Our ego is our cross.

Homily 515 – 14 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 18, 2022
Epistle:  (203) Galatians 2:16-20 (Sunday After) and (170) 2 Corinthians 1:21-2:4
Gospel:  (37) Mark 8:34-9:1 (Sunday After) and (89) Matthew 22:1-14

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Today is proclaimed the basis of the Christian life for all of us to hear.

Whoever would follow Christ, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow.

In this brief phrase, we find many of the answers to our life’s dilemmas, both spiritual and moral and every other kind.

In this phrase, we find the summation of Christ’s own life.  A life devoted to self-denial from the moment of the incarnation.  Christ condescended to the incarnation.  This wasn’t a step up.  He was the God of creation, the uniquely-begotten Son of the Father, existing before the creation of the world.

Uncreated, true God of true God, begotten of the Father.

And He came to us as a human.  As us.  Yet still God.  And He didn’t demand what was rightfully His own – He didn’t demand respect, or adoration, or worship.

Rather, our Lord, the God of Heaven and all Created and Uncreated existence, the self-existing one, came as a servant – to serve.

He denied who He was.  And was a servant to the creation He created.

This is most poignantly played out in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the night in which He gave Himself up for us.  He offered Himself, against His own desire, to be in submission to God His Father – and our Father.

He restored the order of the pre-fallen creation.  Instead of the first humans who said, “we ourselves will decide for us what is good” – Our Lord said, “Nevertheless, not my will but Your will be done, Father.”

He didn’t then just say it – He kept His word and followed through on that commitment.  He offered Himself to the mob who came to arrest Him, the mob at the Sanhedrin, the mob before Pilate, and ultimately to the Cross itself on the hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary.

This is what it meant for Christ to deny Himself, and take up His cross.

And He asks us to do the same – to do as He has done.  He did so out of His love for us.  We do so because of His love for us, and our resulting Love for Him.

Our cross is also self-denial.  Our cross is also difficult.  The cross is not one we choose – it is not determining for ourselves what the cross will be.

Some have the mistaken idea that the cross is simply a burden to be endured.  Perhaps sickness, perhaps poverty, perhaps tragedy.

These are not the Cross of Christ, however, even though He endured all of them.  While He was not sick, He healed those who were.  He lived in poverty, although the whole of creation was at His disposal.  He experienced tragedy – the execution of John the Baptist, the death of His friend, Lazarus.

These things are to be endured by all of humanity.  Those who do not follow Christ also endure these things.  They are not unique to Christianity and those who follow Christ.

Our cross, like the Cross that Christ took up, is self-denial.  It is choosing the way that benefits others rather than ourselves.  It is executing the path that leads to humility, not success.

It is the offering of the Widow’s mite.  It is the oil that the widow used to make a bread for Elisha.  It is the fishermen who left their nets and their livelihood.  It is St. Paul who left the promising career in the Jewish leadership.  It is St. Eumenius, whom we remember today, who gave everything he owned to the poor.

What will we give to the Lord?  How will our self-denial manifest itself?

I wish I could answer that question for each of you.  I can’t – because the manifestation is unique to each of us.  There is some help in confession, I think.  Primarily, though, we have to let go of our expectations, let go of our desires, and let God handle the outcomes.

We can’t control the outcome anyway, so why try?  We do the best we can, and leave the result to God.

All we can do is try to offer whatever we have to help others achieve their own self-denial and achieve their own personhood in Christ.

This is particularly true of those in authority.  Employers, managers, governmental or civil authorities, and especially parents.

Self-interest doesn’t cross our mind.  Only our concern for the people entrusted to our care.  Our children, our workers, our servants.

What we are denying, at the end of the day, is our ego.  What we are denying is our desire to control.  What we are denying is our expectations.

And that is a cross.

And it is a cross that leads to salvation.  For that is what it means to die with Christ.  Our sacrifice is identical to His sacrifice.  Our passion is His passion.  Our death is His death.

And then – His resurrection becomes our resurrection, and His eternal rule becomes our eternal rule with Him.  We become, once again, communicants with God, as it was in the very beginning.

So brothers and sisters, let’s encourage one another with these words that St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

And the word from our Lord:  “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.