Metropolitan Panteleimon of Veria, Naousa and Kampania
‘Let those who desire to come after me deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8, 34).
A few days ago, our Church celebrated the universal elevation of the honorable and life-giving Cross; and today, the Sunday after the Elevation, the Gospel reading reminds us of the importance of the Cross in our lives. Because, although Christ ascended the Cross for our salvation and although his Cross is a symbol of strength and hope for all those who believe in him, theoretical faith isn’t enough; practical proof of this faith is also required. This is achieved in the manner indicated by Christ in today’s Gospel reading, when he says: ‘Let those who desire to come after me deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me’.
Christ’s words aren’t merely an invitation; they’re also a definition of the three conditions required for us to show our faith and to make our own the salvation and redemption which Christ offered through his death on the Cross.
The first is our free will in choosing this path. Christ is clear. No-one’s forced to follow him. Nobody’s pressured and nobody’s blackmailed. ‘Those who desire’. Only people who want to follow him can do so.
The second condition is that we should deny ourselves: ‘Let them deny themselves’. Whatever holds us fast to our habits and passions, whatever binds us to the earthly and worldly, whatever’s hard for us to do without, even if it’s not bad, even if it’s not sinful, isn’t compatible with our decision to follow Christ.
We people often think that we can manage to do everything. We believe we can live our life as we please, however we like, and, at the same time, be members of the Church and think we’re living a Christian life. But Christ makes it plain: those who follow him have to be completely dedicated to him. We can’t leave the path or let our eyes stray, because then we wouldn’t be following him; we can’t ‘serve two masters’.
So if we truly wish to follow Christ, then, as far as we can, we must deny ourselves, close our ears to the siren-calls of the world and cleave to Christ, whom we shouldn’t let out of our sight for as long as we’re alive on this earth.
Naturally, this denial which Christ requires from us isn’t a momentary decision or action, it’s a life-long struggle which we have to fight on a daily basis. And it’s required because otherwise we can’t meet the other condition, which is that we take up our cross.
‘Let them take up their cross’, Christ asks of those who would follow him. So we can’t follow him unless we take up our cross. We can’t follow Christ without difficulties and effort, without sacrifices and without tears. No cross is painless, no cross can be light. This is why Christ sets self-denial as a condition for us to raise our cross. Only if we’re free of other burdens will we be able to raise our cross. Otherwise, we won’t be able to bear the weight, we’ll collapse and give up the attempt. And the aim is for us to reach the end, to reach our goal.
Let us therefore strive, my brothers and sisters, to fulfil the conditions which Christ set, so that we, too, may bear our cross with patience and reach our destination, united with him, so that we may enjoy the eternal life which he gave us through his sacrifice on the Cross.