September 17, 2023

Homily on the Sunday After the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord (St. Luke of Simferopol)

On the Sunday After the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord

Bear Your Cross

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea
(Delivered on September 30, 1945)
"Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).

These words of Christ, words of great importance and depth, can cause bewilderment in many. After all, we want to save our soul, but the Lord says that if we strive for this, we will lose it, and in order to save the soul, we need to lose it - lose it for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and the gospel.

What does this mean? How to understand this?

Of course, there can be nothing contradictory in the words of Christ. You need to be able to understand them correctly. And this is the answer to this bewilderment that the Lord Himself gives us: “Whoever wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Now, if we do this, then we will save our soul.

What is needed in order to fulfill these words of Christ? What does it mean to deny yourself?

To deny oneself means to completely abandon our understanding of the ways of life, from what we strive for according to the dictates of our hearts, to completely abandon our will, our mind. Is there anything strange or impossible about this? Of course not.

When a student learns a craft from a master, he must be completely guided by the master’s instructions; he does not dare invent anything of his own, any of his own ways of working. He must unquestioningly obey the master, follow all his instructions and work as the master orders, without deviating from the instructions.

So we must become obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, and obedient to the end, obedient to death.

It's very simple. You just need to concentrate, and deepen your spiritual gaze, and take a good, honest look at the recesses of your soul. And then every sinner will see what is going on there. There is darkness there, snakes swarm there - snakes of lies, fornication, envy, pride, gluttony, theft, even murder. And they are infinite.

Don't we hate snakes and avoid them? Will we love the snakes that nest in our hearts? We must hate them, we must hate our soul if it is swarming with snakes. There is little in us that deserves love. There is much in every sinner that deserves hatred. And you need to be kindled with this hatred. If a stinking dirty rag suddenly appears on your shoulders, won’t you shake it off and trample it under your feet? And if a sinful person looks into his soul, he will see that the robe of his soul is like this stinking rag. And he will feel nauseated, disgusted, he will hate this rag, he will hate his soul, which is so ugly dressed.

You see, there is nothing terrible in this requirement of Christ that whoever wants to follow Him should hate his soul. We need to hate our pride, our conceit, which tells us to build our lives in our own way, to set our own goals in life, to make plans. We need to put it all aside, break this dusty web, say goodbye to everything. You need to renounce your will, your plans, your mind and humbly bow your neck under the light yoke of Christ. He needs to stretch out his trembling hand to the Lord Jesus Christ and cry out to Him: “Lord! I won't go my own way. I will follow You, You lead me!”

One must completely and unconditionally submit to the will of Christ. Only then will it be possible for us to follow Christ. If the Lord leads us to where He Himself went, if the Lord demands from us that we take up our cross and follow Him, then where will we go?

If a cross is laid on us, then, of course, we will not go to fun, not to celebration, but to where criminals carrying their cross should go. We must follow Jesus Christ to Golgotha, to the end, even to death.

What kind of death does the Lord require of us? Was it the physical death on the cross that He Himself suffered? No, He requires something else. He demands that we be obedient, humble, that we imitate Him, who humbled Himself: He, "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Just as He was obedient to His Father, so we must be obedient to Him to the end.

He leads us to death, but not the kind that should make our hearts tremble. He demands from us that we fulfill the words: “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). He demands that we crucify on the cross and mortify our flesh, our passions. He demands that we nail our sins to the cross, just as He nailed the sins of the whole world to His Cross. He demands that we not nail our body to the cross, but that we crucify the old man, who lives not according to His commandments, but as the world commands us to live. He demands that we hate this old man, who is under the power of the devil, so that we throw him off like dirty, old clothes and begin a new life, the life of a regenerated man, so that we save our immortal soul, destined for communication with God.

And we must fulfill this, for otherwise our heart cannot be cleansed, the light of Christ cannot shine in it. In order for the sun to shine, the darkness of the night must dissipate. In order for there to be clean air in the home, it must be cleared of all dirt. So, if we do not renounce all filth, if we do not crucify our flesh, which is corrupted by lusts, on the cross, how can we follow Christ? This is an absolutely necessary condition.

