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” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross. Matthew 27:32 (From the Sixth Gospel of Holy Thursday Evening) Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
Many years ago, as we prepared to open up the Diakonia Center (the place we use for summer camp) in South Carolina, I was working with a group of people setting up the ropes course that we use. The camp was opening in just a few days and there was pressure to get all of our tasks done, so we labored outside even though it was a stormy afternoon. One of our tasks was to place large wooden beams around some of the elements of the course. I was carrying one long beam on my shoulders, and I kept sinking in the muddy soil, kept losing my balance, and kept wondering if I would ever finish this task. I started to pray to God to give me strength. I’ll never forget two things that happened at this moment: First, I suddenly was filled with joy. I’m very much into experiential learning, and I realized that this experience was helping me understand what it must have felt like for Christ to carry His cross—staggering, struggling to walk another step. Secondly, one of my co-workers came up to me and offered to help carry the beam. I would later help him carry his. We realized that the only way we were going to accomplish our task was to work together.
In Mark 8:34, Jesus tells His followers, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” Jesus not only preached that. He lived it. After hours of beatings and torture, a heavy cross was placed on His shoulders for the march to Golgotha, where He would be crucified. Christ suffered, in a very human way. Movies about the Passion all show Christ dehydrated, bruised, battered, staggering under the weight of the cross. The Gospel accounts of the Passion tell us that a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, was forced to help Jesus carry His cross. Jesus “took up His cross” for the salvation of humanity. But even He needed help to carry it.
Each of us carries some “cross” in our lives. That cross might be a medical condition, a difficult child, a challenging marriage, a difficult job, financial difficulties, or any number of other things. The devil adds to the weight of each cross by creating doubt and distraction. Many times we feel “crushed” by the weight of our crosses, as if we have been beat down and battered by our challenges. And this is where each of us needs three things. First, we need resolve to keep going, to put one foot in front of the other. Second, we all need a “Simon of Cyrene” to help us carry our crosses. We all need friends and supporters who can come in and help when we’ve had enough or when we seem to not be able to take another step.
Third, and perhaps most important, we need to understand that our struggles in life are temporary. I once gave a sermon where I laid a fifty-foot rope down the middle aisle of the church. On the rope I put one paper clip on its side. Imagine that that one paper clip, which takes us a miniscule space on the rope, represents your life. The rope represents eternity. The paper clip against the rope registers hardly a blip. It’s the same with our lives when registered against eternity. If you have the best life but you have no faith, then when the joy of your life ends, you will have an eternity of misery. If, however, on the other hand, you have a terrible life, unspeakable suffering, the heaviest cross that could be, if you survive your life filled with faith and with hope, then you will have an eternity of happiness.
We each have a cross. There is no one who does not carry one of some kind. Our crosses are heavy for each of us. We all need friends to help us carry our crosses. But we have to keep our crosses in perspective in the span of eternal life. Every struggle is temporary. Hard as it may be, we are supposed to glorify God, even in our struggles. And this is where friends are so important. On the day when I cannot carry my cross alone, it is the friend who helps. And even on the day when I can carry it, I still need encouragement. Finally, if we need and hope for help in carrying our crosses, we should eagerly embrace the role of Simon of Cyrene, and to rush to help others in carrying theirs as well.
It is important to remember the comparison between our temporary suffering and God’s eternal glory. We need to maintain focus and motivation to carry our crosses of temporary suffering, so that one day we can leave them at the door of heaven, and experience His eternal glory.
You ransomed us from the curse of the Law by Your precious Blood; You have shed forth immortality upon mankind by being nailed to the Cross and pierced with a spear. O Savior of us all, glory to You. (From the 15th Antiphon of the Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Carry your cross with hope today! Help someone else to carry theirs!
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