Christ is The Power of the Cross

St. Isaac of Ninevah says the image or sign of the cross because it represents Christ already is imbued with divine power.  It doesn’t matter what materials are used to construct the cross, whether it is three or two dimensional.

“Here too, in the case of the Cross, the moment this form of the Cross is depicted on a wall or on a board, or it is fashioned out of some kind of gold or silver and the like, or carved out of wood, immediately it puts on, and is filled with, the divine power which was residing there at the time, and (so) it becomes a place of God’s Shekhina, even more so than in the Ark.

Just as the ministry of the New Covenant is more honorable before God than the things which took place in the Old Covenant, just as there is a difference between Moses and Christ, just as the ministry which Jesus received is more excellent than the one which was given through Moses, and just as the honor of a human person is greater and more excellent in His creation than (that of) dumb objects – so is this form of (the Cross), which now exists, much more honorable because of the honor of the Man whom the Divinity took from us for His abode; and because this divine good pleasure which is in this Man who completely became its temple is different from the metaphorical good pleasure which of old was in those dumb objects in which was the shadow of these things to come in Christ.” 

(The Second Part, Chapters 4-41 (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium), p. 56)

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Defying Our Self-Loving Nature

And the Lord called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?   (Mark 8:34ff)

Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky comments:

“Suffering is repulsive to a natural person. Almost all his life consists in applying solicitude to solicitude in order to avoid suffering. But then the Apostle tells him that he rejoices in sorrows, that he glories in them. The Gospel blesses those who are banished, dishonored, or beaten, calling everyone to follow a narrow path which few travel. It demands that one renounce oneself, that one despise one’s life. The Gospel foretells woe to the wealthy, the satiated, those who laugh and are spoken well of by all men. In order to follow such teaching, we must defy our self-loving nature. What will rouse is up to this?” (The Moral Idea of the Main Dogmas of the Faith, pp 90-91)

As Metropolitan Anthony says we must “defy our self-loving nature” not deify it!

 

Christ Lives in Me

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians, writes:

“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  

(Galatians 2:19-20)

The Elder Porphyrios writes:

“In the Church which possesses the saving sacraments there is no despair. We may be deeply sinful. But we make confessions, the priest reads the prayer, we are forgiven and we progress towards immortality, without any anxiety and without any fear. When we love Christ, we live the life of Christ. If, by the grace of God, we succeed in doing this, we find ourselves in a different state, we live in another, enviable state. For us there is no fear; neither of death, nor of the devil nor of hell. All these things exist for people who are far from Christ, for non-Christians. For us Christians who do His will, as the Gospel says, these things do not exist. That is, they exist, but when one kills the old self along with the passions and desires, one gives no importance to the devil or to evil. It doesn’t concern us. What concerns us is love, service to Christ and to our fellow man. If we reach the point of feeling joy, love, worship of God without any fear, we reach the point of saying, It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me. No one can prevent us from entering into this mystery.” (Wounded by Love, The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, p 90)

Bearing the Cross: Putting our Hand to the Plough

The Gospel lesson for the Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is  Mark 8:34-9:1.  We respond to the death of the Son of God on the Cross for us and for our salvation by being willing ourselves to take up our crosses to follow Christ.

And the Lord called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

We are to take up the cross, and yet, as Anglican Archbishop  Rowan Williams reminds us, that burden is light.

“To see – to feel – the cross as a light load is the impossible possibility of faith: letting our best-loved pictures of ourselves and our achievements die, trying to live without the protections we are used to, feels like hell, most of the time. But the real hell is never to be able to rest from the labors of self-defense. It is only very slowly indeed that we come to see why the bearing of the cross is a deliverance, not a sentence; why the desert fathers and mothers could combine relentless penance with confidence and compassion. […] ‘It is not sincerity, it is truth which frees us…To seek sincerity above all things is perhaps, at bottom, not to want to be transformed.’ ”Silence and Honey Cakes, pp 48-49)

Archimandrite Zacharias teaches us that cross we take up also serves as a plough to help prepare the garden of heart so that the seed which Christ sows in the garden of our hearts can propagate and bear spiritual fruit.

“If we are to cultivate the soil of our hearts we will first need a plough, and our plough must be the Cross of Christ. This will lead us into obedience to His word and we will take up our own cross. No one can carry the Cross of Christ. […] We bear our small personal cross in obedience to Christ’s commandment. This cross is the pain and sacrifice involved in freeing the heart from dispassionate attachments and secret deceits, that it may run freely after its beloved God and call upon Him. It will have room for nothing but a yearning for God by which to invoke His Name. The one desire of the heart is to be one with Him Who joined Himself to our nature, bringing into it all His divine virtues so that we might become ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ Thus, by taking up our small cross, we inherit the life hidden in His great Cross.”Remember Thy First Love, p 243)

Denying the Self AND Taking Up the Cross

Mark 8:34-9:1

And the Lord called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom commented on the need of each Christian to take up their own cross as Jesus taught:

