Offer Yourself to God: Take Up Your Cross

“From this point of view, it would be appropriate to also quote an amazing third-century text by of the author of the most early Philokalia, Origen:

‘You are, all of you, a priestly people. Consequently, you have access to the sanctuary; each one of you has in himself his holocaust and he himself kindles the altar of sacrifice, so that it burns continually. If I renounce all my possessions, if I carry my cross and follow Christ, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God.

If I deliver my body in order to burn with charity, if I acquire the glory of martyrdom, I offer myself as a holocaust on the altar of God. If I love my brothers to the point of giving up my soul for them, if I fight to the death for justice and truth, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God. If I mortify my members of all carnal concupiscence, if the world is crucified to me and I to the world, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God and I become the priest of my own sacrifice.’

(Boris Bobrinksoy, The Compassion of the Father, p. 111).

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Clinging to the World or to the Wood?

Our Lord Jesus Christ chose His disciples not from the wise, not from the noble, not from the rich or the famous, but from among fishermen and tentmakers and poor and illiterate men. This was to make clear to all that neither poverty, nor lack of learning, nor lowly origins, nor anything else of that sort is an impediment to acquiring virtue and understanding the divine sayings and mysteries of the Spirit. But even the poorest and lowliest and least educated person, if he gives proof of eagerness and an appropriate inclination towards what is good, can not only come to know the divine teaching but also become a teacher himself through God’s grace.

And the things that hinder us from understanding and grasping the meaning of spiritual teachings are our own indifference and the fact that we cling with all our might to the fleeting concerns of this life. As a result, we do not allow space or time for listening and studying and recalling to mind what we have heard, nor do we care about the things which are to come and things eternal.

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, “Homily 47,” p. 366)

The Cross as a Weapon of Peace

“The Cross is the Weapon of Peace, we sing. Yet, despite the militaristic overtones, the Cross is not simply a more mighty or powerful weapon in some kind of divine arms race! No, it is the weapon of peace, it is a weapon which doesn’t resort to greater fire-power to blow apart our enemies in a cycle of violence, but rather brings that cycle of violence to an end, ushering in the peace of God for those who are prepared to live by it.

When someone strikes or offends us, Christ does not direct us to hit back or retaliate, but to turn the other cheek, to bear one another’s weaknesses, not so that we can be beaten some more for the sake of it, but to take upon ourselves the anger that is in the other person, to neutralize it, to put an end to it, as Christ himself did, the blameless lamb led to the slaughter, or rather going willingly, taking upon himself the sin of the world.

This is not simply a matter of being passive, but rather being passive actively, creatively, and being creative in the most divine way possible–for it allows God to work in and through us, rather than just doing whatever it is we ourselves can come up with.

But God can only work through us if we ourselves take up the Cross and live by it, for if we do so–dead to the world–we will already, now, be in the peace of God, untroubled by anything the world throws at us, and the peace that we will know will spread through us to all those around us.

(John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, pp. 38-39)

The Cross of the Temple

We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:58)

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.    (John 2:19-22)

Metropolitan Hilarion writes that St. Isaac the Syrian says:

“The cross is a symbol of ‘the Man who completely became a temple’ of God; the cross is made in the name of ‘that Man in whom the Divinity dwells’; the humanity of Christ is the ‘garment of his Divinity’.” (Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, p 54)

Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brethren and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God; and I made preparations for building.  (1 Chronicles 28:2)

“Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool!” (Psalm 132:7)

Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! (Psalm 99:5)

King David had it in his heart to build a temple as a footstool for God.  It turns out that the temple of God is not made with hands for it is Christ Himself who is the temple of  God and the footstool is the cross of the Lord.

Exulting in the Cross

THE CROSS WHICH CARRIED THE MOST HIGH AS A CLUSTER OF GRAPES FULL OF LIFE

IS SEEN TODAY EXALTED HIGH ABOVE THE EARTH.

THROUGH THE CROSS WE ARE ALL DRAWN TO GOD

AND DEATH HAS BEEN FOREVER SWALLOWED UP.

UNDEFILED WOOD, THROUGH YOU WE ENJOY THE IMMORTAL FRUIT OF EDEN AS WE GLORIFY CHRIST.

The hymns above and below are both taken from matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.   The poetic imagery of the festal hymns reminds us that truth and beauty are related and united in the Kingdom of Heaven – and in the Church on earth.  In the  world of the Fall, God uses His creation to restore us humans to our natural state, and to heal the wounds of sin.

Let all the trees of the wood rejoice,

for their nature is sanctified by Christ.

He planted them in the beginning,

and on a tree was outstretched.

At its exaltation on this day, we worship Him and magnify you.

 

 

The Tree of Knowledge and The Tree of the Cross

“Christ defeated the devil using the very same means by which the Evil One had triumphed; he fought him  with his own weapons. How is this possible? A virgin [Eve], the wood and death were all sign of the victory of the devil; the wood was the tree in paradise, while death was the sentence imposed on Adam. But the virgin, the wood and death, which were the signs of our defeat, were also those of our victory. Mary took the place of Eve; the tree of the Cross took the place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death of Jesus Christ took the place of that of Adam.

