During the Divine Liturgy today we all heard what our Lord Jesus Christ said, that every Christian must bear his cross: " Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." He Himself bore a cross His whole life; not only to Golgotha did He carry His heavy wooden Cross, on which He would soon be crucified. He carried a cross His whole life! He bore a cross in being the Son of God. The Infinite God united with human nature and, as the God-man, lived among the people, sharing their life with them. This was insufficient: He brought to earth a deposit of love and mercy. He forgave everyone, judged no one, performed countless miraculous acts of mercy, love, forgiveness, and healing. And the more He poured out this light of love amongst the people, the tighter and tighter did His embittered enemies close in around Him, hating Him with a satanic hatred, until finally they nailed Him to the Cross.
As you heard, it was commanded that a Christian can only follow Him if he takes up his cross and follows Him. As St. Theophan the Recluse taught, this most holy cross is threefold. One part of this cross is all of the hardships that a man must bear, desiring to live a pious Christian life and seeing that he is unsuccessful, because his sinful habits and habitual sins control him and subject him to themselves. Thus it is often: a man’s soul is aflame, hoping for a good Christian life, but his habitual sins, all those habits that he has nurtured, inexorably pull him toward themselves. And wherever he may go, this follows him everywhere. For that reason St. Theophan himself compares the condition of a sinful person with that of a person to the back of whose shoulders has been tied a smoldering, stinking, rotting corpse. He is bound, and wherever he may run, all of this stays with him. So it is with our sinful nature – "you can’t escape yourself" – as one Russian once said.
The second cross is comprised by the efforts of every struggle and hardship of our earthly life. This is what is so often called our CROSS – namely those sorrows, infirmities, losses, etc. But here I must point out that if man ultimately faces all of these sorrows humbly and obediently, accepting them as sent by God’s providence for his own good, he will accept everything differently. So long as he grumbles, resists, and rages, his soul will never be at rest. But when he stops grumbling, humbly and obediently receiving these trials from the right hand of God, he will see that although everything around him is seemingly the same, he himself is different: he accepts all of these sorrows and difficulties calmly, with a Christian conviction, that this is how it must be! Our Lord and Heavenly Father will not give you a stone instead of bread, and when he gives you sorrows, it means that you must endure it in a Christian manner.
The third part, the third cross, is, according to St. Theophan (and he is famous for his spiritual labors) the cross of those temptations that attack a man when he has overcome the allure of everyday sins, as it was with the great spiritual athletes. They were well beyond the seduction of conventional sins. Then come the force and abyss of the most dangerous temptation – the temptation of pride. And then sometimes they would falter in their struggle against these temptations of prideful thoughts. This cross is rightfully known only by those who have to carry it, as that same St. Theophan noted. But one way or the other, our duty is to bear our cross, for the Lord recognizes no other followers.
Translated from the original Russian by Rdr. Gregory Levitsky
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese