Sermon by His Eminence, Bishop Parthenius, Elder and Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered at the Holy Liturgy on the Feast of the Cross in Rajcica, after the reading of the Holy Gospel, 14/27 September 2020 Year of Our Lord.
Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mark 8:34).
My dear ones, we were just reminded through the reading of the Gospel, of the tragic event that took place at Golgotha of that time. We heard of the sufferings and the Cross our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ willingly suffered in total humility, for the salvation of each one of us. Therefore, today we honour and glorify the Holy and Honorable Cross, celebrating its discovery by the Holy Empress Helena and Exaltation before the whole nation.
Previously we heard Apostle Paul’s thoughts about the cross: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Who, in fact, are the ones who perish? Those are the people who have conformed to the king of this world; people who can not understand the mystery of the Cross, because that mystery is great and miraculous and it requires self-sacrifice in order to be understood. The world can not understand how the Christian can live with his enemies, and not only live, but love them; also when offended, to retaliate with love; when struck on the cheek, to turn the other side. It is incomprehensible to the world how the Christian constantly strives to overcome himself, his egoism, to respect and love others.
On the contrary, the world is preparing and arming us with the following teachings: “If someone attacks you, immediately strike back; If someone treats you in a way that you think is rude or beneath you and your social status, then you reciprocate. If someone insults you, you return with triple insults”. Respond to evil with even greater evil. And our Savior says: Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (Matthew 5:38-41). This is the greatness; here is the greatness of the mystery of the Cross!
It is really difficult to walk the path of the Cross. Christ said: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The cross is a heavy weight, burden and pain. Therefore, in order to comfort and encourage us, He also says: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). For us, the cross is the only way to the peace of the soul and to its salvation. The cross is the only door to the Kingdom of Heaven. However, we also mentioned that it is a pain. What kind of pain? Certainly, not the masochistic type that we inflict on ourselves, or the vain pain caused by the insult to our pride. It is a humble and creative pain, when in our hearts we feel that we do not act and we do not live according to the teachings of Christ. It is the pain of knowing that we do not live an evangelistic life; that our behaviour is not as our Savior would prefer. If we call ourselves Christians, it means that we should follow the principles of Christ, humbly carrying His Cross. Let us follow His example, the example of the One Who was crucified for the sake of the love He had for the mortified men. He spread his arms on the Cross, to embrace humanity with His sacrificial love. It is the pain that as Christians, all of us, whether rich or poor, known or unknown, educated or ignorant, should feel in our hearts from carrying the cross. Why are things not the way they should be in my mind? Why is there no goodwill in me to selflessly serve my fellowmen? Why is pure and true unconditional love absent from my heart? In order to be aware of all these questions, it takes a constant struggle, humble asceticism in the Christian virtues. The modern ideology of conformism takes away from us this blessed pain. I should not yearn for what seems appealing to me, pleasant and comfortable at first glance – but is in fact devastating to my soul. On the contrary, I should strive to please my neighbour. To overcome my passion, my selfishness, my “ego”; to try being content with little, so that there is enough for others too. Then I will be a worthy disciple of Christ.
That is the meaning of the Cross, my dear ones. That is why the Cross takes the major place in the whole preaching of the Church. The cross is the way and the door to Heaven. The cross is the easy yoke of Christ, by which He leads us to quiet and fruitful pastures. And the sheep that flees from the flock hurt itself from the gentle yoke of the shepherd and is subjected to perish. The same happens to us when we try to escape from the cross, we get drowned in our own passions, our melancholy and misfortune. Today the world is a tragic picture of human suffering and misfortune.
Yesterday you heard from one of the Old Testament readings what God promised to the disobedient people of Israel who murmured against Moses: “And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26). Thy Healer! He wants to say that God is not the One Who punishes, but the One Who heals. We punish ourselves by disobeying and distancing ourselves from Him.
God is not to blame for the evil that befalls us because He is not absent from our temptations. He does not cause our misfortunes, He sympathizes with us, He is always here to carry the Cross of our suffering and pain. Christ is a suffering Servant, Who suffers for us, in a world that is not as God intended it to be. That is why He came and established His Kingdom through the Cross – a kindom of no sorrow, pain and sigh that is the end of our tears. Christ came into this hopeless world, so that we, humans can experience the feeling of paradise while still living here. He found a way to save us and to give us a cure through that same bitterness we cause ourselves. And that medicine is the Cross of our Lord Christ.
There is no other medicine through which the man can be healed and saved.
So, my dear ones, let us flee from the weapons and standards of this world, which are lifeless and destructive, and let’s accept the all-powerful weapon that God has raised in front of our eyes today, so that we can call ourselves worthy of being Christians. And with that “weapon” of peace let us bear all our sorrows with joy, because, as we have said, our faith is of the Cross and the Resurrection. May the Holy Cross protect us all through the power of our Savior Who was crucified on it, for He is wisdom and strength. May He grant us all grace and reason, so that we can carry our crosses with gratitude and Christ-like dignity.