My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVERS SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
BEARING OUR CROSS
By Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov) of Caucasus (+ 1867) [From "Writings of Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov, Ascetic Sermons, Vol. IV]
"Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me," the Lord said to His disciples, calling them to Himself, as we heard in today's Gospel (St. Mark 8:34).
Beloved brethren! We too are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, because we are Christians. And we have been called to stand in the presence of the Lord in this church I order to hear His teaching. We stand before the face of the Lord; His eyes are fastened on us. Our souls are laid bare before Him; our secret thoughts and hidden feelings are manifest to Him. He sees all our intentions. He sees the righteous and unrighteous things that we have done from our youth. He sees our entire life, both the past and the future; what we still have not done is already recorded in His book. He foresees the hour of our passing into the unfathomable eternity, and for our salvation He proclaims to us His All-Holy Commandment: "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
With the power of living faith, let us raise our mental eyes to the Lord, and we will see Him! We will see Him, Who is everywhere present, actually with us. Let us open our heart, rolling away from its entrance the heavy stone of bitterness; let us hearken to, let us consider, let us accept, and let us assimilate in ourselves the teaching of our Lord.
What does it mean, "to deny oneself?" To deny oneself means to leave one's sinful life. Sin, the means by which our fall was accomplished, as it embraced our whole nature and became almost natural for us. The renunciation of sin has become the renunciation of nature; the renunciation of nature is the renunciation of one's self. Eternal death, having penetrated our soul, has turned to us for sustenance. It requires its nourishment--sin; its enjoyment, eternal death strengthens and preserves its dominance over a man. But fallen man considers the strengthening and development of the mystery of sin in himself to be the progress and success of life. Thus he who is infected by a fatal disease is dominated by the forceful demands of that disease and seeks the food which strengthens the disease; he seeks it as something most necessary, as an indispensable and most pleasant enjoyment.
In opposition to this eternal death which presents itself as life to mankind, ailing from the terrible fall, the Lord pronounces His sentence: "For whosoever will save his life," developing the life of fallen nature or eternal death, shall lose it; "but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's" deadening within oneself sinful desires and rejecting sinful pleasures, "the same shall save it" (St. Mark 8:35). Indicating the entire world present before our eyes, with all its beauties and attractions, the Lord says, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (St. Mark 8:36). What profit is there for a man, what gain, if he acquires, not something of little importance, but even all the visible world? This visible world--merely a temporary guesthouse for man! There is not one thing on earth, no kind of property which we can call our own. Inexorable and inevitable death will take everything from us, and often even before death, unforeseen circumstances and calamities take them away. Our body itself we will lay down at the hidden threshold to eternity. Our possessions, our property and treasure--this is our soul, and only our soul. "What shall man give in exchange for his soul?" says the word of God (St. Mark 8:37). Nothing will compensate for the loss of the soul, when eternal death kills it, seductively pretending to be life.
What does it mean to take up one's cross? The cross was the instrument of shameful punishment for common people and criminals deprived of civil rights. The proud world, the world hostile to Christ, deprives the disciples of Christ the rights by which the sons of the world enjoy. "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you...They shall put you out of the synagogues, yea the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me" (St. John 15:19; 16:2:3). "To take up one's cross" means to magnanimously endure the ridicule and derision which the world showers on the followers of Christ. The Holy Apostle Peter says: "For this is thanksgiving, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps...In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (I Peter 2:19, 21; St. John 16:33).
To bear one's cross means to courageously endure severe unseen difficulty, unseen oppression and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel, in the struggle with one's passions, with sin living with us, with evil spirits who with frenzy rise up against and with cruelty oppose us when we endeavor to throw off the yoke of sin and submit to the yoke of Christ, "for we wrestle not against flesh and blood," says the Holy Apostle Paul, "but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12). "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:4-5). Gaining victory in this unseen but arduous battle, the Apostle exclaimed: "But God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14).
To take up one's cross means to submit with obedience and humility to those temporary sorrows and calamities which it pleases Divine Providence to allow for the cleansing of our sins. Then the cross serves as a ladder for man from earth to heaven. The thief commemorated in the Gospel ascended on this ladder; he ascended from the midst from the most horrible crimes to the brightest dwelling of Paradise. From his cross he pronounced words filled with humility. Through humility he received knowledge of God and through the knowledge of God he obtained heaven, "We receive the due reward of our deeds", he declared, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom" (St. Luke 23:41-42).
And we, beloved brethren, when sorrows surround us, let us repeat the words of the thief, words which purchased Paradise; or like Job, let us bless the Lord Who is just as well as merciful. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, this sufferer asked, and shall we not receive evil? As it seemed good to the Lord, so it has come to pass; "Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). May the unerring promise of God be fulfilled in us: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him" (St. James 1:12).
To take up one's cross means to voluntarily, and with fervor, submit to deprivation and struggles by which the irrational striving of our flesh are bridled. The Holy Apostle Paul referred to such a crucifixion of the flesh: "But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:27). "They that are full in the flesh," that is, those who do not bridle their flesh, but allow it to rule over the spirit, "cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). And therefore, while living in the flesh, we must not live for the flesh! For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die with death eternal: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live eternally, with a blessed life" (Romans 8:13). The flesh essentially is bridled by the spirit; but the spirit can reign over the flesh and direct it only when the flesh has been prepared for submission by being crucified. The flesh is crucified by fasting, vigil, prostrations, and other bodily labors laid on it, in moderation and with understanding. Prudent and moderate bodily labors free of the body from heaviness and obesity, refine its powers, and keep it constantly light and ready for action. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with affection and lusts" (Galatians 5:24).
(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.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God