross?

Ah, you have disturbed His life enough with your iniquities: Must His final minutes also be disturbed? No, brethren, no matter how persistent your heart is in sin, don’t allow it such insensibility, such disregard for its Savior. Through repentance, lay down the burden of your sins at the foot of Golgotha, and you will appear before the Crucified One, if not with the humility of good deeds, then at least not with the stench of iniquity; you will appear in order to fall at His feet in tears, to bring confession of your sins, to ask that your treachery be forgotten and to entreat a blessing for the correction of your life, for the victory over your evil habits, the struggle with which will henceforth be your main work in life. Without this, it’s better not to appear at the grave of your Savior; it’s better not to kiss His wounds.

Make haste, brethren, to purify yourselves by repentance; make haste to thereby renew your union with God and Christ which your sins have abolished. There is no time more favorable than this, and there cannot be. Gazing steadily upon the sufferings of the Lord, the soul itself will ask for the cross, the heart itself will prostrate at the foot of it. Don’t suppress this holy feeling, brethren; follow your Savior with all your thoughts. He will grow weary under the weight of the Cross; lift it together with Simon of Cyrene, lift it with faith, and go to Golgotha, with firm determination to begin the crucifixion of your flesh with its passions and lusts. The Lord will be stripped of His clothes, and you will hasten to put them on, to cover your sinful nakedness with His righteousness and merits. The spear will draw water and blood from His side, and you will stand at the cross with mouth agape to catch at least a drop of life that it may extinguish the hellfire that consumes you.

I repeat again: The coming days are the most favorable for the repentance of sinners, for they are the days of the salvation of the whole world, a witness to which is the Wise Thief. Amen.

See also: Confession, Hatred, and Aversion to Your Sins: A Word for Those Preparing to Commune of the Holy Mysteries

St. Innocent of Kherson
Translation by Jesse Dominick



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