The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
Today we hear familiar but difficult words. Our Lord Jesus Christ says “If any man would come after Me,” I suppose this is a good place for us to begin. Do we want to go after Jesus? Do we want to follow Him? Perhaps if we’re honest, we think that following Jesus Christ will be too hard. Perhaps we think it will be boring. Perhaps we might think that it will not be easy and will not be any fun. Perhaps we are even more honest with ourselves and we say “I want to live for myself and my own pleasures and desires, I have no time for Jesus Christ.” It doesn’t quite matter what reason we come up with. One way or another we are put into a situation that requires us to decide if we truly want to follow Christ, to go after Him.
If we do agree to follow after Christ then we move on to the next part of the Lord’s teaching “If any man would follow after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” On this subject St. Nikolai Velimirovich said,
“What does it mean to take up your cross? I means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, bitter though it may be, that is offered. Do great catastrophes fall on you? Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith that God’s help is at hand, as the apostles did.” -Homilies, Vol. 1
So St. Nikolai likens carrying your cross with accepting whatever hardships, pains, difficulties and awful situations that may come into your life. Somehow, he says, these will be used for your healing as the children of God. We know that God hates to see His children suffer. He hates to see us unwell. So He allows many difficulties to give us the opportunity to grow more fully into His image and likeness. To be fully healed sons and daughters.
I believe that another significant aspect to this reading is that the Lord Jesus expects us to carry heavy burdens including some of the aspects of our life that might seem rather unpleasant but are clearly and definitively part of His will for our lives, such as unflinching obedience to His commandments, even when it will cause us difficulties or even some suffering. To carry the cross in my life may be to struggle with temptations and desires. It might be to continue along a path because we know that it is the right path, the moral and just path even though internally it seems like slow death and is very unfulfilling. Yet we know that it is God’s will for our lives because it is in accordance with His teachings and because this path will ultimately serve others instead of being self-serving. It will bring life to others.
Do you think that the Lord felt joy upon the cross? Do you think it was easy to carry the cross? Hardly. But the hymn of the Church says “through the cross is joy come into the world.” Through His pain and suffering, selflessly, on our behalf, He grabbed hold of true joy that He desires to share with us and with the world.
So St. Isaac the Syrian writes for our encouragement saying, “Do you not wish to follow the steps of the saints? Or do you wish to go a way which is especially for you, without suffering? The way unto God is a daily cross. No one can ascend unto heaven with comfort, we know where the way of comfort leads.” –Mystic Treatises, Homily LIX
Your soul is precious to Christ. Don’t trade it away for anything less than Jesus Christ and His treasures. These are the rewards that are ours if we carry our crosses with courage. The door to the kingdom has been opened by Our Lord Jesus Christ through the key of the Cross. And the identification that is required of us to enter that place is to show that we are likewise carrying our crosses to the very end. So that they may be planted next to the throne of Christ and take root and bloom and bear fruits of joy and life together with the saints. Glory be to God Forever, AMEN.