The Gospel this morning tells us plainly and without any ambiguity whatsoever; "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mark 8:34 - 9:1)
Normally, on this Holy Cross Sunday of Lent, the Cross would be set before us in the Temple, bedecked with beautiful flowers. I hope that in our homes this morning we have done something like this, at our icon corners. The Cross represents the suffering of Christ's self-sacrifice, and generally the kind of suffering that is endured voluntarily, out of Christlike love.
Jesus tells us that if we do not learn to do this ourselves, we are not really His followers. Yet somewhere back down the line, clever men, too clever perhaps for their own good, began to teach that Christ suffered so that we would not have to. Gradually, gradually men edged away from teaching that Christians were actually supposed to live the way Christ lived and taught, but, could rather just "believe" the right doctrines about Him and "worship" Him the "correct" way.
Although correct theological doctrine and worship is important, that is not the most important part of being Orthodox. Again, as Jesus tells us, those who are not willing to "deny themselves" and "take up their cross" are not really his followers - yet. I say "yet" because, in the beginning, most of us who are inspired by Christianity begin with belief and church services but have not yet experienced the the Lord, in our hearts. And that's OK - for a while, sometimes even a very long while.
As we try, however sincerely, to live the way Jesus teaches, we will eventually come to the realization that we are simply not able to do it. We can "sorta" do it but that's not the real thing, and we begin to know it. This is where many "turn away sad," or mad or, even worse, begin to live hypocritically. The best decision, however is one that many us do make - to humbly carry on, trying our best to "Live the impossible dream", persistently knocking at the door. For He has also told us that, if we persist, at some point that door will open. That door is the door of our own hidden heart and to discover Him there must be our goal.
Here's the thing - only with Christ's own active Power, His Spirit, working FROM WITHIN US, can we actually do His Commandments; to love God, to love one another, to love our enemies, to forgive everyone for everything, to deny ourselves and truly accept our sufferings as a sacrifice of love. Once that hidden door swings open and we encounter Him directly for the first time, everything changes. All the things that were impossible before, now become delightfully easy and even when not easy, still doable.
How then can we make this happen? Simply put, we can't. It is in God's hands, always. However we can, and must, persist in knocking, in doing all we can, even in our very egoistic way. This persistence is our first real cross. It is frustrating, humiliating, unrewarding and bitter. Our "knock" becomes an unending cry; "Lord, why have you forsaken me." We will begin to really experience for ourselves the Mystery of the Cross. We will discover it to be the necessary, painful voluntary suffering required for the defeat of evil in our hearts the overthrow of the "Prince of this world," - in us. And then? Resurrection of the soul, and new life, even in this life.
Before thy Cross, we fall down and worship O Master; and thy Holy Resurrection, we Glorify!
Peace be unto all.