Fr. Tom Hopko:
…So then, you have what I consider personally to be the most terrifying paragraph in the New Testament. These are the most scary and terrifying verses in the New Testament. This is what Jesus says, and this is how the Sermon ends. He says:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father, who is in Heaven. On that day many will come, and they will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not cast out demons in your name? Did we not do many mighty works in your name?”
Three times, it says, “In your name.” And within the name, one is “prophecy,” which means to teach the truth of God. One is “casting out demons,” which means to heal the diseases and madness of the world. And the other is “mighty acts,” or miracles. And just for fun, let’s add, “Did we not serve the Divine Liturgy in your name? Didn’t we go to church in your name? Didn’t we organize the conference in your name? Didn’t we go to Guatemala in your name?”
Jesus continues, “And then I will declare to them, I never knew you. Depart from me you evildoers.” Could you imagine that? You say to the Lord, “I prophesied in your name. I did miracles in your name. I did healings in your name. I did all these things in your name my whole life. I walked around in a dress, with a cross on it, in your name.” And He says, “Depart from me you evildoer. I did not know you.”
What does that mean? What it means is that you can do all these things and even do them in the name of Christ, but you did not do them according to the law of God, which is love and mercy and forgiveness without vanity or conceit.
Now He adds, “…only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven,” and here, all the Holy Fathers will unanimously say that ascetical actions in themselves are not necessarily the will of God in Heaven. Miracles and prophecy and teaching and casting out demons are not necessarily the will of God in Heaven. Don’t ever think just because someone works signs and wonders means they’re the real deal. The real deal miracle worker is only the one who loves enemies, is humble and doesn’t feed on attention. Miracles and mystical flights and ascetical feats can cover up brilliantly the fact that we’re totally full of ourselves. As Fr. Schmemann liked to say, all too often mysticism becomes nothing but mist, I, and schism.
Jesus is very clear in the Sermon on the Mount: loving, forgiving, being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for justice, being merciful and pure in heart, peacemaking, being persecuted for doing right and not for being arrogant; and doing all I do, as much as possible, hidden in secret — that is the will of God in Heaven. And that alone saves a person.
So the Holy Fathers say that no one was ever saved for not eating meat. The devils never eat. No one was ever saved for sleeping on the ground or giving up sleep. The demons never sleep. And no one was ever saved by doing a miracle or giving a talk. You’re only saved when you do the will of God, which is to love with the love with which God has loved us in Christ. St. Thérèse, a Roman Catholic saint, said it perfectly: “It is only love that makes us acceptable to God.” So it’s love, and it’s also humility. Real humility. Humility ready to confess our total failure to love this way. Only then we can receive the mercy of God. So we’re saved by love and by humility. Real humility that’s brutally honest before God, before others and ourselves. God’s mercy can only teach us to love if we’re humble, able to be absolutely honest like the Publican in the synagogue: “Have mercy on me a sinner!”
Dostoevsky really got this kind of humilty and mercy. In Crime and Punishment, he puts these words in the mouth of the drunk, Marmaladov, whose daughter, Sonya, becomes a prostitute to feed his family that’s starving because he’s a drunk. The father’s talking about the eternal fate of his messed up family. He’s willing to see things as they really are. No self-delusion here. I’ll read it to you so you can feel its full power.
God will come in that day and He will ask: “Where is the daughter who gave herself for her angry, consumptive stepmother and for the little children of another? Where is the daughter who had pity upon the filthy drunkard, her earthly father, undismayed by his beastliness?” And He will say, “Come to me! I have already forgiven thee once. Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee, for thou hast loved much.” And He will forgive my Sonya, He will forgive, I know it… I felt it in my heart when I was with her just now! And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek. And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. “You too come forth,” He will say, “Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!” And we shall come forth without shame and shall stand before Him, and He will say unto us, “Ye are swine made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!” And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, “O Lord, why dost thou receive these men?” And He will say, “This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.” And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him, and we shall weep, and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!