A HOMILY FOR THE SUNDAY AFTER THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS

 

About Bearing One’s Cross

 

        Brothers and sisters!

       

        Twice every year, on the Sunday of the Cross during the Great Fast and on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, our Holy Orthodox Church magnificently glorifies the honorable and life-giving Wood of our salvation.  To ensure that we understand the meaning of these commemorations not just as recollections of historical events, but as central to our everyday life, she has appointed as the Gospel lection for the Sunday of the Cross and the Sunday After the Exaltation the section of the Gospel of Saint Mark in which the Saviour explains that whosoever will come after Him must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Him.  It was this Gospel reading that we heard today.

        The believing Orthodox people feel deeply the truth of these words and meet these two feasts with special reverence.  They know that in the Cross the Christian not only finds inspiration to bear sorrows and temptations, but he also becomes a partaker of the glory of the risen Saviour and of every heavenly blessing.

        All of us bear a cross in this life, but not all as a result enter into the Kingdom of God.  All labor and suffer, but not all receive a reward for their pains.  The robber who reviled Christ bore his cross.  The criminal imprisoned for theft or murder bears his cross; but likely he bears it with anger and resentment in his heart, and cursing upon his lips.  The man who has been offended bears a cross, but he does so with ill feeling toward his offender, and perhaps with the hope of evening the score when opportunity presents itself.  The poor man bears his cross, but probably with envy and jealousy toward the man who has more money and lives in more comfortable circumstances.  Subordinates bear the cross of obedience, but more often than not with resentment toward their superiors or in a spirit of insubordination.  Thus, each of us carries a load of some sort, but most gain nothing by doing so.  Almost everyone reckons his burden as much heavier than it really is, while considering his neighbor’s as lighter.  And nestling in the heart of almost everyone is the thought that, if only he could exchange his cross for another of his own choosing, he would be perfectly satisfied with life and would bear the cross joyfully.  Unfortunately, we are prone to forget how in the past our circumstances have sometimes changed as we wished, and yet we remained just as dissatisfied with our lot and eager for things to change again. 

        As an example of this, the tradition of the Church has preserved a tale concerning a certain impatient man who asked God for the opportunity to exchange his cross for another that suited him better.  While the man was sleeping one night, an angel appeared to him and told him to follow.  They entered a large room, and the angelic guide showed the man a large number of crosses, each covered by a cloth, and told him to pick whichever one he would.  Delighted, the man chose the very smallest cross, supposing that this would also be the lightest.  But what happened?  When he tried to pick it up, he was unable to budge it, for the cross was made of stone and iron.  Now disappointed, he picked up another cross and hoisted it upon his shoulder, but found it roughly made.  It chafed and scraped his flesh, so he put it down.  Then he chose a third cross, but when he removed the cloth, he discovered that it was covered with disgusting filth, and he decided not to take it.  He went from one cross to another, but each time something was wrong.  Eventually, he did find one that was light enough (for it was hollow) but it was very large and inconvenient to handle, so he rejected it, too.  Finally the man came to the last cross, forgotten in a corner, and found that this was the cross which best suited him.  As he was taking it, his angelic guide informed him, “This is the very cross you were bearing until now and which caused you so much dissatisfaction.” 

        And so you see, brothers and sisters, that the Lord has given each of us a cross which corresponds exactly to our strength, to our character; for He knows our abilities, and will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to bear.[1]  But for us to profit from bearing our cross, we must carry it willingly, and not simply because life forces it upon us; we must bear it gladly, and not with complaints about our lot, with grumbling against God and the people and circumstances causing us difficulty.  We must accept our cross in a spirit of simple, humble submission to the Lord’s will and with firm conviction that to bear the particular cross laid upon us by Providence is most useful, beneficial, and, indeed, necessary for us.  At the same time, we must not think that our cross is too heavy, but understand that by bearing it patiently, nobly, and humbly, we shall draw ever nearer to Christ, Who carried His Cross willingly for our sake.  We must remember that it is with God’s permission and in accordance with His loving care that every misfortune befalls us, and that He always stands nearby, ready to help.  Thus we shall find that a heavy cross is not as difficult to carry as we thought, and find more profit in bearing such a cross than a light one.  For a light cross can only profit us a little, but for bearing a heavy one joyfully the reward, dear Christians, is infinite, infinite…  Amen.

 

[1] I Cor. 10:13