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 PATH OF THE CHRISTIAN
THE CROSS OF CHRIST: THE PATH, THE POWER, AND THE BANNER OF THE CHURCH
The dogmatic teaching of the Church has the most intimate connection with the whole moral order of Christian life; it gives to it a true direction. Any kind of departure from the dogmatic truths leads to an incorrect understanding of the moral duty of the Christian. Faith demands a life that corresponds to faith.
The Savior has defined the moral duty of man briefly in the two commandments of the law: the commandment to love God with one's whole heart, soul, mind, and understanding; and the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself. But at the same time the Savior taught that the authentic fulfillment of these commandments is impossible without some degree of self-renunciation, self-sacrifice: it demands struggle.
And where does the believer find strength for struggle? He receives it through communion with Christ, through love for Christ which inspires him to follow after Him. This struggle of following Him Christ called His "yoke": "Take My yoke upon you...For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (St. Matthew 11:29-30). He called it also a cross. Long before the day of His crucifixion, the Lord taught: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (St. Matthew 16:24), "He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me" (St. Matthew 10:38).
The Orthodox Christian path of the Christian is "the path of the cross and of struggle." In other words, it is the path of patience; of the bearing of sorrows, persecutions for the name of Christ, and dangers from the enemies of Christ; of despairing the good of the world for the sake of Christ; of battling against one's passions and lusts.
Such a path of following Christ was taken by His Apostles, "I am crucified with Christ," writes the Apostle Paul (Galatians 2:20). "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). Following the path of Christ, the Apostle finished the struggle of their life with a martyr's death.
All believers are called to struggle according to their strength: "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts" (Galatians 5:24). The moral life cannot exist without inward battle, without self-restraint. The Apostle writes: "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Phil. 3:18-19).
The whole history of the Church has been built on struggles: at first the sufferings of the martyrs in the earliest Christian age; then the self-sacrificing labors of the pillars of the Church, the hierarchs; and then the personal ascetic struggles, spiritual attainments in the battle with the flesh, on the part of the desert dwellers and other strugglers--"earthly angels and heavenly men," the righteous ones who have lived in the world without being defiled by the world. And thus up to now Christianity is adorned with confessors and martyrs for faith in Christ. And the Holy Church supports in believers this duty of self-restraint and spiritual cleansing by means of instructions and examples from the Gospel and the whole Sacred Scripture, by the examples of the Saints, by the rules of the Church typicon, by vigils, fasts, and appeals to repentance.
Such is the lot not only of each separate Christian but of the Church herself as a whole: to be persecuted for the Cross of Christ, as was shown in the visions to the Holy Apostle John the Theologian in the Apocalypse (Revelation). The Church in many periods of her history has endured totally open sorrows and persecutions and the martyr's death of her best servants--what one contemporary priest and Church writer has called the "harvest of God"--while in other periods, even in periods of outward prosperity, she has endured sorrows from inward enemies, from the unworthy manner of life of her members, and in particular of the people who are assigned to serve her.
Thus is defined dogma of the Cross. The Cross is the path of the Christian and the Church.
At the same time it is also the power of the Church. Looking with his mental eyes "unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2), the Christian finds spiritual strength in the awareness that after the Lord's death on the Cross there followed the Resurrection; that by the Cross the world has been conquered; that if we die with the Lord we shall reign with Him, and shall rejoice and triumph in the manifestation of His glory (1 Peter 4:13).
The Cross, finally is the banner of the Church. From the day when the Savior bore the Cross on His shoulders to Golgotha and was crucified on the material Cross, the Cross became the visible sign and banner of Christianity, of the Church, of everyone who believes in Christ.
Not everyone who belongs to Christianity "in general" has such an understanding of the Gospel. Certain large Christian societies deny the Cross as a visible banner, considering that it has remained what it was, an instrument of reproach. The Apostle Paul already warned against such an "offence of the Cross" (Galatians 5:11), "lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). He exhorted men not to be ashamed of the Cross as a sign of reproach: "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach," he teaches (Hebrews 13:13-14). For the reproach on the Cross led to the Resurrection in glory, and the Cross became the implement of salvation and the path to glory.
Having always before oneself the image of the Cross, making on oneself the sign of the Cross, the Christian first of all brings to his mind that he is called to follow the steps of Christ, bearing in the name of Christ sorrows and deprivations for his faith. Secondly, he is strengthened by the power of the Cross of Christ for battle against the evil in himself and in the world. And thirdly, he confesses that he awaits the manifestation of the glory of Christ, the Second Coming of the Lord, which itself will be preceded by the manifestation in heaven of the "sign of Son of Man," according to the Divine words of the Lord Himself (St. Matthew 24:30). This sign, according to the unanimous understanding of the Holy Fathers of the Church, will be a magnificent manifestation of the Cross in the sky. (Source: The Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky)
(To be continued)
Please note: On September 14th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the feast of The Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross and it is a Major Holy Day and a strict fast. It is most important for all of you to understand fully the significance of the Cross of Christ and what it should mean to you as a Christian. Remember it is the Life-Giving Cross! Salvation comes only through the Cross of Christ and therefore no Christian should ever be ashamed or to feel embarrassment to sign the cross in public.
Great Vespers on Tuesday (13th) evening at 7:00 p.m.
Orthros on Wednesday (14th): 9:00 a.m.; Divine Liturgy: 10:00 a.m.
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!"
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God