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The Narrow Gate

by H.H. Pope Shenouda III

In the last part of His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt 7:13,14)


The wide gate is the trick of the devil in his war against man.
The devil may ask you why you live in a narrow circle, and why God tightens the circle around you. He tries to convince you that you can walk in a broad way that has many paths. He tells you that you may realize what you want with a little lie.

He calls it a "white lie" to calm down your conscience. With it he says you can avoid any harm that may result from you telling the truth. He may convince you to take some rest by obtaining a sick leave certification from a physician though you are not actually sick. And he may urge you to cheat in the exam so as to succeed!

The devil says if the way is broad and easy and leads to purpose, why then should you insist to go by the narrow gate? Why do you let someone lesser than you prevail over you? Is it because he is more cunning and more flexible he succeeds?
If the devil says, why do you complicate matters? Take it easy, and everything will go smoothly, tell him that your conscience refuses such an easy way mingled with sin.

A clear example from the Holy Scriptures is the story of Abraham and Lot.

Lot chose for himself the plain that is described as " the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt " (Gen 13:10). And he pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. Our father Abraham chose to be with God, even in the land less watered and less green. And what was the result? Lot was taken captive, with the people of Sodom, and Abraham rescued him (Gen 14). Sodom was burnt and Lot lost everything, but he could escape with his two daughters through the intercession of Abraham.

Actually, the way is broad in its beginning, but its end is destruction. Whereas the narrow gate is narrow in the beginning, but its end is good.

The Scriptures say, " We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God " (Acts 14:22): " Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. " (2Cor 4:17).
Some aspects of the narrow gate:

  • Self-denial:
    The Lord Christ said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt 16:24); "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt 10:39).
    Self-denial is not easy, nor is taking up the cross. Whoever takes spiritual life in this way is entering by the narrow gate.
    A person who loves himself, cares for his own prestige, dignity, and rights, and he who thinks that he loses his life if he renounces all this, to him the Lord says, "He who loses his life for My sake will find it".
    Let him who loves God and loves people remember the word of the Scriptures: "Love... does not seek its own" (1Cor 13:5). It means that one should forget oneself in the love of God and people. That is why the Lord, while seeking and saving that which was lost, emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant (Luke 19:10; Phil 2:7). He even sacrificed Himself on our behalf, offering His blood on the Cross that we may be saved.
    St John the Baptist did the same. He put before himself an everlasting spiritual principle, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). He entered by the narrow gate leading to life, was martyred and obtained glory. Self-denial implies disowning whatever one has, to attain renunciation.
  • Renunciation:
    The Lord said to the rich man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt 19:21). But the young man could not do that, and he went away sorrowful.
    The foolish rich man, likewise, preferred to go by the broad gate. He said, "I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and goods. And I will say to my soul: Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." (Luke 12:18,19). He was not aware that by the broad way he would lose his life!

If one cannot attain such complete renunciation; one may at least do that partially, by paying the tithes and first fruits.One may say: that which I have is not sufficient, how could I pay also the tithes from it? I say to such a person: this is not right, it is that you cannot enter by the narrow gate. You are rebuked by the poor widow who gave out of her poverty (Luke 21:4). You are rebuked also by the widow at Zarephath who gave Elijah the prophet of the little flour and oil she had in the days of famine. So the Lord rewarded her, saying, "The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth" (1Kings 17:14)

Do you not see then that the narrow gate leads to wideness?
This applies to a person who pays the tithes: for the Lord says, "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it" (Mal 3:10). If you do not pay the tithes nor the first fruits: Avoid at least the love of property, the love of the greater portion, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5).

  • Disciplining the body:
    It is another aspect of the narrow gate. See what deep words St Paul the Apostle says, "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1Cor 9:27). St Paul who said this had been caught up to the third heaven! (2Cor 21).

Body-disciplining means keeping away from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1John 2:16). It means also keeping away from the lust of the senses; the eye that is not satisfies with seeing, and the ear that is not filled with hearing (Eccl 1:8). Beware fornication of the senses.

Body-disciplining can be realized through fasting and avoiding lust of food.
Even in the fast, when eating only vegetarian food, do not give your body all that it desires. Remember the words of Daniel the prophet, "I was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled" (Dan 10:2,3). Actually, many fast but do not discipline their bodies. Those who eat whatever they desire and do not benefit from fasting! The same applies to those who addict smoking. They smoke even while fasting because they have not yet disciplined their bodies. Thanks to God, there are not many smokers among us.

  • Self-control:
    Self-control is another aspect of the narrow gate, it includes control over one's desires and lusts, and control over one's mind so that it might not stray in futile and improper things, in sinful thoughts, or in day dreams.

    Self-control includes also control over one's tongue.
    Set a guard over your mouth to stop any wrong word or futile word that it might not be uttered. The Psalmist said, "Set a guard. O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips" (Ps 41:3). Once a holy father saw a youth speaking freely, unwary of what he was saying, the father spoke to him, pointing at his mouth, saying: Does this gate have no keeper?
    Be careful what you say. Do not speak freely, but remember the words of the Lord, "every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt 12:36). The idle word - according to the fathers - means any word that does not edify or benefit the hearers.

