March 14, 2015

The Cross, the Support of Christians

By Archimandrite Gregory Constantinou

We are already in the middle of Great Lent and our Church sets before us our primary symbol, our Christian emblem, the blessed, honorable and life-giving Cross.

For us Orthodox Christians the Cross of Christ is the flag, the banner, the badge, the scepter, the rod of power.

The language of the Cross is silence, pain, deprivation, elimination, humiliation and dishonor; it comes to erase and eliminate any element of haughtiness, verbosity, glory and boasting in various appreciative applause.

The crucified Christ continuously speaks to us through His blood, His pain, His shame and His humiliation.

The language of the Cross is an embrace to those in pain, the despised, although its preaching is our rebuke, it judges us and sifts us.

The language of the Cross leads us to dive deeper into self-knowledge, self-rebuke, self-reproach and self-criticism, and not in public relations, publicity and concentrations of praise.

The Orthodox Church does not permanently lower heaven to earth. The Cross is the one that ends up in heaven.

It is that which teaches us the futility of this present life, and that here we have no lasting city, according to the Apostle Paul.

Of course we as Christians, who attend church and commune, study, pray and fast, we are interested in a good reputation, to dress well, etc., but of course these should not be at the same pace as our Crucifixion/Resurrection journey.

Those who crucified the Crucified One demanded Him, if He was God, to come down from the Cross. He did not come down. Why? Because we have no right to challenge and demand for miracles in our lives, hurried and impatiently.

At the same time we are not justified in the persistent searching for gifted Elders, being satisfied with fallacious impressions of revelations about the future, while instead we should humbly and patiently seek mercy and divine illumination through our spiritual father.

Often we sidestep, so as not to find ourselves before the Cross, and look into the mirror to see our shortcomings, failures and distortions. We dodge the Cross, my beloved, even at the Divine Liturgy, interpreting today only eschatologically, glorifyingly, cheerfully.

To present and interpret the Cross as an ancient and sacred symbol to others and for us to find excuses for an attitude or behavior without sacrifice, and even invoking immunity to tedious arguments hides our actual motives, and at the end we interpret them wrongly.

The rationalization of the Cross of Christ is truly futile, but this still exists.

The sacred Evangelists can all insist in the description of the Passion and Crucifixion of the Lord, but they still come short, without causing sentimental emotions, but their aim is the soteriological character of the events and they highlight its importance for the Church (John Karavidopoulos).

When we do our Cross we remember the Crucifixion of Christ for us sinners. We remember the words of the Lord: "Whoever wants to follow Me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24).

What is our cross that we are called to lift? Our daily trials, sorrows, sufferings, problems, the tedious and difficult, what we don't expect, that surprise us, that afflict us. If these are unwilling, then the willing are fasting, vigils and temperance, which crucify the old man and humble us. Only with the help of the Crucified One can my personal heavy cross become unexpectedly and unusually light, since Christ said: "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).

The affirmation of pain in the acceptance and lifting of the cross of course means sadness in the world, but it surely works for our moral perfection, sanctification and the salvation of us all. Only those who hurt, struggle and are crucified can understand what I am saying, otherwise we are rambling, chattering and those who are tasteless wonder how someone can rejoice during great sorrow and boast in the Cross.

This is our faith. Let us not want to change it into a social or philosophical system. Christianity is always crucified, and as we said, from the Cross we proceed to the Resurrection.

The emptying of the Cross does not mean magnificent glory and justification, but ministry, tolerance and humility. This is how our cross-bearing monastics try to live.

There was a dying monk who was approached by younger monks to hear about his experiences and benefit. The blessed elder told them: "My children, I do not hope in my vigils or fasts, but rather in the spilled blood of Christ!"

The Holy Elder Paisios also wrote in one of his letters: "Blessed are those who give everything for Christ and are deprived of every human comfort again for Christ, thus managing to be near to Christ day and night with divine consolation, which is often so much that one is want to say: 'My God, I cannot suffer Your love, because my little heart cannot contain it.'" This is how the humble speak.

To be imitators and soldiers of our sweet Jesus, we must, like Him, ascend the Cross, promise obedience to His message, which proclaims the crucifixion of our passions, humility, obedience, patience, hope, resurrection, freedom, paradisaical joy.

Venerating with diligent love, willingness and disposition the honorable and life-giving Cross of Christ, may His grace and blessings always be with us. Amen.

Source: Translated By John Sanidopoulos.