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Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2020 — The Cross

The Cross is a contradiction, a speaking against, a word of refutation and opposition to the “word” of our fallen human nature. When many of the followers of Christ deserted Him as they were confronted with the difficulties inherent in His teaching, He asked His Apostles, “Will you too leave me?” St. Peter answered Him, “Where could we go? You have the word of life.” Many times, in my life as a Christian, I have wanted desperately to go away, to escape the demands that discipleship places upon me. A nonexistent freedom beckons—the word of this world. Thankfully, our exposure to a living Christian Tradition helps us resist such temptations. Where else could we really go having tasted the cup of life? Even the glimpse of Life in Christ that we have been granted has a tendency to spoil our ability to live in a worldly way. But that doesn’t make becoming cross bearers any easier.

Jesus speaks constantly of the incompatibility of the Word of the Cross and the word of the world. Now it’s beginning to look like this is something we are going to encounter in an outward as well as an inward way. Society is changing, and not for the better. Intolerance for people who disagree with the “new morality” is on the rise. Are we ready? Are we clear about which of these two “words” we are going to believe? Or are we still trying to have it both ways? The Scriptures tell us that “the double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” I would suggest that many of us are going to need a much firmer Faith. I know that I am.

These are becoming the “times that try men’s souls.” Elder Cleopa of Romania lived through such trying times. A simple monk, he was taken by the secret police and interrogated. He said that he was able to endure it through the Jesus Prayer. He also said that if he had not known how to pray beforehand, he couldn’t have done it. His counsel was, “Don’t wait until it's too late.” It is unlikely that things will come to such extremes as occurred in Communist Romania, but a softer version of intolerance is not likely to feel very soft to us. Families are already being stressed (at least) and society itself is fracturing.

Today we are joining the Church in venerating and exalting the Cross. Despite our many failings, to do this is not hypocritical—unless it is. Here at the beginning of the New Year we renew, through devotion, the highest and most noble aspirations of our hearts. Here today we are reminded that our life in Christ is a lived experience in this world, a life lived according to the Word of Life, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. May we all be found strengthened and renewed in our Faith.

Fr. Philip

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