Fitting Into Heaven -- Our Time On Earth

What Must We Do To Fit Into Heaven? order to "fit into heaven," our whole being -- body, soul and spirit -- must be prepared during this life.  For we learn from many writings of the holy fathers that the key to the difference between God and man and between life and death as we know it is change

"Every rational creature suffers changes without number, and every man is different from hour to hour" (St. Isaac of Syria.  Directions on Spiritual Training, Text 78.  Philokalia Vol. 1).

"There is nothing of itself enduring, nothing unchangeable, nothing good but Deity alone, while every creature to obtain the blessing of eternity and immutability, aims at this not by its own nature, but by participation of its Creator, and His grace"  (St John Cassian.  Third Conference of Abbot Theonas.  Chap. III).

"We are changeable, and we are changed for the better by becoming partakers of the Word:  the Word is changeless, and suffered no change for the worse when He became partaker of flesh, by means of a rational soul" (St. Augustine of Hippo.  Letters 140.12).

We Must Grow and Change While On Earth

The hereinafter provides no more opportunities for change.  So this leaves our life on earth as the only time during which change is possible.  St. Paul says 'Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation' (I Cor. 6:12).  Of this passage St. John Chrysostom says:

"Let us therefore strive for the mastery in the time of this gift.  It is the day of grace, of grace divine, wherefore with ease even we will obtain the crown [of heaven]" (Homily XII of II Cor. 6)

"If you approach now, you will receive both grace and mercy, for you approach 'in due season,' but if you approach then, i.e., at the Day of Judgment, no longer will you receive it... Even now it is hard for those to find repentance who sin after baptism of grace... Now is the time of the gift; let no man despair of himself.  Then will be the time of despairing, when the bride chamber is shut... For still are the spectators assembled; still is the contest; still is the prize in suspense."  (Ibid, Homily VII on Hebrews IV).

So how do we use this 'accepted time' to benefit us for all eternity?  The Church, in her wisdom, has made available to us the sacraments for this purpose:  Baptism, Confession, Communion, and Holy Unction.  But none of these can help us in the depth of our being or effect the necessary essential change in us without our own contributing effort and without that crowning virtue:  humility.  A baptism casually buried in the mire of subsequent sin, a perfunctory confession, communion taken without fervent belief in its power of healing -- all these are useless to us.  Indeed they are a mockery and a sacrilege.

The change that must take place in us must be in the heart, 'with much groaning and weeping' (Cf. Rom. 8:23).  It must be real.  For only the real and the pure can enter heaven.

A Hardened Heart Is A Terrible Thing

The Bible speaks in many places of hardened hearts.  A hardened heart is a terrible thing, for it cannot change.  It cannot make use of the 'accepted time.'  Our Lord would rather see an abject sinner like Mary Magdalene who prostrated herself at His feet and washed them with her tears of repentance, than see a proud man who never admits a fault.  When an artist models clay, it is pliable; it can be shaped and made into an object of beauty.  But once it is baked, it sets and change is no longer possible.  A soul with humility is always pliable and it will surely see the Kingdom.

The Purpose Of Our Time On Earth

This ultimately, is the purpose of time:  to enable us to evolve, to purify ourselves through change like a sword honed in a refiner's fire, to make us fit for the life to come.  Isaiah says "Children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth" (Isa. 37:3).  In the spiritual reflections of Father Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor.  The Communion of Love), he says:

"Such also is the state of the sinner when he stands at the gate of repentance, agonizing in the hope of salvation and renewal of life.  Yet when he looks back a the past he has defiled he weeps, and when he aspires to the future he desires he faints, for the finds that feebleness has pervaded his entire being, and that he is no longer able to pull himself out of the mire, encompassed as he is by weakness.  It is as if sin were the illness of withering that infects a plant, not leaving it till the gloom of death surrounds it from every side.  This is exactly the nature of sin, which is cast into the entire being of a man to expel the spirit of life."

 "Wherefore I entreat and beseech, and lay hold of your very knees, that whilst we have this scant viaticum of life... that you would become better men; that we may not, like that rich man, lament to no purpose in that world after our departure, and continue thenceforth in incurable wailings.  For though you should have father or son or friend or any soever who has confidence towards God, none of these will ever deliver you, your own works having destroyed you," says St. John Chrysostom (Homily XLII on I Corinthians 15).

"First my mind must become detached from anything subject to flux and change and tranquilly rest in motionless repose, so as to be rendered akin to Him who is perfectly unchangeable; and then it may address Him by this most familiar name and say:  Father... The unjust and impure cannot say Father to the just and pure" says St. Gregory of Nyssa. (The Lord's Prayer).

"What is the profit of this present life, when we do not use it for our future gain?"  St. John Chrysostom (Homily XC on Matthew 28).

From The Bible And The Holy Fathers For Orthodox, Monastery Books, Menlo Park, California, 1990