The Aim of the Christian Life, Part I
I must admit, that from the age of twelve this thought had constantly troubled me. In fact, I had approached many clergy about it, however their answers had not satisfied me. This could not have been known to the elder.
“But no one,” continued St. Seraphim, “has given you a precise answer. They have said to you: ‘Go to church, pray to God, do the commandments of God, do good—that is the aim of the Christian life.’ Some were even indignant with you for being occupied with such profane curiosity and said to you, ‘Do not seek things which are beyond you.’ But they did not speak as they should. Now humble Seraphim will explain to you of what this aim really consists.
“However prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices may be, they do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: ‘He who does not gather with Me scatters’ (Luke 11:23). Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good. The Scriptures say: ‘In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him’ (Acts 10:35).
“As we see from another sacred narrative, the man who does what is right is pleasing to God. We see the Angel of the Lord appeared at the hour of prayer to Cornelius, the God-fearing and righteous centurion, and said: ‘Send to Joppa to Simon the Tanner; there you will find Peter and he will tell you the words of eternal life, whereby you will be saved and all your house.’ Thus the Lord uses all His divine means to give such a man, in return for his good works, the opportunity not to lose his reward in the future life. But to this end, we must begin with a right faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came into the world to save sinners and Who, through our acquiring for ourselves the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God and opens the way for us to win the blessings of the future life. But the acceptability to God of good deeds not done for Christ’s sake is limited to this: the Creator gives the means to make them living (cf. Hebrews. 6:1). It rests with man to make them living or not. That is why the Lord said to the Jews: ‘If you had been blind, you would have had no sin. But now you say ‘We see,’ so your sin remains’ (John 9:41). If a man like Cornelius enjoys the favor of God for his deeds, though not done for Christ’s sake, and then believes in His Son, such deeds will be imputed to him as done for Christ’s sake. But in the opposite event a man has no right to complain, when the good he has done is useless. It never is, when it is done for Christ’s sake, since good done for Him not only merits a crown of righteousness in the world to come, but also in this present life fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, it is said: ‘God does not give the Spirit by measure’ (John 3:34-35).
“That is it, your Godliness. Acquiring the Spirit of God is the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer, fasting, almsgiving and other good works done for Christ’s sake are merely means for acquiring the Spirit of God.”
“What do you mean by acquiring?” I asked St. Seraphim. “Somehow I don’t understand that.”