September 14, 2019
The Cross and our sufferings
For each one of us has received from our Lord the gift of a “new life” and the power to accept it and to live by it. It is the gift which radically alters our attitude toward everything in this world. This is what our faith is based on, that, “by His own death, Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage – a passover, a Pascha into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory.”[i] Thus, He invites us, with faith in Him, to “take up our cross” and follow Him through this passage into a new reality which is eternal.
It appears though that, in oυr daily experience, we forget what Christ has done and that faith is very seldom a living reality in our lives. We continuously lose and betray the “new life” which we received as a gift, and we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if this unique event has no meaning whatsoever for us. All this because of our weakness, because of unwillingness to live constantly by faith, hope and love and to seek, more than anything, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We simply forget all this – so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations – and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes ‘old’ again, petty, dark and ultimately meaningless. Life becomes a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. We manage to forget even death and then, all of a sudden, in the midst of our enjoying life, death comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless. From time to time we may acknowledge and confess our various sins, yet, we continue to deny the new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. We live as if He never came. “Truly, this is the only real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of normal Christianity”.[ii]
Each time we elevate the Cross in liturgy, we are given the opportunity to renew our faith in Christ; to recover the lost vision for His Kingdom, which we have betrayed, and our anticipation for it; to taste the new life that Christ has given to us. The Cross is Christ’s invitation to re-start a journey with Him toward eternity. In hearing this invitation, we come face to face with the various conflicting agonies of our personal lives: on the one hand, our desire to satisfy our individual desires, our lack of unwillingness to take up our cross and, on the other hand, our search for Him in our life.
If we finally decide to take up our cross and journey with Christ, a journey that He will map out, we should keep in mind that we will not avoid grief and pain. Here we must stress that not all suffering is specifically Christian. Christian life is not a life focused on one’s own personal suffering. Suffering in ecclesiastical life is the suffering of Jesus; it is following Jesus in a world that constantly rejects Him. It is suffering in love as He suffered to show His love, to open your hands and accept those that live in a world full of hate and calamity. “For it is only on the Cross that a man dies with his hands spread out” (St. Athanasios).
For the Son of God suffered “unto death”, not that we might be exempted from suffering, but that our suffering might be like His. Christ does not offer us a way to avoid our sufferings but a way to pass through them and to enter eternity with Him. For sure, if we take up our cross and follow Him, He will always be our companion in all our sufferings and in our life’s journey.
[i] Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1969, p. 12
[ii] Ibid. p.13