But if we begin this great work, then we will have a difficult and prolonged struggle, for that old man whom we overthrew and crucified is a fierce beast. And the more we beat and crucify him, the more furiously he will snap back. He is dangerous for us, he will never leave us alone. And we have to fight this beast for the rest of our lives.

From the lives of the saints, we know that until the end of their days they all waged an endless struggle with their old man, whom they crucified on the cross.

And such a struggle awaits each of those who decided to fulfill the words of Christ and deny themselves. A long, difficult, thorny path awaits him, without stopping, for to stop in spiritual life means to go backwards, to lose everything that is good and holy that has been acquired. We must hurry, we must move forward steadily, tirelessly.

Who was higher than the holy apostle Paul, who was caught up to the third heaven and saw the blessedness of the righteous, who can compare with him in his determination to crucify his flesh, who dares to say, as he did: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, for me the whole world is crucified on cross" (Gal. 2:20). And look what this great man says: “Brethren, I do not consider myself to have attained, but rather, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal” (Phil. 3:13). He strives forward, hurries, because before him is a great, holy and extremely difficult goal to achieve. Should we not hurry, should we not run, if we choose the path that he walked and which was indicated by the Lord Jesus Christ! This is what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ.

What does it mean to take up your cross, for the Lord says that each of us must take up our cross? What kind of crosses do we have? Crosses are different for different people, for God has prepared his own cross for everyone. It is very important that we understand what our cross is. It is very important that we take up exactly the cross that is offered to us by God. It is very dangerous to make crosses for yourself, and this happens quite often.

What crosses are prepared for most of us? The crosses are simple, not like the ones the martyrs carried, not like the ones the ascetics carried in the desert until the end of their lives. Our life, the life of all people, is grief, sadness and suffering, and all these sorrows, tribulations and suffering of our worldly, social and family life constitute our cross. Is it not enough that an unsuccessful marriage, an unsuccessful choice of profession, serious illnesses, humiliation, dishonor, deprivation of property, and the slander that haunt us cause suffering? All the evil that people do to us, marital jealousy - isn’t this our cross?

All people bear and must bear such suffering, although they do not want it at all. People who hate Christ, people who reject the path of Christ, still suffer, but they grumble and do not want to bear the cross.

What is the difference between them and those Christians who humbly bear their cross?

The difference is that Christians bear it humbly, that they do not blaspheme God, but humbly, bowing their heads, carry a heavy cross until the end of their lives, following the Lord Jesus Christ, carry it for the sake of Him and the Gospel, carry it out of ardent love for Christ, because their mind and all desires are captivated by the gospel teaching.

In order to fulfill this teaching, in order to follow the path of Christ, one must humbly and tirelessly bear one’s cross, not cursing it, but blessing it, fulfilling the covenant of Christ, denying oneself, and following Christ along the narrow path that leads to the kingdom of heaven. And we all want the path of life to be wide, spacious, without any thorns, dirt, stones and ditches, so that it is strewn with flowers. But the Lord shows us a different path - the path of suffering.

We need to know that on this path, no matter how difficult it may be, if we turn to Christ with all our hearts, He Himself will amazingly help us. He will pick us up when we fall, strengthen us, encourage us, and comfort us. And then we will understand the words of the holy Apostle Paul that “our short, easy suffering produces eternal glory in immeasurable abundance” (2 Cor. 4:17), then these sufferings of our short life will be easy suffering for us.

When we walk this path, which only at the beginning seems terrible and difficult, when we feel God’s grace strengthening us, then we will joyfully and humbly bear our cross, knowing that this will open for us the entrance to the kingdom of heaven.

May our Lord Jesus Christ make everyone worthy of eternal, glorious, endless life with Him, with His Father and the Holy Spirit and with the whole host of holy Angels. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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