September 16, 2023

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

  On the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord

The Seal of the Cross on the Heart

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea
"I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Gal. 6:17), writes the holy Apostle Paul. All monks and nuns wear the so-called paraman, which consists of a wooden cross on the chest and a quadrangular plate on the back, connected to it with ribbons, on which the instruments of the cross are depicted, and these words of the apostle are written around them. The paraman serves as a constant reminder of the Cross of Christ. But it is not enough to just wear a paraman on your body. All saints had the Cross of Christ inscribed on their very hearts. Not only monks, but also all true Christians must achieve this mark, for the Cross is the banner and seal of Christ.

How can you inscribe the Cross of Christ on your heart? An image of the Cross of the Lord should be a necessary accessory of every Christian home, and prayer before it should be a daily activity for all its inhabitants. After all, every view of the Cross of Christ, every thought about it invariably puts a holy seal on our heart. And the bitter tears shed over the greatest untruth of the world, revealed in the execution of the Savior, fix the image of the Cross in souls.

But, of course, the Cross of Christ cannot be depicted everywhere. It will not find a place for itself where low passions and vices nest. It’s hardly convenient for it to make an impression on his heart, which is always fumigated by wine vapors and tobacco smoke. The Cross of Christ is quickly and easily depicted in the souls of those good Christians who always remember the law of Christ and His blessed commandments.

The Lord says: "Whoever wants to save his soul will lose it, and whoever loses his soul for the sake of Me and the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35). These words may cause confusion for many. What does it mean to lose your soul? To save your soul, you need to lose it for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel, and therefore, fulfill the following condition set by the Lord: "If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me" (Mark 8:34).

What does it mean to deny yourself? This means giving up our understanding of the ways of life, our will, our mind, rejecting what we strive for according to the dictates of our heart. When a person learns a craft, he must be completely guided by the instructions of the master, obey him and has no right to deviate from his instructions, does not dare to invent anything of his own, or apply his own methods of work. When a person intends to embark on the path of monastic life and comes to a monastery, the first requirement that is presented to him is the complete cutting off of his will. He is given a mentor - an elder from among the monks who are very experienced in spiritual life - and the one who has just arrived must unquestioningly carry out everything that he commands him. The novice does not have the right to take a single step without the blessing of the elder, or to undertake a single deed without his blessing. A person must completely reject his will. Only then will he become a true monk.

We must become obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, obedient to the end, to death. We must hate our soul, for the Lord said: “If anyone comes after Me and does not hate his life, he cannot be My disciple” (see Luke 14:26). How to hate your soul? You just need to take a good look at it, concentrate and with complete honesty turn your spiritual gaze deep into its recesses. And then every sinner will see what is going on there: there is darkness, there live snakes of lies, fornication, envy, pride, gluttony, theft, murder, and they are infinite. Don't we hate snakes and avoid them? How can we love them nesting in our hearts? There is little in us that deserves love and much that deserves hate. And you need to be kindled with this hatred.

If you see dirty, stinking rags on your shoulders, won’t you throw them off and trample them under your feet? And if a sinful person looks closely, he will see that the robe of his soul is like such rags. And his clothing will become disgusting to him, he will hate the soul, so ugly dressed. We need to hate our pride, our conceit, which tells us to build life in our own way, set our own goals, set them aside, break the dusty web we wove when we made plans. We must break everything, say goodbye to everything and humbly bow our necks under the light yoke of Christ, stretch out our trembling hand to Him and cry out: “Lord! I will not go my own way, I will follow You, You lead me!”

To hate your soul means to hate its uncleanness, to renounce the old man, who is in the power of the devil, in order to save your immortal soul, destined for communication with God, and begin a new life - the life of a regenerated man. Whoever destroys his soul in this way will save it and be with Christ.

