Gospel Reading of St Mark
Chapter 8, Verses 34, till Chapter 9: Verses 2 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Mark.9 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
What are the standards of this world?
What is the Word of God?
Where is the contradiction?
-The worldly perspective/standards of the world = man-made wisdom, created wisdom, according to the limits of time and space.
-The Word of God = Christ is God and being God and creator of all things, is thus the benchmark for all things. So how can anyone comment or criticise the benchmark and creator of life? Because He is this benchmark and creator, naturally this means He is the source of truth, because He knows what each thing is made of and how it is in its essence.
-The Cross was an example of the failing of man-made (worldly) wisdom.
-Thus the Cross challenges our own misconceptions of life and personal conduct and communal behaviour. Why? An innocent man was tortured and condemned to death as if He was a deceiver, yet this man was no ordinary man.
-Suffering for the will of God is a cross within the context of this world and its values. This is because ones whole attitude needs to be rearranged, in accordance to the values of the gospel, which are the values of the Kingdom of God.
-His disciple must be prepared to bear anything for the sake of God, without compromising with the truth of the Gospel, because of the suffering involved.
What are you ready to choose, earthly life or heavenly truth?
If you were offered the whole world in exchange for being killed, would you take such an offer?
Obviously, one would keep one’s life, even if it meant forgoing the offer of receiving the world.
Christ says, one should follow Him and inherit life in the age to come, even if it means having to detach oneself from the whole world, with all its honour, health, and riches in order not to lose one’s inheritance.
If Christ Himself received a cross by the standards in this world, that is, He suffered since this world condemned Him as being wrong or false according to this world’s wisdom, then we too as followers of Christ must accept that following Him in this world means that we too will suffer the mark of the cross. This is because the wisdom of this world which has played an influential role in our formation, considers the Gospel as wrong. Therefore, we face a battle between the contradictions within ourselves and the external environment, which are antithetical to the way of life proposed by the Gospel message, this is the cross that we have to carry and overcome by the grace of God.
In comparison to the multitudes of ways of life in this world, with everyone’s individual and philosophical ideas of how to live, the way of life that Christ teaches us through His gospel, is unfortunately radically so different that it is a scandal and wrong.
The Christian values, that are taught and that we are called to apply in our life as followers of this new way of life which Jesus Christ has proclaimed, are foolishness in the worldly way of life of our community.
Christian values such as, believing and worshipping the one true God in Jesus Christ, who taught patience, prayer, appreciation, forgiveness, longsuffering, humility by knowing ones weakness, loving our fellow human beings, loving and praying for those who are against us, fairness, compassion, respect for human beings and their dignity, and respect for all creation, and the list goes on.
Most or all of these values are wrong, according to the standards of this world, unless there is something to be gained for one’s “self” by applying them, otherwise what is the use of practising such values? The worldly person will only practice these values if it suites them, but not as a recognition of the natural and proper way according to the will and wisdom of God.
For us Christians however these values are good because we trust in God who said so and who showed us. These values are what it means to truly function as a human. And we can find these values expressed in the lives of the saints, for this reason we read the synaxarion during the Matins service, because it is good for us to remember courageous people who took up all the Christian values in their lifetime, which was most definitely for them a cross and a life of suffering, in the context of this world and its influential standards. They gladly endured whatever hardships came to them in their service to Christ.
In other words, following Christ’s way of life, we too will be burdened by the cross that this world and our personal weakness and ignorance place on our shoulders, because this world and our personal will, is not in line with the will of God. This world and most of us unfortunately, haven’t been nurtured and cultivated to live according to God’s will. We must learn to crucify the things that stop us from realising that Christ is our source and giver of life, in other words we may have to unlearn certain habits and ways of thinking.
This is so that we may transform ourselves into a human being who lives according the will of God which is His Grace, in mind, body and soul. If this is realised, humanity will begin to “function” and “use” once again the things of this world properly, according to the standards of the Gospel. Along this path, life would be restored, because humanity would be living for the glory of God and the love of its neighbour; that is what it means to take up your cross.
Jesus Christ who was truly God by nature and truly human by nature, in one person, suffered death by crucifixion as a martyr. Crucifixion was the penalty for those who practised the lowest and most inhumane standards of living. It was the judgment for the hardest criminals, lawbreaking, and life disrupting members of the community.
You may ask, why did God allow Jesus Christ to suffer crucifixion if He was Right?
Well, it was God’s will that He, the only sinless One, should suffer that way, to teach humanity in time and with patience, the greatest lesson of history. That rather, it is this world’s wisdom that is indeed foolish, wrong, and by the standards of the Gospel, inhumane, since it crucified the only sinless One. Jesus Christ is the most perfect and just person that was ever born, but the wisdom of the world recklessly crucified its own Creator and Wise giver of life, the One who Knows and is beyond the limits of creation. The world tried to kill the hand that feeds it.
The world should have instead crucified its own pride and ignorance which blinded it from knowing the truth about life, from the source of life Himself. Since, the Kingdom of God or the fullness of life everlasting is not food and drink, but the joy and peace in the Holy Spirit, in a personal relationship with the Triadic God through Jesus Christ.
The crucifixion of Christ teaches humanity that the standards of this world are a contradiction to the Word of God, the Gospel. This immense error and miscalculation by the standards of this world will hopefully in time assist humanity to repent and recognise how blind it truly is with regards to the purpose of life and how it should be lived.