Martyrs Boris & Gleb

 “He is not going to be crucified for you every day. There is a moment when you must take up your own cross. We must each take up our own cross, and when we ask something in our prayers, we undertake by implication to do it with all our strength, all our intelligence and all the enthusiasm we can put into our actions, and with all the courage and energy we have. In addition, we do it with all the power which God will give us. If we do not do this, we are wasting our time praying.” (Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, pg. 36)

Denying oneself can also be manifested in “dying to self”:

“‘Dying to self’ is spiritual shorthand for rooting out all manner of exaggerated self-interest, characteristics of ourselves that constrict us in narcissism and blind self-centeredness. This is the self within us, while all too real, is what nonetheless must die, the ‘false self,’ which must give way to the new life we are called to attain. The false self embodies the very characteristics we loathe in our better moments. Were we to look at ourselves honestly, we would see how petty, thoughtless, and loveless we can be at any given moment. We might have an occasional, fleeting insight that we will never attain any real happiness unless we come to terms with what really counts in life. One doesn’t have to search far to find pathetic example of individuals who struck it rich by the standards of ‘the world,’ yet whose personal lives were utterly miserable. Wealth, fame, and talent alone are not good enough to make us happy. When they occur independently of genuine spiritual values, they only throw into greater relief the true poverty and slavery of our lives.” (The Monks of New Skete, In the Spirit of Happiness, pgs. 86-87)


Deny Yourself and Take up Your Cross

Mark 8:34-9:1

At that time, the Lord called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

 “You say that you have no success. Indeed, there will be no success so long as you are full of self-indulgence and self-pity. These two things show at once that what is uppermost in your heart is ‘I’ and not the Lord. It is the sin of self-love, living within us, that gives birth to all our sinfulness, making the whole man a sinner from head to foot, so long as we allow it to swell in the soul. And when the whole man is a sinner, how can grace come to him?  It will not come, just as a bee will not come where there is smoke. There are two elements in the decision to work for the Lord: first a man must deny himself , and secondly he must follow Christ (Mark 8:34). The first demands a complete stamping out of egoism or self-love, and consequently a refusal to allow any self-indulgence or self-pity—whether in great matters or small.” (Theophan the Recluse, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pg. 260)

Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross 2008

The context for my comments on this the Sunday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, 2008:   The remnant of Hurricane Ike ripped through the Dayton area causing massive damage and power outages.  One week after the storm passed through numerous people are still without power.  This past week another type of hurricane swept across America – a banking/financial crisis whose long term impact is probably going to be greater than that of Hurricane Ike.

(Galatians 2:16-20)    We know that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Though this text is usually used in the Protestant-Catholic debate about works vs. faith, Americans should think about this text in terms of how they understand themselves.  Americans often feel we are a righteous country and our deeds prove our righteousness.   St. Paul says it is not our works that will save us.   We are not made righteous by the works we do, nor do we earn God’s favor in this way – not even as Americans.  God sends sunshine and rain to the good and to the evil, and all benefit from His generous goodness.  We don’t earn His favor.  God so loved the world, not just the United States, that His sent His Son to save the world.  Americans are often tempted to think that because we are righteous God sends His grace on us – but God’s grace, His favor, is unearned.  It is a free gift.   The question is not how good and righteous we are, but whether our faith in God is such that He justifies us.  We are not justified by our logic, we are justified by God’s saving action which He has offered to the world.    If God has shed His grace on us – this is a cause for humble thanksgiving, not for arrogant self congratulations!

(Mark 8:34-9:1)    [34] He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. [35] For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

The very teaching of Christ which distinguishes Christians from others is the willingness to practice self denial in order to follow Christ.  We do not need electricity to be Christian.  We do not need economic prosperity to be a Christian.    We can do everything we need to do as Christians and to be Christians without electric power and without a strong economy.  With St. Paul we know how to live in times of great abundance and in times of need.  We are to be people of gracious thanksgiving, faith and prayer, not just when things are going well, but at all times.  No storm of any kind – whether natural or manmade – should be able to drive away our faith in God.  For if we value prosperity and electricity more than we value God, if we cannot practice self denial, then we cannot be Christian.

 [36] For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? [37] Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

This verse really speaks to our current banking/financial crisis in America.  People have thought they can gain the world, greed abounds everywhere, but they lose their souls and do not realize they have lost something infinitely more valuable than the millions they pocketed.  Insatiable greed gets euphemized as “profit” which we see as always a good.  But it is not what Christ who spoke about denying one’s self would have emphasized.   The rich young man went away from Christ saddened when Christ told him to give away his prized positions to the poor.

[38] Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Jesus spoke against unbridled greed, and some are embarrassed by his words to love our enemies and to give expecting nothing in return.  Some are embarrassed to take up the cross and follow Him.   We are embarrassed that it is not wealth and prosperity which make us Christians, and that we can give thanks to God even in times of need.   Embarrassed because we love our prosperity, and think it is what is truly important and what we should be defending at all costs.  But it is not prosperity which makes us godly, god protected, or loved by God.   It is our faithfulness to God in any and every condition which reveals our hearts.