Bearing the Cross by Archbishop Averky12 min read
Bearing the Cross
Abp. Averky says that the unhappy motherland has been in demonic possession for 36 years. If he means since Metr. Sergius’ declaration in 1927, then this sermon can be dated 1963. I do not know from where I got it. It was in my proofed file along with other items Fr. Gregory had sent me to typeset, but I can not find where he ever sent it to me in my email archives.
Bearing the Cross
The Divine Cross-Bearer, our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself convinces us with all clarity that Christianity is the feat of bearing the cross. When the holy Apostle Peter, not yet enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit and guided by purely human feelings, tried to dissuade Him from the effort of the cross, the Lord “rebuked him, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for thou thinkest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (Mark 8:31-33). Having called the people together with the disciples right after this, the Lord pronounced the remarkable words which have become fundamental for anyone who sincerely wishes to follow the way of Christian life: “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). “If you take up your cross and follow Christ,” asks one of our outstanding educators and preachers, “where will you go? Obviously, to the same place where He Himself went when he took up His cross, that is, to Golgotha, to suffering, to crucifixion.” This is how all true Christians, beginning with the Lord’s closest disciples, the holy Apostles, have always understood these words.
From the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that the holy Apostles began bearing this cross of suffering for Christ, with complete self-denial, soon after the descent upon them of the Holy Spirit. When, for their courageous preaching about Christ, they were imprisoned by order of the Sanhedrin and then were beaten, they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). And how much suffering did the Apostle Peter undergo for his preaching, and then, as told in the same book of Acts, the holy Apostle Paul, who says of himself that he “was in labors, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths often? Of the Jews, five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (II Cor. 11:23-27). Finally, both of these great chief Apostles finished their earthly life in martyrdom for Christ. Almost all the rest of the Apostles also finished their life by the labor of martyrdom.
The Apostolic Epistles and among them especially the 14 Epistles of the holy Apostle Paul, which from the importance of their contents are rightly called by many a “second Gospel,” likewise characterize the Christian life as the feat of bearing one’s cross. They teach us the same thing which the holy Apostles Paul and Barnabas taught the newly converted Christians during their first missionary journey in Asia Minor, i.e., that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). How sharply the holy Apostle James, the brother of the Lord, condemns those Christians who want to live in luxury and enjoy themselves, and, on the contrary, praises those who endure suffering with patience and humility. As an example of enduring evil,Bear he proposes taking the prophets “who have spoken in the name of the Lord” and righteous Job (James 5:11). Friendship with the world i.e., a desire to avoid difficulties and live in passionate pleasures and enjoyment, he calls “enmity with God” (James 4:4). The holy Apostle Peter praises Christians who are patient when they do good and suffer for it, saying that it is “pleasing to God” (I Peter 2:20). He even says right out that Christ, Who suffered for us, has left us “an example, that (we) should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21). “If you suffer for righteousness sake, happy are you” he says further (I Peter 3:14), for this suffering brings us closer to Christ Who suffered for our sins (I Peter 3:17-18) and brings us great spiritual benefit: “Forasmuch then as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (I Peter 4:1). Here we see a direct invitation to become like our Savior in bearing our cross and crucifying ourselves, for this frees us from the power of sin which weighs us down and helps us live according to God’s will. All authoritative commentators on the sacred books of the New Testament see in these words of the holy Apostle Peter the basis for Christian asceticism. “These words,” Bishop Michael explains, “can be paraphrased in this way: you, Christians, have been crucified together with Christ in suffering and died with Him in Baptism and consequently died to sin, for one who has died is free from sin, has ceased sinning; one who has suffered in the flesh as Christ suffered in the flesh and has died with Him in Baptism has stopped sinning and should henceforth live according to God’s will, not human desires.” [The Catholic Epistles of the Holy Apostles with Introduction and Detailed Explanatory Notes, by Bishop Michael, p. 203] The beloved disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, St. John the Theologian, decisively warns Christians against love for this world when he says that “all that is in the world: the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 5:19), and thus “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). And these words are a firm foundation for Christian asceticism, which demands the renunciation of the enjoyment of the sinful good things of the world, and thus is unavoidably connected with sorrows similar to the sorrows of bearing the cross for man’s passionate nature damaged by sin. The holy Apostle Paul speaks many times in the whole series of his epistles about this bearing the cross which is essential for attaining Christian perfection. It is only through misunderstanding that the Protestants and, following them, the whole multitude of sectarians who deny asceticism consider the holy Apostle the founder of their false teaching about justification by faith alone, without good works. What else if not an exhortation to the ascetic exercise of bearing the cross are the so very expressive words of the holy Apostle Paul: “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24)? Consequently, those