Throughout my day to day existence as one whose body has matured, or maybe I should say that I peaked many years ago, I constantly make choices as to what activities I want to participate in and what sweets and foods I want to consume. And then of course, how will I spend what is left of my chronos time?
The celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross always triggers some time for reflection on these matters. Another year has passed and what sinfulness have I nailed to His cross and excommunicated from my daily walk? We heard this morning in the epistle:“I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live in faith, in that of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Gal. 2:20]
I simply and mathematically have less time today than yesterday to repent! Tic-Tock! St. Ambrose of Optina writes:”God does not create a cross for man. No matter how heavy a cross a man may carry in life, it is still just wood, from which man himself made, and it always grows from the soil of his heart.”
This cross we carry is indeed man-made and handmade in America with our willing and unwilling hands. It comes in many shapes and sizes and some are very heavy while others are light. We continually add weight to our crosses when we turn from God, and those failures seem to cling together like barnacles on the underside of a ship, which slow us down and suck away our energy. St. Clement of Alexandra defines it this way: “The one who knows God will follow the Lord’s footsteps, bearing the cross of the Savior. It is said, “The world is crucified to him and he to the world.” The Lord says, “He who loses his life will save it.” We can “lose our lives” in one of two ways. First, we can risk our lives just as the Lord did for us. Secondly, we can separate our lives from the customary things of this world. Bearing the cross means to separate our souls from the delights and pleasures of this life. If you do this, you will find your life again – resting in the hope of what is to come; dying to ourselves means being content with the necessities of life, when we want more that these necessities, it is easy to sin.”
This walk in the valley of Orthodoxy is a live-saving experience in which we gain life by practicing the age long disciplines. For most of us it is not a simple pill to swallow once and be healed, it takes some work to scrape these barnacles from our underbelly. And then repeat, and repeat. St. Nikolai Velimirovich asks: “What does it mean to take up your cross? It 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.”
Our Lord’s cross is a life-consuming love! St. John Chrysostom instructs us: “When, then, you make the sign of the cross on the forehead, arm yourself with a saintly boldness, and reinstall your soul in its old liberty; for you are not ignorant that the cross is a prize beyond all price. Consider what is the price given for your ransom, and you will never more be slave to any man on earth. This reward and ransom is the cross. You should not then, carelessly make the sign on the forehead, but you should impress it on your heart with the love of a fervent faith. Nothing impure will dare to molest you on seeing the weapon, which overcometh all things.”