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Beyond Thought and Feeling: The Cross of Christ

April 7, 2013

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness

adorationofthecrossbFrom the moment our Lord first told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, the cross of Christ has been a scandal and a stumbling block to many.  Even those who have some respect for the teachings of Christ and admire His treatment of the poor and downtrodden experience difficulty with this central tenet of our faith, especially on a personal lived level. Logically speaking, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Emotionally speaking, it’s counterintuitive, but when the grace of God is present, when the heart is filled with faith, and when the uncreated God touches created man, the thoughts and sentiments are so very different. Then, the believer feels no gloom, no doom, no depressed thoughts or feelings, but instead cries out with joy:

“Rejoice, O life-bearing Cross, O bright paradise of the Church, O Tree of incorruption, thou who didst bring forth for us the enjoyment of glory everlasting, through whom the hosts of devils are driven out, the ranks of angels rejoice together, and the congregations of believers celebrate, O unconquerable weapon and impregnable foundation, the triumph of kings and the pride of Priests, grant us to apprehend the Passion of Christ and his Resurrection.”

The world looks at the cross and sees failure and the loss of a truly great teacher.  It responds in the words of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, “Thou didst not come down from the Cross when they shouted to Thee, mocking and reviling Thee, ‘Come down from the cross and we will believe that Thou art He.’ Thou didst not come down, for again Thou wouldst not enslave man by a miracle, and didst crave faith given freely, not based on miracle. Thou didst crave for free love and not the base raptures of the slave before the might that has overawed him forever. But Thou didst think too highly of men therein, for they are slaves, of course, though rebellious by nature. Look round and judge; fifteen centuries have passed, look upon them. Whom hast Thou raised up to Thyself?”

Still, the Lord Jesus who often has more faith in us than we do in Him bids us, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”  Yet, so often we lose heart and hope when we are confronted by the crosses of our own making through those decisions that are the fruit of passionate thoughts and short-sighted desires.  These “crosses” of our own making are not the ones the compassionate Savior bids us pick up in order to follow Him.  Rather, we are to repent for our unwise decisions, make what amends we can, and take up the voluntary cross of ascetic endeavor out of freely given faith in Christ and love for Him. The cross of ascetic endeavor is not just fasting and vigil, but responding as Christ would have us to every situation that confronts us. This can mean responding with love to a colleague or friend who is harsh to us, to loved ones who betray us, to those who slander us for the sake of being Christians, and to all the other trials that living with others bring.  These are the crosses we are commanded to pick up in order to follow after the Master.

None of these crosses is immediately apprehended as something that makes us happy or generates pleasant associations. Nevertheless, with faith in Christ and love for Christ, they can be accepted as something joyful, because through them we participate in Christ’s suffering for humanity and love for humanity. The events in our life are not trivial and our responses to those events are not trivial. Something of eternity is hidden in them and manifested through the cross of Christ. And so, we venerate the cross as something that spiritually speaking is intrinsically beautiful for through it earth has been reunited with heaven. And through it, we are reunited to heaven as well.

From → Depression, Fasting

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