Take up Thy Cross
It was this week that we have celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on the Old Calendar. This is one of several feasts of the Lord with a reading appointed on the Sunday before and the Sunday after the day of the feast. For this feast on the Sunday before the motive of the suffering of our Lord on the Cross is disclosed to us: love. “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16) On the feast day itself the event of the Cross is narrated in the Gospel reading as St. John the Theologain relates it. And on the Sunday after we are confronted with our responsibility. Our Lord said: “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) It is this last that I will concentrate without speaking myself but referring to St. Innocent of Alaska and Metropolitan of Moscow. In his book “Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven”, he writes:
Let us look at the way by which we must follow Jesus Christ. He said, Whoever wishes to follow Me, (1) let him deny himself, (2) take up his cross, and (3) follow Me.
And so the first duty of a Christian, of a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, is to deny oneself.
To deny oneself means to give up one’s bad habits; to root out of the heart all that ties us to the world; not to cherish bad desires and thoughts; to quench and suppress bad thoughts; to avoid occasions of sin; not to do or desire anything from self-love;, but to do everything out of love for God. To deny oneself means, according to the Apostle Paul, to be dead to sin and the world but alive to Christ.
The word cross means sufferings, sorrows, and adversities. There are external and internal crosses. To take up one’s cross means to accept and bear without murmuring everything unpleasant, painful, sad, difficult, and oppressive that may happen to us in our life. And therefore , whether anyone offends you, or laughs at you, or causes you weariness, sorrow, or annoyance; or you have done good to someone and, instead of thanking you, he rises up against you and even makes trouble; or you want to do good, but you are not given a chance; or some misfortune has happened, for example, either you are ill yourself, or your wife, or children; or with all your activities and untiring labors you are suffering from want and poverty, and are so hard up that you do not know how to make both ends meet; or besides that, you are in some difficulty–bear all this without malice, without murmuring, without criticism, without complaint, that is, without regarding yourself as offended and without expecting any earthly reward in return; but bear it all with love, with joy and firmness….
And if when you are bearing your cross according to the word and intention of the Lord a proud thought rises up within you, that you are not like other people but firm, pious, and better than your neighbors and companions, uproot such thoughts as far as possible, for they can destroy all your virtues.
It was said before that there are external and internal crosses, but so far we have spoken almost entirely about external crosses….
Internal crosses can be found at all times, and more easily than external ones. You have only to direct your attention to yourself and to examine your soul with a sense of penitence, and a thousand internal crosses will at once present themselves. For instance, consider: How did you come to be in this world? Do you live as you ought to live? And so on. Pay due attention to this, and you will see at first glance that, being the creation and the work of the Almighty God, you exist in this world solely, with all your actions, with all your life, and with all your being, to glorify His holy and great Name. But you not only fail to glorify Him, but on the contrary you offend and dishonor Him by your sinful life. Then recollect and consider: What awaits you on the other side of your grave? On which side will you be at the time of Christ’s dread judgment, on the left or the right? And if you reflect in this way, you will inevitably be alarmed and begin to be disquieted. And this will be the beginning of internal crosses….
And if you do not pay any attention to the troubles and inner sufferings that you feel from such thoughts, and firmly resolve to bear them without seeking consolation in anything earthly, but pray more fervently to the Lord for your salvation and surrender the whole of yourself to His will, then the Lord will begin to show and reveal to you the state of your soul as it really is, to introduce and nourish within you fear, affliction, and sorrow and thereby purify you more and more. (pp. 25-29)
Through the prayers of St. Innocent may our Lord Jesus Christ help to endure our crosses and attain eternal life in His kingdom. Amen.