by V. Rev. Fr. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, September 2000
On the Sunday following the Exaltation of the Cross we hear Christ say: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s sake will save it.”
On the face of it, this seems a hard statement, this demand to deny ourselves and take up a cross. After all, I already have so many demands and responsibilities placed on my shoulders. I have to pay the bills, raise the kids, clean the house, go to work, go to school, please my spouse, take care of my failing health. . . how can I place a cross on my shoulders when I’m already carrying so much?
I’ll go to church, pay my assessment, pray before dinner — that’s about all I can handle. We read these words of Christ and they sound like a demand, a requirement. It sounds burdensome to carry a cross, to deny myself, to lose my life in order to find it. It almost sounds like a form of slavery, this demand to deny myself.
Just the opposite is true. Christ promised us that, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Christ came into the world not to bring slavery, but to bring liberation — liberation from sin and death. It is sin and death to which we are enslaved. The way of the cross is the way to freedom.
One of life’s great truths is that we cannot be spiritually healed by focusing on ourselves. Selfishness brings sickness. Man’s original sin was the selfish desire to be like God. When we focus only on selfish desires and self-indulgence, we are petty, resentful, and even angry people, insisting that our every whim and desire be fulfilled. Our lives become an endless pursuit of self-satisfaction; but because we are seeking satisfaction where it cannot be found, we are constantly irritated frustrated and angered by the world that cannot give us what we want.
Christ tells us the way out of this endless and hopeless cycle of pursuing satisfaction through self-indulgence: in order to be truly free and fulfilled we must cast aside the life of self-indulgence and rather live a life of self-sacrifice. To live for others is the true path to happiness. To offer ourselves to the needs of others brings more fulfillment than all the extravagance the world dangles in front of us.
What dies on the cross is not our life, but the death that seeks to take that life from us. To take up a cross and die to selfishness and self-indulgence is to be reborn into the eternal riches of the kingdom of God.
Just as Paradise was opened to the thief as he hung from his cross, so too does Paradise await those who follow their Savior in living a life dedicated not to self, but to others.
Truly, to know the way of the cross is to know the way of freedom. In Matins on the feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14), we hear, “Today the Cross is elevated and the world sanctified; for Thou who sitteth with the Father and the Holy Spirit, when Thou didst stretch Thy hands thereon, didst draw the whole world to Thy knowledge. Make worthy; therefore, of Thy divine glory those who rely on Thee.”
Let us commit ourselves to rejecting a life of self-indulgence by taking up our cross, but not as a burden, for Christ promises, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Great Martyr Euphemia - September 16
Troparion of St. Euphemia, Tone 3
In love thy contest was radiant and thou didst run to the fragrance of Christ. O virtuous Virgin-Martyr, thou hast entered the bridal chamber and dost send healing into the world. Save those who cry to thee: Rejoice,O holy Euphemia.
Kontakion of St. Euphemia, Tone 4
Thou didst win thy martyr's contest and dost now sanctify us with streams of miracles, O holy Euphemia. We honour thy repose and stand before thy relics to be delivered from our souls' diseases and obtain the grace of miracles.