September 17, 2023

On the Sunday After the Exaltation of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross (Metr. Chrysostomos of Smyrna)

 By Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Smyrna

(Published on September 17, 1911)

The Lord said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." (Mark 8:34-38; 9:1)

The feast of the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross, was instituted and established in memory of the great event of the finding by the blessed Helen in 326 AD, and of the elevation in the middle of the Church of the Resurrection to be venerated by the infinite number of Christian people flocking to Jerusalem from everywhere of the honorable wood on which the Son of God was crucified. This revered and beautiful feast had its forefeast last Sunday, when that wonderful Gospel was read, containing the fragment of that great and memorable and immortal speech of Jesus Christ to Nikodemos about rebirth. But this revered feast also has its afterfeast during today's Sunday, so the Gospel is read which the reader has above his eyes.

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ in this Gospel are particularly serious and important and worthy of our attention today. These words were spoken by the Lord to His disciples, in order to correct the erroneous ideas and theories they had about the nature of the kingdom of God, which the disciples imagined to be material and earthly, and for this reason they sought thrones and primacy in it. The disciples at that time had such a lowly idea about the kingdom of God, because their faith had not been enlightened and strengthened by the bright and life-giving event of the Lord's Resurrection, their eyes had not been illuminated by the flames of Pentecost, and their minds and their hearts did not have time to be filled and warmed by the fire of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

When these words were spoken to the disciples, the disciples still believed that the kingdom of Jesus was of this world, that Christ was coming to sit on the throne of David His father, to subdue nations, to distribute crowns and to oppress peoples, and especially to shake off the cruel yoke of the Romans, under whose iron heel the Israelites were then groaning! But all these false ideas and the vain and premature hopes about the coming of that kingdom, which the Jews dream of, had to be extinguished once and for all in the spirit and the heart of the disciples, and that they should understand that the kingdom of God is not the subjugation of nations, oppression and tyranny of peoples, or eating and drinking, but a cross, self-denial, a struggle for sanctification and righteousness, virtues, causing the disciples to dream brilliantly and enviously, even worldly, because these virtues of renunciation, of vows, of the cross of self-sacrifice are the only causes that really and truly elevate both nations and kingdoms, and individuals and peoples. Virtues that are precisely so great, that if we also want to be saved, if we want to grow and be elevated and magnified, virtues of the highest truly importance for those at the end of the ages and in today's difficult times, making us Orthodox Christians, then there is great need on behalf of all the nations of the earth that we be under much better conditions than the disciples of those days and the entire Jewish nation today. Because even if we who are "standing here" have and observe these virtues, we "will not taste death" until we see the kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, the kingdom of freedom of truth, coming quickly and "with power."

These wonderful and graceful prophetic words of the Lord and especially the sayings with which today's Gospel begins and ends, and through whom the highest virtues of self-denial, vows, self-sacrifice and martyrdom are taught, virtues which even if they are the sole weapons of nations, they will not perish, but deserve to live, reign and be happy. These words and sayings are in relation to each other in a relation of dependence, in a relation of cause and effect, because only those people "will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power," those who will deny themselves, those who will not avoid their own cross and those who are willing to follow Jesus.

The Gospel begins where: "The Lord said: If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me," and ends as follows: "There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."

These words are incapable for misunderstanding and evasion. Here we see the absolute need for self-sacrifice, through which we must necessarily arm ourselves, those who want to be true disciples of Christ and all those who desire and want to be saved and exalted. Perhaps these words are very strict, but they are also the only just and effective ones. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are the first and necessary supplies for anyone who wants to walk the path of duty, to follow Christ, to serve his country, to save himself and his nation.

He who wants to wear a crown both here and in the heavens must bear a cross.

This law has absolute authority, whether it is about a single person or about an entire nation and people. It is necessary for such a person to endure inconveniences, labors and sacrifices, because nothing good or great has been achieved on earth without labors and sacrifices; and the coming of the kingdom of God, or better said the sacking and conquest of the kingdom of God should not be expected without annoyances and toils and dangers and struggles and a most heavy cross!

Especially this cross and self-denial are necessary, and we must carry it without hesitation in the critical and dangerous circumstances and times in the lives of individuals and peoples, which are the present, and therefore what is at risk is everything that in the eyes of the people are most honorable and most holy and most divine, and so precise memory of the great lessons of the past of our race, and the following of the most sacred traditions of our Church, to this we owe to be armed with such a phronema, with one and the same Spirit, with one and the same love, with one and the same will, with one heart and soul, under one and the same flag, and towards one and the same purpose, which must be the hastening of the coming of the kingdom of God. Marching thus with all our powers, the manifest and hidden of our Church and our race, the powers of those who lifted up and brought results for our enduring Nation in the wildest storms, so that in the course of the ages they have hung upon us, to face the great dangers and struggles, which are before our eyes, and thus through our self-denial, the cross and our self-sacrifice, we deserve once more to be told and verified for us this prophecy of great universal prestige and eternal application, through which today's Gospel ends, "there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power," a prophecy, because, for whom it was mainly spoken and where, we will have an occasion to speak another time.

Source: Ἱερὸς Πολύκαρπος, Ἔτος Α΄. Σμύρνη, ἀρ. 24, 17.9.1911, σσ. 370-373. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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