The Cross

The Cross

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Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.

ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19-20

The Benefits of Being a Disciple—Rewards You Can Reap Today—Part Twelve 

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.  Colossians 1:24

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from his birth.  And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.  John 9:1-3

Good morning Prayer Team!

Christ is Risen!

If a random person walked up to Golgotha two thousand years ago and saw Jesus hanging on the cross, not knowing who He was, they might have thought “Well, this is pretty pointless, another criminal being executed.”  We know now that the sufferings and crucifixion of Christ were not pointless.  In fact, they are among the most significant things that have happened in the history of the world. 

Many books and articles have been written on the subject of human suffering, specifically why do human beings suffer, and why does God allow human beings to suffer?  Some even cry out in dismay that God causes human beings to suffer. 

I can safely say that I do not believe that God causes human beings to suffer.  I don’t think He sits on His throne in Heaven, looks down on the earth and selects specific people to afflict with specific maladies.  I don’t think He says, for instance, “I’ll give Johnny a heart attack today,” or “Suzie will handle cancer well so I choose her.”  I don’t believe this at all. 

I do believe that God allows suffering to happen in the world, especially when it is caused by other people, because He has given us the gift of free will which we can use to be kind or to be unkind.  We can use our free will to help others or to make others suffer.  If God takes away our free will, we would then become like robots and God would be a dictator or a puppet-master. 

In the second Scripture quote today, from the healing of a blind man, the disciples ask Jesus a reasonable question, who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind?  In that age of history, people attributed illnesses to losing favor with God.  Certainly either the man or his parents must have sinned and this was God’s punishment on him or on them.  Jesus said, to the contrary, no one sinned but the works of God could be manifest through the man’s sufferings.  It is true that good can come out of anything, even suffering.  Suffering, therefore, is not pointless.  Good can come out of it for the one suffering and for those who witness the suffering.

I remember years ago, I was doing some work before our summer camp started.  I was carrying a railroad ties with someone to mark off an activity area.  It was pouring down rain.  There were pools of mud everywhere.  And we sank into the mud up to our knees.  As camp was opening in only a couple of days, the work had to be done that day.  Difficult work was made almost impossible because of the heavy rain.  I remember thinking to myself, when I couldn’t go another step, this is what Christ must have felt like when He was carrying the Cross.  I kept thinking about this as we were working.  And soon I was glad for the heavy beam and the difficult weather.  I was thankful that I got to experience a fraction of what Christ experienced.  I was actually glad to be struggling.

We know in life that it is not a question of if we will suffer but when and how.  We know that suffering is part of life in this fallen world.  We know that suffering provides opportunities to grow in faith and glorify God.  Therefore suffering is not pointless.  Suffering can actually be a gift, it can give life meaning, especially at the end of life. 

I’ve seen many people at the end of their lives, most notably my own father.  I’ve seen many people experience the peace of God in the midst of suffering.  I’ve seen many people make peace with God.  I’ve seen many people become confident in their salvation during their suffering.  I’ve seen many people have joy even while suffering.  My dad was fortunate to experience all of these things—I saw him experience God’s peace even when he was very sick.  By God’s grace, I was able to help him make peace with the fact that he was dying, and to help him prepare spiritually to meet the Lord.  I saw him make peace with God and with the fact that he was dying.  And I dare say, I saw him have joy, that even though the journey of his life on earth was coming to an end, that he was ready to embrace life in God’s Kingdom.  He died confident in his salvation and eager for what was coming next.  And I don’t know if that would have happened like that, had he not battled cancer for his last two years.  Would he have been as prepared if he died suddenly years earlier?  Or did God allow a period of illness which helped purify his soul even as it ravaged his body?

We don’t need to go looking for suffering.  However, we shouldn’t run from it or become despondent over it.  Our suffering helps us share in the work of Christ’s redemption.  Just like carrying the railroad ties gave me an opportunity to experience in some small way the journey to Golgotha, suffering allows us to share in the redemptive work of Christ.  Wisdom also enables us to know that suffering has a purpose—when we suffer, we can unite our suffering to Christ’s cross. 

The question and challenge then is what do we do when suffering comes?  Remember that the world sees suffering as pointless.  Just like a casual observer on Good Friday would have seen the crucifixion as pointless.  However, just like Good Friday changed the course of human history, our suffering can change the course of our life history. 

To find meaning in suffering is a good thing.  To help someone else find meaning in suffering and in death is a good thing, a powerful thing and a wonderful gift we can all give to others.  Today’s prayer is a short petition from the Divine Liturgy, which is also offered in many other services.  In my opinion, this is the most important petition we offer, because it encapsulates the whole purpose of this life, to prepare for a good defense before the Awesome Judgment Seat of Christ.  Sickness and the end of life are opportunities to prepare that defense, to show God that our faith did not waiver in moments of suffering or sadness.  Sickness can help sharpen our focus on what is really important.  Many times, people talk about praying for miracles, for a gravely ill person to get up and walk again.  And many times, I am reminding people (as I am reminded myself) that the greatest miracle is for God to open the gates of Paradise and let someone else come in.  So, we don’t give up on miracles, we just change the miracle we are looking toward. 

Spend a few minutes meditating on these verses today, from Romans 5: 3-5: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful without shame and suffering and for a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord.  Grant this o Lord.  (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 1985)

God does not cause suffering.  Suffering is not pointless.  Christ’s suffering changed the history of humanity.  Suffering in a Christ like way can bring us closer to Him, and help in our journey to salvation.   

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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.”