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.”
Scriptures of the Triodion
Third Saturday of Great Lent
And Jesus called to Him the multitude with His Disciples and He said to them, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34
Good morning Prayer Team!
Take up the cross.
Three distinct actions required of a Christian. We are supposed to deny the things we want, pick up the things of God and do something with them. We are supposed to forsake our own desires. We are supposed to pick up Godly things. But we are not just supposed to “hold” these things. We are supposed to follow Christ. Which means He leads, and we follow wherever He leads.
Three simple verbs. Three VERY difficult concepts.
We all have certain things we like. We are getting to the half-way point of Lent. How many of us are just “dying” (not really) to have a steak right now? Or a hamburger? Sorry for putting these foods into your minds on a Saturday. But it takes will power to deny what you want and to keep going with the fast.
There are other things we want. We want to get angry and lash out at those who wrong us. We want what our neighbor has for ourselves. We want to succeed, even if it means many times that our neighbor is going to fail. To deny ourselves mean to put aside the things we want. To put aside anger, even when it is justified. To root for our neighbor, even if he is succeeding and we are failing.
To take up the cross means to be an imitator of Christ. Christ loved from the cross, even those who were killing Him. Christ forgave from the cross, even those who hated Him. Christ led from the cross, entrusting His mother to His disciple. And Christ kept faith on the cross, committing His spirit to God the Father in His dying breath.
To take up the cross does not mean to be filled with “head knowledge” and be able to spout religious fact and quote Bible verses. Taking up the cross goes hand in hand with following after Christ. It means to lead while carrying our crosses in the same way that He led while carrying His. We are to love even those who hate us. We are to forgive those who have wronged us. We are to care for the well-being of our neighbor. And we are to keep faith in the Lord to our dying breath.
To follow means to let Christ be in the lead. Where He leads, we don’t necessarily know, either where or why. Why do I find myself as a priest in Tampa, Florida, as opposed to another part of the country? Because I took up the cross of the priesthood and let Him lead my footsteps. Am I always a happy follower? The honest answer is no. Am I always happy when I follow and put my faith in Christ? The honest answer is yes. I don’t always decide to follow. However, when I do put my faith in God, and focus on taking up the cross and following, I am almost always happy with the outcome.
There is one more thing that comes to mind when I think of the phrase “take up his cross,” and that is, each of us has a “cross” to bear. Something that we carry with difficulty, maybe even unfairly or cruelly. These crosses may be our fault, but many of them are not. They are certainly not God’s fault. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect air, imperfect water, imperfect gene pools, and imperfect people who make imperfect decisions. Because of this, each person shares equally in a fallen and imperfect nature. And this means that each of us carries a cross of some sort—maybe a learning disability, or depression, or obsessive-compulsive tendencies or any number of other things. To carry the cross and follow means to follow after God and trust in Him, in spite of the shortcomings we all have that in many ways are easier to accept if we can blame someone, and the person we most often blame is God. To take up the cross and follow means to continue to trust and glorify God, despite our struggles.
To flee the high-minded opinion of the Pharisees most wicked, the Lord of all things taught us by way of parable, and instructed us all not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. He Himself became our model and example, having emptied Himself even unto the Cross and death. In thanksgiving, then, with the Publican let us say, “You endured the Passion for us and yet remained dispassionate god, from our sinful passions free us, and grant salvation to our souls. (Doxastikon from Orthros on Sunday of the Veneration of Christ, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Take up your cross and follow today!
Photo Credit: Christian Today
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