who deny the way of bearing of the cross, who do not consider it necessary to crucify their flesh with its passions and lusts and consider asceticism nonessential in Christianity, are not Christ’s – they are not Christians, even if they call themselves such. And this is quite understandable and strictly logical, for according to the words of the same holy Apostle Paul, “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would” (Gal. 5:17). Those who act according to the flesh, though, “shall not inherit the Kingdom of God” (5:21). The holy Apostle Paul speaks remarkably forcefully in his Epistle to the Romans about this extreme corruption of human nature which urgently demands the effort of crucifying the self: “for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (Rom. 7:15) – “the good which I want to do, I do not do, while the evil which I do not want to do, I do.” “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:19-24). And this is why “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8), for “to be carnally minded is death” and “enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:6-7). The great apostle of the Gentiles says of himself that he does not just command others to follow this path of bearing the cross and crucifying the self as completely essential for the Christian in his unceasing battle with the passions and lusts, but also follows this same path himself: “But I suppress my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Cor. 9:27). In the eighth chapter the holy Apostle Paul fervently calls all Christians to that path of bearing the cross which alone is able to make us “children and heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so it be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together with Him” (Rom. 8:17). Christians should not be afraid of this suffering, for it is nothing in comparison to the glory which awaits us in the future life: “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), i.e., “the present temporary suffering is worth nothing in comparison to the glory which will be revealed in us.”
One could cite many more places from the Word of God which show in the most convincing manner that Christianity is bearing the cross, the act of self-crucifixion, consisting of ceaseless “unseen warfare.” This is a never-ending battle in the Christian’s soul with the sinful passions and lusts until they are completely rooted out and replaced by the Christian virtues which are the opposites of these passions and lusts and which are enumerated by the holy Apostle Paul. For example, in his Epistle to the Galatians where he calls them the “fruit of the spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), these are: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. We think, however, that even the texts cited are quite sufficient to refute the wrong opinion of those who wish to understand Christianity in a different way.
If we now turn to the Sacred Tradition of our Church, to the decrees of the Ecumenical and Local Councils and of the Holy Fathers, to the service books, to the works of the Holy Fathers, and to the lives of the holy martyrs, ascetics, bishops and other saints of God, we find here too, literally at every step, a decisive confirmation of the truthfulness of a remarkable statement of a great ascetic and guide to the spiritual life, our righteous and God-bearing father Isaac the Syrian: “The way of God is a daily cross. No one will ascend to heaven by living lukewarmly. We know about the lukewarm and where it ends up. [Works, p. 158]
How strict our canons are! What strictness of life, a genuine feat of bearing the cross they demand not only from bishops, clergymen and monks, but also from laymen! And could such rules possibly have appeared in the world if there were not in those blessed times a corresponding strictness of life among Christians? It is only now when the bases of genuine Christian life are shattered to the foundation that many people find these rules “out of date” and demand that they be changed or even completely abandoned. But it is not the rules which are “out of date,” but modern “Christians” who have raised up within themselves the “old man” with all its power in place of the “new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24), and in which all True Christians who have been enlightened by the mysteries of the Church are clothed. Indeed! Let us take, for example, a canon like the 69th canon of the Holy Apostles: “If any bishop, or priest, or deacon, or subdeacon, or reader, or singer does not fast in the holy lent before Pascha, or on Wednesday or on Friday, except for being hindered by bodily sickness, let him be deposed. But if it be a layman, let him be excommunicated.” If modern “Christians” do not find it necessary to take this canon into account, does this mean that it is “out of date” and should be changed? Then one is forced to recognize ( text missing ) but by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21)! By the way, we see now how just were those words and how right Bishop Theophan Vyshenskiy, the Recluse, was when he said: “Can anyone think that where there is no prayer and fasting, the devil is already there? One can!” [Thoughts for Every Day of the Year, p. 245] Does not really modern pseudo-Christian humanity, which has self-confidently given up the only faithful weapon against the dark demonic powers – prayer and fasting – find itself in a condition of real demonic possession? Is it not genuine demonic possession which has been going on for over 36 years already in our unhappy motherland? Is it not the most real demonic possession which gave birth to the horrors and cruelties, unheard of in the history of mankind, of the Second World War with its aerial bombardment, and which is now preparing an even more terrible Third World War? Anyone who rejects the effort of prayer and fasting is capable of doing nothing but evil – and all his apparent good, if he has any, is in truth not good at all, but also evil; because according to Christ’s words: “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit”: “do men gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:18,16). “Beware,” Christ therefore says, “of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15).
