The cross – a path towards a righteous Christian life

Sermon of His Eminence, Bishop Parthenius of Antania, Abbot and Elder of the Bigorski Monastery, delivered on the Holy Liturgy on the Sunday of the Holy Cross, after reading the Holy Gospel.

In the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

Let us thank God, my beloved ones, that although this year, just like the last one, is full of temptations, mainly due to the pandemic the entire world is struggling with, we welcomed this Holy Great Lent, and with the help of our Lord, have already passed half of the path which is taking us to the glorious Resurrection. In this Third Week of the Holy Great Lent, the Church brings forth and exalts the honorable and life-giving Cross, “the source of enlightenment,” “our invincible protector.” With today’s veneration of the Holy Cross, the Holy Fathers of the Church want to show us the path we need to take, to reach salvation and a complete union with God.    The cross, in fact, is the guide towards a righteous Christian life. Last week, we had the possibility, through the theology of St. Gregory Palamas and the entire Orthodox Church, to understand that the purpose of our existence is deification, becoming a god, a son of God by grace. The way to that supreme purpose is shown to us by the Holy Cross of Christ. Our path to Heaven is a crucifixion, we walk through a path full of numerous temptations and sufferings. That’s the reason why today’s Holy Gospel began with the words of our Holy Saviour: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. (Маrk 8, 34-35). Strange words, which could even seem contradictory. What does it mean: whosoever shall lose life for my sake, the same shall save it? As long as someone wants to save his life for this world, for himself, in an egoistic sense of the definition, purely driven by selfishness, then he will lose it. He will surely lose his soul, if he does not begin to walk towards the cross, which is love. Because true love, inevitably means bearing a cross, self-sacrifice. Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Cross showed us the way to a sacrificial love, which does not know about egoism nor is opportunistic, but instead is merciful, unenviable and unceasing. If someone wants to examine his extent of sacrificial love, he could estimate himself through the words of Apostle Paul in Chapter 13 of his First Epistle to the Corinthians. In that most well-known and most beautiful Hymn about Love, he will find the answer whether he loves in the right way and whether he can consider himself a Christian. Only the one who took his cross and denied himself, i.e. his own ego, can be called a true Christian, a witness of Christ’s sacrificial love. In the Third song from the Akathist of the Most Holy Mother of God, which we sing on Friday, there is a beautiful verse that says: “Rejoice, You are love that transcends all evil desires.”  The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, through sacrificial love, reached perfection, a complete deification. Pure love overcomes all kinds of evil. The one who has it in his heart, has no place for destructive self-love. That one always goes forward as a sacrifice for his neighbour, crucifying himself for the others. That means taking-up his cross and following Christ, instead of succumbing to the desires and temptations. According to the logic of this world, someone needs to enjoy as much pleasure and comfort, and provide himself with all kinds of comfort to save his soul. However, Christ’s logic works differently. Namely, in order to save the soul for eternity, one is necessary to spiritually crucify himself, first for the sake of love towards God, and then for the sake of all his neighbours.  A true disciple of Christ, should without hesitation, take-up his own cross and begin to walk on the path of our Saviour. So to become a true bearer of the Cross, namely a true bearer of Christ. All of us we have our own life-cross, and despite how different our lives are, they all represent a cross. Each human being in the world has its own cross, his own suffering. Every human suffers, even though it can appear to us that some people suffer more, and others less. If those crosses are carried with faith, humbleness and gratitude, all those crosses bring to the same goal – to become God by grace. That’s why, my dear ones, let’s always have before our eyes the love of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who crucified himself for us, embracing the whole world, accepting each descendant of Adam, until the end of times. Namely, it was on His very Cross on Golgotha, that His last words of love were heard: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23, 34).

In other words, the cross represents the ultimate perfect love. That’s why we should embrace and love our life-crosses. Even if today we live in a world with multitude temptations, we must not despair, because we know that after the temptations, the sufferings, the cross, always comes the resurrection. The bearing of the life-cross ends with the resurrection, and our life continues in eternity. That is how the earthly life and the life in eternity are mutually linked with the cross. If while I am here I strive, with God’s help, to reach the goal, which is deification, in other words, to unite with Christ through His sacrificial love, to live that love and give it to my neighbours, then it is from here, from the Earth, that I already begin to experience and to attain eternity. Death is an apparent phenomenon, because after Christ it is nothing but a temporary separation of the soul from the body, until the Resurrection of all at the Second Coming of Christ, when God will reunite the whole man.

Let us thank God, my dear ones, that in this turbulent time, we are in the ark of salvation, in the Mother Church of God. Because, unfortunately, despite the current cataclysms, diseases and temptations, we can’t but notice that everywhere in the world there is an ongoing apostasy from God. True repentance can rarely be seen. The world today does not even think of repentance. People are only occupied with themselves, drowned in their own egoism, locked in their own comfort and only want to save their own soul. But in this way they cannot keep it for the future life, for deification. They do not know the true meaning of their own existence, they do not know about the way of the crucified love of Christ. Therefore, my dear ones, thank God that you are in His Church, in true knowledge of God. Thank Him, but at the same time pray earnestly for all who are outside His shelter, so that they may be enlightened by the redemptive grace of God. At the same time, let us watch over our hearts, so that they don’t turn into cold stones. But instead day and night plead with Christ for the warmth of His love, which is the greatest gift and a true guide to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is how the supreme Apostle Peter advises us: And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. (1. Peter 4.8) May our beloved God bless us with spiritual and physical strength, to go through the second part of the Holy Great Lent, so that we reach Good Friday, and venerate the Tree of Life and our Christ God crucified on it. Finally, to see with spiritual radiance and feel the glorious and bright Resurrection as good disciples of Christ.