Link to Gospel Reading: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
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.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
If you have ever been to Niagara Falls, you would see the strength of the river stream before the falls. And you will see that whoever sets foot in the river, the stream is so strong that it will carry him to the fall, where it will be their end. There can be no other help, unless there is someone standing solidly on the land, handing a strong rope or piece of wood that cannot be broken, and the person in the stream can hold onto while fighting the stream to get to the land side to safety.
Why Deny ourselves?
In this gospel today. We hear the Lord Jesus Christ asking us to deny ourselves. Why does he do that? Why would Christ create us if He want us to deny ourselves? Here is where it all began.
In the Trisagion Prayers for the departed, we pray that the one who departed is received by the angels and goes to the bosom of Abraham, where there is no sadness, no pain, and no sighing, but life eternal.
God, through Christ created us to live eternally with him in the fulness of Joy and communion with Him. Suffering was never part of His plan. Adam and Eve were truly free from everything. They were even clothed with light. They lost this freedom and were stripped from this light when they obeyed Satan, rather than obeying God.
Lie of Satan
They believed the lie of Satan. His lie was: You want to eat this fruit. The truth was, they never did want to eat the fruit. They wanted to obey God. But it was Satan who wanted them to do that, and gave them the illusion that they want to do it. Hence, they had the illusion of freedom, but the reality is that they were slaves to the evil one.
What are the consequences?
They have become naked, naked without light, naked without beauty, naked without joy, naked without peace. Naked from every grace of God. This, brothers and sisters, is the cross that we carry every day. Satan, being a deceiver, never told Adam and Eve that they are about to be separated from God, live in toil and tiredness, bear children with pain, he never told them that they are to carry a cross their entire lives, He told them you are having a piece of fruit. He deceived them with a humongous deceit.
The Cross and Freedom
The cross is self-inflicted because we obey the evil one when we follow our passions. We say to ourselves: I can eat what I want, I can drink what I want, I can watch what I want, I can do what I want. No one tells me what to do. And we call this freedom, while in reality, we are doing what Satan wants us to do, we are slaves to him through the shackles of our passions. We think we are having fun in the water, while Satan hides the falls behind the stream, he hides the truth that there is destruction at the end if we stay in this stream. We don’t realize that it is a strong stream that is leading us to our destruction. Christ wants to free us from those shackles. He wants us to hand us the rope, the wood that we will hold on and will lead us to safety. This is why the Church emphasizes the importance of fasting, to say no to our passions, and gain back our true freedom.
Carry your cross
Christ, being the truth Himself, always tells us the truth. In this Gospel He tells us upfront: You are carrying a cross. He does not massage or sugarcoat the truth, however, he tells us, this is the only way to safety. The only way to safety is to deny your passions, because those passions are the door through which the evil one will enter and lead you to your death.
Our belief of the Cross
Many people believe that the Cross is given to us by Christ to save us. This is not our Orthodox understanding. He never says: this is my cross I am giving you.
Cross of Satan
The Church believes that the cross has been inflicted by Satan through our sins. So we will carry a cross throughout our lives whether we follow Christ or not. Without Christ, the cross becomes heavier and heavier each day, we will be only living solely in our anxieties and our own self-worshipping, and will lead us eventually to an eternity away from Christ, away from the light, living only through the darkness of ourselves, which what the Church calls hell.
Let Christ Carry
However, by following Christ, we will allow Christ to carry this cross with us, as he promised, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”, The more we deny ourselves, by stepping on our passions, by ignoring our own will, and allowing Christ’s will be done. We allow Christ to carry the cross with us, and this cross no longer becomes a source of pain, but a source of Joy, an instrument of healing, and a bridge to safety. Christ will overturn the trick of the evil one, and turn the tool that was purposed to our death to become a tool for our own salvation. Rather than a tool to weaken us, it becomes a way to strengthen us. Christ was naked on the cross, to end our nakedness, and clothe us with His light.
This is the hymn for the Cross on Wednesday.
The Cross is the guardian of all the world, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings, the Cross is the support of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels, and a scourge to demons.
Christ, in all His infinite humility, knowing that this is the saving truth, does not enforce this reality on us, and starts this Gospel by the word “IF”. “If you want to follow me” He knows that the consequences are dire if we chose not to, however, he still gives us freedom not to. True freedom gives option, whenever you see something enforced in our everyday lives, know that this is not from God. Because God gives us even the freedom to choose our own destruction or life eternal.
May God grant us the strength to follow him, and to bear our cross with Joy, through the intercessions of the Theotokos and of Saint Basil and all the saints. Amen.