“And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12).
I would like to focus your prayerful attention on these two verses from the Gospel.
Who are these “children of the kingdom” who shall be cast out into outer darkness? In church parlance, “outer darkness” refers to the state of hell, both before and after passing from this life.
In order for the concept of the children of the kingdom to become clearer to us, I will remind you of the following event in the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. The saint once said about two abbesses, that they were not nuns, but black cinders, and that they would not inherit the heavenly kingdom. Being clairvoyant, he was able to see the state of their souls, their inner make-up, and that these abbesses were unworthy of such a high rank. But St. Seraphim would not have said this to anybody, had it not brought benefit to them.
Thus, due to this live example, we begin to understand the Gospel better: it becomes clear to us that outwardly one may be worthy of respect, but inwardly – because of one’s spiritual make-up – one may be slated for the fiery Gehenna. Did those above-mentioned abbesses appoint themselves as the superiors of monasteries? Of course not! That means that the one who appointed them found them worthy of such a high rank and honor. But that person obviously judged only by appearance!
In the Old Testament the “children of the kingdom” were the Jews, but in the New Testament in which we live, these are children of the kingdom through grace. These are the ones who have received the grace of holy baptism and other holy Christian sacraments. In other words, the children of grace are all of us – Christians.
Virtues alone, without inner spiritual coordination, are not yet everything. For example, is not chastity sacred to us? And yet pure virgins were refused entrance into the heavenly bridal chamber, as we heard in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:12), and instead of the virgins it is the fallen women, who came to repentance as though from the west, who have entered the heavenly kingdom.
Do we not highly esteem those who keep fast or who are abstinent? Even the Pharisee said: “I fast twice a week” (Luke 18:12). However, to them and all those like them the Lord replies through the prophet Isaiah: “Is it such a fast that I have chosen – a day for a man to afflict his soul…? Is not this the fast that I have chosen – to loosen the bands of wickedness… (Isaiah 58:5-6).
Do we not highly esteem those who are outwardly devout and spend their time in prayer? But of such the Lord says through the holy King David: “Let his prayer become sin” (Psalm 109:7).
These are only a few examples of so-called virtue, engaged in by the children of the kingdom, that does not lead to salvation. According to the word of God, such “children of the kingdom shall be cast out…” It would not be surprising if people were cast out for murder, fornication, deceit, thievery, and other major sins, yet in this case they are being cast out for a supposedly virtuous life.
Why is that?
Only because they have engaged in virtue either hypocritically, or vainly and pridefully. Therefore, they shall be cast out either for hypocrisy or for vainglory.
Dear brethren! Do not rely on appearances, do not judge only on the basis of what you see or hear! And do not think in regard to yourself that if everything is outwardly going well for you, then the matter of your salvation, i.e. your spiritual life, is in good order. Beware of receiving the title of “children of the kingdom” only for outward things! Outward rectitude and the outward orderliness of our lives according to God’s commandments and church canons must be accompanied by inner disposition.
In order to make the words of the Gospel relevant to our lives, look carefully at those around you, and you will see many examples of tender Christian souls concealed behind obscure exteriors. I saw many such examples during the second World War, and such examples abound even now.
Thus, let us not judge either ourselves or others by appearances. Let us remember that salvation begins already here on earth, and that those who aspire to it do not fear any earthly misfortunes, for nothing can shake their spiritual peace when God is with them. Amen.
Protopriest Igor Hrebinka