Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
And Jesus said to all, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
Good morning Prayer Team!
Continuing on the theme of the Cross for this week, in today’s verse, which appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we are told by the Lord that to come after Him requires three things: to deny oneself, to take up his cross, and to follow. St. Luke’s gospel includes the extra word “daily,” that this choice to come after the Lord is a daily choice, not a once only choice.
Everyone in their life carries a cross of some kind-everyone has some struggle, no life is perfect. There are the obvious crosses-serious illness, birth defect, learning disability, addiction and poverty. There are some less visible crosses-anxiety, depression, egotism and the struggle for humility, the penchant for doubt and lack of trust, disorganization, confusion.
Ironically, in the world today, we don’t hear the phrase “take up the cross,” we most often hear “take up the CAUSE”, meaning take up a cause, even if that cause goes against the cross and fight for that cause. If a person, for instance, is born into poverty, rather than embrace that cross, and carry it with humility, a person is taught to be angry, and take up the cause of perceived equality, even if it means stealing from a neighbor in order to equal things out. We’ve lost the concept of taking up the CROSS and following. We’ve lost the concept of denying our ideas, either as an act of humility, obedience, or in deference to our neighbor. Our society has become all about rights and what we perceive that we are entitled to.
Anything good that we have, “every good gift” (James 1:17) is from Above. Meaning that if we open our eyes to see the light of another day, even if we greet them in a state of poverty or illness, we are to greet the day and our cross in gratitude, that we’ve lived another day, even another day to carry our cross. Instead of gratitude and humility, we’ve become greedy.
I’m reminded of a story I once read about a man who was angry about the cross he was carrying in his life. And one night the man had a dream, and in his dream, he was carrying a wooden cross and complaining about it. In the dream he entered a warehouse where there were lots of crosses. And in the warehouse, he met the Lord. The Lord told him to put down his cross and look around at all the other crosses in the warehouse. So the man put down his cross, and took a look around. He saw large crosses, small crosses, he picked up a jeweled cross covered in diamonds but as he put it on his back, the diamonds cut into his shoulders. The solid gold cross was too heavy. Finally, he saw a plain wooden cross, and he picked it up, it felt like it was the right size and fit him well. He told the Lord that he wanted to take that cross out with him. The Lord asked him if he was sure that was the cross he wanted. When he assured the Lord that this cross was indeed the one he wanted to carry, the Lord told him, “That is the cross you walked in here with.”
The lesson of this story is that we all carry crosses. And many times, the “grass looks greener” as we look at other people and their crosses. When I look at my life and my crosses, and I consider the lives of other people and who I might like to exchange places with, I always end up coming back to my life and being grateful for what I have, crosses and all. And many times it is a struggle to deny envy and jealousy over what other people have, or to fight the urge to have something or do something that is against what God would have me do. But this is what it means to deny oneself, take up the cross and follow, and as St. Luke puts it, to do it daily. And this is what the Lord calls us to do.
Lord, thank You for the gift of this day. Whatever happens to me today, help me to consider today a blessing, for the mere fact that You’ve given me another day of life. Help me to carry my cross (name your crosses) with strength, with humility and with confidence. Help me to deny my own desires and to seek after Your commandments. Help me to be a good follower. Help me to do these things today, and then tomorrow, and then the next day, for as many days as You will give me in my life to carry my cross and follow. As Your cross lead you not only to crucifixion but to Resurrection, help me to carry my cross not only in this life, but into Eternal Life. Amen.
Good strength today, as you carry your cross and follow!
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