Saint Innocent of Alaska was a Russian missionary to the Eskimos and learned several of their languages, translating books of the Scriptures and Christian materials into their native languages. At the end of his life, he became the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, the second most influential bishop on Earth behind the Pope. Even as Metropolitan of Moscow, he continued his work in writing.
The following is one of his “Gospel Tracts” he wrote for the Aleutian people, translated into English. I abridged it for the sake of my Protestant readers to introduce them to the Orthodox faith:
It is extremely important to nourish in ourselves the desire and resolve to follow the path of salvation. To make this desire grow in us and strengthen our resolve, we must learn where the path Christ showed us leads and how to follow it.
1. First of all, a Christian must thoroughly study the foundations of the Christian faith. To that end, you must read and reread the Holy Scriptures on a regular basis, especially the books of the New Testament. You must not only learn their contents but also develop an interest in their origin, who wrote them and when, how they were preserved and have been handed down to us, and why they are called Divine and Sacred. The studying of the faith should conform to your aptitudes and knowledge. For instance, for the serious student, in addition to studying the Scriptures, it is also useful to become familiar with the works of the Church Fathers and with the historical and theological books written by other Orthodox authors.
2. When you become convinced that our Orthodox faith is based on Holy Scriptures and is not invented by people and that the Holy Scriptures contain the true word of God, revealed by the Holy Spirit through prophets and apostles— accept it with all your trusting heart. Believe the Holy Scriptures without doubt or philosophizing, pushing aside all heretical explanations. If you humbly accept Christ’s truth, then your faith will become strong and will lead you to salvation.
3. Finally, try to nourish a diligence in yourself to follow that which is taught by the Holy Scriptures. But if you do not have such diligence, fall down before the Savior and with a sincere prayer ask Him to send you a zealous wish to live according to His commandments. Then, when the grace of God starts leading you toward salvation, follow it, valiantly repelling the snares of the devil, who will attempt to detract you from Christ’s path.
A follower of Christ must begin by denying himself. This means that you must disown all bad habits, free your heart from sinful bonds (like hunger for money, luxury, fame, power over others, etc.), squelch impure thoughts, harbor no lustful desires, distance yourself from situations leading to sin, and, in general, do nothing because of stubbornness or ego but do all for the love of God and with the desire to contribute to the glory of His Holy Name.
Then, it is necessary for a disciple and follower of Christ to take up his cross. The cross means the various difficulties and sorrows associated with a Christian life. Crosses may be external as well as internal. To take up your cross means to tolerate everything without complaining, regardless of how unpleasant things might become. To bear your cross means not only to accept patiently all difficulties that befall you but also to strive for spiritual perfection, as the Scriptures teach us.
If you bear your cross with perseverance and seek comfort only from Him, then He, through His mercy, will not abandon you but will touch your heart and will impart to you the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is then that you will feel an indescribable delight, a wonderful inner peace and joy such as you have never experienced before, and at the same time you will feel an influx of spiritual strength; prayer will become easier and your faith stronger. Then your heart will be kindled with love of God and all people. All these are gifts of the Holy Spirit.
When the Lord decides to honor you with such gifts, do not consider them as rewards for your labors, and do not think that you have attained perfection. Such thoughts come from pride. The comforts and grace of the Holy Spirit are not rewards but gifts of divine mercy.
Finally, a disciple of Christ must follow Him. This means that in all deeds and actions we must try to be like our Lord Jesus Christ in His virtues. We must strive to live and act as He lived and acted.
Without faith in Jesus Christ no one can return to God and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. No one, even though he believe in Jesus Christ, can regard himself to be His disciple and share His glory in Heaven if he does not act as Jesus Christ did. And no one is able to follow Jesus Christ if he does not receive help from the Holy Spirit.
To receive the Holy Spirit, we must use the means granted us by God[, that being repentance, humility, listening to one’s conscience, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, reading the Scriptures, and the sacraments].
We should remember that the path into the Kingdom of Heaven that has been opened to us by Jesus Christ is the only one, and there never was and never will be another path that leads to salvation.
If the path into the Kingdom of Heaven seems difficult, then consider how incomparably more dreadful are the eternal torments in fiery Gehenna. If the path toward heavenly bliss seems difficult, compare it with the path toward earthly happiness, and you will see that the path toward earthly happiness is not really easier at all.
Just observe how much people toil to amass earthly things, how many disappointments, fights, sleepless nights and deprivations they bear. Or remind yourself of how much effort and expenses it takes to achieve some meaningless and fleeting pleasure! And for what? Instead of the expected happiness, you are left with disappointment and weariness. When you carefully examine the heart of the matter, it becomes evident that people stay away from the Heavenly Kingdom not because the path to it is more difficult than the other paths of this world, but because it appears that way to them. Besides, the devil, an experienced and crafty deceiver, misleads people into believing that the path to salvation is difficult and the paths to perdition are easy, and he often succeeds in this.
Strive for the Heavenly Kingdom while you can still walk. Walk even a little bit, even if by crawling, but do it in the right direction. Then in eternity you will truly rejoice for every step you have taken!
May the All-merciful Lord help us all in this! Glory and thanksgiving be to Him throughout the ages of ages. Amen.