Our most precious faith provides us with the means to re-orient our thoughts and disposition to God so that we can strive towards salvation. We cannot save ourselves and it is only through the cooperation of our Lord with our will that this is possible. Salvation requires action on our part. Unless we make movement in our hearts and minds, we will see no benefit, as the saying goes “If nothing changes, nothing is going to change”. And so it is in our spiritual life, if we do not change our mindset, if we do not change our self-absorbed attitude, then how can we expect to become god-like? How can we expect to be saved?
The Church provides many tools for us, prayer, vigils, fasting, the teaching of the Fathers, the reading of Scripture. These things are incredibly beneficial and helpful for us but only if we have acquired the correct mindset. What is this mindset?
Abba Moses said:] ‘Fasts and vigils, the study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything wordly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty, and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow man. Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.’
—St. John Cassian, On the Holy Fathers of Sketis.
How we can seek after salvation without a true and total love of God? How can we seek after salvation through the love of God if we do not love our neighbor? How can we love God if our thoughts do not cling to Him? Claiming to love God while persecuting our neighbor is a lie and self-delusion, causing the greatest spiritual harm. We say that we love God but yet we do not follow His commandments. When we love the vanities and comforts of this life, we have set up a new idol to worship. Some might ask, how is it possible, being a parent and working hard in this life to provide for a family, is it possible to renounce possessions and all worldly things?
We must learn to lay aside all Earthly care. When we show and act with love toward our spouse and children we act in a God-fearing manner. When we build a church in our home, not literally but metaphorically, in which we pray together, chant the festal hymns together, and give thanks to God together, this is building the church in our homes. This is renouncing possession of the poisonous thoughts spewed forth by the world.
When we talk with our children about seeking first the Kingdom of God, they will ask, why then do we fast if, as Abba Moses says, there are not “required” for our salvation? Why then do we stand for hours during vigils and services? Why do we say NO to all the fun things and delights of this world? We look to the Saints once more for guidance. In the monumental work, A wonderful Revelation to the World, of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, we read:
Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in 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, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. But mark, my son, only the good deed 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. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: He who gathers not with Me scatters (Luke 11:23).
Like a farmer knows to trim back the branches to fertilize to train the crop to bring forth fruit, so must we so in a spiritual manner. The ongoing effort of fasting, praying, vigils, almsgiving, prostrations, sighings from the depths of our heart, this is the training. This is the way we lay aside all earthly care. This is the self-less-ness needed if we are to worship God with our hearts, minds, and souls.
So, how then do we acquire the Holy Spirit? Do we purchase it with our acts and good deeds? Do our merits earn us a place in heaven? Is this all that is needed? What does Saint Seraphim mean here when he says the fasting, prayers, and so on, are a means of acquiring the Holy Spirit?
In acquiring this Spirit of God consists the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer, vigil, fasting, almsgiving and other good works  done for Christ’s sake are merely means for acquiring the Spirit of God.
Saint Seraphim teaches us further that the acquisition of the Holy Spirit means that we have God dwelling in our hearts, the Kingdom of God is within us! Through these works, we receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, patience, kindness, long-suffering, and so on. The action on our part is shallow, it is empty unless our will, our disposition is oriented toward God. But only so long as they are done for Christ’s sake – that is in correct belief. Else an agnostic or atheist could be a wonderful person, yet their good works are shallow for they are not done for Christ’s sake, they are not done with the express desire to be made holy as our Lord directs. Though the acts are charitable, they are selfish, serving their own satisfaction.
…only the good deed 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.
So we see, beloved in Christ, acquiring salvation means more than a simple confession but a life time of effort, of reaffirmation of our confession through our very deeds, words, thoughts – we must reorient ourselves towards God in totality, holding nothing back. When we profess to love our God, with all of our heart, mind, and soul, there can be nothing that is lacking. In this manner we will fulfill the commandment of the Lord:
Then one of them, [which was] a lawyer, asked
[him a question, ]tempting him, and saying, Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments
hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:36-40.