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.
BEARING OUR CROSS
By Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov of Caucasus
"Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and follow Me," the Lord said to His disciples, calling them to Himself, in the Gospel according to Saint Mark 8:34.
Beloved brothers and sisters! 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 our holy church in order to hear His teaching. We stand before the race 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 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 the 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--sin. By means of such food and such 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 (soul)", developing the life of fallen nature or eternal death, shall lose it; "but whosoever shall lose his life (soul) 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). 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 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 he were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, 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, those sorrows and persecutions by which the sin-loving and blind world persecutes the followers of Christ. The Holy Apostle Peter says: "For this is thankworthy, 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 within us, with evil spirits who with frenzy rise up against us and with cruelty oppose us when we endeavor to throw off the yoke sine 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 the 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 stronghold, 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 Holy 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 of the most horrible crimes to the brightest dwelling of Paradise. From the 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). (Source: Orthodox Heritage)
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