Where to seek the Kingdom of Heaven, what is it and how can you be late there? Not every person, even a church person, can answer these questions from the point of view of the Church. We addressed them to Archpriest Pavel Velikanov.
If you carefully read the gospel and ponder all the words of Christ about the Kingdom of God, it becomes obvious: it was this teaching that became fatal for His earthly life. The Jews longed for the Kingdom, raved about the King - but not the way Christ was. And the Savior was ready for this: unlike many false prophets and false messiahs, He was not at all worried about the external effect of His preaching. He knew what he was doing. And he understood perfectly well what price was to words and what to do. Suffice it to recall how after the words about the necessity of eating His Body and drinking His Blood as an indispensable condition of life with God, many turn away from Him and leave. And now, rather than, as they would say today, to "change tactics" and "make adjustments" for greater effectiveness of preaching - Christ turns to His closest disciples: "Would you also like to leave?" ...
The doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven is the key to the whole gospel narrative. From the point of view of the Jews, all this is nothing more than an abstraction that has nothing to do with the realities of life. Therefore, He who so boldly dares to affirm His God-Sonship - and thereby turn this "incomprehensible fiction" into the Divine Revelation - must be killed, and killed shamefully, for edification to all others, so that no one should try to destroy what - as they thought Old Testament Jews - for centuries preserved the authenticity and integrity of the Jewish people. Who else but the Jews, perfectly understood and remembered what the Kingdom is? Saul, David, Solomon - they were all inscribed in the history of the Jewish people not only as saints and prophets, but also as builders of that same kingdom, on the ruins of which now this newly-born Prophet goes and tells strange things about the Heavenly or God's Kingdom!
The Christ inquisitors - the Jews - are very specific people in their attitude to everything that concerns their important areas of life. The rich experience of survival in a hostile environment taught them exceptional pragmatism, and the complex provisions of the Moiseye Law filigreed from generation to generation this ability for a quick rational response.
And when you read how they listen to the words of Christ about the Kingdom, there is a feeling that in the air this unceasing aggressive background of questions is ringing: "And where is this Kingdom, show it to us! When will this Kingdom come? And with what it can be compared, how to touch, touch, see? Is it all a bluff? ... "
And the answer - was before their eyes, walked, talked, healed the sick ... Only then, after the Resurrection, the Apostle John will remember with a deep sense of sincere amazement - how He, the Word of Life, the Son of God, they could see with their eyes, eat, drink with Him. It is difficult to fit into consciousness even His closest disciples - who saw Him Risen. What, then, to talk about those who looked at this wandering preacher like that, at the corner of their eye, casually - there's a lot going on here ...
When we talk about the Kingdom of Heaven, we are immediately bewildered by its "heavenliness", which we subconsciously perceive as something not entirely real, exclusively spiritual or at least unearthly or afterlife.
However, in the evangelical texts "Heaven" is synonymous with the name of God, and, accordingly, "Kingdom of Heaven" is nothing but His, God, rule on the Earth - and only. But this is such a living and real presence of God in human life, that it turns out to be the very pearl for which everything else is easily sold and forgotten.
The Kingdom of Heaven is infinitely far from the state of "spiritual comfort" or "pocket God in the soul", which our contemporaries like to justify their practical atheism. Here God comes to man just like the King, Lord - and this revelation can not be confused or imitated. The king does not exist without his subjects: in the same way, the Kingdom of Heaven appears only where the meeting of man and God occurs - a meeting, the result of which for this person becomes a new life.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not food and drink, not power and might, not contentment and wealth. All this is a horizontal plane: and at any point in this space a new reality can appear - a vertical that is built only between God and man.
The Kingdom of God is already here, among you, says Christ to His disciples: they look around in amazement, looking around, not realizing that we only need to see ourselves near Christ. There is nothing to look for this Kingdom in time or in space - it is always close.
But Christ is meek and long-suffering, He does not break into the soul like the Powerful Master, but stands at the door and only modestly taps in the hope that those who are outside the door, inside, will hear and themselves will want to start up. Hence, there is an abundance in His speech of images and comparisons helping to understand His doctrine of the Kingdom. And at the same time - a constant accent: "Yes, I am the King, but not of the Kingdom, of which you all so dream. My Kingdom is different. It is there, where it is not power-loving and proud, but meek and modest; where there is no splendor and religious hypocrisy, and childlike simplicity and sincerity; where God is not a mental fiction, but the living, really present in the life of the Lord! "As far as these words were difficult for hearing, it is not difficult to imagine: it's enough to look around - who is to blame for our troubles today? Powerful? Thieves and bribe-takers? But what's the difference - anyway the glance slides along the path that has been rolled by the centuries, and long before Christ this way was already beaten. To paraphrase Christ's words about the Kingdom of God, one could say this: no matter what kind of holy, sinless and full of virtues the ruler may lay, the essence of our problems will not solve it: our main enemy is not somewhere outside, he is inside; more precisely - we are ourselves enemies number one.
The kingdom of God - the Kingdom of Heaven - comes already when a person finds his King and Lord: and for Christians this entry into the Kingdom is directly related to the birth of water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism.
When a baptized priest asks: "Do you believe in Him?" - the one preparing to be born in the New Kingdom answers: "I believe, as a King and God!"
