The Cross of Christ is self-denial.

Homily 537 – 3GL
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 19, 2023
Epistle:  (311) Hebrews 4:14-5:6
Gospel:  (37) Mark 8:34-9:1

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

Today we encounter the cross.  I use that word encounter deliberately.  It really isn’t that we remember the cross, or recall the cross.

We encounter it.  We are faced with it – and with it a decision.  What do we do with this cross?

Note that the imagery we have is the cross that Christ ascended upon.  We see the icons of the crucifixion, perhaps we wear a crucifix around our neck.  But that isn’t the cross we face.

The cross we face isn’t the Cross that Christ ascended.  It is our cross.  It is the cross that we have to ascend.

It isn’t a cross we are given.  It isn’t an illness, or a tragedy, or an inconvenience.  No one can look at our circumstances and say in honesty that “this is a cross you have to bear.”

The cross we have is exactly the same Cross that Christ took up.  It is exactly the cross that the Apostles and the Disciples took up.

For the one being crucified upon our cross is us.  Ourselves.  Specifically, our ego.

That is the cross we must take up – that is the cross that Christ took up.

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane took up the Cross.  He didn’t want to.  It was stressful for Him, to the point that the Gospel account of St. Luke said “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Now.  I’m imagining that very few of us take up our cross as seriously as Christ took up His cross.  We don’t agonize until we sweat blood.

Why is that?  In my case it may be because I quit.  I give up.  I say “this is too hard.”

Thank God Christ didn’t say that.  And He could have.

Instead of saying “nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done” He could have called the legions of Angels to fight for Him, and to make sure He didn’t suffer.

Because He didn’t want to suffer.

Christ was tempted by the evil one from the time of His baptism by John in the Jordan until Gethsemane.  He was offered everything the evil one had at his disposal in order to do one thing.

One simple thing.  Indulge your human ego.

That was where the first humans, Adam and Eve, went wrong.  They indulged their ego.  And human nature fell.

No longer could we exist in complete communion with God, because we were focused on ourselves.  We could no longer gaze in wonder at our Creator, because we were focused on ourselves.

And when we focused on ourselves, we broke our connection to the source of life itself.  And we died.  Humanity, all of us, died in that experience.

But Christ, in His single word – nevertheless – became the one to restore us to life.  To resurrect us.  He made it possible – He made it real.  No longer are we constrained to be self-focused.  We could focus everything, all of our being, on God.

And yet.

There was one thing we had to do.  One thing we have to do still.  And that is not to repeat the fall.  Don’t let our gaze turn inward about what is best for the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I.

That is the cross.  To contain our ego – and more than that, to not allow our ego to have a role in our lives.

Our world talks a lot recently about self-care.  Some may ask, is destroying the ego consistent with good self-care?  And I believe yes, it is very consistent.

We need to take care of our bodies and our minds and our spirit.  But we don’t do so selfishly.  We do so in order to give.  To give of ourselves to others, knowing that giving of ourselves is giving to Christ, and crushing our ego.

That is what marriage is about.  Crushing our ego, martyring our ego, in favor of our spouse.  That is what parenting is about.  Crushing our ego, martyring our ego, in favor of the children that God has given.

That is what monasticism is about.  That is what priesthood is about.  That is what diaconia is about.  That is what everything in the Church is about – crushing our ego.  Martyring our ego.

Offering ourselves to God.

That is the Cross of Christ.  That is our Cross.

We sing “Before your Cross we bow down in worship.”  Yet, what is our worship if we refuse to pick up our own cross?

What is our worship if we refuse to deny ourselves?

Can we be worthy of Christ while retaining pieces of our ego that we want to indulge?

I suspect no.

Thank God that He has provided forgiveness for us, so that over and over and over again we can begin.  We can repent – that is, we can change our focus from ourselves, to Our Lord.

Instead of discovering who we are, instead of finding ourselves, we can discover Christ.  We can find Christ.

In finding Christ, beloved, that is where we will truly find ourselves.

So don’t be afraid.  Go ahead!  Deny yourself!  Pick up the Cross!  With our eyes on Christ, like Peter on the troubled waters, we will find our true selves, and experience the totality of the Resurrection.

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