My God, my God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?" - A Reflection on the Cross of Our Lord
As Orthodox Christians we not only adore the Cross, but we see it as the very path which leads to our salvation. At the heart of the way of the Cross we walk is the Slavonic word podvig, which translates as struggle, but, it can also mean asceticism. The Cross of Christ which is the Cross we must also take up and bear is a podvig.
Christ struggled with accepting his Cross and had to deny his will when he took up his Cross and was crucified for all mankind in the greatest ascetical act the world has ever known or will know. We can be certain of this because when Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane he said, “Father if it is your will take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 21.42) What we see in this scripture story is the very way of the Cross that we as Christians are called to. It is evident that Christ in his humanity was reluctant to face the way of his Cross, but, he knew it was the will of his Father in heaven. It is also the will of God that all of us here, as followers of Christ, walk the way of our Lord’s Cross. Christ tells us, “Take my yoke upon you…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11. 29-30) This is the struggle of what it means to follow our Saviour. His yoke and his Cross are one in the same. Long before Christ was crucified he taught his disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16.24) He that does not take up his cross, and follow me, is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10.38) The way of the Cross that Christ walked is the way we as Orthodox Christians must walk also. Christ took up his Cross and we too must take up his Cross.
The way of the Lord’s Cross is one of struggle and self denial. It means we are to be patient, kind, longsuffering, forgiving, and charitable. As Christians we are to take the example of the Apostle Paul and be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2.20). St. Paul teaches us, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by where the world is crucified to me, and I am to the world” (Galatians 6.14).
Now here I would like to pose a Lenten question to us all. Are we taking up the ways of the world, or the Cross of our Lord, God, and Saviour? St. Paul tell us, “For many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things. (Philemon 3.18-19) These are intensely powerful words that need to be expanded upon. During Lent we see the ways and pace of the world going its course, and the Church going another. St. Paul tells us that worldliness is the enemy of the Cross. The world indulges in passions and fleshly desires. If it feels good do it is the motto the world lives by. Consequences matter only insofar as they prohibit modern man from indulging in animalistic behavior. Man would get away with more if he could, but, actions have consequences which hold him back. As Christians we are to always take a higher ground in matters such as these, but especially during Lent. During Lent we abstain from conjugal relations, frivolous entertainment, and flesh foods because it is to be a time of taking up our Lord’s Cross with greater intensity. We do this because we are friends of his Cross and not enemies of it like the world is. When we embrace Lent we embrace our Lord’s Cross.
If we look at the history of the Church we can see that it is built on the strong foundation of ascetic struggles; of podvig. When one became a Christian in the early Church there was a good chance he would suffer martyrdom. The Ecumenical Councils were brutal fights for the sake of the Truth of Christ and many men had to stand their ground and they couldn’t just agree to disagree like the modern world does because who Jesus Christ was mattered. Men fled to the desert to live in caves and pray without ceasing because many Christians had become too worldly. All of these acts are ascetical, they are podvigs, because they put Christ first and the human will second. These martyrs, theologians, and monks took up the way of the Lord’s Cross. It is the duty of every individual Christian, and the Church at large, to exercise self restraint and profess this same willingness to suffer for the Gospel today just as it has been suffered for throughout the history of the Church.
Millions upon millions of Orthodox Christians were martyred under the Soviet regime because they were friends of our Lord’s Cross. Many men and women have died to themselves in monasteries and found life only for Christ versus living for another and Christ together in matrimony. These Cross’ of martyrdom are profound, but it isn’t the only form of martyrdom in the Church. Most of you here are married and remember your crowning when you were wedded in the Church. Those crowns were the manifestation of the martyrdom that marriage is. Love, if properly understood and acted upon, is a Cross to bear. The happiest marriages are those where each spouse puts the one they love first. The love between husband and wife is to be sacrificial. Marriage is a royal road upon which each member of the union must be willing to joyfully take upon themselves the yoke of the Cross. When we see happy marriages steeped in self sacrificial love, we see an icon of the Holy Trinity. Trinitarian love is a continual emptying out and reciprocation of the most perfect love shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The unity of two into one in marriage, and the unity of Christ to the Church, both reflect on the iconic nature of Christian matrimony. When many are united in one love and cause the manifestation of the Holy Trinity’s love becomes a reality. To participate in this most perfect Trinitarian love will be a Cross though. As the old saying goes, “no pain…no gain.” Lent is a time of pain but it is also a time of great gain because we all know what awaits us at the end.
As Christians we must endure the way of our Lord’s Cross in whatever form it manifests itself. We all should learn to bear the sorrows and difficulties of our Lord’s Cross with joy. If we accept the yoke of our Lord’s Cross which he places upon us then our lives will be lived on a Royal Pathway which leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lent can seem like one giant prostration at times but if we do the will of Christ by taking up our Lord’s Cross and bearing it, then we do our part in helping our Savior redeem the world. Our Cross is Christ’s Cross and when we suffer not only during Lent but all times of the year for our bishop, priest, family, friends, neighbors, and most importantly our Lord, then we are helping to save the world with Christ and through Christ because his Cross is our Cross. We all should be like St. Simon of Cyrene and take up the Cross for our Lord, because, he first took up the Cross for us.
- Seminarian Joseph Gingrich