Therefore, Baptism is not just a "purifying" ritual, but a highly responsible moment: when we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, plunging into His death and rising with His Resurrection from the waters of the font, He utters an oath of loyalty to His King and God. Henceforth, man is no longer alone: he is in the service, he is "in deed", he does not belong to his desires and lusts, but he works for his King and God, thereby manifesting His Kingdom in this world. But not only this is prayed every day by a Christian, when he asks in the Lord's Prayer "Thy Kingdom come": his prayer is not only for more and more of these points of the living and effective presence of God in the world through His faithful subjects.
Our hope and expectation is to see the moment when the celestial arch is curled, the stars will disappear, the dead will rise - this long, such an endlessly long cold night of sin will end, and a new Day will open, the Bright Day of Christ's Kingdom.
However, this day should be prepared now. "Whoever did not see Christ here, in this life, he will not see Him there," said St. Petersburg. Varsonofi of Optina.
My kingdom is not of this world, "says Christ. And His followers, Christians, on the one hand, have no other world for life than this, which by default is hostile to Christ. But on the other hand, the Kingdom by which they live, the Christ Kingdom is not of this world. This inner tension - from the inevitability of life in this world and the impossibility of living according to it, worldly laws - in real life is very productive: this is how asceticism is born, the science of strategy and tactics in the spiritual war against sin and passions. In this deep inner tension, the Christian ripens. Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven "gets tired", takes with effort, it "breaks its way" only with the hands of the man himself, with his personal works he conquers new and new territories on enemy land.
The entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven opens with the Sacrament of Baptism, and every time, blessing this Kingdom in the Divine Liturgy, a faithful to Christ passes a serious test for his "professional fitness" to participate in this Kingdom. On the one hand, this unity of the human faces facing Christ form the Church as His Body. On the other hand, it is a mysterious multi-part, and with this, a single body turns out to be specifically for each member of the Church by the court and a witness to its conformity, its co-mood to that Spirit, which quickens this body, the Holy Spirit.
And to get into this Kingdom, you do not need to go somewhere or wait long, when it comes "in power and glory": for it has already come, this Kingdom has walked through our land - and to this day it is walking with the feet of those who He considers him to be his King, living according to the Gospel, performing what He, Christ, expects from His brothers and friends. It is always there: if only the receiver of our soul was tuned to this frequency of the Kingdom of Heaven. And when this happens, the Christian becomes a living witness to the objective existence of this Heavenly Kingdom already here and now. Ivan Ilyin once remarked that it is impossible to hide the light of religiosity - he will still break through and will shine to the world. The entire innumerable congregation of Christian saints is just such fireflies, the lights of God's truth, but their power is not in any of their own exclusivity, but in the fact that they all shone with the same light of Christ's Kingdom-let everyone in their own way. But the source of their light was always one - Christ.
This living presence of Christ not only in the church community, but also in the soul of every Christian for the apostle Paul was so obvious and important criterion that he dared to affirm: Who does not have the Spirit of Christ - he is not His, that is, not Christ! (Rome 8: 9).
Christ Himself is the Kingdom of Heaven, and when He speaks about this Kingdom in parables, images, examples - He always speaks of Himself. Life with Christ, life in Christ, life in Him is not an abstraction at all, but a real reality for a church person.
And not at the level of feelings or sensations: this state of internal "synchronization" with the life of the Body of Christ is much deeper than any psychological experience, it goes into the ontological realm, into the realm of the fundamentals of being. Therefore, what happens in the temple, the Sacraments performed by the hands of the priest - all this resonates not with some external feelings, but with the elements of the earth and heaven: here the angels are not just present, but will serve the priest in fear and trembling. And this invisible spiritual power becomes apparent to the pure in heart and open to the soul of God.
Here, in the temple - His territory, His Kingdom - if only, of course, the temple is filled with faithful Him - and not traitors and deserters. And there is nothing surprising in that one day, having just crossed the threshold of the temple, a man finds himself, until the end of the day, admiring this new reality that has suddenly caught him from all sides - not ours, but the one that is the best, cherished, desired - through which only the living human a heart.
A Christian is not one who lives a dream to go to heaven, but one who lives by Christ. For a believer in Christ, heaven opens and can be closed already in this life. Therefore, for him every day, every minute of this seemingly transient and therefore little meaningful life - in fact, priceless. And the "mechanical" premise is not transformed by the unrefined Divine grace of the soul into the place where the righteous and saints live, the quality of life will not change: one can not escape oneself, and he who carries in his heart the hell of selfishness and passions, will run away with contempt and anger at these "Holy" and "hypocrites."
Without becoming subjects of the Kingdom of God here on earth, there is too little chance of getting into it after death. Seeking Christ, His intimacy, His perceptible presence - and not only in the temple and the sacraments, but also in the daily events of life - is not such a difficult task if you hear His commandments and try to fulfill them. And the commandment is really the same: to be imitators of Christ, to live and be inspired by Him, to do as He did; think, as He thought, to desire what He sought. Strange as it may sound, but today we must speak at the top of our voice, again and again: Christianity is Christocentric, and not "race centric," or, worse, "sinful."
For us, paradise is where Christ is, and not vice versa.
And His Kingdom - whatever you call it - God's or Heaven's - is here, on earth, with us, among us. If only we ourselves - in our hearts, in our thoughts, words and deeds - with Christ.