02 - Sunday After Elevation, Sept 15, 2013

Galatians 2:16-20 (Sunday After)

I Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 8:34-9:1 (Sunday After)

Matthew 19:16-26

The Christian Faith is the healing of soul and body. It heals us completely because it heals the heart, specifically the heart that the bible talks about in the words, for example, of the prophet Jeremiah: “The heart of man is deep beyond all things, and it is the man!” (17:9 LXX), or in the words of the Proverb: “The heart is the font from which flow the waters of life.” The Christian Faith creates in us a clean heart and puts within us a new and right spirit. The Christian Faith is an internal transformation that transfigures the soul and heals our personality, and transfigures the body from a corpse into the seed, like a grain of wheat, that will rise up in the resurrection of Christ at the Second Coming as a glorified body.

This transformation is effected in us by the Cross that Christ calls on us to “exalt”, to lift up. It is effected by the Cross because the Cross is an instrument of death. Christ united Himself to the Cross and the Cross became an instrument of the death of death. Those who take up their Cross and unite themselves to Christ are transformed because the Cross puts to death the death that is in them. As the faithful die daily in Christ, it is death that is dying daily in them, and as they die to death daily, they begin to live to life; not the life of the world but the life of the Spirit of God. That is why the Cross is the “power of God” to those who are being saved, to those who are being healed daily of death and its symptoms: impurity, murder, adultery, fornication, greed, foul talk, vanity, pride.

I suppose for most of us, this is well understood. What seems less well understood is how does one take up one’s cross to follow Christ? What exactly is the cross that we are to take up?

The liturgical texts of the Church, it seems to me, draw a connection between the wood of the Cross and our human nature. Christ nails Himself to the wood of the Cross as He unites Himself to our human nature. He heals the wood of the Cross of its bitterness, as He heals our human nature of its bitterness. He makes the death of the Cross to be the death of the death that our human nature has become subject to because of sin. To take up our cross on this level of meaning, then, means to take up our human nature in all of its infirmities physical and psychological, emotional and spiritual. In other words, it means to confront ourselves. We do this through the sacrament of confession. We take up our cross, then, as we confess our sins in true contrition and repentance. Confession is the sacrament of healing, it’s called the (forgotten) medicine of repentance, as it is “taken up” with sincerity, as it is “taken” seriously, in a genuine desire to hide nothing, but to confess all to the Physician of our souls, so that we can depart from the confession healed.

In the liturgical text of Great Lent, however, we hear the ascetic disciplines of the Church, specifically the Fast, described as flowers of abstinence that grow from the wood of the Cross. From this, we are given to understand that the Church gives us our cross to take up in her ascetic disciplines that she gives us to take up, specifically the disciplines of prayer and fasting and almsgiving, or acts of mercy.

She does not impose these disciplines, this cross, on us. For, she is the body of Christ and Christ does not compel us to take up our Cross if we don’t want to. He calls those who want to follow Himto take up their Cross, voluntarily, out of our love for Him, just as He took up the Cross voluntarily, out of His love for us. And so, we take up our Cross to follow Christ by taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church. That means observing as best we can, according to our strength and our circumstances, the seasons of fasting. We fast with our stomach during these seasons of the fast as best we can. But certainly all of us can fast all the time with our eyes and our ears, our hands and our feet, our tongue; discerning what we take in through eyes and ears so that our mind is not troubled by impure thoughts, what we do with our hands, where we go with our feet, what we say with our tongue.

We take up the cross of prayer by faithful observance of the services of the Church, incorporating our daily life into the liturgical rhythm of the Church so that our life in the world lives in the life of the Church. That means making attendance of Divine Liturgy every Sunday a priority. It also means participating in the feasts of the Church as much as we can, so that our daily life in this world becomes illumined by the light of the life of the Church. It means praying every day, reading the Scriptures every day. I think it best to start one’s day with prayer and the reading of the daily assigned Scriptures. To these disciplines of prayer and fasting are added acts of mercy, almsgiving. This certainly means giving out of our abundance to those in need; but I think it also means practicing kindness at home, treating our spouse, our children, our parents with respect if not with love and affection.

Moreover, the liturgical texts of Great Lent tell us that the death-destroying and life-creating energy that is active in the Cross of Christ is the very same energy that is active in these ascetic disciplines of the Church. The energy of the Cross is the power of God by which Christ descended into the tomb as into the human heart that is the man, that is deep beyond all things, and touched the corpse of our soul that was buried there, dead in its sins and trespasses, and made it to live in His Glory. That is the energy that we make to be active in us when we take up the Cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines and sacrament of confession.

We are at the beginning of the New Year. With this joyous feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Cross, the Church – Christ Himself – calls out to us to deny ourselves and to take up our cross, the cross of confession, of prayer and fasting and mercy, to follow Him to the joy of Christmas, the joy of Theophany, the Joy of Pascha and of Pentecost. This should be the time when the faithful make their “New Year’s Resolutions”, and this should be our resolution, if we want truly to follow Christ: in repentance, let us be resolved to deny ourselves and to take up our Cross to follow Christ into the joy of His Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.