My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
The Gospel on the Cross and the Salvation of the Soul (Saint Mark 8:34-38; 9:1)
Jesus said: "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his soul shall lose it, but whosoever shall lose his soul for My sake and the Gospel, the same shall save it..."
Sunday of the Cross
Vespers On Sunday Evening
Stichera. Tone Eight
O Lord, Thou hast stretched out Thine hands of Thine own will upon the Cross: fill us with Thy Light through fasting and through prayer, through abstinence and works of charity; and count us worthy to adore Thy Cross with contrite hearts, for Thou art Good and Thou lovest mankind. O Lord All-Merciful, in the multitude of Thy mercies blot out the multitude of my sins, and count me worthy with a pure soul to behold and kiss Thy Cross during the present week of abstinence, for Thou loves mankind.
Great is the power of truth, and there is nothing in the world that can take its power from it. Great is the healing power of truth, and there is no suffering or weakness in the world that truth cannot heal.
In their suffering and weakness, the sick see a doctor who will give them a medicine for these things. No-one looks for a doctor who would give them the sweetest-tasting medicine, but everyone would want someone who would give an effective one, be it sweet, bitter or tasteless. The more bitter the medicine prescribed, and the more complicated the process of healing, the more faith it seems that the sick man has in the doctor.
Why do men reject bitter medicine only when it is God's hand that offers it? Why do they seek and expect only sweetmeats from God's hand? Because they do not feel how serious their sickness from sin is, and think that they can be healed just by sweetmeats.
Oh, if men would only ask themselves why all medicines for bodily ills are so bitter! The Holy Spirit would reply to them: so that they may give an idea of the bitterness of spiritual medicines. For, as bodily sickness gives some idea of spiritual sickness, so medicines for bodily ills have the same function in relation to those for spiritual sickness.
Are not illnesses of the spirit, these chief and causal sicknesses, very much more serious than bodily illnesses? How, then, can medicines for the spirit not be more bitter than those for the body?
Men take great care of their bodies; and when their bodies are sick, they spare no effort, time or money to restore them to health. In that case, no doctor is too expensive, no spa too far away, no medicine too bitter; especially when they are made aware of the nearness of bodily death. Oh, that men were as concerned about their souls! Oh, that they were as zealous in seeking healing and a healer for their souls!
It is hard to go barefoot among thorns, but if a barefoot man is dying of thirst and there is a spring of water on the other side of the thorns, will he not sooner decide to tread on the thorns, and have his feet cut about in getting to the water, than stay on the soft grass on this side of the thorns and die of thirst?
"We can't possibly take so bitter a medicine", say many who are weakened by sin. And so the Physician, who loves mankind, Himself first too the medicine, the bitterest medicine, even though He was healthy, simply to show to the sick that it is not impossible. Oh, how much harder it is for the healthy to take and swallow a sick man's medicine than it is for the sick! But He took it, so that the mortally-sick might be brought to take it.
"We can't possibly cross the thorny field barefoot, however thirsty we are, and however abundant and fresh the water over the other side may be", say those weakened by sin. And so the Lord, Who loves mankind, Himself crossed the thorny field barefoot and now, from the other side, calls the thirst to the spring of living water. "It is possible"-He calls to us-"I have crossed through the sharpest thorns and have, in stepping on them, blunted them. Come on, then!"
"If the Cross is the medicine, we cannot take it; and if the Cross is the Way, we can't take that road", say those whom sin has made ill. And so the Lord, Who loves mankind, took the heaviest Cross on Himself, to show that it is possible.
In the Gospel, the Lord offers the Cross, this bitter means of healing, to everyone who desires to be saved from death. The Lord says: "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." The Lord does not drive men before Him to the Cross, but calls them to follow Him-for He has borne the Cross. Before He gave voice to this call, He foretold His sufferings: "The Son of Man must suffer many things...and be killed, and after three days rise again" (St. Mark 8:31). This is why He came to be the Way. He came to be the first in suffering and the first in glory; He came to show that all that men reckon to be impossible is possible, and to make it possible.
He does not force men or exert pressure on them, but suggest and offers. "Whosoever will..."! It was by their own will that men fell into the sickness of sin, and it is by their own free will that men must be healed from sin. He does not hide the fact that the medicine is bitter, very bitter, but He makes it easier for men to take it by having first taken it Himself, even though He was healthy, and has shown us its marvelous action.
"Let him deny himself." The first man, Adam, also denied himself when he fell into sin, but he denied his real, true self. Seeking from men that they deny themselves, the Lord seeks that they deny their false selves. Put more simply: Adam denied the Truth, and clave to a lie; now the Lord seeks of Adam's descendants that they deny the lie and cleave once more to the Truth from which they had fallen away. Therefore, to deny oneself means to deny the deceitful non-being that has been imposed on us in place of our God-given being. We must deny the earthboundness that has, for us, replaced spirituality, and the passions that have replaced good works; the servile fear that has darkened in us our sonship of God and the grumbling against God that has killed within us the spirit of obedience to Him. We must deny evil thoughts, evil desires and evil deeds. We must deny the idolatrous worship of nature and our body. In brief: we must deny all that we reckon is "me", but is in reality not us but the devil and sin, corruption, illusion and death. Oh, this "second nature", for it is not our nature as God created it, but an accumulated and hardened illusion and self-delusion in ourselves-a hypocritical lie that goes by our name and by its.
What does it mean: to take up your cross? It means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, bitter though it may be, that is offered. Do great catastrophes fall on you? Be obedient to God's will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God's hands with the same faith as Abraham had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do you children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith in God's help is at hand, as the Apostles did. Are you condemned to death for Christ? Be thankful to God for such an honor, like thousands of Christian martyrs. Nothing will be sought of you that has not been done before, but you will rather follow the example of many-Apostles, Saints, Confessors, and Martyrs-who have done Christ's will. We must know, furthermore, that in seeking our crucifixion, the Lord is seeking the crucifixion of the old man, the man made up of evil habits and the service of sin. For, by this crucifixion, the old, animal-like man in us is put to death, and the new man, made in God's image and immortal, is raised to life. As the Apostle says: "Our old man is crucified", and explains at once why: "that we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:6). The cross is heavy for the old, sensual man, heavy for a body "with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24), but is not heavy for the spiritual man. The Cross is, to "them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). We therefore boast in the Cross of Christ, and in the cross we bear for His sake. The Lord does not seek that we take up His Cross, but ours. His Cross is the heaviest. He was not crucified for His sins, but for ours, and so His Cross is the heaviest. We are crucified for our own sins: our cross is therefore lighter. And when our sufferings are at their greatest, we must not say that they are too great, passing all bounds. The Lord is alive, and He knows the measure of our suffering, and will not let us suffer more than we are able to bear. The measure of our sufferings is no less determined and calculated than the measure of day and night, or the bounds of the stars in their courses. Is our suffering intensified? Is our cross made heavier? God's power is the greater, as the Apostle says: "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:5). (Source: Homilies by Saint Nikolai Velimirovich)
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God