A monthly newsletter from the Metropolis of San Francisco
Take Up His Cross
“Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross.”
We have been called to take up the Lord’s Cross and to follow Him. There are some people who believe the Cross is a sign of weakness. I remember a few years ago when a large number of protestant churches in Texas protested that the cross should be removed from all churches. Perhaps the goal of professional athletics influenced those who view the cross as a sign of weakness. I am sure coaches throughout America are quoting from Coach Vince Lombardi’s famous comment, “Winning is not everything, it is the only thing!” People are obsessed with winning. We are shocked to see soccer fans in Europe destroy a stadium or, even worse, attack players and coaches because their team lost. A football coach in America said, “They’ll fire you for losing before they’ll fire you for cheating.”
Christ was abandoned by His disciples. He was mocked, tortured, and crucified on a cross. Simon witnessed all the ridicule and disgrace of the Lord. Simon literally carried the Lord’s Cross on the way to Golgotha. Our Lord was raised from the tomb. His loss became His gain. There is a special reason why the church will have both the icon of Lord’s Crucifixion, and that of His Resurrection. Jesus never promised us a crown without a cross. The message of the cross to an Orthodox Christian is to accept suffering and sacrifice, in other words to lose, for the sake of Christ. It is not easy to give up that which the world holds dear. The words of Saint Paul hold true today, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” I Corinthians 1:18. Yes it is true, the Lord took upon Himself our sufferings, but the Cross for us is a message of support and strength.
If we truly embrace the Cross of the Lord, we will share the same experience of Saint Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live.…” The saints of our church specialized in turning failures into victories. The saints of our church are family, and encourage us to imitate the life of Christ as they have done. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us.”
Simon was not asked to carry the Cross alone. He carried the Lord’s Cross with Jesus at his side. To take us the Cross is a very personal calling. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship”, that Jesus calls us to become true individuals. Dietrich was a young theologian during the time of Nazi Germany. He spoke out against Hitler and National Socialism. He was arrested and executed by the Nazis. There was more than one occasion that Dietrich could have easily left Germany, but willingly remained. He wrote that men are frightened of solitude and try to protect themselves in the society of their fellow men. The problem, he wrote, is that they do not want to part with anything and stand alone before Jesus.
To be a disciple is to have a very deep and personal relationship with Christ. When we follow Christ with a real commitment, not an occasional dedication, but a real commitment living up to the high standards that Christ has set before us, we will begin to experience what it truly means to ‘take up His cross.’ God is asking us to be competitors in the spiritual sense. I have felt at times with the modern Olympics, that if an athlete does not receive a gold medal, he or she is portrayed as a loser. This is not the approach we take when we follow Christ. His Grace Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos, of blessed memory, encouraged the students at Holy Cross to compete. His Grace reflected on the words of Saint Paul, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Heb 10:24)
Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos wrote, “to live with Christian mutual love…. We are stir to up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…Christ wants us to be in a competition of love, seeking to be the first to love and help the other person.”
The Cross of our Lord and Savior is a gift that will allow us to have a true and meaningful relationship with Him. The Cross is a reminder of God’s care for us, and how His Cross will give us a new life. We will win when we lose ourselves in service to Christ. To be crucified with Christ is to live a new life with Him. When we take up His Cross, we will be in communion with Him, and His Holy presence will be with us and transform us.