The gospel of Christ is a cross in this world because this world considers it as wrong. It has judged the gospel according to its worldly wisdom and has condemned it to death, to the harshest penalty, the cross. For example, all of us have experienced at school either a tick in the shape of a “v” symbolising victory or an “x” symbolising failure, the tick is a right and the cross is wrong. But with regards to the gospel these rules are proven to be absurd!
Behind this suffering and martyrdom, to uphold the truth about the way of life in this world, Christ the only Wise Teacher offers a gift to all humanity as a lesson. He bears the cross humanity placed on Him and His Body/His people because in Him there exists a Godly Trinitarian power. This theandric vigour has overcome the forces that try to annihilate the Gospel and cross it out as the book of life.
This victory by the Saviour is witnessed in His resurrection from the dead which is the destiny of His Body, His people/commonwealth who have taken up the cross by following the way of life of the Gospel. In this event, Jesus Christ showed the world that He is beyond failure, He is beyond death, He cannot be wrong He can only be right because He can only be Good since He is God. How dare humanity say that the All-merciful God is wrong! The cross brought death face to face with Jesus, but because His way of life was of God, how can any kind of death stop a Godly way of life?
Death proved to be pathetic when it came face to face with True Human Life, since He is the Holy One, Son of the Highest, Jesus, which means, the Saviour from death, the Saviour from wrong, the Saviour from the cross.
For this reason we are called to deny ourselves, take our cross and follow Him. And this should be done with conviction for we have seen His glory. The Scriptures and Tradition are evidence that the Word transcending all essence, has appeared to the world, was eternally fathered and temporally mothered, becoming flesh and taken the form of a slave, losing not His Divinity. And in the womb of the woman who without seed conceived Him, He refashions man.
Therefore, Jesus is inciting our free will, to follow His gospel which is a cross according to the wisdom of this world, which we have been cultivated in.
Denial does not mean depriving ourselves of the necessities of life, nor does it mean we must become paupers and live in rags. Neither does it mean we must lose our individuality, personality and identity. When Jesus speaks of total and utter denial of self, He means we must subordinate our ego and self-love/self-will that prohibits us from being the Children of God, from listening and trusting Him. It is a process of self-examination and of examining our conscience.
Taking up your cross means to get started on your journey to salvation, the journey towards functioning properly as a human at its full potential as taught by the Gospel. As Saint Basil said, it is a journey from the image of God, transcending our own limitations to becoming something greater than ourselves, to be godlike in Him or by His Grace. Therefore, if the road we are on does not have God’s Eternal Kingdom as its destination, then we had better make a U-turn and find the right one!
It means trying harder when those moments of disaster, tragedy, sorrow and loss and grief beset us. It means bringing under control our uncontrollable anger, our undue insensitivity, our impatience and impulsiveness. It means subduing our temperament and disposition so that we can master them rather than their mastering us.
And finally, following Him means not to simply agree with the gospel for one or two days or weeks or years, but until the end of our journey in this life. Following Jesus means to be faithful to the gospel in a progressive sense, an ongoing faith, a dynamic faith that is cultivated and grows into a conscious and personal relationship with Him and His people.
God came in the person of Jesus Christ to change our life, to make it better, full, good and everlasting. So, if following Him means that we lose the way of life that is not in accordance with the gospel, this is indeed what is God’s will for our benefit. His will is indeed true life. Therefore this Sunday we venerate the power behind the Cross which is a symbol in this world of the absurdity of the gospel, but to Christians it points to the power of the resurrection, our life in and according to Christ’s Divine way of life.
Since it was “worth it” for the only sinless One to be even crucified for the human person alone, it is clear that the Cross of Christ shows the unique measure of the value of the human person, of every person, so long as he or she recognises this, with appreciation to God Incarnate.
The natural consequence of this deeper insight is that no other value in this world can be compared with the human person whom Christ came to save from self-centeredness, by guiding humanity towards the synaxis/communion of the Saints. In the third Stixera for the cross, during the lauds, we chant:
The 3rd Stichera for the Cross.
Mode 4e. To a brave one.
Προσελθόντες ἀρύσασθε, μὴ κε‐
νούμενα νάματα, τοῦ Σταυροῦ τῇ
χάριτι προερχόμενα, ἰδοὺ προκείμε‐
νον βλέποντες, τὸ ξύλον τὸ ἅγιον,
χαρισμάτων τὴν πηγήν, ἀρδομένην
τῷ αἵματι καὶ τῷ ὕδατι, τοῦ Δεσπό‐
του τῶν ὅλων τοῦ ἐν τούτῳ ἑκουσίως
ὑψωθέντος, καὶ τοὺς βροτοὺς
Come, believers, and faithfully *
draw the waters that never fail, * issuing
abundantly by the Cross’s grace, *
as we behold set before us now * the
wood of the holy tree, * yes, the well
spring of the gifts * of the Spirit, which
is itself * watered by the blood * and
who was willingly exalted * thereon,
Are you ready to take up the challenge of living the life of the gospel out of love and appreciation of its message? Christ is calling us to come and follow Him. Christ’s greatest desire is for the unity of the faithful, for each member of the Orthodox Church to identify with the struggle and pain of his/her sister and brother, to carry one another’s burden and to live our lives as though we are one body, a synaxis of sinners called to be Saints, in Christ, through the Mysteries of the Church, the divine human communion offered to us through Christ’s resurrection from death through the cross.