Alas! These false prophets who deny the meaning of the efforts of prayer and fasting in Christianity and who teach Christians not to deny the world lying in evil with its passions and lusts, but to love that world, despite the clear teaching of the Word of God and the Holy Fathers, have bored deeply into contemporary Christian society and are being quite successful in it. And this, of course, is not surprising, for what could be more attractive than the thought that the effort of bearing the cross is unnecessary and that salvation is easy, without any sort of labors and efforts?! What is saddest of all is that such false prophets are now being multiplied in all the local Orthodox Churches, and are moving into controlling positions and schisms in their own Orthodox milieu. They are supporting “ecumenical” rapprochement and union with their more like-minded Protestants and sectarians. They are not ashamed even publicly to make such statements as, “for rapprochement for the Protestants we will have to throw out the monastic asceticism of Orthodoxy.” Right before our eyes thus the words of the Great Apostle are being fulfilled: “In the times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits” (I Tim. 4:1).
This is clear apostasy, clear betrayal of holy Orthodoxy. For it is one thing when a person sins from the weakness of his nature and then repents and bewails his sin; but it is an entirely different matter when, after sinning without repenting, he tries to find a principled basis for his sin and even develops a whole view of the world which justifies his sin. And it is this very view of the world, which does not wish to see the effort of bearing the cross, the effort of fighting with one’s own passions and lusts in Christianity, which is more and more boldly raising its head. It is attracting many modern weak-spirited and lukewarm Christians to the broad and open way – the way of destruction according to Christ’s words. It is more terrible and harmful than the ancient heresies condemned by the Church at the Ecumenical Councils, for it hypocritically hides itself under the “sheep’s clothing” of pseudo-Christian love and with its cunning contrived, flattering distortions it strikes at the Christian dogma which most closely affects us – the doctrine of our salvation through following Christ on the way of bearing the cross and crucifying ourselves.
“See then, brother, that you walk circumspectly … because the days are evil” now more than ever before (Eph. 5:15-16). As once Satan attempted to employ Peter’s altruistic feelings to turn the Lord Jesus Christ Himself away from the cross by which he saved mankind (Matt. 16:21-23), even so now the same Satan is attempting through his far from altruistic like-minded followers to turn contemporary Christians away from the only saving way – that of imitation of Christ, Who gave us the example of asceticism, in bearing the cross and crucifying oneself. Observing the actions of these false teachers and seeing the fruits of their labors, we can say with certainty that they are undoubtedly hired servants of the enemies of our holy faith and Church who have set themselves the task of corrupting our Church from within and in that way destroying it. We are not afraid of this, for we know the promise of the Divine Founder of the Church that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18), but we ought to fear for ourselves and for our neighbors lest we surrender to Satanic temptation and fall away from union with the true Church which preaches God – the way of bearing the cross.
Translated from the Russian by Father Deacon Seraphim Johnson, The Present Times in the Light of God’s Word: Sermons and Speeches, Vol. I. pp.41-47, St. Job of Pochaev Press, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York