Thus was the devil defeated by the very instruments of his victory. At the foot of the tree in paradise, the devil had overthrown Adam; on the Cross, Christ had trampled down the devil. The wood of old forced humanity into the abyss; that of the Cross led mankind out from it. Through the first wood, man was thrown, bound and naked, into darkness; by the second, the one that had defeated mankind was conquered, stripped of his weapons and offered as a spectacle for the whole universe. The death of Adam came also to his descendants; the death of Christ gave life even to those that were born before him.”  (St. John Chrysostom in The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, p 170)

Holy Friday 2016

On Great and Holy Friday, we encounter Christ our Lord,  as our servant, bearing our abuses, carrying out all the work needed for our salvation.  He humbles Himself to serve us and save us.  On Holy Friday we stand in awe of the God of humility and suffering, whose love knows no bounds.  Poet Scott Cairns expresses our understanding so well:

“Bearing our curse, becoming sin,

You loose us from both the burden

of the law and from our lawlessness.

 

You bruise the serpent’s head,

and snatch us from its grip. You open

the way to resurrection, shattering

the gates of hell, You slay the one

who held death’s power, give comfort

to those who honor You. You give the holy cross

by which our enemy is slain, by which

our life returns to us abundantly.”

(Scott Cairns,  Love’s Immensity, pp 31-32)

We should feel unsettled by the Cross – it is the price God pays to have us be with Him.  It represents a depth of love which is hard to imagine.  It reveals God to us in the most mysterious way.  The cross of Christ reminds us of this truth, expressed by St. Theophan the Recluse :

“There is but one road to the kingdom of God – a cross, voluntary or involuntary.” (in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, p 231)

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Next:  Holy Saturday 2016

Holy Tuesday 2016

There were two spiritually significant trees mentioned in Genesis 2 standing in the middle of the Garden of Eden – the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Tree of Life was not off limits to Adam and Eve, yet they did not eat the fruit of that Tree, but rather grasped the forbidden fruit.  Thus they rejected life and the Giver of Life – they rejected what was rightfully theirs, grasping instead after something not given to them.  By following their own self wills, they rejected what God willed for them.  The tree of life reemerges, at least in Orthodox Holy Week Hymns, in the Tree of the Cross upon which Christ is crucified.  The Tree of the Cross seemingly brings about death, but turns out to be life-giving.

“If animals have no consciousness of death, they experience life. In this light, the tree of life in the Garden of Eden is the universal experience of life. The tree of life, after being introduced at Genesis 2:9, almost vanishes from the Paradise account, and the tree of knowledge occupies center stage. God refers again to the tree of life at the end of the Paradise account, implying that the fruit of the tree of life grants eternal life (Gen. 3:22). For this reason, some Fathers, such as Ephrem the Syrian, attach considerable importance to the tree of life, since it imparts the acquisition of an essential divine quality, immortality, for which Adam and Eve were unprepared.”    (Paul Ladouceur in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 57: Number 2, p 165)

The Tree of Life – the Tree of the Cross – is the giver of immortality.

Previous: Holy Monday 2016

Next: Holy Wednesday 2016

 

Controlling Others, Controlling Self

Lenten Rose

Throughout Great Lent we say the Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem in which, depending on the translation you use, we ask God to deliver us from meddling in the lives of others and from lust of power over others.   We ask that God replace these vices in our lives with virtues of patience, humility and love towards others.   The spiritual focus in Great Lent is on practicing self-control, self-restraint, self-denial.  We are looking to learn how to humble ourselves before our fellow Christians, to love them and to serve them, rather than judging them or trying to lord it over them.

This goal is also very clear in a morning prayer from a New Skete Monastery prayer book for Great Lent (emphasis mine and not in the original text).

O Compassionate Lord: At night we sleep comfortably, in spite of the mediocrity of our lives. So now, finding ourselves alive, once more, and able to greet the beauty of another morning, we are disturbed at the lethargy in which we live. We beseech you, therefore: Give us determination to succeed in repentance.

During these lenten days, change our ravenous appetites to control everyone and everything into a praiseworthy desire for self-control, so that, learning the wisdom of this self-restraint, we may enjoy the freedom of all your sons and daughters.

By the grace and mercy and love for us of your only Son, with whom you are blessed, together with your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit: now and forever, and unto ages of ages.

Deny yourself and take up your cross

The Fathers noted with great alarm our willingness to fast from food but then to voraciously consume the people we don’t like through gossip, judgmentalism and hatred.  Lenten repentance is accomplished when we humbly give up our desire to control others, and learn the wisdom and love of controlling ourselves.

 

 

Bearing One’s Cross to Follow Christ

“The third Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to the veneration of the life-giving Cross […] According to the ancient tradition of Constantinople, this was the Sunday at which catechumens preparing to be baptized on that Easter would be enrolled, accompanied by their sponsors. The Byzantine tradition has to this day preserved the practice of praying for ‘those preparing for illumination’ at a special litany added to the Presanctified Liturgy, following the litany for the catechumens, beginning in the week following the Sunday of the Cross.”    (Archimandrite Job Getcha, The Typikon Decoded, p 191)

On the 3rd Sunday 0f Great Lent we read as our Gospel lesson Mark 8:34-9:1.

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”

Clement of Alexandria (d. ca 215AD) tells us to be a Christian is not only to take up the cross but also:

“For to truly follow the Savior is this: To aim at sinlessness and His perfection, to adorn and compose the soul before the mirror of Christ’s perfection, and to arrange everything in our lives to reflect that image.”      (Clement of Alexandria, The One Who Knows God, p 30)