    In self-control, control yourself against worldly pleasure.
    Control yourself against some at least of these pleasures which Solomon the wise had experienced and found "all in vanity and grasping for the wind" (Eccl 1). To prevent yourself from such pleasures that may lead you through the narrow gate. But he who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city (Prov 16:32). One should therefore dispense with some pleasures that may stand between him and God.
  • Labor for God's sake:
    Does the Scripture not say, "each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor" (1Cor 3:8)? But such labor ought to be for God's sake. Satan labors, but his labor is futile because it is tempting people and destroying them. Therefore Satan is condemned for it.

Unlike it, is holy labor, of which the Psalmist says: "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy" (Ps 26:5). Labor for God's sake has always been the pride of the saints. Some labor in the ministry, like St Paul the Apostle who said, "I labor more abundantly than the all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1Cor 15:10). Some labor in prayer all the night like the hermits and anchorites. Mar Isaac, likewise say: If you are fought with fatigue so as not to pray the Night prayer, be steadfast and pray more psalms.

To this applies also labor in doing one's duty, as the labor of Nehemiah and his men building the wall of Jerusalem. The same can be said of the labor of any student to attain success, and as the poet says: "For desires of great souls, bodies labor much".
One who enters by the narrow gate and labors, will certainly rejoice at the fruit. Whereas one who does not labor will repent, as the poet says to such a person: "If you do not sow; in the time of reaping you will be sorrowful for missing the time of sowing"

  • Labor in the ministry:
    It is a type of entering by the narrow gate. Of this St Paul the Apostle said of himself and his companions:
    "But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in fasting.. by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live" (2Cor 6:4-9): "always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus sake.. So then death is working in us, but life in you" (2Cor 4:10-12).
  • Endurance:
    Endurance is a characteristic of the narrow gate. In the spiritual life it has many elements:
    • Bearing tribulations, without grumbling
      Some may complain, grumble, cry, or weep whenever they fall in tribulations. But St James the Apostle says, "My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials" (James 1:2). Bearing tribulations is an aspect of entering by the narrow gate, which leads to various virtues and rejoicing in the Lord. For the Lord in such cases provides a solution for all our tribulations and gives us a blessing and a crown.
      How beautiful are the words of St Paul the Apostle, "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1Cor 10:13).
    • One who bears tribulation will have no desire to take revenge.
      Such a person does not repay evil for evil, nor threatens. He does not get furious nor threats to avenge himself. Revenge is the broad gate, in which a person loses his spirituality. Whereas bearing in the narrow gate which contains many gates. In it a person bears offence, chastising, and counsel from wise persons or friends. He bears punishment to justify himself or ascribing cruelty or injustice to the others. The apostle says, "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening.. then you are illegitimate and not sons" (Heb 12:7,8).
  • Self-reproach:
    It is a deeper form of endurance, and one of the aspects of the narrow gate, if someone offends you, and you rebuke him within yourself or before the others, you will have avenged yourself. You may also all in judging him. The gap will increase between you and him, and you will be uneasy, feeling angry or vexed.

One of the holy fathers, explaining the words of the Lord, "whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matt 5:39) said that the other cheek is the inner self. It means that when someone offends you, rebuke yourself without any opposition between your inner self and your outward action. Say to yourself, for example, that unless I had offended him, or unless he had misunderstood my conduct he would not have become angry. Or say to yourself unless I had lost him love, he would not have done so.

It is reported that the holy Pope Theophilus once visited the Mount of Nataria (where the anchorites live). He asked the father of the place: What virtues, father, have you attained throughout your life? The father answered him:
Believe me father, there is nothing better than to blame one's self for everything.
However, many try always to justify themselves and blame the others. Such a person who is righteous or wise in his own eyes hardly can blame himself.

  • The cross:
    The cross comes within the concept of the narrow gate. Therefore the Lord said, "he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt 10:38). The cross may come from the enemies of faith, or from the other church ministers, or even from the family members as the Lord warned us, "a man's enemies will be those of his own household" (Matt 10:36). This may happen when they try to prevent him from ministry or consecration, or accuse him of having radical attitude in his worship.

    The cross may be martyrdom or persecution because of one's faith.
    This actually happened, "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that offers God service" (John 16:2).
    The cross may also be some disease or need that a person bears thankfully. In the story of poor Lazarus (Luke 16), though he did not become voluntarily poor or sick, he endured all this without grumbling.
  • Other aspects of the narrow gate:
    Obedience is one aspect in which one overcomes one's will. Commitment, strictness, and seriousness are aspects of the narrow gate in which one takes much pain. Other aspects are honesty unto death, steadfastness against diabolic wars, and purity of soul, body and spirit. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom 8:37).


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