“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mk. 8:34)
At the heart of our faith, at the center of the Gospel is the Cross. Remember, ours isn’t a faith invented by someone, it has been given to us by Christ, and is the direct result of his life, teaching & miracles. So, truly, we can say that our Church is the product of the Son of God becoming the Son of Man!
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
With these words of Jesus, dear Christians, we’re invited to offer to Him, not flowers and basils, but our hearts.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the Cross of our Lord was ‘foolishness for the Greeks’ and a ‘scandal for the Jews’. However, for those who believe -whether they’re Greek, Hebrew, or Roman- ‘the Cross is the power and wisdom of God.’ As we come to know and accept Christ -the crucified Christ- the Cross will become our greatest consolation -it’s a sign of God’s love for us. When Christ ascended the Cross, He offered salvation to the whole world, for all nations. But in order to gain our salvation, for each of us, every man, woman and child, it requires that we also choose to ascend the Cross. It means accepting the way of the Cross.
And whoever now ascends the cross can become a heavenly being, can find true life and see the glory of God! To ascend the Cross requires sacrifice and self-emptying, which is the opposite of self-gratification or self-indulgence. Nevertheless, for the race of Christians, self-sacrifice becomes our way to life; we lose our life to find it.
You can’t give something you don’t already have, this is undeniable, and the Lord didn’t promise earthly thrones because He Himself didn’t have these things: “My kingdom is not of this world”, he said. But what DID Christ promise? Sacrifice, self-denial and the Cross: “If anyone would come after me”, He said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.
My dears, our life will be a cross, however, “through the cross joy has come to the entire world.” Do you know joy?
Today many Christian men and women approach the Church but never quite commit themselves to Christ for various reasons. Others will draw near and see Christ in the icon, feel something peaceful, sense the richness of Orthodox theology, the beauty of worship, but just don’t ever get too close. Why? What’s the reason?
The reason is that what we really want is an easy life. But Christ wants something else from us!
And for this reason some can no longer even come into the Church, because Christ really is here, and in Church we come face-to-face with the Crucified One and his love -his self-denying love- and we are judged by this love, because we know the Lord waits for our love in return.
Meanwhile, those who take up their cross continue to serve the Church and the world patiently, whoever they are, clergy or layperson, man, woman or child, there are always those who commit themselves to Christ, who joyfully offer themselves as a sacrifice for the glory of God as well as for society’s betterment, and for the peace of the world.
What do we say to this? How will we respond?
My dears, we will improve the world not with accusations and slanders, knives or guns – but with the Cross. The Cross, not some ornament or jewelry, not as a banner or emblem of war, not topping the king’s crown or a flagpole, but the Cross inscribed in our hearts and minds.
“The Cross,” as St John Chrysostom says, “let it become the instructor and the symbol of our life!”