Veneration of the Holy Cross
"If anyone wishes to 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.”
The gospel and the feast today relate to the Holy Cross. The Cross is a symbol, reminding us of the Lord’s voluntary offering of Himself for the life of the world. The Cross is a source of power. We wear crosses around our necks, we bless in the form of a cross; most of the sacraments use a hand gesture in the form of a cross in the epiclesis, the calling upon the Holy Spirit. But the cross is more than the above.
“If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Here the Lord tells us that we must take up our own personal cross. What does He mean by this?
The truth is that each of us carries some sort of cross; some carry a larger cross than others. For some the cross is an ailment; for others, an insufferable relative. For still others, it is poverty, or hardship. There is no need to elaborate, because you yourselves know what your cross is.
Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote an article about our personal crosses, in which he made two key points. The first is that we must voluntarily take up our cross. We need to understand this clearly. Some crosses are obviously voluntary, such as when a person becomes a martyr or a monk, or when someone voluntarily assumes a responsibility that otherwise does not belong to her/him, such as the care of a church or the upbringing of an orphan. Other crosses are not so clear, such as when an illness strikes a person. Is this a voluntary cross? It is, when we accept it as such.
St. John Chrysostom commented on the story of the rich man and Lazaros, saying that neither is wealth in itself evil nor is poverty in itself virtuous, but rather virtue lies in how one uses his condition. Lazaros was virtuous because he did not complain, but rather accepted his condition with patience. His choice was not wealth or poverty, but rather in the way he responded to his own particular situation.
If a person is struck by an illness and he spends his time moaning and complaining, then it is simply an illness. But if instead of complaining the person takes the attitude that this illness was permitted by God for my betterment and that something can be gained by patiently enduring it, then it becomes a voluntary cross.
The second point made by Bishop Kallistos Ware is that the cross becomes a sharing in the universal suffering of humanity. We do not carry our cross as individuals but rather as members of the human race. Christ assumed His cross not because He was sinful and needed to redeem Himself, but rather because He loved humanity and wished to suffer on its behalf. Nothing that we can do compares to what Christ did; all that we can do is to share in his love, in offering ourselves for humanity.
“If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” We tend to interpret these words as referring to the martyrs, who shed their blood for Christ’s name, or to the monks or nuns or missionaries, who voluntarily take up a cross and follow Jesus. But each of us can take up a personal cross and gain God’s kingdom through it. All that is required is that we accept our cross voluntarily and carry it for the sake of all humanity.
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Text:Mark 8:34-38; 9:1
The Lord said: "If anyone wishes to 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 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 the kingdom of God come with power."