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

What kind of death does the Lord Jesus Christ require of us? Was it the physical death on the cross that He Himself suffered? No, He requires something else. He wants us to become completely obedient, completely humble, so 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 expects us to fulfill the words of Saint Paul: "Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). He demands that we nail to the cross and put to death our flesh, passions and sins, just as He nailed the sins of the whole world to the Cross. It is not our body that needs to be put to death, but the old man who lives not according to the commandments of God, but as the world tells us to live, must be crucified.

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 it is with the soul: if we do not reject all filth, if we do not crucify our flesh on the cross, which is corrupted by lusts, we will not be able to follow Christ. But you need to know that if we begin this great work, we will have a difficult and long struggle, for that old man whom we overthrew, whom we crucified on our cross, is a fierce beast. And the more we beat and crucify him, the more fiercely he will resist. 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 how, until the end of their days, they waged an endless struggle with the old man, whom they crucified on the cross. We remember that the Venerable One suffered grievously for many years: Mary of Egypt, who left a depraved life full of luxury, bliss and pleasure, and went into the desert. She was constantly tormented by visions of her former life. She imagined sweet dishes, precious wines and pleasures to which she was so accustomed. Her flesh, the old man, demanded to satisfy these temptations. It took many years of struggle to finally find the desired peace of soul.

Anyone who decides to follow Christ will have to walk a long, difficult, thorny path. And he will never be able to stop on this path, because to stop in spiritual life means to go backwards, to lose everything that is good and holy that has been acquired. We must hurry, steadily, tirelessly move forward.

Who was higher than the holy apostle Paul, caught up to the third heaven and seeing the blessedness of the righteous? But this great man also 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 and forward, for the goal before him is great, holy and extremely difficult to achieve. He is in a hurry, he is running. Should we not hurry, should we not run, if we follow 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.

The Lord says that each of us must take up our cross. What does it mean? What kind of crosses do we have? There are different crosses, for God has prepared his own cross for everyone. It is very important to understand what our cross is and to take exactly the cross that is offered to us by God. It is very dangerous to make crosses for yourself, and this happens often. Even having made the decision to follow Christ and bear his cross, even denying himself, a person can do nothing if he composes for himself a cross that seems suitable to him.

For most people, God has prepared the cross of worldly, family, and social life. But often they are not inclined to call it a cross and, while carrying it, do not even understand what kind of cross lies on their shoulders. These are simple crosses, not like those carried by martyrs or ascetics in the desert. We are destined for something different. But some may decide, for example, that they need to go to a monastery or desert and save themselves there. But the monastic path is prepared for very few.

Everyone's life is grief, sadness and suffering. It is all the sorrows, tribulations and torments of our worldly, social and family life that make up our cross. Isn’t a little suffering caused by an unsuccessful marriage or an unsuccessful choice of profession? Serious illnesses, humiliation, dishonor, deprivation of property, slander that persecute us, all the evil that people do to us, marital jealousy - this is precisely the cross of the vast majority of people. Everyone bears and must bear such suffering, although they do not want it at all.

People who hate Christ, 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 Christians? The fact is that Christians carry their cross obediently, not cursing it, but blessing it. They do not blaspheme God, but humbly, with their heads bowed, they carry their heavy burden until the end of their lives, following the Lord Jesus Christ. They endure tribulations for the sake of Christ and the gospel out of ardent love for Christ, because their minds and all desires are captivated by the Gospel teaching.

The path to the kingdom of heaven is narrow, thorny, and the gates are strait (see Luke 13:24). And we want the path of life to be wide, spacious, without any thorns, dirt, stones and ditches, strewn with flowers. The Lord shows us a different path - the path of suffering. We must remember 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 support us if we fall, strengthen us, encourage us and comfort us. And then we will understand the words of the Apostle Paul that our short-term, light suffering produces eternal glory in immeasurable abundance (2 Cor. 4:17).

When we follow this path, which only at first seems terrible and difficult, when we feel God’s grace strengthening us, then we will joyfully and humbly bear our cross and, moving forward, we will know that this opens 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. And let us bow to the ground to the great Apostle Paul for these soul-shattering words. And let us ask our Lord Jesus Christ for gracious help for the great work of always remembering His Cross. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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