THE POWER OF THE CROSS
Let us deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow our Savior
During this week, Orthodox Christians celebrate Holy Cross Week, for the Cross is raised on high at the midpoint pf the great Fast. The Cross, formerly an instrument of weakness and death, is gloriously transformed. Christ changed the cross by His willing death, into a fountain of life and a most formidable weapon for Christians. With it we sign ourselves, and are protected, we bless our loved ones, and they rejoice, we bless our homes and automobiles, thereby securing our family’s happiness and safety. Our food becomes more nourishing and tastes better when blessed with the sign of the Cross. It is of great importance, that this week we heed the commandment of our Lord, that we “take up our cross daily and follow Him.”
The beginning of everything good, the path that leads to life begins when we heed God’s command, is to begin to deny ourselves and turn inwards to our inner man. We are efficient in caring for the outer man, our mortal bodies. We wash, brush our teeth, comb our hair, cover our bodies with clothing, so as to look nice. But, are we washing the outside of the cup leaving the inside unclean as Christ says? Out of love, He seeks to cure and cleanse our souls, the inner man, as being most important. Sadly few are interested in the welfare and good state of their immortal souls. Why is it that we care for the lesser and ignore the greater, especially when the Lord says: “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
If someone is willing to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow Christ,” the way is the same for everyone. Our position in this life does not matter, whether layman or deacon, priest or bishop, executive or worker, lawyer or judge, we all need to travel the same blessed path of self denial which Christ commanded. Denial of self includes ridding our souls of one of the greatest evils, which is self love. It appears in many forms, such as bragging, boasting, excessive talking and displaying much knowledge. We need to get rid of this evil by denying ourselves. A good beginning would be to heed the great philosopher Socrates, who humbled himself, even though he had vast knowledge, saying: “One thing I know is that I know nothing!” How correct he is, for our ignorance is always and will always be much greater than our knowledge.
Christ calls those blessed who are poor in spirit and who mourn for their poverty, they are blessed for as soon as they seek, they find and are delighted. God is closer to us than our own skin, and awaits our self denial, and the taking up our Cross. For this makes it possible for Him to bestow on us His gracious gifts. God delights in our freedom when we respond to His mercy and love as a father delights in a child that responds to his love.
Taking up our cross, involves avoid seeking to always have things go our way, but to willingly accept adversities. This will enable us to be rid of the anger we feel when someone offends or harms us. It involves that we never think about what we have lost, or about something that makes our lives less than we had hoped for. Remember that Christ said that we must “deny ourselves” not please ourselves. Self-denial is the way of the Cross and on the Cross no comforts are to be found, only pain and struggle. Christ is our example being the Godman, and the men whom He had formed with His own hands, nailed His hands and feet to the Cross, not satisfied by that. they heaped more evils upon Him. They mocked Him, spitting and insulting Him, they deemed the Author of their lives as being unworthy of life. It is not possible to follow Christ without self-denial, but it is extremely rewarding to follow His Him who guides us into eternal life. By accepting adversity we conquer it and, in doing so, enter the new and beautiful world of the spirit. Someone once said: “You are as poor as what you want and as rich as what you do not want.” St. Paul says: “Be content with what you have.” Material things and money can never bring happiness nor lead to eternal life.
The cross is always triumphant though many think of it as a horror and disgrace. However, Christ so changed the Cross, that nothing in this world is comparable to it, never has anything so weak been shown to be so powerful. The Godman was desirous to go to the Cross and His death, for He knew well that through the Cross He would, descend to death and by His death put death to death, and so establish His blessed kingdom in the world. His love is so perfect that He willingly suffers pain, undergoes slander and insults and lays down His life for His flock!
Before us is the promise of eternal life or the threat of the sword of death. Accepting self-denial, leads us to delight in the promise of eternal life, while avoiding it leads to the bitterness of the second death hanging over our heads. Accepting the cross and self denial leads us through the doors of death to the life where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sighing but life everlasting. Rejecting the same leaves nothing for us but eternal flames, where there will no consolation, but the weeping and gnashing of teeth, outer darkness and eternal lamentation. Let us deny ourselves now and follow the path that leads to life, especially during the present period of the Great Fast!