Within Scripture, the cornerstone of our Holy Tradition, as well as in other modes that God has revealed Himself and His will for us, the faithful are repeatedly reminded of the reality that we are in the world, but not of the world. Even so, we are empowered by God to choose our homeland, either the kingdom of this world, or the Kingdom of Heaven. For as Bishop Nikolai of blessed memory explains: “Man is presented with a choice in this life: the kingdom of this world or the Kingdom of Heaven. God puts no pressure on this choice, but each man chooses freely.”
For Father Paisios of blessed memory, the choice is simple. We ought to wisely choose to desire spiritual joy, hence, the Kingdom of Heaven. He explains to an inquirer:
Satisfying the worldly desires of the heart does not bring us spiritual joy; it only brings anxiety. Worldly joy brings anxiety to spiritual people. Worldly joy is not a permanent, true joy; it is a temporary joy, a joy of the moment. It is material and not spiritual. But material delights cannot “fill” the human soul. In fact, they fill it with trash. When we experience spiritual joy, we will no longer desire the pleasures of material things. When I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy glory. Worldly joy does not comfort the spiritual person. It only gives him fatigue. If you place a spiritual person in a worldly home he will not be comfortable. Even a secular person does not really find rest there; he only thinks he does. In fact, he only feels an external, superficial enjoyment. In reality, in his heart, he is not pleased; he suffers.
In a similar voice, but instead to the people of Serbia, the Elder Thaddeus taught that we must choose to serve God rather than be smitten with the enticements of this world. “We are too engrossed in things of this world and thus become spiritually impoverished, because one cannot sit on two chairs. One cannot drink both from the Cup of the Savior and from the cup of adversary. We must decide whom we will serve: God or the things of this world. One cannot serve God and mammon.”
“True Christians…” according to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk choose to serve God, so much so, that they:
live in this world as travelers, pilgrims, and sojourners, and they look ever toward the heavenly homeland with faith and with the eyes of the soul, and they strive to reach it. You should also be a pilgrim and sojourner in this world and constantly look toward that homeland and strive to obtain it, and so the world with its enticements and lusts will become abhorrent to you. Whoever seeks eternal blessedness and desires it and strives to reach it will despise everything temporal, lest while seeking the temporal he be deprived of the eternal.
Bishop Nikolai likewise taught: “While you are on earth, regard yourself as a guest of the Host, that is, of Christ. A good host merits a good guest. All the saints knew this truth and so ordered their lives. Therefore the immortal Host rewarded them with eternal life.”
How does this affect our time in the world? Saint Seraphim of Sarov answers this question by referencing St. Antioch:
If says the same teacher, we live in an alien city and our city is far from this city, and if we know our city: then why do we tarry in an alien city and prepare for ourselves a field and a dwelling in it? And how shall we sing a song to the Lord in an alien land? This world is the dominion of another, i.e., the prince of this world.
If, as he says, this world is in the dominion of another, then we must be weary as to being overly attached to any worldly so as to remain committed to and in communion with Christ. St. John of Kronstadt:
Remember that by every sin, by every attachment to anything worldly, by every displeasure and animosity towards your neighbor, by anything carnal, you offend the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of peace and love, the Spirit who draws us from things earthly to things heavenly, from the visible to the invisible, from the corruptible to the incorruptible, from the temporal to the eternal, from sin to holiness, from vice to virtue.
The Elder Paisios further explains:
In the spiritual life, we are related in the flesh to Adam and in the spirit to Christ. Those who live spiritually experience this spiritual kinship. They think the same way and have the same aims and goals… When someone ceases to live spiritually, he ceases to have a relationship with the other who continues to live spiritually. This separation is self-imposed; he is not distanced by the other. The more someone lives according to God, the more closely he can approach Him; and the more he distances himself from a godly life, the more he is isolated from Him.
Choosing to commit ourselves to Christ and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, I close with a practical counsel of St. John of Kronstadt:
If you read worldly magazines and newspapers, and derive some profit from them, as a citizen, as a Christian, a member of a family, then you ought still more and still oftener to read the Gospel, and the writings of the fathers; for it would be sinful in a Christian who reads worldly writings not to read divinely inspired ones. If you follow the events of the outer world, do not lose sight of your inner world, your own soul: it is nearer and dearer to you. To read only worldly magazines and newspapers means to live only with one side of the soul, and not with the whole soul, or to live only by the flesh, and not by the spirit. Everything worldly will come to an end in the world itself. And the world passeth away, but he that does the will of God abides forever.