By Protopresbyter Christos Aigides
"Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." - Mark 8:34
We are by the grace of God in the midst of Holy Lent. We are in the middle of a beautiful spiritual journey. The God-bearing Fathers of the Church have set for us here a halfway point to look to, to listen to, and to venerate the Honorable and Life-giving Cross of our Lord. The martyric Cross, upon which the Lord opened His arms to embrace all mankind, is the springboard in the spiritual journey of each of us. This Cross is the criterion and measure for healthy spirituality. Eventually every Cross becomes an opportunity and ticket to Paradise.
A prerequisite for true spirituality, and therefore of fasting, prayer and every effort in it, is freedom. This great gift of God to man is unfortunately understood by few people, fewer take advantage of it, and even fewer live it. It should be clear that a forced spiritual life has no meaning! Spirituality requires freedom, joy and bravery, not pressure, grief or anxiety. Freedom is a prerequisite in every human relationship. We must be free in all and with all. Besides, in this is the nature of the sin which causes commitment to a lack of freedom.
Must Deny Himself...
Christ clearly tells us that whoever wants to follow Him, that is, whoever wants to have a spiritual life, must deny himself. If I want to freely be a disciple of His, I must be ready to lose, to be hurt, to be humiliated, that my will not be done, that I always be last, that I be a good disciple. Unfortunately we do the opposite, and for this reason the greatest disease of our time is selfishness. It is because of this that we have so many wrecks in our relationships, so many divorces among couples, why we get irritable with our children, why we have difficulties with our parents, why there are conflicts with our co-workers. All of this is because we do the opposite of the word of our Lord.
Take Up His Cross...
The result of our egotistical positions in all things is the characteristic that we do not want any trouble in our lives. We feel discomfort when we have temptations, and if we could we would avoid it. We flee pain and discomfort when we encounter the blessing of the Cross, temptation, pain and difficulty. We do not utilize all of God's gifts. This is not understood by simple logic. Many times it seems illogical and silly. But this is what the Cross is - foolishness. It is not a difficulty, but a blessing. Not a punishment, but joy. Besides, this is the path laid down by Christ, and followed by the cloud of martyrs, confessors, and venerable ones, who live in eternity with Him.
All of the above is what it means to faithfully follow the Lord. The prerequisites are specific, clear and simple. There should be no alteration or questioning. To follow the Lord means to follow the Church. To be obedient to the Lord means to do what the Church says and professes. This is because the Church is Christ and persists into eternity. But if my praying, my fasting, and generally my attempt at spirituality is how I want or how I think or even how it suits me, then perhaps I am following my will and not Christ.
With my blessing, hope and prayer, my beloved, for the rest of Lent, and even our entire lives, let us follow truly, essentially and spiritually the Church, each of us raising our own personal Cross, which is our ticket to Paradise.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos